Black hats vs white hats – how SEO changed the last 10 years

Black hat SEO vs White hat SEO

What is the biggest single change in SEO the last 10 years? Let me give you my perspective through a short story.

Why listen to my perspective?

I have worked with SEO since 2010. Ten years with consulting and five years building an SEO tool (giving me the opportunity to see a ton of SEO data)

I am no guru, but I believe this story is not far from the truth:

We used to trick Google

There was a time when people who would be called “black hats” were the kings of SEO

⚫️ Black hat: Tricking Googles algorithms to rank higher on keywords.

⚪️ White hat: someone trying to do things for Google and the user.

When I started in SEO in 2013 it was still the “easy days” where a lot of tricks worked:

  • Getting a ton of irrelevant spammy links from other websites
  • Putting your keywords everywhere (known as keyword stuffing. On Google’s official spam list)
  • Hiding your keywords by changing the keyword text color to match the background color (🙄)

In those days it was hard to be a “white hat” SEO consultant.

Black hat tactics were simply cheaper and gave faster results.

So as a young naive white hat, or sometimes a bit grey to be fair, it was a challenge to sell myself to clients.

My best argument would be “I want to do stuff that also works 10 years from now”

Guess how much a desperate business owner would appreciate that. Not a lot 😀

white hat seo black hat seo definition - Morningscore SEO tool
It wasn’t all fun to be a white hat in the early days of SEO

Fast forward to 2024 and the story has completely changed

The hottest SEO gurus are no longer promoting “tricks”.

They simply link to Google’s official SEO guidelines.

I see it all the time here on LinkedIn and elsewhere.

That rarely happened in 2013.

Why this change?

It’s because Google won the war. They defeated many black hats.

When Google used to update their search algorithm us SEO’s used to laugh at how easy it still was to cheat it.

But the last 3 years especially, Google has gotten on top. People no longer laugh.

Now it’s suddenly cool to be a white hat.

SEO consultants used to be the dirty kids in class. Now we are that annoying perfect student with our hands always raised, ready with the correct answer from our Google guidelines text book 🙋

black hats are dying in SEO


Black hats are not all dead – There are still some lucrative loopholes left on Google

5 examples of black hat loopholes still working:

  1. Adding extra words to your content. Even if not nice for the reader.
    • You might say “cmon, this doesn’t happen anymore”. Well OK, then google for a few guides and you tell me why they stuff it with so much intro text and unnesecary fluff? 😉 I do see a trend of shorter content working well too though. More of that please, Google! I love how this word count contest is slowly dying.
  2. Links from low quality websites (backlinks)
    • Backlinks can still be hacked and adding your keyword inside the link (called the anchor tag) still works quite well. Even if the link comes from sites you wouldn’t call serious or high quality. Of course this used to also work a lot better, but hasn’t lost all it’s effectiveness. So it is still being done. With the risk of a future Google penalty for your website.
  3. Lying about which cities (or region in general) you offer services in
    • Google seems to have a very hard time fact checking that you actually are able to serve customers locally. Example: Car dealer saying they repair cars in London even though they are located in Oxford. You might argue this is grey hat.
  4. Ranking on AI texts that pretend to be a real person
    • Google has no problems with AI content. But they advice you to disclaim it is AI. And saying an AI text is from a real person is an abuse. You might call it grey. I call it black as coffee.
  5. Targeting a keyword with an exactly matching domain like:
    • Maybe not black hat, but it can be spammy for sure. In smaller countries and less competitive niches you will still see this often. I searched for grass in Netherlands, and I saw +10 websites using this tactic.

So there you go, this is how I see the biggest change in SEO in the last 10 years. All black-hat loopholes are slowly being closed.

New loopholes will appear. The 2024 loopholes have a lot to do with AI. But I still see Google having the upper hand here. The white hats won! ✌️

a white hat SEO

Article top image:
first design we made for Morningscore (our SEO tool). The idea was to build the tool around a wild west story… We quickly moved on to space 👨‍🚀

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