Gray hat SEO refers to search engine optimization tactics that reside in the middle ground between white hat SEO (techniques recommended by search engines) and black hat SEO (techniques that violate search engine guidelines and can result in penalties).
While white hat SEO practices are clearly defined by search engines as acceptable, and black hat SEO practices are clearly against search engine guidelines, gray hat SEO tactics are not explicitly forbidden by search engines but are also not expressly recommended.
The term “gray hat” comes from the old Western movies where the good guys wore white hats, the bad guys wore black hats, and those in between wore gray hats.
White hat SEO is about adhering strictly to search engine guidelines to improve rankings. Black hat SEO involves deceptive practices that might provide a short-term boost in rankings but run the risk of penalties or de-indexing by search engines.
Meanwhile, Gray hat SEO walks the line between the two, using tactics that might be permissible today but could become black hat practices in the future if search engines update their guidelines.
Examples of gray hat techniques might include spun content, buying expired domains, and clickbait titles.
While gray-hat SEO might offer faster results than strictly white-hat methods, there’s an inherent risk involved. As search engines continuously update their algorithms and guidelines, gray hat tactics tolerated today might be penalized tomorrow. As a result, businesses and SEO professionals should approach gray hat techniques with caution and awareness of the potential consequences.