When I started doing online money making, blogging, and affiliate marketing, there were lots of terms around that I didn’t really understand. There seems to be an internal language that doesn’t make much sense at first and everyone takes for granted you know exactly what they’re talking about.
One of them was something called “White Hat” and something called “Black Hat”. You see people talking about them and why a certain marketing technique or search engine optimization (SEO) method is considered Black Hat or not. And like everything else on the Interweb, it took an hour worth of looking to truly figure out what was meant by each of those two terms. And even then I wasn’t 100% sure.
Now that we’ve been around the block a couple of times, I’m going to give you a little free Hat class…
The terms were mainly used to describe hackers, where a “white hat” hacker would try to break into systems or discover vulnerabilities for the purpose of testing or informing to increase security, where “black hat” hackers would try to break into systems for fun or theft. At least, that seems to be the most common understanding of where the terms came from.
What does it mean in internet marketing terms though?
A White Hat internet marketer or SEO (search engine optimizer) only uses legal and company sanctioned techniques to move a site or pages rankings up the pages in the top search engines or to gain traffic. That means that a white hat SEO will only use link building techniques that meet all the criteria of everyone involved, the site the link is being made on, all the search engines, etc. A true white hat internet marketing affiliate will play 100% by the rules.
If you go White Hat that means:
- No paid links – against the Google TOS
- No forum or comment junk posts for links – against most sites TOS
- No sneaky redirects
- No hidden terms and conditions
- Nothing illegal – false claims of earnings, etc.
Note that the vast majority of larger SEO and marketing companies wear the White Hat. They don’t want to risk their business getting banned from anywhere.
Black hat is when you actually risk jail time or major government fines in your marketing or money making efforts. Black Hats are basically criminals, petty or otherwise. Some of these items used to be legal or at least unregulated, but now have laws against them. The internet is so large and the FTC and government agencies are so understaffed that most of them will never be caught.
If you are doing the following you are risking the wrath of the authorities, at least in the US:
- Email spam
- False testimonials
- Unrealistic earnings expectations
- Hidden rebill charges
- Credit card transfers to other companies
- Software theft
The vast majority of Internet Marketers and individual SEO’s wear the Grey Hat. Some might argue that they’re more White than Grey, but they’re frequently wrong. Most of them lean toward the Black hat without even realizing it. Think of it this way. Doing anything illegal makes you Black Hat. Have you downloaded software without paying for it? Have you created any fake testimonials? Both those are illegal you know.
Doing anything against the rules of a particular website or company, but not quite illegal, changes your hat to Grey.
- Buying or selling links
- Spamming forums or comments for links
- Sneaky redirects in ads
- Adsense arbitrage
- Affiliate cookie stuffing
- Misleading advertising – Punch the Monkey and WIN!
- Fake Social Media accounts
- Nothing illegal
The vast majority of Affiliate Marketers fall into this category, and I’ve learned that the majority of those tend towards the Dark Grey Hat. As long as it’s not illegal, they’ll do it. If you’re a company that has an affiliate program, beware! Most of your affiliates are actively looking for ways to screw you.
Shades of Grey
You’d be hard pressed to find a single affiliate marketer that wasn’t at least slightly Grey Hat. Heck, I hate scams and false advertising as much as the next guy, but I’ve created some fake Social Media accounts in my day just to post links.
The question is where to draw the line? At what point does a Light Grey Hat slide to a Dark Grey Hat?
What do you think?