As I mentioned in my last blog post on the top SEO ranking factors, there are several SEO factors you can indulge in and practice to ensure your website is functioning optimally and has the best chance of ranking on a Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
But, as Google’s algorithm is constantly changing, the factors which determine whether or not your website is operating in line with its Webmaster Guidelines are constantly changing too. As a result, you changing and updating your website on a frequent basis to ensure 'Google compliance' is to be expected.
And, as Google holds all the cards and keys, we have no choice but to comply if we want to rank highly. We must continue to optimise our websites in line with best practice and not be disheartened by constant change.
However, some may take shortcuts – and in a bid to win the optimisation race, start to make more dubious changes to their website – or cheat. Introducing the world of Grey Hat SEO.
But what is Grey Hat SEO?
Not to be confused as a halfway point between White Hat (wholly ethically practices) and Black Hat SEO (which crosses the line into unethical - and, according to Google, unacceptable practices), Grey Hat SEO refers to a series of practices which have not been clearly defined by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as either legal or illegal – and as such, I would urge you to avoid using any of these methods.
This recommendation is based on the fact that Google's WebSpam team is not daft! They continuously revisit these gidelines. You may get away with it for a few weeks but expect to get penalised soon! It might be weeks or mnths but if it's dodgy, they will rule it out.
Google could issue a site wide penalty (resulting in your whole site dropping in ranking), a page specific penalty, or a keyword specific penalty – all of which would influence your website’s rank. To find out if your website has been affected by a Google penalty, webmasters can use Google’s Search Console.
However, to understand what these practices are – and subsequently, avoid them, a comprehensive understanding is required and wholly necessary. If you are currently indulging in these practices, beware! If your SEO agency is recommending that you partake in them; you may want to find another agency. The short-term benefits are not worth the long-term costs!
Grey Hat SEO consists of techniques such as:
- Buying expired domains & old domains
This process essentially involves you buying old domains with high domain authority and quality backlinks and then linking these sites back to the site you want to perform well. The problem with this practice is that you could inadvertently purchase an old domain that has a series of infractions logged with Google – and, in linking these domains back to your own, you raise Google’s suspicion.
So, rather than buying expired domains and old domains which may or may not influence your own site’s SEO, you should try to create high-quality content and get that content featured on authoritative, industry-relevant websites who then link back to your website. This way, instead of paying for expired domains with quality links, you build your authority organically – and Google won’t be able to penalise you in the future!
- Automated social media & buying followers
Not to be confused with legitimate social media tools such as HubSpot, Hootsuite or Buffer that streamline your social media management, listening and engagement, social media automation and buying followers is more about tools that auto-follow and unfollow social media accounts on demand.
While social media automation tools enable you to build a following relatively quickly (regardless of whether they are relevant to your business or not), you run the risk of your account being hacked and/or receiving viruses or malware through direct mail from bot followers. In addition, you don’t engage with your audience and naturally build a community of people interested in what your business does.
Instead, you should focus on building your social media following through legitimate methods, as you can slowly build a community of interested followers and generate quality leads. While it’s unclear how much emphasis Google places on social signals, avoiding automated social media and buying followers is highly advised. Build your following organically – and reap the rewards!
- Fake reviews/comment boxes
One of the best ways to drive traffic to your website and generate more interest online is through positive reviews and comments from happy customers or clients. Positive reviews can do wonders for SEO – particularly local SEO, as it helps searchers to understand the quality of service your business provides to its customers, as well as how it compares to other competitors in the area.
It should come as no surprise then that some businesses fake their reviews!
One such Grey Hat SEO practice that has gained traction is the writing of fake reviews. These are the incredibly obvious reviews you see from a person with no display picture, recent posts or information on their profile.
Some websites will pay people such as bloggers, friends, family or staff to pose as customers and write reviews on the business’ behalf.
But the thing is with fake reviews, is that they generally follow a pattern and can be easily distinguished from the more authentic ones. Most businesses will have a Google My Business page – a business listing that appears on the right-hand side of your browser when you search for it. Here, users can read existing reviews, leave one of their own, or flag reviews for removal.
Once these fake reviews are removed – and users see that they have been – the credibility of your business will be affected, resulting in a knock-on effect on its website traffic and ranking.
- Article spinning
Article spinning is perhaps one of the most common Grey Hat SEO techniques in practice on the web. It’s the process of taking an article or piece of content that is not yours, changing its title(s), rewording the paragraphs, altering the format and serving it up as a ‘new’ article, most of which can be done through software tools.
You absolutely want to avoid duplicating other people's content. The sophistication of Google’s web page crawlers means that they can readily identify chunks of content and flag them as duplicates from the other side of the web. Duplicate content is an issue for Google as it may struggle to understand which is the original and therefore which version to include in SERPs and rank for query results. Google sees both pieces of content and tries to select the 'best' result, affecting both pieces of content, influencing their ranking and visibility in search results.
As per Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, deliberate usage of duplicate content to be deceptive and manipulate search engine rankings are grounds for action – and could result in a penalty being applied to your website.
Instead of altering the overarching elements of your content, try to identify new angles you can take with it and provide additional information. It’s all about providing valuable, fresh and unique content.
Tip #20: When it comes to Grey Hat SEO, participating in these practices could potentially get your website penalised or banned. Rather than partake in Grey Hat practices that might benefit your website in the short-term, but damage it in the long-term, opt for White Hat SEO techniques and build a credible, Google-friendly site.
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