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What Is Grey Hat SEO and Should you Worry about it?

A 6 point guide to grey hat SEO
Grey hat SEO isn't as bad as black hat SEO but not as good as white hat SEO. It's a fine line that can be used for good and bad. Credit: Alizée Baudez

What is Grey Hat SEO? Simply, the promotion of content through unclear or debatable techniques or tactics.

Grey Hat SEO involves methods that neither belong to White Hat nor Black Hat SEO category. This usually means that Google haven’t taken a firm stance on a given technique in their terms of service.

Read on for our QUICK READ overview…

An SEO overview image showing factors of SEO
SEO uses different strategies and techniques to improve the online visibility of your website. Credit: ProfileTree.com

Understand Grey Hat SEO & Marketing

Grey Hat SEO, or Grey Hat Marketing, can be challenging to understand. However, some notable examples can help introduce the subject clearly and easily:

Link Purchasing

Even though it could be controversial for business entities to purchase links leading to their websites, many brands across the globe have found ways of beating the odds and engaging in Grey Hat SEO by going ahead to purchase sponsored articles found on third-party websites. These ultimately include some contextual backlink that leads people back to the purchaser’s site.

In most cases, search engines find this exercise hard to detect and subsequently restrict.

Product Reviews

This is another typical Grey Hat SEO that a lot of brands in many places across the globe employ to promote their brands.

Even though search engines have tried their level best to clamp this exercise down, paradoxically, this is an area that a lot of customers always look at especially if they are on the verge of purchasing a new product.

A lot of brands will always have a section of product reviews on their websites that act as the cornerstone of their businesses. Again, just like the purchasing of links, product reviews are another Grey Hat SEO tactic employed by a lot of companies and brands.

Paying for Listings 

A significant number of organisations across the globe are willing to make advance payments for premium business listings. For instance, insurance companies are known for paying huge premiums so as to be featured on some well-known aggregator comparison sites, since – without getting the exposure – they end up losing on business to the competition.

The service industry is well-known for having greatly benefited from this type of Grey Hat SEO marketing.

Affiliate Marketing

Surprisingly, a good number of such businesses often have no idea concerning the number of websites out there marketing their products to earn an affiliate commission for the sales they make. Affiliate marketing websites exist in their hundreds, with a lot of them earning decent commission from what they do. 

Content Spinning

A large part of optimising your site for search engines is creating a strong content marketing strategy. However, as many people know, it’s difficult to come up with ideas for high quality content on a consistent basis.

Content spinning is one way to get around this problem. It’s also a real ethical grey area.

Essentially, content spinning is when you take a successful article from a competitor’s site, and putting it into your own words. This can either be done manually, or using content spinning software.

This is a grey area, because there is a blurry line between content spinning and simply taking inspiration from your competitors, or taking their ideas and improving on them.

The best litmus test here is to decide whether or not your content is adding new ideas and value to the conversation. If you’re bringing something to the table, then your content strategy is legitimate.

Negative SEO

Negative SEO is probably one of the least ethical strategies you can use. However, it’s arguably more of a grey hat strategy than a black hat one, in the sense that it’s unlikely to result in any penalties for your site.

Essentially, negative SEO is when you apply black hat strategies to a competitor’s site. For example, you might buy dodgy backlinks which point at a competitor’s domain, in order to get their site penalised by Google.

This is hard to detect. However, negative SEO should be avoided. While you’re unlikely to receive a direct penalty from Google, you might find yourself on the receiving end of reciprocal action from your competitors.

It’s a better use of everyone’s time to focus on improving their own SEO than it is on trying to harm your competitors.

Should You Be Concerned About Grey Hat SEO?

It’s important to be aware that issues around Grey Hat SEO are, at least to some extent, debatable. As the name suggests, whether or not you should use the above strategies is kind of a grey area.

A common advantage associated with Grey Hat SEO is that the punishment is not as harsh as it could be imagined. In an ethical community, Grey Hat SEO is arguably neither bad nor good but can be seen as a collection of tactics and strategies that take advantage of search engine loopholes to build traffic.

It is imperative for every marketer to first sit down and evaluate the risks versus the rewards that they may receive or get before engaging in Grey Hat SEO.

The only way of being absolutely certain of a good reputation and avoid penalties from search engines is to move away from grey hat marketing and engage in traditional means of internet marketing that pose fewer risks

It is evident that companies are competing for traffic and conversion rates. Grey hat SEO comes into play as one of more preferred choices for a number of companies in response to this environment.

There will always be loopholes in the guidelines found across several search engines and, for this reason, grey hat SEO will not relent anytime soon.

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