You’ve likely heard of black hat and white hat SEO, but what is grey hat? Here, we explain what grey hat SEO is and help you evaluate whether you should be using it on your site.
What is Grey Hat SEO?
Not to be assumed as simply a halfway point between black hat and white hat SEO, grey hat is the use of SEO methods that remain ill defined by search engines. T hough these techniques might be accepted today, they tend to be ethically obscure and could see you punished for use of them in time when search engines catch on to their popular use. Use of grey hat techniques doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad webmaster, with reasonable site owners disagreeing over the validity of such methods.
Because these methods aren’t clearly defined, grey hat SEO could either improve your site’s ranking with no downsides, or could equally lose you huge amounts of traffic. What’s deemed grey hat one year could be redefined as black or white the next. A fuller understanding of grey hat SEO is therefore essential and it’s vital that webmasters are up to date with the latest categorisations.
Common examples of grey hat SEO
Many assume that cloaking, paid links and duplicate content are forms of grey hat SEO, however this is not the case. These techniques are explicitly banned by the Google webmaster guidelines, therefore making them black hat.
Grey hat SEO involves more creativity than black hat and is less known about because as soon as search engines are aware of people’s use of such techniques, they put criteria in place to prevent them, thereby changing a grey hat technique into a black hat technique.
Buying old domains
The buying of old domains with relevance to your keywords or site content and consequent creation of content pages with carefully placed backlinks to your main site. Old domains are bought as they have some amount of authority and are therefore a useful way of creating backlinks to boost rankings, with links appearing to be of decent quality. The best way of successfully doing this is to ensure that the new content you’ve uploaded is relatively good quality and not entirely dissimilar to what the site used to host. It’s also important to maintain the site’s trust rating by employing methods like using adwords on new content.
A step up from auto-generated content, spun content involves copying information from a site but changing words here and there to try and evade search engines automatically registering the plagiarism. This can be done using software which takes text and rephrases it. The modification reduces the chance of you being detected by a plagiarism tool, however often leads to clumsy and unclear paraphrased content. Copying content from multiple sites also comes under spun content, with taking different pieces of content and drawing them together technically making an article more your own work.
Putting a comments box on site pages and encouraging anyone and everyone to comment. This could see you flooded with spammy comments, however if you replace links with a “rel=nofollow” tag and ensure you only approve the less spammy comments, you’ll get fresh (and hopefully relevant) site content with minimal effort.
A way around link buying, this can involve finding smaller, relevant charities, making a donation, writing an article about their work with a link to their donation page and then asking them to link back to your site as thanks. Likewise, links may be exchanged for sponsoring of events or anything similar. Another technique involves linking back to your site whenever you post a comment on a blog. Basically, if no money is exchanged, you’re technically not buying links, theoretically making this alright to do.
Use of tools which automatically follow and unfollow thousands of accounts on social media sites like Twitter or Instagram to try and get follows back. This is yet to be blacklisted by Google, probably as social signals are just beginning to become more important to search engine rankings. Though buying followers may see your numbers rise, it’s easy to spot accounts which have done this and your site will still get no engagement from this practise. Doing this can also run the risk of infecting genuine followers with malware in some cases.
Should I use grey hat SEO?
Generally, if you’re unsure of whether a method violates Google’s guidelines, it’s best to avoid it altogether. With Google algorithms only getting tighter, your best bet is to solely follow white hat SEO practises. Given that search results are predominantly content led now anyway, it makes sense to avoid grey hat SEO. Otherwise, you’ll have to weigh up risk and reward on your own terms.
Ultimately, grey hat SEO uses shortcuts to try and boost ranking. Usually you know you’re bending the rules when you use these techniques, which should send up a red flag in itself. These methods might get you where you want to be in the short term, but they usually aren’t enduring and will not lead you to long term success. Instead, make sure you use white hat SEO on your site. This will see you enjoy legitimate and sustainable success.