Arpad Balogh
January 6, 2022

What is Grey Hat SEO?

Grey Hat SEO is a term used to describe SEO techniques that combine Black Hat and White Hat SEO practices. Grey Hat SEO tactics go against the Google Webmaster Guidelines to manipulate the search results and get higher rankings.

If not done correctly, these methods can get your website banned from search engines.

What is the Difference Between Gray Hat SEO and White Hat SEO?

White Hat SEO completely follows the Google Guidelines and is aimed at providing the best user experience while optimizing the website.

Grey Hat SEO uses techniques that are against the Google Guidelines. These methods are not unethical or hurting other peoples websites, but they are not completely adhering to the guidelines either.

Grey Hat SEO Techniques

There are many Grey Hat SEO techniques that are being used by webmasters to get better search engine rankings.

Some of these are riskier than others, but if done correctly, they shouldn't pose a threat to your website.

On the other hand, If you do them wrong, you might end up having your website being penalized by the search engines.

Let's look at some examples of grey hat SEO techniques:

PBN (Private Blog Network)

pbn example grey hat seo

The most common Grey Hat SEO technique is building a private blog network or renting backlinks from a private blog network.

A Private Blog Network is a network of private websites (hence the name) that are used to build backlinks to websites using articles, blogs and various other types of content.

The power in Private Blog Network lies in using aged and expired domains.

Grey Hat SEOs usually have two ways of getting expired domains:

  • They scrape the web to find domains that are linked to on other websites and they check the availability of it on Domain Registrars. If they are not owned, they register it.
  • They go to auctions and buy dropped domains.

These domains were used by genuine websites before, but they got forgotten or sold. Because of that, a lot of them still have a good backlink profile.

This is why they are valuable. Grey Hat SEOs build them as regular websites and redirect or rebuild the pages that were getting most of the links.

Once they have a good amount of these domains, they make a network out of them.

Then, they use these domains to power up their websites.

Having a PBN is a lot of network, dedication and it has a lot of risks as well. If one of the websites get penalized by Google and the Grey Hat SEO left any footprints or interconnected the websites in the network, all of the network can get taken down, even the websites that were linked to get a Google Penalty.


Grey Hat SEOs are using cloaking techniques to display different content to Google or other search engines than they are showing the visitors.

For example, one website might be ranking for an informational keywords and show that version to Google and show a huge affiliate offer or landing page to the users.

Cloaking heavily goes against the Google Guidelines and as it is very hard to mess up, we don't recommend using it.

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Using Expired Domains

Using Expired Domains is one of Gray Hat SEO techniques that we consider the safest to use and don't violate any of the Guidelines as you could genuinely just register a domain name that was used by another company before and reap the benefits of it.

This Gray Hat SEO technique uses the same principle as in building a PBN.

A Gray Hat SEO finds an expired, dropped or auctioned domain with a good backlink profile and registers it.

Next, all they have to do is either build up the pages that received the most amount of links and use internal links to funnel link juice to the new rankable page or just 301 redirect them.

A good trait of expired or aged domains is that they don't have to pass the sandbox at all and rankings come more easily since they have an established link profile.

Paying for backlinks is completely against the Google Guidelines, unless you mark it with the rel="sponsored" attribute in your links.

A very large chunk of ranking in Google comes down to backlinks. If you could just simply pay for backlinks and get better rankings, it would be unfair to other websites that are not willing to pay for backlinks.

That is why buying links is considered a Grey Hat SEO technique.

Using Parasite Sites for Rankings

Another Gray Hat SEO technique is using parasite websites like WordPress and Blogger to build up the authority of your main website.

The creation of these blogs can be to boost up the authority or act as a buffer for link building purposes.

The purpose of those blogs is to act as a middle man between the link source and your website, so in case the link source gets some kind of penalty, you can still remove the link from your parasite website.

Spinning Content

Another Grey Hat SEO technique is using spun content.

Spinning content is basically taking a sentence and replacing some words with synonyms to make it seem like unique content.

There is numerous software that can do this for you. Google is smart though and is able to detect obvious spun content.

If you think about it, that is what most people do when writing articles. They look on the internet, copy a good sentence and then just change up a few words to make it seem like their own.

How it is a grey hat technique then? 

Well, when people use software to automate this process and create a ton of content in a matter of minutes just to gain some advantage, it becomes gray hat.

Most of these software are not that advanced to generate good quality spun content, but there are some that with human specification, can do a really good job at spinning content

Buying or Writing Reviews

This goes without saying, but buying reviews or writing them yourself on behalf of others definitely falls into the grey hat category.

There are a lot of services that can get you reviews, whether it's for a product page or your Google My Business profile.

Reviews are one of the ranking signals when it comes to getting to the top of the Map Pack with your Google My Business Profile, so we can understand why some businesses try to get them any which way possible.

Duplicate Content

Creating Duplicate Content on Doorway Pages is a very common technique in the Local SEO world.

This tactic involves creating pages with almost identical content, only targeting a different city or area each time.

There are also plugins out there that can generate these pages by the thousands.

This tactic doesn't work as well as it used to.

Generating Content using AI tools

Using AI tools to generate content falls into the Grey Hat SEO space in our opinion.

AI Content Generation Tools, like Jarvis are beginning to get more and more popular.

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As long as you use it to help you with writers' block, it is completely fine as it is just like getting help from an assistant.

But once you start treating it a software for content automation, it becomes Grey Hat.

With that said, these software get better and better at writing human-like content.

Should You Use Grey Hat SEO Techniques?

If you know what you are doing and willing to take the risk, then yes, use Grey Hat SEO. These can often give you a great advantage in your niche.

Again, these are not unethical or hurting anybody, they are just not entirely following the rules of Google.

With that said, Grey hat SEO is not right for everyone, so you should always weigh the pros and cons before making any decisions.

Are Grey Hat SEO Techniques Risky?

Yes, Gray Hat SEO tactics are risky.

Any search engine optimization technique can be risky if the person doesn't know what they are doing.

For example, you can easily over-optimize an article by adding your keyword too many times (can be
considered keyword stuffing).

Optimizing your article with relevant terms is fully white hat, still, it can hurt your website.

If you decide to have grey hat tactics in your SEO strategy, make sure you know what you are doing or consult with an SEO expert.

Why do SEOs insist that Grey Hat SEO Doesn't Work?

Many SEO professionals are only using white hat SEO techniques to rank their or their client's website and saying that gray hat techniques don't work.

Usually, the reason for SEOs insisting that Grey hat SEO doesn't work is because they have either never tried any of these tactics or they are just following Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Don't get us wrong, following the Search Engine Guidelines is definitely a good thing to do, but you often have to be creative in search engine optimization in order to break into the Top 3 positions on the search engine results pages.

There are a lot of tactics that are considered Gray Hat that doesn't actually harm anyone else, they just give you an advantage.

Sometimes, in a very competitive niche, these techniques are the ones that will give you that little plus to make it to the top three or beat your competitors.

Black Hat SEO vs Grey Hat SEO: Is There a Difference Really?

Yes, there is a clear difference between Grey Hat and Black Hat SEO. Grey Hat is usually just innovative and getting a bit creative.

Black hat SEO is on an entirely different level than Grey Hat SEO. Black Hat SEO techniques are unethical, often involve hacking and other tactics that clearly break all search engine guidelines to manipulate the search engines to improve a site's ranking.

About the author

Arpad Balogh is a Hungarian SEO Expert and Strategist with more than 8 years of experience in the field. He loves dogs, he is afraid of empty pools (so weird, right?), loves vegan food and has a passion for telling very bad jokes.

Technical SEO, Structured Data and Keyword research are the areas he loves the most.

As a Founder of Slothio, His mission is to help 5,000 small business owners to grow their business in the next three years, help them be happier and enjoy life more.

Arpad Balogh

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