Gray Hat SEO Explained

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Getting a high ranking on Google search results page isn’t easy. This is especially true if you follow Google’s rules and guidelines to the letter. In some cases, it can take months, if not years, for the results to become apparent. This is where the gray hat SEO comes in. Gray hat SEO techniques can give you the short term boost in traffic and ranking that white hat SEO might lack, with minimal risk of getting spotted by Google’s search algorithm.

Below we outline what gray hat SEO actually is, how it differs from white and black hat SEO, as well as some of the most popular gray hat SEO tactics.

White, Black and Gray Hat SEO

If you’ve already had a bit of SEO experience under your belt, you’ll know that there are 3 types of SEO (white, gray and black hat SEO). Still, it’s important to define exactly what each of these terms means.

White hat SEO includes tactics and practices that comply with the search engine’s rules and policies. In the case of Google, that would mean complying with Google’s SEO guidelines. This approach ensures long-term growth in terms of organic traffic and linkbacks, but it might take a while for the results to become noticeable.

Black hat SEO refers to intentionally using tactics that go against the search engine’s guidelines. Using Google as an example, this could mean techniques like keyword stuffing, page swapping, spammy links or automatic redirects. While these methods can be effective in the short term, Google is almost certain to pick up on them and penalize your website. In some cases, this can even mean complete removal from the search results page.

While it might seem intuitive, gray hat SEO doesn’t actually fall between white and black hat. Rather, this type of SEO relies on exploiting unclear or ambiguous guidelines. This can mean using methods that are ill-defined or those considered ill-advised, but not outright prohibited. A good example of this type of SEO is the practice of clickbait. While it doesn’t actually go against any of Google’s guidelines, it’s generally frowned upon by users.

Risks and Considerations with Gray Hat Search Engine Optimization

As we mentioned earlier, gray hat SEO practices aren’t strictly speaking against Google’s guidelines. They can still get you penalized if enough people report your website for using them.

In the end, it all comes down to risk vs reward. Some gray hat tactics can lead to a short-term boost in traffic that can give your business a much-needed kickstart. On the other hand, if Google’s algorithm decides to penalize you, you could end up losing out on sales and traffic.

Another important thing to consider is that Google changes the rules of the search algorithm quite frequently. In fact, they usually end up making as many as two changes a day. It’s not unusual that a gray hat method you use today becomes a black hat method tomorrow.

Top 9 Gray Hat SEO Tactics

If you’ve read all of the above and found that you’re willing to take the risk, here are some of the top gray hat SEO techniques. Again, these are likely to give your website a temporary boost in traffic. But the only way to build a lasting reputation is to adhere to Google’s guidelines and use white hat SEO.

1. Buying Expired Domains

This is one of the most popular gray hat SEO methods. It refers to buying an expired domain that Google has already ranked as having high authority. You can then add new pages of content with links back to your website.

Make sure the content you add is high-quality and relevant to your niche and the niche of the domain you bought. This will make sure that the ranking for the older domain stays constant. You can also do some light SEO work on the purchased domain to make sure it’s free of any toxic links.

2. Adding Words to Old Content

First of all, if you don’t already have a blog section on your website, you should definitely add one. If you do, look at the length of your blog posts. If your posts range from 1,000 to 1,500 words, but you find yourself in a competitive niche, look for ways to extend them to 2,000 words or more.

While doing this, it’s important you make sure that you’re not simply adding filler text. To get the best ranking possible, your blog posts should be informative and high-quality. Look for relevant, new info to add or try to expand on the topics you already covered.

3. Spinning Content

This generally refers to taking content from another site in your niche and rewording it for your blog. This way, the search engine will not automatically flag it for plagiarized content.

Note that it’s pretty easy to get hit with a plagiarism claim from the original content creator if you use this black hat SEO technique. To avoid this, make sure you spin content from a number of different pages. After all, that is essentially what research is, and no one can fault you for that.

4. Finding Optimal Keyword Density

Using the right keywords in the right amount is one of the fundamental ways of increasing your website’s SEO score. However, some websites take this principle to the extreme and engage in keyword stuffing. This essentially means they try to add as many keywords as possible in order to try and increase their search results rank.

Keyword stuffing is considered black hat SEO and shouldn’t be used since Google’s algorithm can pick up on it very easily. This doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t try to find the optimal keyword density to help your ranking.

The best way to do this is to add as many keywords as possible in a way that still sounds natural. If you overdo it, your content will sound stiff and this will only serve to turn visitors away.

5. Using Social Bookmarking Sites and Website Directories

Adding your website to social bookmarking sites such as Reddit, StumbleUpon and Digg can have a positive influence on your SEO ranking. One of the key problems with this method is the temptation to overuse it.

Trying to add your website too many times crosses into black hat territory and can result in the website admins banning you. Aim for sharing your link once or twice per site for the best results.

You should also consider adding your website to a web directory relevant to your field of work. You will be filed under the appropriate category and anyone searching the directory will have instant access to your website. This way, you can generate free high-quality backlinks.

6. Using Social Media

If you’ve done any sort of Search Engine Optimization on your website, you probably have a profile for your company on several social media platforms. This is still firmly within white hat territory. It crosses into the gray hat SEO if you create multiple dummy accounts designed to link back to your page.

For an example of this, you could make a social media profile for your pet. Adding cute pictures and stories will attract followers, so you can start slowly inserting links to your webpage. 

Obviously, this method is pretty conspicuous and people generally don’t appreciate dummy accounts. Unless you’re absolutely sure you want to do this, it’s best to avoid these kinds of tactics.

7. Positive Reviews

Listing your business on local citation sites such as Yelp or Crowd can help generate organic traffic since your SEO ranking will rise when customers leave positive reviews. This is, of course, also risky since it opens you to negative reviews.

If you do decide to use this method, stay away from paid positive reviews. This approach is considered black hat and is pretty easy for Google to spot.

8. Adding a Comment Section

If you don’t already have it, consider adding a comment section to your blog posts.

Adding a platform for discussion will have a twofold positive effect. On the one hand, you get a chance to directly interact with your visitors and build your brand reputation. On the other hand, you become open to the possibility of another website owner leaving a comment with a link to their site. This can lead to building relationships with other website owners in your niche, and eventually to you getting backlinks on their websites.

Having a comment section will also afford you an opportunity to add a call to action to your blog posts. This usually takes the form of asking the readers to comment as a part of the blog post conclusion. Calls to action like this are proven to drive user engagement and thus increase your SEO ranking.

9. Link Yourself on Other Sites

Adding on to the point above, you can also use the blog post comment section on other websites to add a link to your site.

However, if you intend to do this, you must be intentional about it. Make sure the comment you add is informative and has actual merit. Only then should you ad a backlink. In this way, you make sure you set up your website as a source of authoritative, high-quality content relevant to your niche.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the methods mentioned above will help you increase your search results ranking and organic traffic without attracting Google’s attention. It’s important to note, however, that using white hat SEO is the only way to achieve real long-term success and build your website’s reputation. Gray hat SEO can give you a temporary advantage, but it should only be used sparingly and as a part of a comprehensive SEO strategy. For more step by step SEO tutorials follow our SEO Blog.