SEO Strategy: Black, Grey, and White Hat SEO

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SEO tactics are usually referred to as white, black, or grey, depending on the strategies and practices employed to optimize websites for search engines.

  • Black hat SEO strategies often employ some immoral tactics, and are more often than not, a violation of search engine recommendations.
  • White hat optimization is the complete opposite of black hat and will follow the guidelines and policies set out by the search engines to the letter.
  • Grey hat SEO is, well, somewhere in the middle of the two. They are neither in violation of policies nor are they following them directly. The grey hat SEO will often make use of “loopholes” within practice ideologies not labeled as black, or white.

White hat strategies are the safest and most reputable strategies to use, even if not every developer and Search Engine Optimization professional agrees. However, most black hat techniques used at the moment are regarded as genuine by search engines, which seems like a beautiful problem for experienced SEOs.

Most people believe that it is the responsibility of the search engine to decide how a website should be built and operated. Although, in reality, search engines rarely provide actual concrete guidelines. What they will do, is offer you some techniques to avoid, and some to follow, although they are sparse and inconclusive. The choice of search engine optimization is ultimately up to the business completing it, although black and grey hat are often penalized or even banned. Here are some examples of each type of SEO:

Black Hat Search Engine Optimization

Black hat SEO methods usually serve the most substantial increase in rankings and visibility within Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). However, the impacts are rarely considered permanent, and they are often discovered and penalized.

SEO Strategy

Keyword Stuffing

Filling web content with keywords and phrases, with little or no regard for user-friendliness, is considered as keyword stuffing. While there is no “recommended” keyword density, search engines do offer one basic principle that could give guidelines for keyword density: “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.”

Not only will keyword stuffing create a considerable probability of adverse action on your site, but it will also considerably decrease your usability. A decrease in usability will show negativity through bounce rates, thus dropping in rankings too.

There are workarounds that people try to use, such as using white text on a white background. However, the search engine algorithms can still see that text, and you may find yourself penalized anyway.

Doorway Pages

Doorway pages are pages that are optimized to rank well on search engines for a few keywords. While that may seem like a great idea, the final destination of the user is likely not where they wanted to end up. For example, if you search for “decorators in my area” and click on a link, you may be taken to a software download site. That is one of the quality guidelines that most search engines have explicitly banned. Therefore, using doorway pages will get your site a manual penalty.

However, until that penalty, there will be a significant increase in rankings, even though it is very likely to be a temporary one.

Website Link-Farming

SERPs, in the past, relied solely upon the number of inbound links to a page to rank them. At that time, people used to connect a group of websites via backlinks, capitalizing on the main factor that search engines used at the time. For example, if ten sites had the intention of link farming, and all got together, they could gain nine reciprocal backlinks from each other, thus increasing their ranking.

The primary issue with link farming is that it is rarely the intention of the webmasters themselves. It is often a black hat method used by SEO companies where they work on many sites — interlinking various websites together, even though they have no relevance. The mission of search engines, no matter which one, is to provide the end-user with the best possible experience. Therefore, the expectation is for all links to have relevance, whether contextual or images.

Not having relevance is likely to result in manual actions or bans for the connected sites.

White Hat SEO

White hat SEO practices are tried and true. Both marketing agencies and search engines both approve of all white hat techniques. However, the time it takes to see results can be longer than with black hat, but it is much more robust and unlikely to get any penalties.

White Hat SEO

Even though white hat seems the purest form of SEO, it is often a long and arduous task. That is especially true when you find search engines continually revise their ranking algorithms. However, there are many things to say about white hat SEO, such as you will have significant roots in SEO with the white hat methods no matter if the search engines change their criteria.

Examples of Best Practices – White Hat

Relevance and basic on-page SEO are two of the most significant ranking factors for any website content. You may have heard that content is king, well it is. However, how that content is structured is just as important. Using key phrases in specific areas lets the reader know what they are reading about at crucial times and places. Sampling direct competition will allow you to see what you’re up against, and you can make informed decisions based on their content and layout.

Subject Material

Overlooking the continual development of a website is not good practice. Therefore, regular updates with related subject content cleanly and steadily are one of the most powerful techniques that you can use as white hat SEO. That is why blogging has become a massive part of SEO, and it is a sure way to gain a higher rank within your pages.


Although we have spoken about link farming being an utterly black hat method, that does not include genuine, related links. However, using white hat techniques of link building is another challenging and time-consuming method of obtaining links. That is especially true when webmasters do not always have the time or inclination to reply to requests, let alone fulfil them. However, depending on the location and relevance of a link from another site, they are potent techniques to utilize. Do not get backlinks and link farming confused.

Post Advertising

Offering people to post articles on your site, free of charge, can be extremely useful too. It proves that your content has a reach and authority that people will want to trust. On the other hand, creating guest posts for other companies and their sites will allow a broader scope of audience, and prove your ability and authority. Furthermore, the backlinks provided to your site are much more likely to be relevant and robust.

Grey Hat SEO

Grey hat techniques are, by definition, somewhere in the middle of the black and white hat SEO. They are not white hat, but neither are they immediately evident that they are black. Grey hat techniques are a lot less likely to result in a ban or penalty, but they can sometimes be found out and penalized. For that reason alone, they are also not great methods of performing SEO. That is especially true when you consider the continuous algorithm changes of search engines. You are more likely to see an increase in bad practices than you are good ones.

Grey Hat SEO

Keyword Density

Keyword density is one of the most important topics of any SEO writer and their peers. The majority of guidelines you will see set out a 3-4% maximum density, and too much more than that can be considered stuffing. Again, there are no specific rules set by the search engines themselves, and it is a highly kept secret if they have a density percentage limit. “Make content for the user, not search engines” is all that they will provide.

Grey hat SEO techniques push the boundaries of maximum density by opting for 5-6%, which is unlikely to get banned or punished at the moment. The issue is the reader is likely to see the higher percentage of keywords making the page tedious. In which case, so will the crawlers analyzing your site.

Paid Content

Now, going back to the original, black hat methods of link farming – paid content may be frowned upon by search engines. However, advertising is not an unknown practice and used the world over. Therefore, the mixture of the two is quite clearly, unclear. There is no definitive answer for paid content being either black or white, and that is why it is considered a grey technique. Utilizing paid content in your SEO strategy is unlikely to have adverse effects, but you should undoubtedly use them with caution.

Duplicate Material

Duplicate material is one of the most massive issues known to SEO specialists. If you use duplicate content and search engines discover it, they will ascertain which content is the original and which is the duplicate. If found to be using duplicate content, you are likely to be penalized. Nevertheless, with the vast popularity of social media, it is clear that duplicate content is as difficult for search engines to spot, as it is for SEOs to know how to proceed with it.


White hat SEO is by far the safer option for any business, even if it is the slower and more complicated method. Creating a quality, relevant content regularly, set out in a manner that is easy to understand is also considered one of the top priorities for SEO. Using either black or grey methods, are highly likely to get your site penalized, or worde, banned from the SERPs. One other main point that is provided by the search engines is, “would you feel comfortable explaining it to one of our employees?” If you would, then you can consider it OK to do, possibly.


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