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White vs gray vs black hat seo

Dissecting The Difference Between White, Gray, and Black Hat Link-Building Techniques

Are you confused between the SEO “hat” jargon? Let’s hash it out on white, black hats, and every gray shade in between!...

There are many shades of gray. When it comes to Search Engine Optimization techniques, very few sides either with the complete “whites” or with the dark “blacks.” The reality is more of a chequered existence where the boundaries between what’s acceptable and what’s not are increasingly blurred. 

If you are a marketer standing near the hat rack, wondering which one to do before you start working up your way in the eyes of webmasters, we are here to help you make an informed decision. 

In the following discussion, we will begin with understanding the good side of the spectrum, the boundary where many are tempted to linger, and the dangers of crossing over to the murkier side where you risk losing credibility in the eyes of SERPs. 

Let’s hit the throttle, shall we?

Decoding White Hat Link Building Techniques & Content Strategies

As the name suggests, white indicates purity, genuineness, and authority garnered by sticking to the right side of search engine guidelines. The idea is to increase your website’s visibility, authenticity, and organic search engine rankings by creating an amalgamation of genuine, informative content with a long-term strategy of getting inbound links within the guidelines of Google. Sounds too good to be true? Well, not really; if you play the game by the rules, you can stay on top of your ranking endeavors without facing the threat of penalties. Here’s what you can consider doing:

1. The Tried & Tested Formula of Relevant Guest Posting:

In the SEO industry, quality backlinks are prized assets,  with low-quality spammy backlinks taking a pronounced backseat. As many as  67.5% of professionals believe that search engine rankings are impacted massively by high-quality backlinks, whereas 85% think that link building has an indelible impact on brand authority. 

This particular technique of reaching out to high authority websites to post your blogs has been known to give a better boost to your SERP rankings than broken link building, wherein you identify broken links from relevant web entities, create content that they can consider linking to, and then conducting outreach to get these website owners to ditch their broken links and instead link to your awesome content webpage!

So simply said, guest posting or content contributions, or blogging involves reaching out to relevant websites in the same industry with a high domain and page authority. If they agree to your topic, and you deliver genuine, non-spammy, and high-value content consistent with their guidelines, you are set to enhance brand awareness and generate high traffic to your website organically. 

2. 404 Link Reclamations & Capitalizing on Unlinked Brand Mentions:

Much like broken link building, 404 link reclamation works on identifying dead links of a competitor’s page that are no longer active. So you reach out to the competitor and offer a better-linking opportunity than to the dead page. You can offer to link to a similar page that offers value to the website and its audience. 

If you have a really popular brand and somebody shares linkable content like infographics, videos, etc., you can reach out to the sharer and request them to link back to your site. Give them compliments and a solid reason to link back to your site, such as the value on offer for the readers and the insight that is there on the table. 

Press outreach and sending out valuable content to publications in the same industry can also help you drive traffic to your website and gain the traction your brand deserves. All organically.

Now, let’s get to the darker side of the spectrum.

Decoding Black Hat SEO

Black hat SEO tactics focus on exploiting the loopholes, if we may say, in the search engine algorithms to manipulate rankings and attract more traffic. There are several black hat-SEO techniques that some consider resorting to:

  • Deploying PBN (Private Blog Networks) for building backlinks. Simply said, Private Blog Networks are built only to create a repertoire of backlinks to the main site that you ultimately want to see rank higher in SERPs. This attempt at gaming the system can result in penalties from Google and, consequently, a deeper dive down the ranking endeavors. 
  • Building spammy unnatural links that are non-contextual and offer zero value to the readers. 
  • Posting spam comments
  • Building doorway pages that are built only to rank on a specific keyword. 
  • Indulging in keyword stuffing and creating duplicate content
  • Investing in multiple social media accounts to blow up link sharing in a non-organic manner

Indulging in black hat SEO techniques can attract Google penalties and incur the wrath of webmasters, which can ultimately result in a damaged reputation. Now that we are familiar with the extremes of SEO techniques, let’s deep dive into the “gray” areas of SEO techniques. 

Grey Hat SEO

Much like human relationships and their inherent nature, these SEO techniques are neither completely ethical nor do they directly violate search engine guidelines. Simply said, grey hat techniques don’t deliberately manipulate SERP rankings, but they don’t stick to the best white hat practices either. 

They might offer a short-term spike in rankings, but you run the risk of getting penalized by Google. The following are some techniques that fall in the gray areas.

  • Buying links: Paying money to get links to your website is a classic example of a black hat SEO technique. However, some brands try to circumvent this system by investing in contextual backlinks with a third-party website. Since it appears very natural, it can be extremely difficult for Google to identify and penalize. 
  • Indulging in building spammy product reviews: Whenever you consider buying a product or a service, you are most likely to check out the reviews online before parting with your hard-earned money. Statistically speaking, 93% of consumers fall in the same category and trust online reviews before making a purchase decision. However, some marketers indulge in creating fake product reviews, spamming with bot reviews, and gating reviews by publishing only positive reviews and filtering out the negative ones. 
  • Indulging in native partnerships and advertising: This refers to a kind of advertising wherein brands indulge in advertising with a clear disclaimer yet offer valuable content to readers on websites. 
  • Paying for listings and citations: While looking for the best insurance players or hotel room bookings, comparing on aggregator sites is a regular practice for most of us. Thus many companies pay a significant premium to get listed on such platforms. Even though Google approves of quality listings on official directories, when such firms start switching focus from quality listings to quantity, the pendulum shifts towards the gray side of the spectrum. 


In conclusion, one can say that white hat SEO techniques help you realize gains in the long term without incurring the risk of penalties, whereas black hat SEO techniques may help you rank higher in the short term but at a cost that is not worth it in the long run. Whereas grey hat SEO techniques may seem the smarter way out, in the long run, you do run the risk of incurring penalty risks and a loss in brand reputation.

Seeking assistance with link building? Contact our team of experts for professional support.

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Naina Sandhir - Content Writer

A content writer at Mavlers, Naina pens quirky, inimitable, and damn relatable content after an in-depth and critical dissection of the topic in question. When not hiking across the Himalayas, she can be found buried in a book with spectacles dangling off her nose!

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