Black Hat SEO, a Necessary Evil

We all know practitioners of black hat SEO use techniques to outrageously manipulate the SERPs so their sites, all undeserving, reach the top of the rankings. They’re clearly evil. Or are they? Why are our denunciations of black hatters tinged with just a hint of envy? In this first article in a three-part series, we examine what truths black hat practices bring to the surface that most search engines would rather you didn’t know.

“Unless you understand the way of other schools, you cannot understand the way of my individual school.”

Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings

The Black hat

“Black hat” techniques, unethical and (perhaps) illegal SEO practices to generate search engine traffic have spawned feelings of fear among website owners seeking to optimize and lawsuits against search engines by companies who have had their websites banned or penalized by the search engines. Companies live in fear of being penalized for an error in SEO that is perceived as an unethical practice. Articles are written to tell us all how bad spamming is. Meanwhile a fringe group of SEO practitioners have embraced “Black hat” (www.syndiq8.com, www.blachhatseo.com) techniques.

As surely as shadow is where light is, the Black hat has come to stay. We all have, as Internet users, without a doubt experienced email spamming. As website marketers, we may have indulged in some email spamming, or in key word spamming, or article spamming, or search engine spamming.

The Black hat is maligned by the press and public, hated by White hats, and viewed with fascination by website owners. Sites optimized using Black hat techniques are banned (when found out) by search engines. Email providers have spent time and money shutting out spam mails, search engines routinely invest in new technologies to catch search engine spammers, and spam blockers are now second to pop up blockers and firewalls on the Internet. Black hats are unquestionably “evil.” Or are they?

What makes a website designer or marketer explore the dark side? It is a journey that begins with the request of a client for “traffic.” My search engine experience began when my first client for my web site skills (my dad) requested hits. I discovered the CONTENT and DESCRIPTION Meta tags soon after, but by the time I had gone up a few grades in the school of hard knocks (actual time spent building dozens of websites for ”I want it done by yesterday” clients who weren’t my blood relatives), I started looking for the code to Google’s page ranking algorithm.

To put it simply, if you want lots of traffic online, you have to optimize for search engines. Search is the number one activity online, and it is the major way people find content, products, and businesses. Then Google revolutionized adverts with Adsense and affiliate programs. CPA and PPC programs now ensure that there is a lot of money to be made from just generating hits.

Combine the above with search engines whose only loyalty is to traffic towards themselves, and who periodically change algorithms and indices used in indexing sites. It’s easy to see how somebody could get very desperate to get traffic by “any means necessary”

All SEO is evil

The search engines view any attempt to manipulate your rankings as bad. It shows up the weakness in what is supposed to be an impartial or perfect ranking system. It may allow a poor, irrelevant site to become number one. This will make traffic go to other search engines, seeking more relevant results. Search engines don’t see Black hat or White hat. All they see is a man or woman with a mission to show up their system.

So it is not the search engines that determine the good guys from the bad guys. Neither is it the industry (my tribe of web designers, programmers, web hosts and marketers and online business owners); you can say what you like. It is your motivation that makes you a Black hat or a White hat.

In the Star Wars Series, Anakin Skywalker (a promising Jedi knight) goes from good guy to the boss of bad guys, all while trying to save his wife from a prophesied death. He decided to do it by any means necessary.

To a Black hat SEO, the ends justifies the means. S/he does not care if the web site’s content is poor or the visitor is inconvenienced; all of these are secondary considerations. The user is brought in by dishonest links. All the Black hat cares about is results (translate into hits). All SEO experts want a high ranking and lots of hits. In this respect, all SEOs manipulate SERPs (and all search engines assertions are proved right).

I submit that is the duty of SEO experts to deliver traffic if they get paid. All SEO experts worth their shingles would practice Black hat techniques if they would not get penalized.

The Black hats are here. So what?

The real problem people have with Black hats is political correctness. It is not politically correct to cold call and badger people into buying things, it is not politically correct to be a “bible thumping” evangelical. And it is definitely not politically correct to be a “Black hat” SEO. It is however politically correct to call Bush an idiot (you get the drift).

The websites that get penalized most on search engines are not Black hats (real Black hats do not know what spamming means, they only understand viral strategies). They are small websites that can’t afford a professional and use optimization rules that the search engines consider forbidden.

Some high-ranking websites use pop ups that you cannot close and other unethical practices (such as unsolicited emails, which the pop up forced you to subscribe to before it goes away), and nobody bans them. They also buy text links on millions of sites and nobody accuses them of unethical linking practices.

Black hats keep search engines awake at night

Two things keep search engines awake at night: Google and SEO practices (Google only stays awake because of SEO). SEO practices enable search engines to remember their primary clientele: the man with the mouse. And the SEO expert is the man with the better mousetrap.

Search engines worry that SEO practices will let low quality content drift to the top of their pages, and therefore strive to develop ways to insulate their SERPs from the practices of the SEO adept. However, the search engines are playing catch up. All search engine optimization practices are rigged around how the search engines work, and undergo review every time the search engines change their crawling and indexing algorithm.

The question of people saying White hat, Black hat, is largely one of ethics. And ethics like any other branch of philosophy is subject to schools of thought. However, due to the “political correctness” of certain views, right now, reality is being overshadowed by doublespeak. The reality is that customers want results. You will do anything as long as you won’t get banned or taken to court for it.

Spamming works; if the numbers don’t add up, then spammers would stop spamming and try something else. If your website gets high rankings because of your link network, and not because you offer relevant content, then I call you a spammer (a link spammer perhaps), but if I write an article and get a piece of software to send it to a hundred directories, you call me a spammer. If I have an opt in database, and send emails to all of them using an automated system, Microsoft and yahoo would call me a spammer if they had their way.

So who is a spammer? Or is spam just a bad word because it sounds like it?

Google compliant Black hats

Most real “Black hat” practitioners are Google compliant, and will never be banned by Google. They operate by putting links back to their sites in comments, and posting these comments in high-ranking blogs worldwide. Lots of people are active Black hat practitioners, making loads of money for Google and driving traffic to Adsense campaigns.

This is because Black hat SEOs seem to be the only SEOs who explore every possible way to optimize for search engines, due to their ” by any means necessary” motto. They actually find ways that are acceptable to the SEO averse search engines to optimize their sites and get a high page ranking. Combining these with the traditional techniques of SEO (keyword density, use of meta tags and flat website design), they bring mediocre sites with low content to top ranking positions. I personally dislike purely sales sites with no content. So can I call them spammers?

Why would I say the Black hat SEO is a necessary evil? I don’t care for keyword stuffing, nor tiny text; not only are they rather old, they are plain silly. And I agree that spamming is inconvenient, even though we have all learned to live with it. Apart from that, sites with no content raise my ire. So do politically correct people, who try to manipulate others to their way, or try to cover up their own shortcomings by giving a dog a bad name. The search engines discovered that their SERPs are fallible, and in an effort to play God, they say “unethical practices,” and end up giving SEO practitioners a bad name. The search engines need the adepts of Black hat SEO techniques, since this will be the only way they can work on their ranking strategies and eventually give the users a search experience which is rewarding and fulfilling

“Knowing yourself, and not knowing the enemy, one defeat for each victory, knowing yourself and the enemy, in a hundred battles no fear of defeat.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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