Please note, I am purposely explaining tactics here for educational purposes so you have an understanding of things to avoid. I do not recommend that you attempt any Gray or Black Hat tactics on your own or through an SEO professional.
Similar to computer hacking, search engine optimization (SEO) tactics can be classified as good/white, bad/black, and gray/somewhere-in-between. Here’s a description of each to give you a better understanding:
White Hat SEO
White Hat SEO is the use of safe and ethical strategies to rank your website higher on Google search results. All SEO tactics used on your website are things Google approves in its terms and suggestions. White Hat SEO means doing things by the book. Admittedly, doing things by the book takes more time to produce results; but the results can be long-lasting, and you don’t have to be concerned that Google will penalize your ranking efforts for bad behavior.
Gray Hat SEO
Gray Hat SEO is the practice of exploiting tactics that are poorly defined by Google’s terms or exploiting loopholes in approved tactics. There are several Gray Hat SEO tactics, but the most predominant is called a private blog network (PBN).
What is a PBN?
Let’s say a local bakery has a website that has gone out of business. You also own a bakery in the same city and notice this bakery’s website (domain) no longer works. You then buy the expired domain and repurpose it as a foodie blog, and link to your bakery form the new blog. This is essentially the start of a PBN — it is a network of blogs, owned by one entity, used to gain search rank authority for the main site. In this example, the main site is the bakery website.
Why do people use PBNs?
Because Google emphasizes domain authority in its ranking criteria. Part of gaining domain authority is when other websites link to your website. A PBN is used to game the search engine in believing that your website has greater authority because other quality websites are linking to yours.
On the surface, this may seem harmless, but it is frowned upon by Google.
Why you should avoid PBNs
Google is constantly creating new algorithmic filters to catch PBNs. If your website is flagged as part of a network, your search ranking will be penalized.
You may think this is a good way to get a quick ranking boost for your site, but also realize that some expired domain names may have a previous negative ranking. If you purchase a domain that previously had negative Google rankings and link it to your site, your website may suffer a negative ranking for link authority as well.
Lastly, you may be asking, what if some unknown PBN starts spam linking to my site without me knowing?…
(This is important because it is a hacking tactic that is used to reduce the target website’s search ranking.)
…Good question. To address this, Google has tools to flag and exclude individual domain names. Doing so tells Google, I don’t know who this is linking to me, please exclude any links from this site from affecting my authority (good or bad).
Black Hat SEO
Note, if using these tactics Google will severely penalize your search rankings. In many cases Google will de-index your website, removing the domain from search results altogether.
Black Hat SEO is the use of SEO tactics to trick search engines in an effort to gain higher search rankings.
Here are a few Black Hat SEO tactics so you know what to avoid:
Keyword Stuffing – Spamming your website content with words you want to rank higher on search results.
Cloaking – Presenting search engines with different content than what users were presented. Search engines would think the page was about one thing, but when people clicked through to the page, they are presented with something completely different.
Artificial Links – Inbound links to your website are important to search rankings. Each link is a vote from another site that your content is worthy of reading.
Artificial links are the creation of dozens, or even thousands of new sites and linking them back to your site. (The is the use of PBN to the extreme)
Content Theft – Stealing other people’s content is plagiarism and Google can detect websites that consistently duplicate content. If you want to use someone else’s content, ask permission and be sure to link back to the source.
In conclusion, I’ve purposely defined the most popular gray hat SEO tactic and common black hat SEO tactics to familiarize you with the terminology. Steer clear of SEO people who cannot clearly articulate the methods they use to produce results. Ask prospective SEO partners if they use gray or black hat tactics. It is important to ensure you are working with an ethical professional who has the interest of your business’ reputation in mind.