If white hat SEO complies fully with the guidelines specified by the major search engines and black hat SEO uses techniques that are expressly forbidden, then, as the name suggests, grey hat SEO sits somewhere in between. Depending on how carefully it is executed, it can be a legitimate method of improving a site’s search rankings, but if used excessively or recklessly, these techniques could lead to the imposition of penalties.

With search engine algorithms becoming so sophisticated, grey hat SEO can be seen as a balancing of the risks of incurring a penalty against the potential rewards and quick wins from these tactics. 

Successful grey hat SEO largely comes down to the expertise and experience of the SEO experts or agency conducting it. Many grey hat techniques will work but can backfire and result in penalties if overused. Some agencies or experts will consider the risks of grey hat SEO to be mitigated when conducted alongside whitehat techniques.

The argument of if or when to apply grey hat SEO tactics will often be dependent on various factors such as the acumen of the agency or SEO professional applying it, the predicted risk to benefit ratio, how established the business’s online presence is, the potential loss in revenue from short lived penalties or drops in rankings and the appetite the business has for risk in general.