In this guide, we’ll answer the question, “what is grey hat SEO?”
You may have heard of white hat SEO or black hat SEO, but what are grey hat SEO techniques?
Below you’ll find out everything you need to know about this search engine optimization strategy, including what gray hat SEO is, how it differs from white and black hat SEO, and a list of the most popular grey hat activities for increasing search engine rankings and visibility.
Note: Grey hat SEO also goes by the name “gray hat SEO”. The word grey has two spellings: grey and gray. And because this is an SEO-optimized blog post, I’ll switch between the two variations throughout the content to improve the rankings for both keyword phrases. (That’s SEO in action.)
Table of Contents
What Is Grey Hat SEO?
Grey hat SEO is an SEO practice that combines white hat and black hat SEO. Grey hat SEO is riskier than white hat SEO because it exploits the search engine guidelines to increase a page’s rankings on the SERPs. Grey hat SEO techniques are black masquerading as white.
That’s the basic definition for what is grey hat SEO. Let’s now get into some of the most popular gray hat search engine optimization strategies being used today.
Grey Hat SEO Techniques
1. Using Expired Domains
This is a common grey hat SEO strategy that borderlines between black and white SEO.
It refers to buying a domain that the owner has let expire but still has a lot of authority because of the number and quality of backlinks still pointing to the site.
A gray hat SEO method with expired domains can be applied in two ways:
- Using a 301 redirect to redirect all of the link power to your current domain to improve its authority.
- Going to a site like Wayback Machine, finding archives of the old content, and republishing it on the site to resurrect it back to how it was before the domain expired. This can give you an instantly successful website with targeted traffic.
2. Buying or Trading Links
Buying links and trading links are the second most popular grey hat SEO techniques webmasters use to increase authority and rankings for their websites.
However, link schemes like this are technically black hat SEO tactics because they violate Google’s Webmaster guidelines.
This gray hat SEO method comes in four primary forms:
- Buying a link placement on an existing article that’s indexed in Google.
- Buying a guest post opportunity that inludes a link back to your website.
- Trading links with another site owner (i.e. I link to you and you link to me).
- Trading a product or service in exchange for a link on someone’s site.
3. Using Private Blog Networks (PBN)
A private blog network (PBN) is a group of websites that you control which are used to build backlinks to a single website to help it rank higher in Google.
The purpose of a PBN for gray hat SEO purposes is to link to one central domain to pass the most link equity to it to improve the authority.
PBN backlinks are actually a black hat SEO strategy, but if you keep it truly private without anyone knowing about it, and you cover your tracks so that Google cannot detect that you own all of the websites, then this technique does fall into gray hat SEO territory.
4. Building Micro-Sites and Blogs
Building a micro-site or blog is a gray hat SEO technique that can improve your search engine rankings without getting penalized.
It’s kind of like a PBN but is much safer because you don’t own the domains that you’re using to link back to your site. They’re also a public network, not private.
Common examples of building micro-sites for SEO purposes include setting up a blog on multiple web 2.0 and content curations sites with high domain authorities, such as Medium, Weebly, Blogger, Tumblr, Live Journal, etc.
See my post on how to do SEO for a blog for tips on optimizing blog content.
5. Spinning Content
Spinning content is another common grey hat SEO method that can work for getting ranked in Google. However, it’s unethical and not a good practice to follow long-term.
But here’s how it works:
Spinning content is when you take content from another website and then reword it on a sentence-by-sentence basis so that it can’t be recognized by plagiarism software.
Once the content is spun, you post it on your own site so that it can get ranked for the keywords you want to target. Spinning content like this allows you to get around a potential duplicate content penalty, which we’ll cover next.
6. Creating Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is another gray SEO tactic that’s being used in the world of search engine optimization these days.
This technique includes copying and pasting large blocks of content across the same website or various domains.
There are three ways duplicate content is used for SEO:
- To target similar types of search queries without having to write new content. The most common example is with local SEO keywords where multiple pages are create for each local city. Every page has duplicate content except the city name is swapped out for the city being targeted. This strategy will allow the appropriate page to rank for the target phrase while the other pages get suppressed.
- Copying content from another website and posting in on a strong domain can somtimes outrank the original source of the content so the target site can steal the traffic.
- Duplicate content can be used to flood the search engine with multiple copies of the same text in hopes that one of them will stick and rank high for the target keywords.
7. Automating Content
Automating content is when you use software to automate the manual processes required in content creation. The purpose is to feed your blog with a constant stream of content so you have more opportunities to rank higher in Google and to get traffic.
Content automation is done in two ways:
- By scraping content from other websites and combining it into one page on your site. Aritlce spinning can also be used here to make the conten unique and undetectable for plaigairism.
- By using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automatically write content for your site. AI content creation tools uses natural language generation (NLG) to write the content without any human involvement.
8. Increasing Keyword Density with Hidden Text
Using hidden text is a black hat SEO method that violates Google’s Webmaster guidelines. However, gray hat SEO tries to bend these rules by tricks for hiding keywords from the user but still allows them to be crawled by the search engine.
The most common gray hat SEO techniques for hiding text include:
- Locating text behind an image.
- Using CSS to position the text off-screen.
- Setting the font size to 0.
Cloaking is an SEO strategy that presents one set of content or URLs to human users and another set to search engines.
Cloaking is a deceptive grey hat SEO tactic that tricks search engines like Google to get the desired rankings for target keywords while giving users different results than they expect.
10. Submitting Your Site to Web Directories
One of the most overused grey hat SEO techniques is web directory submissions.
Adding your website directories can get you a free backlink to your site, and when done in small numbers, it’s considered a white SEO tactic.
But once you start overusing this strategy to generate tens or hundreds of links to your site, it tips into gray hat SEO territory. Especially if you manipulate the keyword anchor text for the backlink.
11. Creating Multiple Social Media Accounts
Having one social media account for your business on each social network is a white hat SEO method for sharing links and gaining more exposure for your content.
However, if you create multiple social media accounts to artificially inflate the sharing and linking to your website, then that’s a gray hat SEO method.
12. Paying for Positive Reviews
Google is known for rewarding websites with higher rankings that have positive reviews. This is especially true for local SEO.
One way to trick the algorithm in your favor is to pay people to leave a positive review for your listing. You can find an online service provider for positive reviews or entice current customers to review your site for a discount or bonus.
Either way, it’s grey hat SEO all the way.
Is Grey Hat SEO Illegal?
Grey hat SEO is not illegal. There is no law being violated by grey hat SEO techniques. However, grey hat SEO does go against search engine prohibited practices which can get your site banned from the search engine results pages.
Grey Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO
The difference between grey hat SEO vs black hat SEO is that grey hat uses techniques that are not always in direct violation of search engine guidelines. This grey area of search engine optimization is what makes grey hat SEO more tempting than black hat SEO methods.
You can learn more about black hat SEO here.
Grey Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO
The difference between grey hat SEO vs white hat SEO is that grey hat SEO is riskier than white hat SEO. A grey hat search engine optimization technique may or may not get your site banned from search engines and their affiliate sites. White hat SEO is 100% safe.
You can learn more about white hat SEO here.
I also have a guide on the difference between white hat SEO and black hat SEO.
And a complete guide on how to build SEO strategy that includes 100% white hat methods.
Grey Hat SEO Summary
I hope you enjoyed this guide on what is grey hat SEO.
As you discovered, grey hat (also known as gray hat SEO) is a search engine optimization strategy that combines white hat and black hat SEO to improve search engine rankings and visibility for a website.
In many ways, grey hat SEO techniques are just black hat SEO methods that appear as white. Regardless, many website owners participate in these gray hat SEO tactics to gain more traffic to their sites, so it’s good to understand how these methods work online.