Grey hat SEO is all about mixing it up a bit. It is a combination of impatience, budget and a real lack of understanding. It is a mix of a pure white tactic, following all the rules of the search engine chosen, with a little dash of something that bends the rules just a little.
For example, if you were a pure grey hat SEO, you might use link distribution tactics to build up the links to your site but you would never consider going down the route of buying those links from a link seller. You might write some fantastic quality content in vast quantities, knowing full well it isn’t all relevant but has substance, some relevance and high quality. What you would never do is use a content spinner.
Grey hat SEO is used to help hasten the results but with the minimum chance of risking penalties form the search engines. However, if you are not careful about how you do this, you could find yourself slipping into black hat territory.
Black Hat SEO
Is all black hat SEO evil? There are actually two formats of black hat SEO and it gets somewhat confusing because definition does not ever clearly separate them from one another. In addition, depending on what you are working on, both of the formats can have very different meanings.
For the purposes of this section, I am going to draw a very hard line. Black hat SEO is not actually negative SEO, it is the actual tactics used that are specifically forbidden by your chosen search engine. If, for example, you were using Google, buying links from a link seller would be classed as black hat. If you were using Bing, on the other hand, they would consider purchasing “likes” on your Facebook page or followers to your Twitter page as black hat.
When a search engine issues a major update, they are generally looking to target the black hatters and these tactics can seriously harm your website if the search engine roots them out. Black hat SEO is actually one of the most difficult to achieve because it means having to fly beneath the radar, to never be discovered and not get your client, or your own website banned from the search engine!
If you cannot do this, 99.999% of the time successfully, never ever do it on your main website. If you are practicing on burner sites, your success rate has to be at least equal to your pay rate and the client must know exactly what they have asked you to do for them and what the risks and penalties are if they – and you – get caught.
Black Hat SEO and the Quality of the Search Engine Result
So, does any of what I have told you have any bearing on the quality of the results from the search engines? Not yet, no. Many of the largest companies in the world have used black hat SEO tactics, including BMW, Overstock and JC Penney. Once again, the hats are nothing more than the tactics used to get your website ranked.
In fairness, the lower quality websites do not meet so many of the points that are ticked off on the search engine algorithms. Because of this, they do not use so many of the gray or white hat techniques and tend to lean in the direction of black hat. whereas, a site that has fantastic content, great code, a really good design, a high user base, etc., etc., can rank high without risking any kind of penalty so they tend to stay on the lighter side, the white and grey.
So, does this mean that the sites that are of a lower quality are lower sites? No, it does not. There are an awful lot of “Fortune 500″ websites that are really, really bad; simply because their marketing department decided that an unusable website with a nice picture was far better than a site that was user friendly. When an SEO professional talks about quality, they are not talking particularly about the company behind the website, they are talking about how a search engine defines quality.
Now, websites can easily be removed from the search engine index if they are discovered to be using black hat techniques. So does that make those tactics a no go area? Is that what makes back hat SEO evil? No; as I said, black hat is nothing more than a tactic. Google, or whichever search engine you have chosen, might not particularly like a tactic you have chosen to use but that does not make it a bad one. The only caveat to that is if the SEO professional does not tell their client what they are doing and what the risks are. Or, of course unless you are really bad at black hat SEO.
Now that might sound insulting but, at the end of the day, if you are really bad at black hat SEO and you still continue to use it, you can cause a lot of damage, even more so if your client still does not now about it!
There are plenty of legitimate, true professional SEO experts out there who do use black hat SEO, simply because it is just a tactic and, when used right, it can reap many rewards for the client.