Gray Hat SEO Tactics Explained: When are They Considered Acceptable?

May 6, 2013 Amanda DiSilvestro

The terms “white hat” and “black hat” have been thrown around in the SEO world for quite some time. White hat refers to SEO tactics that are acceptable and encouraged by search engine bots, meaning that these practices will help improve a website’s SERP ranking. Black hat, on the other hand, is exactly what you would expect—the opposite. Black hat tactics refer to SEO practices that are designed to trick search engine bots. For example, filling your white page with white-text keywords (that obviously benefit readers in no way whatsoever because they can’t see them) is considered a black hat SEO approach. 

The term gray hat SEO, however, is one that is not so easy to understand and sometimes get thrown in with the bunch. SEO methods labelled as gray hat mean that they are sometimes okay, sometimes not okay, and more often than not just ignored completely because they are so confusing. It leads a small business to ask: What are a few gray hat tactics, and when can I use them as a way to benefit my company?

Gray Hat SEO Tactics You Might Have Missed

Below explains a few gray hat tactics and certain situations where it is appropriate to use them and avoid penalization by search engines:

  • Duplicate Content: Publishing the same piece of content on the web twice only causes headaches for readers and bots. After all, you don’t want to be sifting through the same content on a SERP; it just doesn’t aid in the simplicity the Internet needs. However, it is considered OK by search engines if a site exists for the sole reason of indexing articles on the web.
  • Cloaking: Cloaking refers to the practice of providing search engines different information than users are seeing (usually done by changing meta data or IP addresses). It is rare that this practice is acceptable, but if you have a website where certain information is only available to members of your site, you’re going to need two different sets of information. Again, this is very rare, so if this is something you’re serious about you may want to contact Google to give them a heads up as to why this is necessary.
  • Paid Links: You always want to earn your links organically, which means you don’t want to pay for a link. Google sees this as a way for companies to get to the top just because they have more money and not because they offer a quality product. However, there are directory sites out there that serve as a place where people can easily find companies in their particular niche. If the directory site isn’t full of spam and offers quality listings, you’re in the clear.
  • Social Media Automation: We all know social is incredibly important, so some companies try and use automated software to earn more followers and connections. This is usually looked down upon because it is not an organic way of earning followers (similar concept to the paid links discussed above). However, companies that are constantly putting out great content manually and connecting and engaging with relevant customers might want to use this type of software briefly. If this is the case, you’ll likely be OK. 

You can learn more about white hat and black hat SEO tactics here. You might very well find that some of the gray hat tactics discussed above are put under the “black hat” lists on other articles. As discussed above, in most cases it is best to steer clear of all gray hat tactics if possible, so many don’t even bother worrying about them at all. Still, for those who are curious and more advanced in SEO, it’s good to know so that you have a grasp on all aspects of SEO!

What is your opinion on gray hat tactics? Have you ever used any in the past and found it successful? Unsuccessful? Let us know your story and your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author

Amanda DiSilvestro gives small businesses and entrepreneurs SEO advice raging from keyword research to local SEO strategy. She is the online content editor and lead writer for Higher Visibility, a nationally recognized SEO company that offers a wide range of SEO services to companies across the country.

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