In the SEO community, talking about hats is a convenient typology for describing different approaches to search engine optimization. The whole idea about the color of hats as a character description arose from the symbolism associated with the heroes and villains in Westerns. Usually, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. The idea of a blockhead signifies an arrogant or derogatory person. Search Engine Optimization, for the main part, focuses on link-building strategies, so that hats can be a considered way SEO experts build links.
Google Sets the Standards
Since Google has become the 800 pound gorilla of search engines, SEO experts focus on defining the tactics around what they believe Google is thinking when it comes to evaluating the value of a website to rank it on their search engine results pages. They hope that by focusing on what Google wants, then the best configurations for the other search engines will generally work out, too.
The Four Hats of SEO
In SEO parlance, then, there are three kinds of hats:
The fourth hat, of course, is not really a hat, but a pejorative description for a group of people all SEO professionals despise, we will call them “Blockheads.”
White hats are the good guys. Those who do what they believe is good, proper, and right by Google’s standards. If the Internet highway had a traffic code, they would not exceed the speed limit, never run a red light, and never fail to use their turn signals when making a turn.
In truth, there are no pure white hats. For instance, SEO professionals are not patient enough nor do they have clients tolerant enough to wait for a natural linking pattern to build up for a website. Instead, all SEO professionals, regardless of their hat color, will use free and paid methods to speed up the entire link building process so that clients can get quicker results—results that can be achieved in weeks rather than in months.
White hats consider black hats the same way a small-town sheriff in the old Wild West would consider an outlaw.
Black hats, however, consider themselves as rugged individualists, willing to take on Google’s strict algorithmic requirements and find loopholes in the system. For example, a black hat strategy might be buying links with high page rankings.
Those wearing gray hats don't think in terms of black and white. For them everything is a shade of gray. They will follow the rules as long as they make sense or bend the rules if they think they are unnecessarily confining. They would, for example, never use content spinner software to create unique articles, but neither would they feel it necessary to make sure the content is always of the highest quality and greatest relevance.
Gray hats, then, focus on speeding up results while avoiding the risks of search engine penalties.
These are unethical SEO professionals--hence the pejorative term. They may, for example, use black hat tactics without informing the client about the risk. Unlike black hat SEO professionals, this group does not have a code of honor but is entirely opportunistic. It acquired its name because it makes the entire SEO profession look bad.