What Is Grey Hat SEO?

Grey Hat SEO is a technique that merges white hat and black hat SEO methods.

Grey hat SEO practitioners flaunt search engine guidelines for their own ranking benefit to a lesser degree than a black hat SEO practitioner would.

Below are some typical grey hat SEO techniques.

Common Grey Hat SEO Techniques

Before we jump in, a word of warning:

Grey hat techniques can be very risky, particularly if you are new to them.

While some of these methods have the potential to rank your site more quickly they also have the potential to do the opposite and send your traffic spiraling downwards, so if you are considering using gray hat techniques please take care, do your research and consider consulting an expert first.

1. Buying Links

When it comes to grey and black hat techniques links are one of the primary things that are used and abused to try and increase domain authority and push up rankings.

Google states that:

“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

This means that almost all link building is essentially black hat yet it is very common practice even amongst people how would call themselves White Hat SEO practitioners.

Links purchases usually involve one of the following:

  • Approaching a site and paying for a guest post.
  • Paying for a link insert in an existing article.
  • Sending a website owner a product in exchange for a link.

2. Link Exchanges

Link Exchanges is another form of link building and so also goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Link exchanges happen when you approach a webmaster and offer them a link on your site in exchange for a link on their site.

Done at scale this is a very dangerous strategy as it is easy for Google to see that time your site acquires a link you also give the same site a link back.

This makes it easy for them to penalize all of these links.

A strategy used to get around this is to do an indirect link exchange.

In an indirect link exchange, there are at least three sites involved, generally more:

  • Site owner 1 has 2 sites, sites A & B.
  • Site owner 2 has 2 sites, sites C & D.
  • Site A will link to site C and then site D will link to site B.

The idea is that it will be harder for search engines to be aware of the exchange when it is done in this manner.

3. Building Link Tiers

This method involves building links to your links.

The idea is that the more links a page that is linking to your site has the more power it transfers to your site.

Grey hat SEO practitioners will build guest posts, niche edits and any links they can get hold of to their existing links.

4. Using Expired Domains

Building sites on expired domains is a very common grey hat SEO technique.

This technique involves finding a domain that has lots of links pointing to them that have not been renewed and then buying it before building a site on it or redirecting it to your existing site.

Using an expired domain allows your new site to benefit from the existing link authority on the old domain which often helps sites rank far quicker than they otherwise would.

Expired domains may also simply be redirected to an existing site to boost its link authority.

5. Using Redirects

Redirecting old expired domains to your site or buying sites that haven’t yet expired and redirecting them can be a risky strategy.

It is particularly risky if you buy a domain that has been dropped (had no activity on it) for a long time as Google may have discredited the links that the old domain had meaning you will gain no SEO value from it or worse.

It is also very risky if you redirect a domain just for its link authority and don’t ensure that the domain and its links are topically relevant to your site.

Redirecting topically irrelevant domains to your site may cause a temporary boost but long term it is likely to be harmful to your SEO efforts.

6. Using Private Blog Networks

A private blog network is a network of blogs that are controlled by one person.

blog networks

Private Blog Networks are used to manipulate rankings like this:

  1. Content is written on the blogs relating to the topic of your primary website.
  2. Links are then added to the blogs on their most powerful pages (the pages with the most link authority) pointing to key pages on your primary site.

The idea is that as you control the sites you can make sure that you are giving yourself the perfect link.

The content is highly relevant, the anchor text is relevant and the page the link is coming from is the most powerful one on each site.

The problem with PBNs is that unless you really know what you are doing Google are getting better and better at uncovering them.

If you are relying on PBNs to rank your site then you could potentially lose all your rankings if this were to happen.

7. Using AI Content

GPT 3 was released in May 2020, in its wake came various tools that can write semi-decent content on autopilot.

All you need to do is feed them a keyword and they can write a 1,000-word article for you in seconds.

AI written content in and of itself isn’t necessarily grey hat, with a bit of guidance and careful editing you can produce well-written articles that will be useful to users.

However, some grey hat practitioners are abusing it by setting up systems that automatically churn out hundreds of poor-quality articles a day.

You would imagine that low-quality articles just wouldn’t have a chance of ranking…well you’d be wrong.

The site below is only 6 months old and is getting over 3,000,000 sessions a month:

They achieved this by using AI content to produce almost 1,000,000 articles over this time period!

I actually managed to rank a few AI-written articles number one on some of my other sites – want to give AI Content a go? Try Jasper.ai here.

8. Review Manipulation

When it comes to local SEO, reviews are very important for achieving good rankings in the map pack.

Paying people or services to leave positive reviews even when they have had no interaction with your company is a very grey hat (or even black hat) technique that is done only to improve rankings.

It is unscrupulous and disingenuous and if exposed could be very damaging to a business.

Will I Get In Trouble For Doing Gray Hat SEO?

No, grey hat SEO is not illegal, it’s not even illicit in any way.

It is perfectly okay to use these methods so long as you accept that they may not work and you could harm your search traffic if you overdo it.

The Differences Between White Hat, Grey Hat & Black Hat SEO

White hat SEO is the least risky form of SEO which aims to follow all of Google guidelines and focuses primarily on creating quality content that serves the user well.

Grey hat SEO will also focus a lot on creating quality content but will also add in other methods such as using redirects or buying links to help speed up the ranking process.

Black hat SEO has no qualms about violating any search engine guidelines, they will attempt any methods, no matter how unscrupulous, to rank, this can even include things like using negative SEO to push their competitors down.

Some Pay For Performance SEO practitioners will use aggressive black hat techniques to help them generate money as quickly as possible, the problem with this is that black hat strategies are rarely sustainable for the long term.

My Thoughts On Grey Hat

While I must confess I have dabbled in grey hat techniques over the years, it’s not something I’m regularly doing at the moment.

There’s no doubt that grey hat techniques can be very effective when done well.

However, they also have the potential to send your traffic spiraling downwards if overdone, or if care is not taken.

So if you are considering using gray hat techniques please take care, do your research and consider consulting an expert first.

I also recommend you sign up for some reputable SEO Newsletters from people who know this stuff inside out to help build your SEO knowledge before you consider doing anything risky.

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