Gray-Hats are different because they try to do things they believe are ill-defined by Google, without first asking permission.
Let’s look at SearchSecurity.com’s description of this notion: “Gray-Hat describes a cracker (or, if you prefer, hacker) who exploits a security weakness in a computer system or product in order to bring the weakness to the attention of the owners. Unlike a Black-Hat, a Gray-Hat acts without malicious intent. The goal of a Gray-Hat is to improve system and network security. However, by publicizing vulnerability, the Gray-Hat may give other crackers the opportunity to exploit it. This differs from the White-Hat who alerts system owners and vendors of vulnerability without actually exploiting it in public”.
Google has clearly defined Gray-Hat SEO as a risky, ill-advised method. Here is the indirect spam definition of Gray-Hat techniques from the top search engine: “It’s not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn’t included on this page, Google approves of it.
Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit… If you believe that another site is abusing Google’s quality guidelines, please report that site… spam reports we receive are used to create scalable algorithms that recognize and block future spam attempts.“
Now, having a sufficient number of Gray-Hat definitions, you should clearly understand the danger of any spam or spam-like technique. Gray-Hat techniques should not be used. Never deceive anyone, and avoid such methods at any cost.
Here we’d like to show some examples of Gray-Hat techniques:
Outdated Gray-Hat Techniques
Mild keyword stuffing
The keyword stuffing technique has a deceptive meaning by its origin. Search Engines recommend that site owners write qualitative and relevant contents for visitors but not the ranking mechanism of the engines. The main criterion for using keywords in your copy should be the question: will you apply this technique (add numerous, repetitive keywords) to human visitors only? Gray-Hats prefer to violate this guideline in a mild way. The number of keywords they use in the meaningful areas of the Web pages is close to the limit allowed.
Irrelevant keywords in image ALT tags
This technique means using Alt Tags stuffed by keywords unrelated to the specific image. The only purpose of this fraudulent technique is to attract more traffic to the pages. As you know, any type of keyword stuffing is offensive and violates the search engine’s guidelines. They can track the keywords you have chosen and correlate them with the keyword profile of the Web page and the whole site.
Advanced Gray-Hat Techniques
Search engines strictly forbid cloaking for the purpose of optimization. “Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines. Serving up different results based on user agent may cause your site to be perceived as deceptive and removed from the Google index“ – state Google Webmaster guidelines.
A legitimate example of cloaking is to serve different areas of your site for the search engine to see but not the users. A ‘member’s only’ section can help in this case. Gray-Hat cloaking is mainly unintentional or borders on the harmful usage of different pages.
Unintentional cloaking may occur when you serve different content to dedicated audiences or some other groups. Such techniques are very risky and we recommend you contact each search engine, present your reasoning, and allow them the opportunity to approve.
Black-Hat shadow cloaking starts when site owners manipulate this method intentionally to influence a search engine’s ranking algorithm.
Publishing duplicate content We have spent a lot of time teaching people how to write proper, keyword-targeted and valuable texts. Starting from the keyword research stage up to fresh content writing, these works demand special skills or additional costs if you hire a professional copy writer.
Instead of relevant, interesting, and unique contents, hackers manipulate duplicate content using the same few hundred words on every page or copying some one else’s.
The Black-Hat technique copies the whole volume of the original text while Gray-Hats prefer to mix and dilute the parts.
Gray-Hats play around with margins to trick the search engines. There is no doubt that fresh, unique content is king, and duplicate content is very, very bad.
There are cases where duplicate content is not only legitimate, but is to be expected. To learn more about legitimate types of duplicate content and how to deal with multiple versions of the same content, refer to the “Duplicate Content Issues” lesson of this training course.
Content mashup Content mashup may be relative to the activity depicted above. Although we deal with the subject of content stealing here, we should mention that content is mashed in a more sophisticated fashion this time. Gray-Hat sites using the content mashup method generate non-unique content from other Web pages.
Irrelevant links As you can guess from the name of this technique, irrelevant links may not correspond to the topic of the website. Search engines regard these kinds of links as legal but won’t give you much weight for them. That’s why they go grey and don’t hurt your reputation so much.
An example of mild spamming is asking links from every one of your clients or offering some other form of collaboration.
Off-topic link exchange If you exchange links with a site other than one that deals with your topic, you’ll be bordering on the Black-Hat technique. Whether it is a Gray or Black-Hat exchange will depend on the number of off-topic links involved. Spammers know that several off-topic links may be devalued but not penalized.
Mild artificial link schemes Link schemes have already been defined in the previous Lesson devoted to the Black-Hat SEO techniques. However some kinds of artificial link schemes can be untraceable if mixed with other variety of generating backlinks. For example, links created within a narrow thematic niche may overlap or create Web rings, even without the initial purpose of manipulating search algorithms, so it may be hard for the search engines to discover the real intentions of website owners.
Remember that link schemes created for the sole purpose of manipulating SE algorithms may be considered Gray-Hat or even Black-Hat SEO. Thus, reputation-conscious website owners should think twice before getting engaged in unnatural link building – especially when websites hosted on the same server, or websites linking to bad neighborhoods take part in a link exchange game.
Not all paid links violate search engine guidelines. “Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results.” – as Google states in their Webmasters/Site owners Help (http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66736).
Link buying is actually a site owner’s responsibility, which is the border technique between the law and punishment, advertising, and manipulative spamming actions. Generally, link buying is a loophole in the search engine’s defense.
To follow the White-Hat SEO, purchased links should be closed from the crawlers by using a robots.txt file or adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag. Other methods will be punished the day the truth is known. If you ignore this guideline, you’ll fall into Gray-Hat and this could play a dramatic role in your PageRank and SE rankings.
Remember to follow the white SEO line in your optimization works. Ranks should be earned honestly, and search engines will give you the opportunity to keep them with your relevant website.
Domain buying is another Gray-Hat technique used to get a quick ranking boost. The main idea here is simple: you buy an active domain name and get the PageRank (or “link juice”) that comes with that website as a bonus to it!
Google is aware of this practice as well, and checks the domains for a long time. If your new domain name is really better for the spelling options or brand awareness, you are safe and sound.
However, the search engines can nullify the links of the domain you bought. You should know that if you act legitimately, you will be out of the SE radar. When you start illegal behavior, the search engines will regard you with suspicion.
Illegal Link Baiting
Link baiting is a marketing technique Social Media Marketing entrepreneurs encourage and use widely to promote a site, business, or brand through different social media channels. This idea has diffused and became another promotion option, which helps a business become engaged and interact with existing or potential consumers.
The concept of link baiting is creating content and tools that people want to link their websites to, or creating article content people actually want to publish.
Illegal link baiting starts when promotion becomes deceptive or irrelevant, and links or social bookmarking votes are spread via the group of gaming members using payment as well.
Gray-Hat methods include irrelevant widgets / tools of a viral nature spammers offer as links to off-topic sites. Because Gray-Hat SEO is a risky and ill-advised method, we strongly recommend you avoid any deceptive spam techniques at any cost. Always bear in mind future competitors’ spam reports and the search engines’ penalties for abusing their guidelines, penalties which can really hurt your rankings and the whole website.
If you still are doubtful about the color of your SEO techniques, read how search engines can adapt to the webmaster’s behavior. According to SEOMoz, (http://www.seomoz.org/article/analysis-of-link-spam-alliances-paper) SEs can apply the following methods to track and prevent spam:
- “The use of visitor click-through rates and time spent on websites to determine quality.
- Advanced text analysis to determine legitimacy and quality of content.
- Vision-based analysis of Web page layouts to find commonalities in spam vs. non-spam pages.
- Editorial reviews of suspicious sites.
- Deflation in rankings of sites with suspected artificial link structures.
- Monitoring of rates of change in the speed of link acquisition and loss.
- Spam reports by users (and competitors)”.
To sum everything up, Gray-Hat methods border Black-Hat techniques and may result in your website being banned. Moreover, these methods constantly lose their effectiveness as the search engines evolve and regularly update their indexing and ranking algorithms.
What you need to remember:
- Don’t use Gray-Hat techniques – they are risky and ill-advised SEO methods.
- If you go Gray, you will risk being reported to search engines by your competitors.