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.

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Grey Hat SEO 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

Grey hat SEO refers to a set of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques that fall into a grey area between white hat SEO and black hat SEO. White hat SEO techniques are considered ethical and follow Google’s guidelines, while black hat SEO techniques are considered unethical and can result in penalties from Google. Grey hat SEO techniques are not explicitly against Google’s guidelines, but they are considered to be borderline and may be used at the risk of being penalized in the future.

Examples of grey hat SEO tactics include:

  • Keyword stuffing: This involves stuffing as many keywords as possible into a website’s content, often in a way that is unnatural and makes the content difficult to read.
  • Article spinning: This involves creating multiple versions of the same article using different synonyms and word order. This can help the website to rank for more keywords, but it can also make the content seem repetitive and low-quality.
  • Link farms: These are groups of websites that link to each other in an attempt to boost their search engine rankings. This type of link building is considered spammy and can result in penalties from Google.
  • Hidden text: This involves hiding text on a website so that it is not visible to visitors but is still visible to search engines. This can be done by using white text on a white background or by using CSS to hide the text.
  • Doorway pages: These are low-quality pages that are designed to rank high in search results for specific keywords. Once a user clicks on a doorway page, they are then redirected to another page on the website.
  • Cloaking: This involves showing different content to search engines than what is shown to visitors. This can be done by using JavaScript or by using different versions of the website for different user agents.
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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:

A 6 point guide to grey hat SEO

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

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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.

Risks of Using Grey Hat SEO

There are a number of risks associated with using grey hat SEO techniques. These include:

  • Google penalties: If Google detects that a website is using grey hat SEO techniques, it may penalize the website, resulting in lower rankings in search results.
  • Reputation damage: Using grey hat SEO techniques can damage a website’s reputation and make it appear untrustworthy to visitors.
  • Legal risks: In some cases, using grey hat SEO techniques may violate the law.


There are a number of alternatives to grey hat SEO that can help businesses to improve their search engine rankings in an ethical and sustainable way. These include:

  • High-quality content: Creating high-quality content that is relevant to the target audience is one of the best ways to improve search engine rankings.
  • Technical SEO: Making sure that a website is technically sound and easy for search engines to crawl can also help to improve rankings.
  • Link building: Building high-quality backlinks from reputable websites can help to boost search engine rankings.
  • Social media marketing: Promoting a website on social media can help to increase traffic and improve search engine rankings.
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Using grey hat SEO techniques may provide a short-term boost in search engine rankings, but it is not a sustainable strategy. In the long run, it is always better to focus on white hat SEO techniques that will help a website to rank well for the right reasons.

Statistics on the use, risk levels, and Google penalties of grey hat SEO tactics:

Use of Grey Hat SEO

  • A 2022 survey by Ahrefs found that 59% of websites use at least one grey hat SEO tactic.
  • The most common grey hat SEO tactics used are:
    • Keyword stuffing (42%)
    • Hidden text (29%)
    • Article spinning (27%)
    • Link farms (25%)
    • Doorway pages (18%)
    • Cloaking (16%)

Risk Levels

  • A 2023 study by Search Engine Journal found that 34% of websites that use grey hat SEO techniques have been penalized by Google.
  • The most common Google penalties for grey hat SEO are:
    • Manual link penalties (52%)
    • Algorithm downgrades (38%)
    • Rank loss (32%)
    • Website deindexing (14%)

Impact of Grey Hat SEO on Search Rankings

  • A 2023 study by Backlinko found that websites that use grey hat SEO techniques are 2.3 times more likely to be penalized by Google than websites that only use white hat SEO techniques.
  • Websites that use grey hat SEO techniques are also more likely to experience a decline in search rankings.

Overall, grey hat SEO is a risky strategy that can have a negative impact on a website’s search rankings and reputation. It is always better to focus on white hat SEO techniques that will help a website to rank well in the long run.

Key Differences vs White & Black Hat SEO

Grey hat SEO techniques fall into a grey area between white hat SEO and black hat SEO. Here is a table that summarizes the key differences between the three:

SEO StrategyDefinitionExamplesRisks
White Hat SEOEthical practices that follow Google’s guidelinesHigh-quality content, technical SEO, link building from reputable websitesNone
Grey Hat SEOPractices that are not explicitly against Google’s guidelines but may be considered borderlineKeyword stuffing, article spinning, link farmsGoogle penalties, reputation damage
Black Hat SEOUnethical practices that violate Google’s guidelinesKeyword spamming, cloaking, doorway pagesGoogle penalties, website deindexing

Potential Benefits and Dangers of Using Grey Hat Tactics

Grey hat SEO techniques can provide some short-term benefits, such as improved search rankings and increased traffic. However, there are also a number of dangers associated with using these techniques, including:

  • Google penalties: Google is constantly updating its algorithms to detect and penalize websites that use grey hat SEO techniques. These penalties can result in lower search rankings or even website deindexing.
  • Reputation damage: Using grey hat SEO techniques can damage a website’s reputation and make it appear untrustworthy to visitors. This can lead to a loss of traffic and revenue.
  • Legal risks: In some cases, using grey hat SEO techniques may violate the law. For example, using link farms to manipulate search rankings is considered to be a form of deceptive advertising.

Latest Grey Areas to Avoid in SEO

Google is constantly updating its guidelines and algorithms, so there is no definitive list of grey hat SEO techniques. However, here are some of the latest grey areas to avoid:

  • Guest posting: Guest posting can be a valuable way to build backlinks and increase brand awareness. However, it is important to avoid using low-quality guest posting services that provide links from spammy websites.
  • Link directories: Link directories used to be a popular way to build backlinks, but they are no longer as effective. In fact, Google may view submitting links to directories as a grey hat SEO technique.
  • Social media signals: Social media signals, such as likes, shares, and comments, are not a direct ranking factor. However, Google may use these signals to assess the quality and relevance of a website’s content. Buying social media signals is a grey hat SEO technique that can damage a website’s reputation.

Comprehensive comparison of the pros and cons of grey hat SEO:


  • Potential for quick results: Grey hat SEO techniques can sometimes provide a quick boost in search rankings, which can be beneficial for businesses that need immediate results.
  • Lower risk than black hat SEO: Grey hat SEO techniques are generally considered to be less risky than black hat SEO, as they do not explicitly violate Google’s guidelines.
  • May be effective in competitive niches: In some highly competitive niches, grey hat SEO techniques may be necessary to gain an edge over the competition.


  • High risk of penalties: While grey hat SEO techniques are not explicitly against Google’s guidelines, they can still be detected and penalized, leading to lower search rankings or even website deindexation.
  • Ethical considerations: Grey hat SEO techniques can sometimes be considered unethical, as they may involve manipulating search results or deceiving users.
  • Short-term benefits: The benefits of grey hat SEO are often short-lived, as Google is constantly updating its algorithms to detect and penalize these techniques.
  • Damage to reputation: Using grey hat SEO techniques can damage a website’s reputation and make it appear untrustworthy to users.
  • Limited long-term impact: Grey hat SEO techniques are not a sustainable strategy for long-term success, as they can eventually lead to penalties or a decline in rankings.

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.


  • Q: Is grey hat SEO safe?

A: Grey hat SEO techniques are not explicitly prohibited, but they are considered risky. There is always a chance of being detected and penalized by Google, leading to lower rankings or website deindexation.

  • Q: What are the alternatives to grey hat SEO?

A: White hat SEO practices, such as creating high-quality content, optimizing website structure, and building backlinks from reputable sources, offer a sustainable and ethical approach to improving search engine rankings.

  • Q: What should I do if I think my website has been penalized for using grey hat SEO?

A: If you suspect your website has been penalized, it’s crucial to stop using any grey hat tactics immediately. Then, carefully analyze your website and remove any questionable elements. Contact Google to request a reconsideration review, demonstrating your commitment to white hat SEO practices.


While grey hat SEO may temporarily boost search rankings, its potential risks and ethical implications make it a risky and unsustainable strategy. Businesses seeking long-term success should focus on white hat SEO practices that align with Google’s guidelines, prioritize high-quality content, and build a strong reputation for trustworthiness and expertise.

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