Let me directly answer the question first and then delve into the details. Black hat SEO is worth it if it addresses your needs, helps you to succeed in whatever quest you have online and if you don’t get caught by the search engine giants. It is not worthwhile if you have a long term quest, if you are running a genuine or credible business and your intention is not a quick gain but sustained viability.
Now, let us delve into the black hat SEO vs. white hat SEO debate. It should suffice to say that black hat is the illegitimate way to garner traction, to generate traffic and to increase your search engine ranking. White hat SEO is the credible, the genuine and the right way to generate traffic and to become a popular site on the search engine results pages.
A simple example from the world of mainstream media will be an ideal reference. If a reporter profiles your company and refers to your accomplishments as a part of their feature, then it is a legitimate way to gain some publicity. If you pay for the feature and don’t highlight that it is paid news or an advertisement, then you are resorting to an illegitimate path to gain publicity.
Technically, there are many differences between black hat and white hat SEO.
In black hat SEO, you would not create content for the human audience. You would optimize the content for the crawlers or spiders. In the process, you would stuff your content with keywords (see Keyword Stuffing below), you may plagiarize content to trick the search engines or use automated content software and your content may not have any value to offer for the readers. In white hat SEO, you would have original, helpful and well-crafted content that wouldn’t be unnecessarily stuffed with keywords.
This was once a popular method, but it led to some very harsh penalties in the past. A website would make the text the same colour as the background, use the CSS layout to position the text off screen or make the font size zero. All content would be visible to the user on a white hat site.
Keyword stuffing works similarly to the hidden text. A website would use the same popular keyword or keyword variations multiple times in the meta description, title tags or the content in hopes that a search engine would deem their site more important because their keyword density was higher. With recent algorithm updates from Google, they will now look for a specific keyword density ratio. If it’s too high, your site will likely be flagged.
In black hat SEO, you would have automatically created link farms where a network of websites would keep linking back to one another. This is a shady link-building practice. There are many other spamming practices in black hat SEO such as having automated responses to comments, self-generated likes and faked traffic, not by humans but by bots. In white hat SEO, you would have actual users or people commenting on posts, you would have people referring to your links on their own and you wouldn’t use an illegitimate link farm or any such system for that matter to gain an undue advantage.
This involves changing the appearance of a URL. Google will view this as a violation of their Webmaster Guidelines since it can deceive the user and loses their trust.
There are many other strategies used in black hat SEO such as scraping, paid links, blog spam, doorway pages, parasite hosting and cloaking, among others. None of these practices are used in white hat SEO.
Google and all other search engines have made several changes to their rules, best practices and algorithms that have penalized all websites using black hat SEO strategies. These updates are common and Google is always finding new ways to stop those who try to game the system.
If you have a legitimate business with a valuable domain you could end up getting it blacklisted by Google which means nobody will see your search engine results at all and it is often a huge struggle to get your site listed again. Alternatively, if you have a throwaway domain that you have no long-term goals for, then black hat can be a way to get ranked significantly quicker than you would be without these efforts.
In most cases, it is best to avoid black hat SEO unless you have a very short term objective and are aware of the eventual negative long-term implications.