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3 min read

Grey Hat SEO - The Fine Line Between White Hat & Black Hat

Stewart Dunlop


Chief Link Building Strategist

SEO techniques are often placed into one of two categories - Blackhat or Whitehat. The reality is that there’s a multitude of grey areas and activities in between. We'll take a look at the confusing landscape of White Hat, Black Hat and Grey Hat SEO.

White Hat vs Black Hat vs Grey Hat SEO

With the rules constantly changing over the years, it's difficult for brands to keep track of what's acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to their search engine marketing endeavours. And now that social marketing and content marketing comes under the same umbrella, things get even more complicated!

Firstly, let’s establish some techniques and strategies that clearly fall under either the ‘Whitehat’ or ‘Blackhat’ categories...

Clearly White Hat Techniques:

  • Content marketing
  • Relationship building
  • Helpful participation on industry blogs & forums
  • Social media promotion
  • This is what our link building services focus on

Clearly Black Hat Techniques:

  • Private blog networks
  • Link exchanges
  • High volume, low quality directory and social bookmarking submissions
  • Unnatural links in general
  • Spam comments
  • Article spinning
  • Cloaking
  • Keyword stuffing

Here's an infographic to help you visualize some key differences:


What about other 'Greyhat SEO' Techniques?

Purchasing Links

If you’re caught explicitly purchasing a backlink to your website, it’s grounds for a penalty. However, many brands circumnavigate this rule by purchasing a sponsored article on a 3rd party website which also happens to include a contextual backlink back to their brand. This looks very natural and it's almost impossible for Google to detect and penalize.

Product Reviews

This is an area that Google has tried to actively clamp down on, but it’s also paradoxically an area that consumers want! If you’re considering purchasing a new product, one of the first things you’ll do is google for reviews of the product. If you're selling a physical product online, reviews are really the cornerstone of your business.

Reaching out to influential bloggers in your niche will be an essential and high priority marketing strategy for any e-commerce business. You'll be gaining valuable backlinks from authority sites whilst winning new customers

Native Advertising & Partnerships

‘Native Advertising’ is a term that’s broadly used nowadays. Here’s some stellar examples of what I mean by native advertising:

This is advertising which is ingrained into the content of each website. What if I were to advertise an infographic on a number of websites, when would it be considered breaking Google’s T&C’s? Google can't penalize you for having a wildly successful infographic!

Paying for Citations and Listings

A huge number of companies pay for premium business listings and citations. Insurance companies pay a large premium to be featured on aggregator cost comparison sites, because without the exposure, they lose out on business to their fierce competitors. This is a necessity for many businesses, but in particular the services industry can benefit hugely from citations.

Google actually approves of listing in quality, official directories. But when online businesses get greedy and believe that quantity is more important than quality, they can begin damaging their rankings.

Affiliate Marketing

A huge number of online businesses have affiliate marketing programs. Many of those businesses often will have no idea about the number of different websites out there who are marketing their product in order to earn an affiliate commission on each sale.

Having an affiliate program or brand ambassador program can be a valuable tool in giving third party bloggers and influencers the motivation to promote your brand.