SEO

BlackHat SEO: Is it really pure evil?

BlackHat SEO has a reputation, and it’s usually not a good one. Those who practice so-called “blackhat” SEO techniques are often branded as social outcasts, treated by holier-than-thou “whitehat” SEOs and Google much like Hester Prynne in the “The Scarlet Letter”. Case in point: the recent SMX Advanced conference in Seattle apparently had a lot of blackhat emphasis this year, much to the shock and horror of some. A few high profile blog posts later, even Danny Sullivan, the event’s organizer, was pandering to the complaints, even apologizing. But is it really as evil and bad as it is made out to be?

I’ve been branching out and spending some time lately amongst the blackhat crowd, and it’s been a pretty cool experience for the most part. I think if I want to truly understand SEO and competitive ranking it is important to learn everything that I can – whitehat, blackhat, grey hat, I want to know it all. Which is why I cannot for the life of me understand why some people made such a big deal about the blackhat-ish sessions at SMX Advanced. Not covering it is more dangerous than covering it, in my opinion. Wouldn’t you want to know everything that you’re up against? A so-called “advanced” crowd should be able to understand the benefits of at least being somewhat aware of some of the blackhat techniques because they’ll sure as hell be going up against some if they’re trying to rank anything even mildly competitive. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

But, this post wasn’t supposed to be about just the whole SMX Advanced blackhat debacle. It’s about the perception of that corner of the industry. If you don’t play by the rules that Google has set out, does that make you a bad, evil person? Or is that simply thinking outside the box? Is buying a link blackhat because Google says its bad? If so, I’d be willing to bet that everyone of us here is thus evil and corrupt in their eyes – including me.

The other day I talked about bad SEO techniques that could hurt your Google rankings if you employ them. Some people would erroneously consider those blackhat SEO techniques. Most of them are not, although things like cloaking could be considering so. What they are mostly is stupid, and blackhat isn’t stupid. True blackhatters are incredibly clever, so clever that they are continually able to game the likes of Google.

Blackhatters understand better than many novice SEOs that simply optimizing your site and getting natural links isn’t going to cut it in the competitive corners of the market. If you want to compete, it means you have to think outside of the box, be creative, and find a way to get a leg up on your competition. That’s not to say that you actually even have to employ any blackhat techniques that you learn – simply knowing and understanding some of the techniques they use will help you understand how the engines work, and what works and what doesn’t. That itself makes blackhat experts worthy of a listen.

Sure, there are some of the less savory sides of blackhat SEO, but it’s not all bad and we could all stand to learn a thing or two from them if we can just take off the blinders and open our minds. Join a blackhat forum or read some blackhat blogs in addition to the more mainstream stuff.

Over the course of the next couple weeks, I’m going to begin sharing with you some of the things I have learned, and how you can use this knowledge to either simply be aware of some of the tricks that your competitors may be using, or to understand search engines and their algorithms better. Who knows, maybe I’ll even do an interview or two with some knowledgeable blackhatters. Until then, you’ll find me here, as well as out swimming with the other blackhat SEO fish in the sea.

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26 thoughts on “BlackHat SEO: Is it really pure evil?

  1. I understand where you’re coming from Julie. Blackhatters are automaticly though of as guys with blackhats who kick little babies in the face, but it’s not at all like that.

    Google, the media in general gave the BlackHat SEO crowd a bad name, they make everyone think that just because these SEOs don’t play by their rules, that they’re bad. They’re not, they’re just creative, they think up of different ways of doing things it’s very much like design. Creative designers are much more favored over regular ones that copy the trends. BlackHatters (the mature ones) will soon be looked at this way, as role models.

  2. Aren’t they looked at as role models right now by the Danny Sullivan crowd?

    Yes they are. Your statement should read like this:

    “BlackHatters (the mature ones) are looked at as role models.”

    Is the SEO industry hurt badly by this? Yes it is. The thoughts about what the industry will look like in 5 years are scary thoughts.

    I would like the blog writer and anyone else to NEVER ever write another blog post that asks why the SEO industry has a bad reputation. Isn’t it obvious?

  3. I didn’t mention this in my post, but I personally think the labels are stupid. Nevertheless, it’s what this industry has been fixated on for years, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.

    Life isn’t fair, business isn’t fair. It seems to me that the people who cry the most about blackhat are the ones who drink Google juice by the gallon, those who are jealous or lack the skills, or those who don’t truly understand it.

    As long as people keep funneling money into SEO and online in general, it will continue to be a cut-throat industry. To get ahead you must be one step ahead. That requires innovation and that is what “blackhat” is about.

    There are blackhat SEOs out there to screw you, just as there are shady so-called whitehats who will take your money and run, ruin your online efforts, and so on. And then there are those who claim to be experts, when they really don’t know a thing. Blaming the negative reputation of the industry on one specific segment is just moronic.

  4. You wrote:
    “Life isn’t fair, business isn’t fair.”

    No wonder you see my statement as moronic since you think business isn’t fair. I’ve got news for you; Most business is very fair.

    Julie wrote:
    “It seems to me that the people who cry the most about blackhat are the ones who drink Google juice by the gallon, those who are jealous or lack the skills, or those who don’t truly understand it.”

    So which one of those do I fall under then? Let’s see; I’ve made many a public post about how I know Google is at fault for the industry as well. Allowing blackhats to use adwords when they have been banned in the organic index. Allowing a bunch of crap sites to use adsense. .. on and on. That’s not it then.

    Jealous or lack the skills? Nope. Not that one either.

    Don’t understand blackhat? Nope. Not that one. So which one am I Julie? :)

    Julie wrote:
    “To get ahead you must be one step ahead. That requires innovation and that is what “blackhat” is about.”

    No; you don’t need to be one step ahead at all. You just need to be able to build a better website. And nope again; blackhat is not about innovation. It’s about cheating. If you think business out there is all about who can cheat the best, this world has a great many more problems than our little bubble called SEO.

    And yes; I agree with you that the bad reputation is not only the blackhats. I pointed them out because that is what your article is about. If it were about all the other ways, including Google, then I would have posted about that as well in my original post.

  5. Hi Julie,

    First of all hats off to you for your post.

    Moving ahead on the debate which is always an ongoing process with no end point till date.

    Technology and algorithm move hand to hand with the advancement in the industry with the cunning world.

    In beginning no one even measured and knew about the black, grey and white hat. It was the search engines who took us in this way. If you give some think on the ways which were used in the beginning and now, there is a lot more complications and new ways used today as compared to the old ones.

    There are also many ways which are now termed as black hat. This means the mature and senior seo’s are also black hat any how!!

    This is ongoing process let us see where it lands…

  6. What I want to know is how certain flagrant blackhat tactics such as hiding major key words and phrases underneath graphics on home landing pages aren’t being penalized – case in point. A company, BZ Results, serves the auto industry and one sees these incredible and expensive local auto dealership sites that are also top ranked against the high volume consumers searches, such as “Chevrolet Cincinnati, where at least two of the page results have dealerships where the key word text is completely under the opening graphic and flash – I know they have had to been reported to Google, but they remain, years later on page one of SERP. What blackhats have been penalized? That would be worth an investigative article

  7. Google hasn’t really been after anybody, just been firing off warning shots. Everyone has seen the lines at http://dentists.com/north_dakota_dentists.php
    and there are many well known sites like that doing it. But they are still good results overall. So I am not snitching, just saying that what should matter overall is that people get good results, that is what should matter to Google and in the past 2 years I have seen an decrease thereof. Not so much because of blackhatters, but mass amounts of meaningless articles written by self proclaimed white hatters making it impossible for good information being seen unless you click on page number 23 of the results pages.
    This has nothing to do with ethics, just the shift in power, and many of the semi skilled marketers who simply had the advantage of coming in early, are now feeling threatened to lose power, so what do you do? Bash blackhatters, pretend not to buy links and act all out of shape because Danny doesn’t protect their interests.

  8. If SEO in general is regarded as a kind of manipulation then what are black hats? Creative stuff?

    No.

    In white hate SEO you can be even more creative to ensure LONG TERM success. And that is a real result. To get there in the serps and STAY there…

    If you cloack a site or use white fonts against white background etc. is far from being creative.

    Black hat can be suitable for short term, FAST RESULTS to support a campaign like for an event.

    In this respect the “fair play” to achive lasting results is not an aim – so in this case I see black hat justified.

    I hope you would not support tax evaders or hackers because of their creative mind…

  9. “No wonder you see my statement as moronic since you think business isn’t fair. I’ve got news for you; Most business is very fair.”

    Oh I wish that was true… People who believe in this either have no idea about the business or are damn lucky…

  10. It’s more about the intention to me than about creativity and innovation. The marketing I do is about creativity and innovation, and I’m entirely White-hat with my SEO.

    The “Blackhats” as I know the ones who are obsessed with the most efficient/fastest way to get results possible and automating the processes to do it. When allowed to do this to the extent they would like to, the results are usually garbage to any human reader. Only the naive & inexperienced click-hungry even bother to click on any ads from there. Blackhats being clever keeps the fight on against what is really just spam, usually.

    The Whitehats I know are about playing by the rules so they can obtain and keep long-term results. The good Whitehat SEO’s I know also only work on something that has something of value to offer instead of more heaps of advertising. I find it more rewarding to find creative ways to build and market online businesses instead of finding creative ways to spam.

    As a Whitehat I find taking Blackhat seriously is a waste of time for a real marketing-minded SEO. It does put a grin on my face when I find out someone’s created a clever new way to game the engines – especially one that’ll keep working for more than a few weeks after it’s found. I’ll give them a pat on the back for the ingenuity, but it’s still annoying to search and click something that turns out to be an Adsense dump.

  11. why all the colored hats :)

    It’s all about the users!

    While many points are valid – let’s not forget the main reason for having a “legit” website. It’s just all strategy, and whether ethical or not – that’s just business.

  12. “and whether ethical or not – that’s just business”

    hmm.

    That’s seems to the thoughts of the majority of the SEO industry these days. That’s just sad. I think it’s a by-product of a younger type of business person who has zero experience in working face to face with another brick and mortar business. Just try to play your unethical games in that kind of world instead of hiding behind a computer screen like soooo many do. It’s not the same.

    Business is not about cheating and being as unethical as you can be without being caught. I don’t care what the kids these days think. Just keep thinking that way. One day you will be struck down in a big way.

  13. You seriously need to take everything for face value dougie :)

    I was merely saying that – the ethics of business is relative. yes, it comes back to bite you in the toosh if you choose the unethical approach.

    Rather, what I am trying to say, if you will try to listen to others once in a while – is that – you need to put your users first.

    Don’t you think it’s also quite young-ish and zero experience to judge things on face value – by throwing everyone who has a different perspective than you into “kids”? :)

  14. Face value? This is what your exact posts states:

    why all the colored hats :)

    It’s all about the users!

    While many points are valid – let’s not forget the main reason for having a “legit” website. It’s just all strategy, and whether ethical or not – that’s just business.”

    That’s what you wrote. Nothing about relative. You wrote that is about the users and also wrote their are no hats. In other words, you say it does not matter if you cheat or not cheat as long as you think of your users. You also state that it’s just strategy, whether ethical or not.. it’s just business.

    I’m only replying to what you actually wrote. If that is not what you wrote, I’d like to know what parts I missed. :-)

    I believe it’s a known majority of the industry being below the age of 30. Am I wrong about that? If not, I think it surely does explain many things. Many are just out of school and even still in high school. Many have not had a what I call a real job. These are the facts. Do you think a college kid knows business just from going to college? I think people are being taught very wrong in this industry. They read SEO blogs and attend these conferences that teach how to spam and get away with it, and how to trick others into voting up your stuff, and how to create many user accounts at digg to deceive the users, etc., and how to obtain links by creating fake content in order to deceive se’s, readers, news media, and anyone else who cares.

    I have missed some things, but I think that gives people a good picture of the state of things. :-)

  15. You did miss a tiny part. I didn’t say there are no hats :) I’m merely asking a rhetorical questions – And don’t you agree it is all strategy? I don’t see my condoning either ethical or not explicitly.

    my point was – people are too worried about the “hats” that they tend to forget the users, who are the real receivers of your information.

    You are correct in that people new to SEO are young – but you also forget that some are seasoned.

  16. Blackhat verses Whitehat is semantic nonsense. Some stuff works, some doesn’t. And what works changes over time.

    It’s not about ethics, it’s about science. Google is not a God, it’s a business.

    If people can find advantage in dealing with that business then more power to them.

    Google is not the Internet. Google is not a law. Google is not morality.

  17. If Google, Yahoo don’t penalize cloaking keyword rich content, which is what Jim was apparently referring to, then what is the incentive to to be a whitehat? I mean most of the top SEO experts warn against the most egregious and isn’t cloaking one of those tactics?

  18. There’s no black and white, only good and bad.

    If it works over time and the client makes money then good. If it doesn’t then it’s bad.

    One day there will be a search engine that gains massive market share through a user voting system. You get paid to vote on search result relevance.

  19. Maybe the rise of social bookmarking is a result of black hat SEO? Real people have very good BS filters and can usually smell a rat.

    Perhaps Google and the others should put a bit more weight on what humans vote for?

    I’ve noticed over the last few months Google ranking social media pages very high considering the age of the page and the number of incoming links.

  20. There is nothing wrong with black hat SEO! Everyone I know uses Black hat SEO. I've seen guys working out of their garage rank higher than large companies who think they have everything figured out with a team of programmers thinking that doorway pages and such are going to help them out. These businesses need to dump their programmers who think everything can be solved through programming. You know what I'm talking about? 312-725-4437, here's the number you're searching for loser!

  21. There is nothing wrong with black hat SEO! Everyone I know uses Black hat SEO. I've seen guys working out of their garage rank higher than large companies who think they have everything figured out with a team of programmers thinking that doorway pages and such are going to help them out. These businesses need to dump their programmers who think everything can be solved through programming. You know what I'm talking about? 312-725-4437, here's the number you're searching for loser!