Is all search engine optimization black (or at best gray) hat, or is it possible to intentionally boost a webpage's search engine ranking without compromising your ethics? Consider this:

Unless your webpage is really so great that it deserves to own the #1 spot in the search results, one could argue that any attempt to get it there is "black hat". After all, you're trying to "game" the search results, right?

Well, maybe the question isn't quite so black and white. Here's what I think.

First of all, "best" is subjective. Which page is really the "best" for any particular search term? Maybe it's yours. Maybe it's not. Not everyone would agree. If you think your page deserves to be considered for the honor, is it wrong to dress it up nicely and see if it'll get the vote?

Of course, that argument could easily be used as an excuse for trying to rank a bad page high. "Hey, I just dressed it up nice -- it was the search engines that decided it was really the best page."

Second of all, even if your page isn't the best, it may be among the best. So there's nothing wrong with helping it into one of the top spots, right? Again, a reasonable argument, but easily twisted.

My real answer to the question is that it's the wrong question. The real question is whether it's possible to ethically use the web to deliver the best value possible to people.

"Um. Duh. Yes. But what does that have to do with SEO?"

It's all about the foundational principle of "Natural SEO". Let me see if I can articulate it:

The search engines want to send their users to the pages that will deliver the most value based on the search terms the user enters. (If they don't, they're going to lose users to another search engine).

The better the search engines get at identifying the pages their user's will get the most value out of, the higher your pages will rank if they deliver as much value as possible.

So the most natural SEO technique you'll ever learn is to deliver as much value as possible.

Reader Comment:
Antone Roundy said:
Yeah, I don't think there is a complete solution. Until the Supreme Being creates a search engine that always shows each person the absolute best personalized search results, there will be flaws. Until then, if you're publishing high quality conte...
(join the conversation below)

You can do that by:

  • generating unique, high quality content
  • linking to and commenting on high quality content others have generated
  • making the content of your pages easy to scan (eg. by putting useful keywords and phrases in the page title, the page's headline, subheads, bold or otherwise emphasized text, etc., so that it's easy to determine at a glance what your page is about and whether what it's saying on the subject is worth reading)
  • by cross linking between related content on your own site
  • organizing your site so that content is easy to find
  • finding ways to get related sites to link to your content from pages that people interested in your content are likely to visit
  • ...etc.

Would you agree that "Natural SEO" -- delivering as much value as possible in ways aimed at human visitors to your site -- is white hat whether you're scheming in your evil little heart to oust the best content from it's coveted spot, or just altruistically trying to save the world by making your site as useful and accessible as possible? Share you comments below.