When it comes to getting to the top of search engine rankings, some sites will stop at nothing. Others play it safe and abide by every rule the search engines lay down. In the middle of these options is grey hat SEO. Before you think about using them, here’s our rundown of questions you ought to be asking.
What is Grey Hat SEO?
It’s become common in the industry to categorize SEO techniques one of three ways; black hat, grey hat and white hat. They correspond to the ‘cowboy hat’ idea that the good guys always wear a white hat, the bad guys black; grey is that murky area in between.
White Hat SEO is also called ethical SEO. It focuses on optimizing sites for human beings, rather than search engines. All techniques used will be in keeping with search engine rules and policies in letter and in spirit.
Black Hat SEO is the polar opposite. These techniques focus on getting the site higher in search engines rather than looking at human interaction. Black hat techniques break with search engine policies. They’re often removed from searches for this reason.
Grey Hat SEO sites operate in the middle ground. It means using techniques that, while not against the letter of the law, may break it in principle. It’s a fluid area, with changing policies meaning that sometimes techniques move from grey to white, or to black, as search companies respond to what SEO marketers are doing.
Grey Hat techniques are risky. Some techniques could become unacceptable, getting your site removed from rankings. Staying up to date with search engine policies is the only way to be sure you can answer the question, What is Grey Hat SEO?
Grey Hat SEO
Here are some of the techniques that are currently considered grey hat. For most of them, it’s easy to see why the search engines would not want this content featured in their rankings.
Cloaking is where a website shows different content to the search engine bots than it does to users. For example, when the bot comes along it’s sent to a page which has content about gardening. The search engine takes the information, and when a user carries out a search, that page comes up. However, when the user clicks the link they go to a site about legal highs.
You can see why the search engines wouldn’t want cloaked sites, as at best it makes their searches unreliable. At worst, sites deceive visitors into viewing pornography or other questionable content. For a clear explanation of cloaking, Matt Cutt has produced this explainer video.
An alternative to cloaking is ‘rich snippets’. This means returning data to the search engine which shows a snippet of keyword rich content that has little to do with the actual content on the page.
There are a variety of ways in which you can use content in that grey area. You could use generated content, something that a human being hasn’t written. A computer program stitches the content together instead.
Scraping means taking the content from another site and publishing it as your own. For obvious reasons, this falls foul of copyright law as well as SEO guidelines. To get around this, some sites use ‘spinners’ to alter the text enough to pass plagiarism checkers. This creates low-quality content with grammatical errors which search engines check for. If you’re worried about someone scraping your content, you can use our Similar Page Checker to verify.
Alternately, the site may have pages with little or no actual content, the keywords needed to get higher in the search engine rankings. If you understand that search engines want their users to find the best results, you will see why these techniques fall short.
After some time, domains gather ‘authority’. That means that the search engines have returned them to users lots of times, and there haven’t been any problems. These domains could then fall into disuse, at which time grey hat SEO-ers bring them up again. These domains, which the search engines trust, then redirect visitors to other sites. It leads to some of the same problems as cloaking; at best, visitors end up viewing a page they’re not interested in.
These techniques focus on undoing the work of your competitors, rather than achieving anything yourself. It’s doing things such as contacting websites that link to your competitors to ask them to remove the links or render them inactive. As a site owner, it’s worth knowing about this technique and watching for changes in your own page hits. Use a tool like SEO Spyglass to see if someone is affecting your rankings this way.
Search engines rank websites based on how often they come up in searches and their quality assessments. Some sites get themselves higher up the rankings by using automated queries that will result in users finding their page.
Another form of automation uses social media. These tools follow thousands of accounts in the expectation that a good percentage will follow back. This results in low-quality followers for your accounts. you’re unlikely to get interactions from people tricked into liking your account in this way.
Should you use Grey Hat Techniques?
Using these techniques is a high-risk strategy. Whilst not as risky as black hat, grey hat techniques could get your site blocked from searches or stripped of its rankings. For the most part, these techniques also require some effort or expenditure. You should consider whether that money might not be better spent on proven and approved SEO techniques.
In the short term, these techniques may have advantages, they could also lose you a lot of hard work. Still, it’s important that you can answer the question, ‘What is grey hat SEO?’ so that you know what to avoid. If you’d like to learn more about the right way to reach the top of the rankings, then our SEO tutorial will cover all the basics, including which techniques to avoid.
Black hat, white hat, grey hat – it’s your choice which to wear, but it’s important to know what the consequences of your choice could be.