White hat, grey hat and black hat SEO

If you have been reading online about SEO, youʼve probably come across the terms White Hat, Grey Hat and Black Hat.

If youʼre new to the space and have no idea what Iʼm talking about, itʼs ok Iʼm explaining all in a moment.

White Hat SEO techniques refers to practices that follow all the search engines rules and policies. The goal is to rank without breaking the rules.

For example, the most commonly recommended White-Hat SEO practices are:

  •  Understanding the needs of your audience and creating high quality content that answers their questions.
  •  Performing in-depth keyword research and using the right keywords in your content to optimize it for search engines
  •  Creating high quality, visually appealing, and data-driven content that is good enough to earn links naturally
  •  Publishing infographics and original research to get links and citations
  •  Publishing guest posts on relevant high traffic blogs with backlinks to your content in the article body.
  • Building backlinks by reaching out to relevant blogs in your niche. Promoting your content by using segments of it to answer questions on sites like Quora, Reddit, and other niche-specific platforms which results in natural link acquisition
  • On the opposite extreme there are the Black Hat techniques, which to put it in a blunt way, are used by hackers who have burned all rules and policies.
  •  Hacking other peopleʼs websites to inject links without the owner’s permission
  • Doing false claims of copyright content.
  • Blasting thousands of low quality spammy links using link building tools
  • Mass scale link exchanges
  • Comment spamming, content spinning, copying content etc.
  • Hiding links or using redirections for linking

This image highlights the key differences between Black Hat and White Hat SEO.

In the middle ground, you have the Grey Hat techniques which are about following the rules but taking the risk to experiment to see how far “the line” can be pushed and still stay on the good side of search engines.

Generally thereʼs rarely a consensus on whatʼs Grey-Hat or Black-Hat and opinions vary drastically.

For example techniques like.

  • Sponsored posts or hiring guest bloggers to build links
  • Using PBN links (many call it Black-hat)
  • Using expired domains for ranking
  • Exchanging links on a small scale
  • Using keyword match anchor text for links
  • Generally, creating content for search engines instead of users Submitting your site to web directories

As I said, these Hats are very fluid concepts, so a technique someone thinks of as being Grey Hat, someone else might think of it as being White Hat or Black-Hat.

So youʼll have to decide for yourself what you are comfortable doing with your website and your goals for it.

If you ever sell your website, a key point is to always fully disclose what techniques youʼve used, so any potential buyer can decide with full information.

There are buyers who prefer websites that only use White Hat techniques, there are also others who prefer websites who have been using Grey Hat techniques.

In this course you wonʼt learn any Black Hat techniques. I donʼt use any of them myself and stay away from people who use them.

The SEO techniques included in the course are mainly White Hat techniques, so you don’t have to worry about what Google will think of your website and if you might fall out of favor with it because of some technique.

I do include a few Grey Hat techniques in this course, that I leave to you to use or not. I mention they are Grey Hat when I talk about them in the course.

Mostly they are techniques for link building.

Understanding Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Using Private Blog Networks (PBNs) for link building is a popular Grey Hat SEO technique. It’s a topic that always attracts a lot of debate and

divided opinions in the SEO community

Some even call it Black-Hat but I donʼt agree with that extreme opinion.

As the name suggests, PBNs are networks of blogs owned by the same person or entity. From the outside, all the sites appear completely unrelated to each other. A common user cannot tell if a site is a part of a PBN or not.

In reality though, all the blogs in a PBN are connected to each other directly or indirectly. A PBN can consist of anywhere between 10 to 100 (or even more websites). Many SEOs build multiple PBNs each with dozens of websites.

Hereʼs a graphical representation of a sample PBN.

Source: SEOClerks

Whatʼs the objective of a PBN?

To rank quickly for competitive keywords, you need backlinks.

But getting backlinks from high authority sites takes time, costs money, and requires a lot of effort

But itʼs all worth it because high authority links are safe, sustainable, and have a huge impact on your rankings.

But not everybody has the patience or resources to build links naturally.

Which is why people use PBNs, a network of their own sites that can give them links any time they want

They have a simple objective.

To create a network of sites that all link to each other and increase each otherʼs authority. When a PBN matures in a few months time, the owner can use it to create backlinks to his own sites outside the PBN or sell backlinks from PBN sites to other websites that want to increase their rankings.

The effect of PBNs on search rankings

Itʼs not easy to create a PBN that is truly private. It requires a lot of time, money, and expertise to create a private blog network that leaves no footprints for Google to detect.

But when you do it the right way, you can rank for some of the most competitive keywords in less than half the time as compared to a natural link building strategy (but thereʼs a catch which Iʼll explain later)

If anyone tells you that PBNs donʼt work, theyʼre either lying or they havenʼt used one yet.

Almost every leading SEO has used them at some point in time even though many donʼt publicly reveal it.

It doesnʼt mean you canʼt rank for competitive terms without PBNs, you certainly can. But using PBN links just accelerates the process.

But itʼs a double edged sword and there are certain risks associated with using a PBN Let me quickly explain.

The risk of using PBNs

Using PBNs is a Grey-Hat SEO technique that Google does not approve of.

Which means that as long as a PBN is not detected, everythingʼs good.

But the moment Google gets even a sniff, every site in the PBN is penalized.

And it doesnʼt stop here.

When a PBN that is linked to your main site is penalized, your site also gets affected. If your main site has links directly from a PBN (which is madness, really) the effect is huge.

If youʼre using direct PBN links, this can be your site one day

See that traffic drop?

This happens when a site gets penalized.

And once a site is penalized for PBN links, itʼs hard to recover the lost traffic.

But if your site is not directly linked to a PBN and instead gets links from a site that has PBN links pointing to it, the effect is slightly subdued.

The farther away from a PBN site you are, the smaller the effect.

But there is risk involved.

Which is why only take this route if you have an appetite for risk. If not, stick to White-hat SEO techniques only. They donʼt bring in results as fast as PBNs, but theyʼre more sustainable.

But if you decide in favor of using PBN links, let me share a safer strategy.

The right way to use PBNs without risking your site

Okay, so there is a safer way to use PBN links to help accelerate your siteʼs rankings

Itʼs still not completely safe and if a PBNs detected you might still feel a bit of its effect.

But generally, this strategy is much safer than directly getting links from PBNs.

What is that strategy?

Instead of getting backlinks from a PBN directly to your main site, hereʼs what you do

  • Publish guest posts on reasonably popular blogs in your niche and try to get a few solid editorial links to your main site.
  •  Point PBN links to your guest posts and mentions on third party sites.

This would increase the Page Authority of your guest posts which would

make your editorial links more powerful without actually putting your main site at risk.

Just make sure the blogs you target for guest posting are popular and high authority. That way, a few PBN links pointed their way wonʼt do them any damage since they have the authority to soak up such links.

But if you have a guest post on someoneʼs personal blog with not much content and a small following, pointing too many PBN links to it might get them into trouble (which we donʼt want of course)

Itʼs that simple.

You just need to make sure thereʼs a safe gap between PBN links and your main site so that you donʼt get into any unnecessary trouble.

But to stay safe, I still remove PBN links once my main site starts ranking. Another thing you need to consider is the SandBox Effect.

Google has never publicly accepted the existence of the SandBox Effect, but most SEOs agree that it does exist.

What is it?

When a new site starts getting backlinks quickly, Google sometimes puts in in a “Sandbox” which means it stops ranking for any keywords despite doing all the right things in terms of SEO.

The SandBox effect can last from 3 months to up to 12 months.

To minimize your chances of getting “Sandboxed”, you must create links in a natural way.

If you move too aggressively and get links from PBNs immediately after starting a new site, youʼre likely to get affected.

So hereʼs the right way.

  • Build links in a way that appears natural (slowly and gradually).
  • Build your siteʼs social profiles Publish content and get social shares Get some citations for your business.
  • Leave comments and build occasional forum links
  • Publish guest posts on a few high authority sites with your backlinks.

Once youʼve done this for a few months, start building PBN links gradually to your guest posts to increase the authority of your editorial links..

This way your link profile would grow in a natural way and wonʼt raise any red flags.

Summing up the PBN debate

Iʼve said this multiple times, PBNs are risky business.

But their effect is undeniable.

If you have risk tolerance and can take a gamble for faster ranking, there are certainly benefits of PBNs that natural link building cannot offer.

But if you want to play the long game, have the patience to follow Googleʼs guidelines, and donʼt want to risk your siteʼs reputation, then White-hat SEO is the way to go for you.

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