Much of SEO is some shade of gray.  Other than writing great content, having a fast website and having your page structure in order, you are likely in the gray area. After all your attempting to manipulate your SERP placement.

While many view things like PBNs as “black hat”. They take the position that it is unethical to try to game Google.

I do not.

To me it is like card counting and edge sorting in Las Vegas. Yes they violate the casino rules, and you can be asked to leave, but in the right hands they give you an edge.

Some things are of course off-limits. These include …

  • Any kind of criminal fraud
  • Hacking sites for niche edits — parasite hosting
  • Intercepting affiliate cookies and injecting your own
  • Stealing other websites content — mirror websites
  • Illegal Downloads — Offering or selling copyright protected items
  • Negative SEO competitor attacks — Sending bad links to a competitor for instance
  • Injecting Malware — Why does anyone do this?

Otherwise, I will leave the moral compass and risk assessment to you, and just try to sort out what works and what doesn’t in 2020.

Before you consider using any of the more controversial techniques like a PBN consider the worst possible outcome — being penalized or even de-indexed by Google. Is this one of many affiliate sites or is this your main home base? Always do a risk assessment.

So lets look at the top gray & black hat tips for SEO’s

Go to our affiliate SEO guide for related SEO tips..

Foundation — Before you Start being Aggressive

There is no reason to be focusing on any advanced or fringe SEO tactics until your house is in order. There are certain items that are bare minimums in today’s content world. If you want any success it will be best to …

  • Keyword and competitive research — You want to write things that people find and read. Well no one is going to find your content via search if you are on page 5. Researching what people are asking, how many websites are providing relevant content, how string are they, etc. A recent study showed that fewer than 1 of 200 searchers go to the more on page 2. Only 10 of 100 even go the bottom of page 1.
  • Create great content — This goes without saying. After you decide what keywords to target you need to write the best article on the topic that relates to the search.
  • Have perfect on page SEO — You want Googlebot to find your page, understand its topical relevance, easily build snippets, see it as mobile friendly, etc.
  • Website Performance — Speed matters. Not just as a search ranking factor (which lumps you into broad buckets like, good, bad, ok) but for conversion rates and bouncing factors. People are impatient.
  • Use Correlation Software — The new generation of correlation tools like Surfer SEO can really help you write content that is competitive.
  • EAT optimization — Expertise Authority Trust. Google wants to know that if you are providing answers, particularly in YMYL niches, that you are an industry expert whose info has value.

Gray Hat — Moderate Risk

These are commonly used by even big sites. Of course if you get carried away and add 20 new doFollow links to your new content on the same day you are leaving a footprint and risk an unnatural link penalty.

Guest Posts

The most popular way of getting paid backlinks. Google claims to be able to easily recognize these so I wouldn’t consider guest posting on a site that solicits them with “Write for US” pages etc.

Niche Edits

Like a guest post but your backlink is put into an existing article — not a new article. You need to be careful with these as many are just done by hacking into a website.

Link swapping/exchanges

There are FaceBook groups devoted to this practice, and companies in the same industry can easily ask their colleges for a swap. You put a link to my site on your’s and I’ll link to you on mine”. With the price of guest posts going up this barter system seems a natural. Problem is it is another trick that Google can easily decode. Best practice is to have three way swaps and allow some time between each link. If everyone adds their link over just a few days — it is a footprint. In many cases Google just devalues unnatural links with no penalty. So you won’t even know it happened. “

Anchor Text Sculpting

Anytime you have control over the Anchor Text of a backlink you should be considering your current anchor text profile.  Links are generally classified as:

  • Target Anchors – The target keyword … ex. “best toaster oven”
  • Branded Anchors — The company or product name… ex. “Kitchen Gear”
  • URLs Anchors – An actual link address… ex. “
  • Topic Anchors – The niche or industry … ex. “ Kitchen Appliances”
  • Misc – Everything else … ex. “click here”

There are optimal and undesirable percentages of link types that will be specific to  your niche. A good resource on this is … Pillow Links —

Dropped Domains

Surprisingly people just stop paying for domain registrations on domains that have some ranking power, backlinks etc. You can redirect to an existing site or build your new site on dropped and expired domains. The benefit is with domains that have a history of backlinks, ranking keywords and traffic. It is best if the dropped domain is highly relevant to your niche.  You need to be sure they were not penalized in the past or operating in a shady niche like porn, gambling etc.

Active Disavow Management

Google doesn’t encourage you to be constantly updating your disavow file in Search Console. But if you are using guest posts or in an industry with lots of negative SEO it is likely a good idea. Many aggressive affiliates will do a monthly update of their disavow file.

Exact Match Domains

There was a time when these were extremely powerful. If you owned you could get much higher ranking for content about toaster ovens. Google had an exact match penalty added to the ranking back in 2012.

emd penalty

It is important to note the “low-quality” descriptor. etc. were not penalized. A short EMD still seems to add some extra ranking power when accompanied by plenty of high-quality content. Another consideration though is if you plan to flip your site, many buyers only want branded domain names to give them flexibility in broadening the websites focus.

Black Hat — High risk

In the right hands these may give a boost to an affiliate site. Definitely only use on sites you are not afraid to disappear from Google’s index.


Private Blog Networks are a group of sites that you control and use to create backlinks to your “money site”. These have evolved from Web 2.0 sites to those that have real content and traffic. Google is always on the lookout for these so there are lots of footprints to avoid like same ip, same theme/plugins, same DNS info, etc. Definitely an experts area and an easy way to get penalized.

Doorway Pages/WebSItes

These are pages that you create just to rank for certain keywords and then link to your money site.


This is showing different content to users than Googlebot. Based on Googlebot user agent or ip address. It allows you to rank for one set of keywords but present totally different content to the visitor.

Don’t Bother

No use using techniques that have little upside and still carry risk with Google. Things that just don’t work reliably anymore. …

Keyword Stuffing — You risk a penalty or loss of rank if you have your keywords plaster throughout your article. Keep keyword density to less than 3-4% of the articles content. Any more and you risk a Panda penalty.

Invisible text — White text on a white background for instance. Google is not tricked by this

Bait and switch — Link bait and switch is when you get links to one of your sites that is being disguised. You start with one set of content that ranks easily. Once you are ranking, you completely change the website content.  This is an attempt to get links from top sites or your competitors.

Link farms/ most directories — Crappy no value links.

Comment or Social Media Spamming — Like link farms these links have little value


Is Black Hat SEO Bad

That depends on your position. Google thinks it is bad and will potentially penalize you. It is like card counting at Blackjack in a casino. Not illegal but you may get kicked out.

Do all techniques work?

No. Google will learn the latest technique and may choose to penalize sites or just make the technique no longer useful like long exact match domain (EMD) names.

Should you use gray hat techniques?

Generally these are not going to get you de-indexed unless severely abused.