Is It OK To Go Gray? (Giveaway Inside)

Hey everyone,

Today we have a guest post from Tim of Timothybackes.com. He's going to go over the different hats the SEOs wear and explain a technique he's been using to build niche sites with a unique twist.

At the very end of the post, Tim has been generous enough to start a giveaway for a case study he's doing. The instructions are at the bottom and we wish you guys and gals luck!

Kelvin

Whether you are brand new to building and ranking niche websites or a seasoned vet of ranking and banking, there are two main components you are sure to be aware of:

  1. Content
  2. Backlinks

These are still basically the two major cornerstones of search engines’ ranking algorithms. That means they should be where most of your focus and resources are spent when building and improving your sites.

If you are considering to or have already purchased a niche site from Human Proof Designs, then the core content part should already be taken care of. You might need to supplement that with more content over time, but your foundation is solid.

You still need to fulfill the backlinking needs however.

How to Approach Link Building for Niche Sites

To really dig into how to build links for niche sites, it’s important to set a few definitions so we’re all on the same page. Some people may use these words either a bit more narrowly or more broadly, but for the sake of this post you’ll know exactly what is meant.

Niche site – a smaller website of around 25 or fewer pages focused on one primary topic. For example, a 20-page website about toys for large dogs would be considered a niche site. A 100-page site covering all types of dog supplies would not be a niche site.

Link building – trying to actively acquire backlinks for your website. For example, sending emails about a recent post on your website to 50 related websites would be attempted link building. Publishing a high quality post and then waiting passively for it to acquire links on its own merits without any promotion is not.

White hat link building – trying to acquire back links to your site through generally perceived fair and safe methods based on the merits of your content. For example, sharing your new content on social media or sending targeted emails about your new blog posts would be white hat. Creating links to your new posts from article databases is not white hat.

Gray hat link building – artificially creating links to your website whether manually or through purchasing backlinks. For example, creating small related 5-page websites on web 2.0 platforms like WordPress.com and linking to your main site from them is gray hat. Sending direct messages to people on twitter promoting you new infographic is not.

Black hat link building – artificially creating links to your website by ethically and legally questionable methods. For example, hacking websites and placing links to your site on them is black hat. Buying old websites and placing links on them to your own site is not.

This is a very brief overview, and I go into these ideas in more detail here, but for the sake of what we are discussing now, these definitions should be suitable. But now the obvious question is, what SEO hat should you wear?

Choosing Your Hat

First and foremost, I strongly recommend avoiding anything illegal. With that being said, black hat is basically off the list right from the start.

So, that leaves us with two choices - either white hat or gray hat?

Technically that is correct, but keep reading and you’ll see there are actually three options.

The White Hat Approach

White hat link building is all the rage on big SEO sites. They constantly preach about why it’s the superior approach and how you should never deviate from it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with going white hat, but there’s an argument to be made about what is better or what is good. What’s better for one person may not be better for another.

And, taking the white hat approach can be a little tricky as far as niche sites are concerned. Let’s take a look at why.

A very common white hat strategy often referred to as the Skyscraper Technique involves finding a popular piece of topically relevant content on another website, creating a better version of it, and then reaching out via email or social media to the sites that linked to the original piece of content. It’s a very popular strategy that you have probably already come across.

While it’s true that you can get some very solid backlinks with this strategy, it might not be what’s best for you. Yes, even though almost all the big names in the industry praise it, it might not be the best choice for your new niche site.

One reason is that this takes a lot of resources. Creating superior content against content that is already good enough to get a bunch of great backlinks is usually expensive, either in the time you have to spend to write it yourself or the money you have to pay to have someone else write it.

The second reason is that there’s no guarantee you’ll get many or any links for your effort. It’s very rare, not unheard of but rare, for a website’s content manager to go back and change links in old posts. It happens, but don’t be surprised if a few of your skyscraper posts strike out.

The third reason is as a smaller niche site and not a giant authority site, other website owners may be reluctant to link to you. Larger sites often like to link up but refuse to link down, meaning they have no problem linking to a large tier-one site, but will never link to a small site.

If you aren’t successful early and aren’t careful with your resources, you can very easily end up with a negative ROI going full white hat.

The Gray Hat Approach

Gray hat link building is a topic that often ignites heated debates among many SEOs. Some refuse to do anything they feel is even close to gray hat. Some denounce it publicly but still do it behind the scenes. And, others swear by it.

Just like with white, going gray has both pros and cons. So, you need to decide if it’s the right approach for you.

A typical gray hat strategy is to simply purchase links from an existing network of sites, like what is offered here on Human Proof Designs. You just pick a URL on your site, choose some anchor text or ask for help choosing your anchors, and pay.

The pros here should be very obvious. You spend the same or even less amount of money than trying to create linkable blog posts or assets, and you are guaranteed to get the links.

It typically takes more of these types of links than it does high quality white hat links to get the same results. But, you have the added benefit of saving a heck of a lot of time.

The cons should be fairly obvious as well. Google and search engines are not very fond of people trying to manipulate their algorithms. So, if they catch you they can take action, such as devaluing the links or even penalizing your site knocking it off the first page.

There is risk involved, though I firmly believe it’s highly exaggerated. However, there’s also the benefit of not wasting lots of time and money in trying to get white hat links for a small niche site that many other sites will look down on.

The Gray to White Approach

The third approach is a hybrid of the two others. You don’t hear as much about it as the other two. I’m honestly not sure why either.

The basic idea is that you start link building for your niche site with a gray hat mentality. That is, you build or buy some 2.0 sites, you purchase some links or build your own small PBN, or do some other things you pick up along your SEO journey.

Then, when your site shows some promise, you can shift your strategy. As in it starts climbing the rankings and making some money, you can reinvest that money into white hat strategies.

You take on some minimal risk, but as you add more content and hopefully add more white hat links, you start to reduce that risk, which as I said before, I feel is often overblown.

Editors Note: I just wanted to interject and say that an interesting side effect to ranking highly organically is that natural backlinks come easier too. I believe it was in the Ahrefs blog where they mention the 'circle of backlinks' where high ranking sites will stay there because people will link to them as it's the easiest source for information.

Isn’t Gray Hat Bad?

No, no, and NO. As long as you are not doing anything illegal, there is not good or bad in SEO.

This isn’t Star Wars where there’s the Empire and the Rebels. It’s not Batman vs. the Joker. Don’t let anyone try to coerce you into believing anything different. And, believe me, they will try.

Some will say white hat is the only way. They’ll insist you to buy their course and will show you how they made some random dollar amount by only using Google-friendly strategies and that you can too. They’ll stress how what they are doing is good, and what the link buyers and sellers are doing is bad.

That’s nonsense. They are marketing towards your desire to see things with a binary viewpoint: good or bad, yes or no, coffee or tea, vanilla or chocolate, white or black.

Some will say that gray hat is the only smart approach. They’ll insist you’re going to get nowhere with white hat strategies. They will show you how they beat the big well-funded juggernaut sites that only use white hat strategies in only a few months. They will show you how much money they did doing so and that you can do it too.

That’s also nonsense, in a way. While they very well might have done exactly what they claim, and you can potentially emulate it with a certain degree of success, you’re still being marketed to.

Instead of the good vs. evil angle, they’re playing on your desire to see an underdog win or the rebels take it to the establishment.

Instead of thinking about link building in a good or evil way, leave your emotions out of it. You’re ranking sites to make money.

This is business. It’s not a battle for the soul of the galaxy. Your main focus should be on ROI.

If you have a solid source of funding, enough of a content strategy to grow your site into hundreds of pages, and a long-term view, going pure white might deliver a fantastic return-on-investment in the long run. If you’re bootstrapping and need to get some cash flow in a much shorter timeframe in order to keep your Internet marketing aspirations alive and well, then a gray or gray-white approach could be what is best for you and your individual situation.

It’s not a good or bad thing.

It’s an ROI and risk vs. reward thing.

Don’t pick the link building strategy that plays on your emotions. Implement a link building strategy that is right for you business-wise.

That’s Easy for You to Say

You might be thinking, “That’s easy for you to say. You are writing this for a website that offers by your definition small niche sites, content, and PBN links. Of course you are pushing gray hat!”

Before you pull out the torches and pitchforks, that’s only half true. This site does do all of those things. But, you aren’t forced to buy at all, or buy any of them.

You can buy a great pre-built site and use only white hat strategies. You can make your own site and use HPD’s link building services. Or, you can buy a website, start off your link building with HPD links, and then when it shows promise, use the HPD content service to grow your site while you transition to white hat.

And, I have never ever said one approach is better than the other. Remember, it’s not good or bad -- it’s ROI.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is!

This may have also come to mind. It’s very easy for me to write all of this, but does it work?

I’m not going to show you any of my sites, sorry. If I did they would get spammed into a parallel universe. But, for whatever it’s worth, I do use all of the above strategies: pure white, pure gray, and gray to white.

But, saying that is still just lip service. You probably want to see a little more.

There’s plenty of white hat info out there, and honestly, it’s not all that hard to find or figure out. As stated before, with enough time and money, it works as far as rankings are concerned. The ROI aspect you’ll have to judge for yourself.

There’s a lot of gray hat info out there too. It usually comes in one of two forms: free content that covers a small topic in order to pitch goods or services, or paid courses that cover more in one place.

There’s nothing wrong with either as creating content is expensive, and content creators need revenue to keep the good content coming. But, I still haven’t put my money where my mouth is as far as gray hat is concerned.

Or have I?

I have actually just started a fun contest. It’s just a one-person contest, so I am only competing with myself.

I’m building a niche site from scratch and trying to rank it. But, I am limiting myself to a $1,000 budget and I am outsourcing most of the work, like getting my content here from HPD.

Best of all, I’m giving the site away!

So, if you want to see me put my money where my mouth is - this is your chance. I’m building a site and doing what I can to rank it in a fairly short period of time using the same very services I recommend to my friends, colleagues, and readers. I’m doing it with my own money. And, regardless of the results, I’m giving the site away.

If it flatlines and goes nowhere, I’m giving it away. If it shows promise and starts climbing the charts, I am giving it away. And, if it starts making bank, I am giving it away.

If that sounds interesting then I invite you to do the following 2 things:

1) write yes in the comments of this post

2) watch the process and enter your email to stay updated

Remember, this is for a free site. So those two steps are a fairly small ask for your own ROI.

Also, don’t forget to follow along with Dom as he builds out an entire portfolio in his own proven style.

In Summary

Is it OK to go gray? Of course it is, if it makes sense financially. White hat is not good and gray hat is not bad. It’s not a good or bad thing.

Make your marketing decisions based on resources and ROI. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. That’s what books, movies, and music are for.

And last but not least, please follow along with my contest and with Dom as he grows his niche site portfolio.

Hi, I'm Tim. I'm a full-time independent digital marketer. I've previously worked as an in-house SEO for a SaaS business and managed clients in a large agency. Now I'm focusing on building and helping others build profitable niche websites. Want to chat? You can get in touch with me here.

  • Going Grey Hat is risky yet worth trying instead of going Black Hat! 😉

  • Purushotham Baskarla

    Yes

  • Peter

    Yes. ☺

  • Derick Shaffer

    Yes

  • Ameer Hamza

    Yes

  • Peter Kripps

    Yes

  • Sandra Berg

    Yes

  • Yes!

  • Jay Gumbs

    Yes

  • tudogz

    YES! I have to say I’ve learned heaps from following your advice so far and hope to keep doing so.

  • Anthony Ezulike

    Yes

  • Grand

    yes

  • Gerald Sheppard

    Yes

  • TinyBig

    Since when is black hat illegal?

    Black hat are merely techniques Google says are NOT OK according to their webmaster guidelines. That’s all. You move off that chart and your white hat portfolio doesn’t start to look grey. It starts to look like white background with black spots. But webmasters like to turn a blind eye and call that “grey” because that sounds less black. The extra color doesn’t make the white look grey unless you look at it from a plane. If a Googler takes a look at it you bet it will look like white with black spots.

    However, on the brighter side, way too often the extra risk of spitting black onto the purely white surface is very well worth the risk. In a nutshell the more black spots you have the higher the risk of being hit by an upcoming penalty you take so you better be willing to lose it if the brown colored material hits the fan.

    That’s one thing.

    Next is: purely white hat sites are no longer in the 25-33 multiple range. PBN driven sites have taken over that range in the last year.

    Bottom line, is black & white backlink portfolio worth it? Totally. As long as you expect the worst and invest accordingly and don’t put all your eggs in one basket, meaning you keep some of your portfolio purely white – assuming you have more sites.

    Some people only do one or the other. Do both.

    And again, black is not defacto illegal. Illegal is illegal. Google is not the law. The law is the law.

  • Alan Kent

    Yes.

  • Steve Jones

    Yes, absolutely yes!

  • Jessica Tan

    Yes

  • Kevin Ciantar

    Yes Tim.

  • Linda Riel

    omg yes!

  • Irma Bense

    YES For sure!!

  • Dario Santos

    yes

  • Brian Ebbesen

    Yes

  • Chris Chamberlain

    Yes

  • F. Kabir

    yes

  • Cecilia Sharpe

    Yes

  • Darrel2895

    Yes

  • Andy Hagedorn

    Yes

  • James Thomson

    Yes!

  • Jason Herald

    Yes

  • Dennis Dunbar

    Yes

  • LeeW

    Yes! Looking forward to seeing you build your site!

  • Bruce Shaw

    Yes

  • Karen Hume

    yes

  • Rick Healey

    Yes

  • Yes Tim and im really hoping I win.Thanks for clarifying the “Hats”.

  • Yes

  • Brian Nagle

    Yes

  • JaMina M EnGram

    Yes.

  • Rich Mabius

    Yes

  • Franck Jankowski

    Yes

  • Dami

    Yes!
    Interesting concept. You have to choose your niche very carefully for this to work.
    Best of luck

  • Steve Richard

    yes, following for sure

  • Michael Davis

    yes

  • Jason Sather

    Yes

  • boreirar

    Yes

  • Yes! I signed up on your site Tim and I’m looking forward to following your progress with the site (and winning it of course!). I also enjoyed this post and your gray-to-white strategy. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dan Norton

    yes

    • Joe Watson

      Yes