On Black Hat SEO

So, the last few days have been interesting to say the least. I spoke in London at Distilled’s Link Building conference specifically on the issue of social media link building. It stirred up quite a bit of controversy after blog posters decided to give their own spin to what my talk was about. While I am not going to sit here and pretend that I did not discuss a wide range of SEO techniques, I want to make something clear. If you think that we use black hat techniques to promote client sites or our own properties, you are a damn fool. Hell, we run a link spam prevention service for free that blocks hundreds of thousands of spam links per day. We have a free CAPTCHA service that blocks thousands more. Do you think we came up with effective spam prevention tools like that by pretending that black hat doesn’t exist?

To be honest, I really don’t care if other people use black hat strategies. We beat them out regularly for very competitive terms. But there is a very dangerous trend in the SEO space where people think that Black Hat SEO = Paid Links. I am not saying that the giant swath of what we call Black Hat may not include tactics such as this, but SEO’s are ill prepared when they are unaware of the incredibly creative, malevolent, and frankly impressive techniques which are regularly employed on behalf of their competitors. It is like comparing a cold to cancer. Yes, they are both diseases, but if you spend your life only preparing for the sniffles, you are in for a rocky ride.

Let me give you a clear example. If I were the SEO for a web security firm, I would spend all day learning the black hat link building techniques that take advantage of HTML injection, XSS (cross site scripting), Parasitic Hosting, and Bot-Based link spam and use them to build lists of websites that have been exploited using these techniques via footprints in Google. I would then contact each and every one of those sites with solutions to fix their problems and ask for them if they would be willing to link back with something that says “this site is protected by…”. If you aren’t aware of the techniques, then this type of solution wouldn’t be available to you.

I can’t control how bloggers spin my presentations, but you can hear it from me now. Learn the dark arts, so you can defeat them, not so you can employ them.

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  1. Matthew Oxley
    Mar 22, 2011

    I suspect it’s largely a PR game. The reason most people get all wound up about Black Hat vs White is to brand their service and to try and carve out a ‘unique’ position in the market.

    Like you, I don’t really care about what colour hat I’m meant to be wearing, so long as it’s suitably expensive, paid for by good results.

  2. MOGmartin
    Mar 22, 2011

    as we seem to be sharing the epicenter of this particular teacup based storm… big thumbs up on the post.

    I, like yourself, abhor the black hat strategies employed by a million others. Over the last five years any self respecting online marketer has moved away from “hacks” and “tricks” into “brand building” and “public relations”.

    The uninformed few who have caused this storm need to A) get some perspective and B) actually GO to events if they are going to criticise it.

  3. Paul Gailey
    Mar 22, 2011

    Russ, your example of how to analyse a security hole and produce a win-win solution is brilliant. It’s akin to the police inflitrating a crime ring to befriend the crook who cracks a car’s security code with ease, if you don’t understand it, you’re never going to get anywhere. The carmakers take this onboard, just as the search engines do.

  4. Damien Anderson
    Mar 22, 2011

    Hey Russ,

    Thanks for the presentation at the Distilled seminar. I recall you advocated the use of any tactics black, white, awesome or otherwise. You did caveat that we should measure the risk as with any commercial decision. I don’t see why any of what you suggested caused tea cup storms, it all make perfect sense.

    I am sure you have used tactics from a broad spectrum of the Google Guidelines rainbow, I would expect you to have with the caliber of insight you provided us.

    Appreciate your views and insights and will be thinking more on how to apply aspects to my own work.


  5. Ian Miller
    Mar 23, 2011

    I had 3 guys from my team attend the seminar and their impression was that, as you say, it’s all good information but you’d never use it as a tactic on a client site.

    We have also found it very useful to try and keep up with these things as a way of protecting client sites from malicious link building. If we know the techniques we can more easily unravel what’s been targetted at us.

    Their feedback was certainly positive, so your audience appreciated your talks

  6. Nedim Sabic
    Mar 23, 2011

    I´m not a BH SEO, but I can clearly see the advantage of BH – quantity. The advantage of WH is quality. Which wins depends on many factors, but all take their time, the question is only which is cheaper and lasts longer …

  7. Ian
    Mar 23, 2011

    It’s the exact reason why Harry Potter had to suffer through years of Defense Against the Dark Arts classes at Hogwarts, so that he could aptly respond when he came across a Deatheater.

    Yes, I just related Harry Potter to SEO. Maybe an SEO school wouldn’t go amiss to be honest, a proper industry certified qualification or something (or is there one, I’m very new to SEO so if there is let me know).

  8. Felix Lüneberger
    Mar 24, 2011

    Anyone who accuses you of employing Black Hat techniques is a fool indeed. I was in London and must say I enjoyed your presentation an awful lot! Most of it was White Hat anyway. And like you said, those who close their eyes over the more shady techniques are not prepared to defeat them….


  1. Online Marketing, SEO, PPC Agency » Clarifying our position on “hats” in SEO - [...] into our speakers’ mouths on such a sensitive topic so I’ll just let you read what Russ and Martin…

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