In classic westerns, the bad guys and the good guys were easy to identify. The good guys wore a white hat and the bad guys wore a black cowboy hat. But if you wanted to add a little mystery to your characterizations, you would have your cowboys wear a grey hat. Their motivations would be extremely ambiguous. And their actions might only benefit themselves.

In SEO, we have white hat and black hat methods. With white hat methods, you’re toeing the line. You’re following Google’s rules as closely as possible to gain better ranking on Google.

In black hat SEO, you’re trying to circumnavigate Google’s rules and hoping those methods will help you rank. Often, black hat SEO is consider a shortcut method. You’re buying aspects of SEO that you might have otherwise worked hard to attain. And often these shortcuts result in backfires.

And then there’s grey hat SEO. This isn’t exactly a mix of the two other categories. It’s more akin to the ambiguous category of grey hat cowboys.

From the outside, you can’t tell if a grey hat method will be beneficial or not. Google’s guidelines might not even touch on these methods. Thus they are grey areas and should be used with caution.

1. Text Spinning

Re-wording content is risky. You essentially need to completely re-draft content to make it palatable for Google’s algorithms. And you’re going to get penalized if you leave every section in the same order as the original article.

But you can re-use content cross-sites if you’re extremely careful and are talented at rewording content.

One thing you should probably avoid is a text-spinning program. There are dozens of free ones out there. But they aren’t exactly great at re-spinning content for re-use.

You risk anything from run-on sentences to major grammar errors. These inconsistencies and errors will tank you ranking and tip Google off about your blatant self-plagiarism.

2. Linking Back From Old Underused Domains

There are hundreds of dormant domains out there. They may have been popular and exceedingly useful places at one time. And their DA is a gold mine. But the owner probably made their money and is on to better things.

If you can contact these people, you might be able to get a link on their site. It would take very little work on the part of the owner, and you’ll get some of that link-juice coming back at you.

The only problem with this method: you never know when Google might realize the site is dormant. If you’re paying someone to place your link on a dormant site, you might be risking money.

If Google notices this site, you likely won’t experience a drop in your own ranking, but you won’t continue to get the boost you hoped for.

3. Cloaking

Sorry Star Trek nerds, this has nothing to do with the Klingons. But it does have something in common with Klingon technology.

It would be beneficial for some websites if they could keep good ole’ Google’s sniffers off their site for a while. This is especially true if they’re decently ranked but want to do something a little grey-hat-ish.

But anonymity in the world of the internet is hard to come by if you are a legitimate site. And that’s especially true if you want your site seen by customers and users.

But there are some grey/black hat ways to get around Google’s crawlers or at least keep them at bay. It’s essentially a way to show content to the user and different content to the Google Bot.

Apparently, deceptive trolls out there used cloaking to trick users. They’d show Google’s bots a page with cartoons using various cartoon keywords. But they’d show the user porn.

People thought this was a funny trick to play on people, but it muddied Google’s search products. Google now has a way to catch these kinds of practices.

4. Link Purchasing

I’m not entirely sure how Google would find out that you’re purchasing links. But link purchasing is considered a gray hat tactic only because most sites you’re getting a link on don’t know they’re giving you a link.

A lot of companies that sell links utilize writers who are trying to sneak links into a site. And when a site finds out, they aren’t always the happiest.

But you can also trade links with other webmasters and that’s something Google almost expects its people to do. You’re always going to be linking to your buddy’s pages anyway.

Just remember, that if you do purchase links, the link is naturally placed. Don’t accept a poorly placed link. Make the company you’re buying from re-place the link.

5. Social Media Automation

This isn’t fully SEO related. But it’s considered grey hat by many social media companies such as Twitter and Instagram. I’ve actually dabbled in social media automation and haven’t had a ton of success. I’m better at just publishing content each day as I remember.

My problem with social media automation is this: most sites figure out pretty fast you’re automating your post. Especially your automation software is using some sort of link-shortener.

If they figure out that’s what you’re doing, they won’t even rank you at all. It’s like shouting into outer space where nobody can hear you scream.


By Ben Mattice

Benjamin Mattice is a freelance writer/editor, horror and sci-fi writer, SEO and affiliate marketing newbie, dog wrestler, cat wrangler, capoeirista, and long distance runner. He lives in the Palouse with his wife, three dogs, two cats, and two rats. Yes, that would probably be considered a mini-zoo.