No matter what novel or film, white seems to always symbolize something good and pure and black is considered sinister and evil. Naturally, this leaves the color grey in between. It’s not that great like seeing something white, but it’s not unthinkably taboo like something black. This colors symbolism is exactly the same in the world of SEO. You have what is called black, white, and grey SEO “hat tactics.” SEO experts have defined these three different tiers based upon certain things you should do, things you should not do, and things that you can sometimes do when it comes to ranking on Google. This led me to wonder: Why would anyone use grey hat SEO tactics, and when are they appropriate?
It may help to first define what some of these grey hat tactics actually are; however the nature of these tactics is to be a bit unclear. Some experts will say a few of these tactics belong on the black list or the white list, but overall most agree upon the following:
Grey Hat Tactics Explained
It is highly recommended that you never use grey hat tactics, despite their being grey. However, these tactics are not considered black because there are very specific situations where they might be used by a company.
- Paid Links – When a website pays for to get a backlink on another site.
You are really not supposed to pay another website to link back to your website. Linking should only happen if the link adds value to the reader because the site actually offers a great and relevant page.
When to use it: There are sites that work as a directory site (such as Business.com) where you can buy a link to your company website. Although this is a paid link, it isn’t considered unethical in the eyes of search engines.
- Duplicate Content – When content appears on the Internet in more than one place.
Search engines do not like to show the same content in search results because that is not valuable to a user. It also costs resources for a search engine to index a webpage, so search engines are not interested in using more resources to index two identical pages. It can be tough for search engines to know which version of the content was the original, so it causes quite a few headaches.
When to use it: It is considered a reasonable form of SEO strategy if the content is duplicated on an index site. In other words, if a site exists specifically to index articles on the web, this is considered OK by the search engines.
- Cloaking – When a website purposely provides different information to a search engine as opposed to what the website actually contains.
This can be seen as a way to trick a search engine into thinking a website is something that it is not. This can be done by manipulating the Meta data of a website or the IP addresses. In the past, this is a practice that I have deemed a black hat tactic; however after further research I suppose there are a few rare instances where this is considered acceptable.
When to use it: Some websites have content that is available only to members of the website. In this instance, there would be two different sets of webpages—one for humans and one for bots. Some experts recommend that if you fall into this category you contact Google with your reasoning.
- Automated Social Media – When a website uses a tool to send out automatic messages to Twitter followers and Facebook fans.
Social media actually has quite a bit to do with SEO, and with the recent introduction of Google+ the importance of social sharing will only grow. Many companies have actually started mass adding Twitter followers using software like Tweet Adder and mass adding Facebook fans using Facebook Blaster Pro. This is considered unethical because a company may not actually be finding followers and fans because of the content they share via these accounts.
When to use it: If a company puts a lot of effort into tweeting and posting quality content, this can be a good way to get the ball rolling by increasing the number of people who see these messages. If a company only uses this for a short time and remains active, this is sometimes acceptable.
The “Using Grey Hat Tactics” Verdict
In the end, there is no denying that grey hat tactics are questionable approaches to SEO. Although they do work in occasional situations, it is best to only worry about these types of tactics if you absolutely must. Sticking to white hat tactics is sure to improve your rankings on search engine results pages, so in 90% of situations you won’t even need to walk the fine line known as “grey hat” SEO tactics.