It is a common saying that in life things are not always black and white. What this means, of course, is that sometimes things that seem very right to somebody may seem, at the same time, wrong to another person. While things that seem very wrong to one may feel very right to another. What this implies, essentially, is that most times there is a grey area in between.
A common question in SEO is quite the same, also along the line of “Is there a grey area between white hat and black hat SEO?”
To answer the question, naturally, we must first understand what exactly we call a “black hat” SEO, and what exactly is called “white hat SEO”. It is only then that we can ascertain whether there is, in fact, a middle area or not.
Difference between White Hat and Black Hat Link Building
“White Hat” SEO can be defined as the SEO practices that adheres strictly and unwaveringly to search engine guidelines. White hat SEO does not seek to do anything but the natural processes involved in running a website – this means no conscious link building, no conscious attempt to optimize a keyword in such a way as to give an extra advantage, etc.
Whereas “Black Hat” SEO is the exact opposite. Black hat SEO seeks to consciously manipulate search engines through every means possible. This includes actively seeking and even purchasing backlinks, consciously going after keywords that give extra advantages, and sometimes it may even involve really dark practices like hacking and keyword stuffing.
Grey Hat SEO
Now people who have been into SEO for a while know that it is very rare to find anybody who completely falls towards either side of “white hat” or “black hat” SEO. This is because according to the definition, white hat SEO must not involve any act of conscious link building or keyword optimization – which we all know at the moment is just completely not feasible.
So most people find themselves treading the middle ground, convincing themselves that they fall into the white hat SEO category but with just an inch of their foot sticking out to the black edge.
So in essence, grey hat SEO involves sticking towards the white hat end of the SEO spectrum while indulging in some technically unacceptable but virtually unavoidable practices that may fall to the dark side.
The major advantage of grey hat SEO lies in the fact that it may be the most effective means of ensuring progress in a relatively short time, without going deep into practices that may end up jeopardizing the long-term future of your project(s).
As mentioned earlier, going completely white hat, and actively avoiding all link building – even innocent ones – may end up hurting and stalling your progress more than you think. This is why sometimes building links in the safest way possible, which may involve reaching out nicely to niche authorities, putting out content that deserves to be linked to, helpful forum contributions, etc., maybe the smartest and safest way to go.
Perhaps the single disadvantage of grey hat SEO is the fact that, technically, it does not adhere to what search engines like Google have termed acceptable practices.
This does not mean that you will absolutely be penalized (because you won’t if done right), what it does mean is that going “grey hat” may be a temptation to finally move irrevocably towards the dark side – which is not uncommon, especially when you aren’t seeing results as fast as you’d like.
The advice any sane person would give is to try as much as possible to not be seduced to the black hat side, as the losses may end up outweighing the gains.
White Hat SEO is, without a doubt, the safer side to go when it comes to SEO practices. But with the current climate, going full white hat may not be entirely feasible. Sometimes just a little link building is required, but they have to be done as genuinely and innocently as possible. And of course, you must always resist the urge to move completely to the dark side. May the (white side of the) Force be with you.