SEO

Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling Links

Where do I even begin with this one?  I mean, I was on the fence about even writing this post for months.  On the one hand, I myself have become known for calling out asshattery that pollutes the search marketing industry in epic ways, and I’ve been doing it for a few years.

On the other hand, I’ve also been able to step back more and more each year in my own open attacks, in spite of my honest core belief in ethics and morals when it comes to business. Because let’s face it, what one person considers legitimate, another considers evil.  It’s a fact of life.  And the more time I spend in a personal relationship with God, the more I work to own the need to judge less and discern more.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I still don’t like some things I see in this industry.

 Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling Links

Yet overall, if you’ve been following my rants on Twitter (God bless your for the fortitude to do that), you’ll have noted that I really don’t come anywhere near as close to “OMG Over the top” in my rhetoric as I used to. Because I really am doing my best to evolve.  #Honest

Except one company has stood out over and over again through the years in their business practices, services and “solutions” that an obvious and blatant pattern has emerged I can no longer deny.  Nor can I sit on the sidelines any longer regarding this particular company and pretend I don’t have a passionate personal view on it.

Understanding My Decision Will Have Consequences

Given the fact that some companies have in fact been seriously harmed by being “outed”, I understand that though it’s highly unlikely given the high profile position of the company I’m referring to here, they may, in fact, ultimately be banned from Google.  And I understand that we’re talking about people’s lives here, their means to an income, with families to feed, and the entirety of how harmful such an action can be.

So if you want to skewer me for being a tattle-tale, a rat, a snitch or an “outer”, so be it.  In this situation I’m willing to risk ruining my reputation over it.

The Issue of Link Schemes

If you have any skin in the SEO game, as soon as you hear the phrase “link scheme”, you’re most likely to know exactly the “type” of SEO I’m talking about. the attempt to unnaturally manipulate the system with the end goal of getting more visibility at Google purely for profit. And in the challenge that Google faces to combat such techniques, they even openly ask for people to report such behavior.

ReportPaidLinks Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling LinksThey ask for our help simply because people and companies can be really sneaky in how they go about their work, and constantly find new ways to game the system.

Grey Matter

Yes, this is the biggest challenge – no matter how many times people spout white-hat vs. black hat, we live in a world with many shades of grey. So much so, that to refer to the issues as black and white is, in my opinion, very short-sighted and frankly, it does a disservice to the ability for us as an industry, to conduct open, fruitful discussions. And others agree.

 Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling Links

And as I mentioned a moment ago, if any of us even remotely follows a spiritual path, we’re given countless reasons through spiritual and religious teachings that it’s not always wise for us to judge others, lest we ourselves, be judged.

What About Fairness In Business?

Here’s where it gets even more challenging.  How can a small business compete with a bigger company that has deeper budgetary pockets?  How can a company that otherwise doesn’t have the skill to compete for eyeballs find a way to compete when for all other reasons other than the means to do so, has the ability to offer truly high quality products or services?

That topic alone could take up (and already does, I am sure) countless blog articles. In reality though, our society, while promoting fairness for many valid reasons, is based on anthropologically based concepts like survival of the fittest.  That applies equally as well to a capitalist based business framework.

Just because you have a great service or product does not mean you have the right to operate on the same playing field as a company with more resources.

When A Company Goes Too Far

Sometimes however, some companies go too far.  They take advantage of the fundamental principles I’ve touched on here.  Knowing they can push the envelope of “reasonable implementation” that each of those principles entails.

When that happens, through legal recourse, a company can be seen as causing themselves to have an unfair competitive advantage.  That’s a subtle semantic concept, since it’s not a truly “fair” system to begin with.  Yet at some point, overwhelming abuse of that system can in fact, be deemed as “too” unfair.

Full Circle – Enough Is Enough – Let’s Out These Bad Boys

And that brings me to the reason I wrote this article.  I’ve observed this particular company for far too long in how they claim to offer good services to their customers.  In truth, much of what they do really is good.  Yet they’ve simultaneously and consistently, over the years, found ways to unnaturally manipulate the playing field.  To the point where they have long since crossed the line of unfair competitive advantage.

I’m not, in this article, going to go into long drawn out detail about how I discovered this particular scheme. After all, my particular forensic skill is one I cherish and which helps me continue to gain some very big client opportunities, nor do I wish to reveal my methods only to have someone come along and find new ways to hide their antics from me and in turn hampers my ability to do competitive analysis…

Nor will I provide you with a plethora of charts, flow-charts, diagrams, spreadsheets or source-code material to back up my position. Because there’s far too much to sift through, to decide what among all of the reams of data, is necessary to make my case.

And too, I’m pretty confident that just by seeing the single piece of evidence below, if you’ve as I said before, had any skin in this search game, you’ll know instantly, immediately, and without any hesitation of doubt whatever that my assumptions, belief and view is dead-on accurate.

So here, without further delay, is link to proof that worse than any other company, this one takes the cake for their link schemes… Click the link, evaluate the evidence, then come back and read my final thoughts… Go ahead. I’ll wait….

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Final Thoughts

I wrote this article in part to mock the insanity that’s gone on recently in the debate over what’s right, what’s wrong, who should be blamed, who is innocent, whether people who out others are doing good or doing evil.  And yet, when you really stop long enough to think about it, to really consider how it is that this particular company does what they do, you’ll understand that in business, we all serve multiple masters, and sometimes when serving multiple masters, we run into problems ourselves.  Intentionally or not.  Consciously or not.

In writing this article, I do not intend to imply that I do or do not condone any particular behavior outside of what I already am known to be accepting of and what I am known to deplore.  I only wrote it to make a point about how complex the issue ultimately is. And have a little fun doing it.

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 Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling Links
Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and tens of millions of visitors a month. A noted industry speaker, author and blogger, his posts are quite often as much controversial as they are thought provoking.
 Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling Links

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37 thoughts on “Another Black Hat Company Caught Selling Links

  1. I think you’re absolutely right that there are shades of grey when it comes to SEO, and the line between what is acceptable and what is not is often determined by the practitioner (and the results their efforts get). I think a lot of site owners get into trouble because they don’t know when they’ve taken it too far. If you’ve been in the SEO industry for some time you start to learn what boundaries get pushed and which ones you don’t touch. When you don’t have the benefit of that knowledge you’re playing fast and loose with your SEO.

  2. Very thought provoking! A very clever article with so many things for me to go away and think about. I love the controversial and somewhat brave view point that you’ve taken. I definitely agree that there is a level of hypocracy on the subject of paid links and it just goes to show how much power the company has to make its own rules and decide who to apply them to!

    A really enjoyable read!

    1. Thanks Becky. It was a challenge, because had I named names in the headline or article, I know a lot of people would have not even bothered reading, assuming one way or the other in advance what the article was about or for. So it came across as less than “bold” a write-up as it might have been. Always looking to balance my approach and I am glad you enjoyed it!

  3. I like this almost as much as I liked the ‘Google runs a link network’ post that Portent put up at the weekend. In fact, I may like this one more.

    I do, however, hope nobody else does one, because they’re going to look mighty silly.

  4. The next stage is surely people creating fake ‘Paid Links’ lists with their competitors’ links in and then outing them.

    All this is getting way out of control.

  5. Too much is really starting to overlap in the SEO space. I think when people approach SEO they really need to put their marketing hat on tight and think about the branding aspect of the link. If the links seems completely whack and just out of place it probably is.

  6. I have a lot of empathy towards your post, Alan. There’s much I don’t understand about Google’s business practices, but the one that baffles me the most is how Google’s TOS can so clearly be against the buying and selling of links, yet Google can have a link buying/selling program which they call AdSense.

    To my mind, telling people not to buy or sell links while running a link buying and selling program at the same time is complete hypocrisy. It”s almost like Google says, “Don’t even think about getting paid to put links on your site … unless you get paid by us.”

    1. David, if you read their TOS, they specially say you can do so if it’s in the form of advertising (worded specifically to allow them to sell AdWords and AdSense ads).

      1. Thank you, Alan for clarifying. It seems though that agencies that have set up their own form of AdSense have been either highly penalized or flat out deindexed. I guess this is why there’s little difference between a Googler and a Central Banker.

    2. Exactly, Google is king when it comes about hypocrisy. But probably it think that to gods applies other rules than to simple people…Google gone far beyond over a reasonable limit and turned the large majority of the world against him – I just can’t wait to see when will begin its decline and all users will switch to more human companies.

  7. Thanks everyone for the great responses you’ve posted ! Glad you like / appreciate the article.

    Iain, I would have linked to Ian’s article from this one but it would have given away my secret :-)

    1. Thanks Shannon! You “could” like it a million times, however you’d need to create 999,999 “fake” accounts out there to do that. Or pay for those. And we wouldn’t want you or I or SEJ being booted from Google now, would we? :-)

  8. I had a feeling when I started the article who you were outing and I was right. But I enjoyed the journey along the way and can’t say I disagree with you. It has become a very confusing world. Nice piece.

  9. Hook, line, and sinker. You got me good on this one. I thought you were ratting out a real issue. I don’t see how this can be the same as a link scheme or any kind of play for Google other than marketing. Google is offering free credit to advertise your business. How do they get any link value out of that? If I sign up and use their free money, then drop it afterwards, Google didn’t get anything from it.

    1. Sal,
      Thanks for the comment – the concept is this – Google says don’t buy links in one breath and says “join our program here, and if you like it, buy links from us”.

      Clearly they differentiate why their paid links program is different than those they go after, via their TOS and the “buying links is okay when it’s done as ‘legitimate’ advertising’ disclaimer. And yes, AdWords and AdSense are considered “advertising”.

      The point was that there’s countless forms of “advertising” out there (just one of which is “product placement” in movies and TV shows) that are also considered “advertising” outside of anything Google can control, and that it’s purely a Google decision to determine what is acceptable and not acceptable when it comes to advertising on the Internet as relates to their rankings. As gatekeeper to the overwhelming majority of search, they have the power to dictate that and anyone who disagrees has no recourse at this point.

      Whether that’s legitimate or not, whether you agree with that stance or not, the fact remains that under certain views, the AdWords / AdSense environment can very well be perceived as a link scheme, just as easily as it can be seen as legitimate advertising.

      On a final note, this wasn’t as much about attacking Google as it was about making a point that there are bigger picture things to consider beyond most of the ranting and hype that has been cropping up lately, as well as the over-the-top “outing”.

      1. Alan, I see you approved quick “nice article” comments that offered nothing more, but not my “not a nice article” comment. Frankly, I think you went a long way to make a rather irrelevant point and I found your article to be a waste of time.

        I do have to take further issue with your insistence that AdWords/AdSense can REASONABLY be perceived as a link scheme against Google Webmaster Guidelines. I guess it certainly can be perceived that way by people who don’t know what they are talking about, but aren’t those the very over the top people that is the target of your main point?

        To the point, Google has never had a problem with paid links. Specifically, webmaster tools guidelines state “Buying or selling links that pass PageRank violates our webmaster guidelines” and “In order to stay within Google’s quality guidelines, paid links should be disclosed through a rel=”nofollow” or other techniques such as doing a redirect through a page which is robots.txt’ed out. ”

        I have a pretty good and sarcastic sense of humor, but sorry, I didn’t find your article funny or helpful. Hopefully you will feel confident enough in your post to approve this comment.

  10. Alan, that was a brilliant post mate! I lmao on that image. Could not be more spot on than that…I have been frustrated for years with certain practices employed by this company…self-interest to its max!

  11. Me: This is just gotta read!

    Me (reading): Yeah…uh-huh…wow…who is he talking about?…Cool, finally gonna see who he’s “calling out”!…click.

    Me: Oh…them.

    Nice piece…well put.

  12. Didn’t see that one coming… Great job on a well written, thought provoking, article.
    Now let’s just pray Wal-Mart and google don’t merge. ;)

  13. It is time for us to take action, spread the words, the ethical practice, the marketing for real people, the effort that solves people’s problem.

    This should be an eye opener for all SEO/marketing/advertising agencies to revise their business model/structure/work flow. The era of tweaking has ended, lets take a few steps back where we talk to real persons..

  14. Enjoyed your whole article while reading, it is amazing for me and very well written by you, thanks for sharing this excellent article with us.

  15. To “Bob” above, who was upset by both this article and that his “not nice” comment wasn’t approved in a timely manner:

    First, with all due respect, as a columnist, I do not run SEJ, and do not have comment approval authority. If a comment was held in moderation, it was not by me, nor would it have been within my power to release it. Perhaps this was the first time you commented here at SEJ – if so, that could be why your comment was delayed. For that, I do apologize, as I have no desire to cause first time visitors any grief.

    As for your opinion regarding the subject of this article, I appreciate your position on the matter and in fact, that just further emphasizes a key point to the article – we all see things in our own way – and what one person considers acceptable, another might take issue with.

    Clearly, Google has every right to offer AdWords and AdSense advertising channels. They’re free to run their business any way they see fit. I respect Google on the overwhelming majority of their business decisions regarding search, and happen to be one of their biggest advocates as far as sustainable SEO best practices go. It’s how I make my own living – by being an immovable proponent of all the work they do to continually make the organic search results cleaner and better.

    However, your claim “I guess it certainly can be perceived that way by people who don’t know what they are talking about,” is itself a bit myopic, in my opinion. That is JUST my opinion. Why? Because while that statement you refer to is buried in the TOS, you would hopefully know full well that in the real world, the overwhelming majority of small and mid-size business owners do not always read legal “terms of service” pages.

    Given that reality, anyone of those small and mid-size business owners who might have read Google’s other content, as I quoted in my article, the statement that Google does not approve paid links, and in fact where THAT statement leaves out the caveat regarding how “some” paid links are acceptable, well in THAT reality, we have a discrepancy of message.

    Throw in all of the complaints people have made about Google’s AdWords system not being fair for one reason or another, the continued scrutiny Google faces to this day regarding anti-competitive concerns that many very well educated and highly intelligent, as well as seriously well informed scholars, legal experts, business experts and even the (sadly) less informed Congress has shown and it boils down to a mixed soup of a situation where some people DO in fact find there’s a possible problem with the way the dominant force in search services has gone about their business.

    And THAT in turn brings me back to how I wrapped up the article in saying there’s a lot of challenges that any company faces (including Google) when it comes to serving many masters. And many of the articles that have been written previously calling out companies, in my opinion, have done so without accepting that in business and in the real world, things aren’t always as cut and dried as people would like to make them out to be.

  16. Love the article because of the statement of faith. As a new website owner I am still amazed that we even come up on the first page of google at all.
    My husband suggested I learn about SEO because we couldn’t afford to hire anyone. Our website is about 2 years old. We were overjoyed the first time a client called with the news that we were coming up in the local search on page one.
    My eyes glazed over learning all the boring SEO stuff I could.
    Thanks to the Google updates we are ahead of some very reputable local competition. It must stink to be on the downside of the updates ! They are in our prayers.
    Come to think of it we all know who is really in control, and its not Google !

  17. Irony: you appropriate my tweet and use it in a story with “black hat” in the title.

    While I understand this article is just a pageview ploy to poke at Google – I do think everyone’s use of the terms “white hat” or “black hat” to describe their own or others’ marketing tactics in this biz assists in keeping the industry in the marketing ghetto. It’s really no wonder traditional media outlets or even non-traditional (the verge) view the industry with skepticism and criticism when we refer to ourselves using such terms.

    I really hope people do start using real world descriptors for the very important, relevant and varied work done by those in this field. Folks outside this industry will continue to cast aspersions on what is done here, if we insist upon making up terms (I’m looking at you, inbound) and using colored hats to describe what is simply – marketing.

    1. Michelle,

      I’m shocked! “While I understand this article is just a pageview ploy”

      :-) Who me?

      Just because I not only garnered a significant amount of traffic that would have otherwise skipped “yet another industry lesson” article, and in turn, increased single image views of one of my twitpics from the average 150 views to what is already over 1800? yeah…

      I do agree about the desire you express and routinely attempt to steer personal and professional discussions I have to “sustainable” rather than “white/black”.

      Of course it’s a much bigger challenge, as far as mind-sets and motives go, yet even just a shift in semantic communication can start to cause a door to open on a bigger shift opportunity.

  18. Ah ya trollin bastard – that was a great read though. When I started reading I was like “who did what now, and which major brand is now pointing fingers at their SEO company…” but… I love the twists at the end.

    Also… are you planning on using that adwords credit? I mean -I- don’t need it, but I have this friend…

    1. Sorry Derek – I didn’t mean to snag anyone on my fishing expedition. Okay I did. So I’m not really sorry.
      However I will not be using that credit. or the 50 others I get every time they do another promotion. And like AOL CD’s, I don’t push them on other people… :-)

  19. brilliant post mate! I lmao on that image. Could not be more spot on than that…I have been frustrated for years with certain practices employed by this company…self-interest to its max!

  20. Great job, Alan. I don’t know how I managed to miss this one, but I’m glad I stumbled across it.
    I agree completely with the differing perspectives rendering different viewpoints. That’s just as true in this situation as it is when folks start talking about hat colors. As a Dojo mate occasionally says, “there ARE no hats!”
    There are, however, as Michelle pointed out, plenty of people like to talk about hat color and make up “new” old names (yeah, Michelle… “inbound” was the first to pop into my mind, too).

    I’ve always liked your ‘sustainable’ and ‘myopic’ SEO, m’self!