In the olden days of the early to mid 2000s the world of search engines was a kinder simpler one. You had a few simple search engines competing against the growing tidal wave of Google that was well on its way to sweeping up the entire Internet ocean in its wake. SEO tactics, then still in their infancy were equally rudimentary. You had link-farms and carousels, keyword stuffing and other questionable tactics just waiting for a name. That the so-called 'black-hat' SEO is as old as the business is no novelty but what is interesting is just how stark the contrast between 'white hat' acceptable and 'black hat' bad has become lately.
Back in the early days of the internet, SEO strategies were rudimentary enough to pass for what experts would now dub black or grey hat SEO. In the decade that elapsed since Google's emergence on the market, SEO services were refined to ever increasing levels of sophistication and complexity. But back then, the older self-perpetuating link farms were an overall specialty of unscrupulous optimizers that struggled to get the link out there attached to no or as little content as possible. SEO was about getting your page up in the SERP fast and with as little hassle and expenditure as possible. These kinds of tactics were, however bad for everybody so they were promptly (too slowly by some) penalised by Google algorithms. Since then we've had several authority purges, some big names penalised and the dreaded Panda and Penguin, forcing users to up their page link content as well as their actual content. Nowadays we are on our way to the promised semantic search algorithms in several big search engines, we have cross-device approaches to digital advertising and strict rules ensuring that most content is decent and at least partly informative. Unfortunately we're still thinking in mid 200s parameters.
The Age of White Hat and Black Hat is dead. With tightening Google rules and regulations and today's 'Black hat' SEO only greyish by older standards it's high time that we change our perspective as well. While bad SEO is still often in breach of Google terms the main problem with the way SEO is done nowadays in so longer one of true spam but one of poor content. Most poorly optimized sites simply don't live up to Google new standards on what an informative, well designed site should look like. While content has always been king, nowadays content is a touchstone for websites, the main factor determining how important they are.
So let's look at SEO in other terms than black and white, good and bad and look at whether they are enhancing user experience or not, whether it can provide long term benefits or not and whether it is easy to integrate without raising alarms and penalizable. Let's put ethics aside and more accurately measure the costs and benefits of every SEO tactic and develop a good practices workbook rather than a false dichotomy.