I was watching an advertisement recently and toward the end of the video the speaker announced, "if you're afraid of Gray Hat SEO, turn this video off right now because this product is not for you." I was a little shocked and amazed at such an announcement. First, because of the inference of the product committing to anything other than top-notch, clean SEO but also because he corrupted an otherwise excellent marketing tactic. A much better way of approaching that particular line would have been something to the effect of, "If you are already on the first page of Google search results and don't care if you stay there or not, this product is not for you." rather than inferring that the product provides anything less than the best practices and results.
But let's not focus on the marketing aspect of this particularly shocking advertisement. Let's talk about Gray Hat SEO and what it means. White Hat SEO is the kind of SEO that produces organic search results. Practices of White Hat SEO include blog marketing, article marketing, organic link building, professional networking and personal branding. Creating and publishing excellent content relevant to potential customers, current clients and colleagues is the focus of these efforts. You want to get the word out about what you know and what you can do for your target market. You also want to provide the best possible information for your readers and viewers.
Black Hat SEO is far less desirable. This involves things like link farming or link pools, exchanging fan-ship or follower-ship for the sheer boost in numbers and statistics rather than looking for genuinely interested fans and followers. I could go on and on about all of the Black Hat practices but for the sake of this blog I will keep it brief enough to say that Black Hat SEO is anything and everything done in an effort to boost one's search engine ranking without actually doing any work. There is an excellent article on Wikipedia about Spamdexing that describes many of these tactics in detail. Read over this and make sure you aren't committing any of these offenses.
So where does Gray Hat SEO fit in this picture? Well let's think about this. Whether or not a technique is considered White Hat or Black Hat SEO is based on ethical standards. Some Black Hat tactics are not only unethical, but are actually illegal. So my conclusion is that any "Gray Hat" SEO techniques are, in fact, Black Hat SEO techniques and the only difference between the two is purely semantics. Call the techniques what you will but at the end of the day what isn't "White Hat" is, in all reality, "Black Hat."
The most important part of SEO is attracting the right visitors to your website. You want the visitors that will end up being great leads and ultimately loyal customers and advocates of your brand. So rather than getting hung up on terminology, you need to ultimately calibrate your SEO compass based on what sort of tactics will actually get you the traffic you desire. After evaluating your traffic and the best SEO strategies to get that traffic I think you will find that the tactics you incorporate will be the White Hat SEO tactics. Take a look at your target market and SEO strategy and decide for yourself. What kind of tactics do you find useful?