The websites used as models of black hat SEO here are self proclaimed practitioners of the arts. They inspired the title of this article with their excuses (self serving?) as to the reasons why they started practicing black hat SEO, and why they consider "white hats" or practitioners of ethical SEO to be "losers" or "slow on the uptake." Sometimes they just claim that honest SEO practices are not as effective as their "dark arts."
"Never knock another man’s racket; you never know when you will be doing it.
– Mafia Manager by V
I wrote the quote above because I am almost always leery of bashing techniques others are using; no one knows what will catch on tomorrow. However in this case black hat practitioners have exhibited such cockiness in their self serving statements that I was moved to just launch a rant. Honestly, it’s ridiculous how self-righteous black hat SEOs get when explaining themselves. Still, I decided to look at their side and let the readers decide. We will look at some of their own words and techniques and their reasoning, and see parallel reasoning in the minds of several types of criminal elements, such as phishers, scammers and fraudsters.
Here’s a bit of personal experience that I believe gives me a clear view of why black hat practitioners think the way they do, and how their reasoning is similar to the way that certain kinds of criminal elements think. Throughout my teens and university years, I lived in a neighborhood with a high crime rate. During this period a lot of my peers took the "easy" route to money and respect. Some close friends of mine became leaders of major Internet scam rings, including credit card scams; I saw the evolution of the Nigerian Scam letter from the end of the perpetrators and not the victims. These led to a rash of drop outs and young millionaires. I was considered the geeky loser who slogged through textbooks of mechanics and studied Internet technologies as a sideline. Note that all this time (and even till this day) these individuals were my close buddies; I ate their food and knew their parents.
As a web developer I have seen first hand the rings of click fraud specialists. When it comes to SEO. I am a registered member of several "black hat" SEO forums such as www.syndik8.com and www.blackhatseotools.com. I read their posts and study their spamming techniques. And I have seen thought patterns similar to those of the scam letter proponent appear in their threads and discussions.
This theme is so old that most people consider it a cliché. Sadly it is a very real cliché that comes disguised in many forms. And one of its most recent forms is in "black hat" techniques. Search engine optimization for Google is not a quick process; Google considers aging factors in ranking a new website, especially in terms of linking. This factor studies the history of a backlink and how long it stays live. It also examines the reputation (Pagerank) of the site that does the link back.
This technique helps Google know whether the link is "real" or "spam." Any moderately monitored site will cull spam links rapidly (I have not always been the most conscientious site admin, but even I get rid of spam pretty quick). A real link will stay and won’t change.
Since SEO involves both content (on page) and linking (off page) factors, webmasters spend quite a lot of time "trading" links. Getting links is not easy, to put it mildly. This can frustrate quite a lot of SEO practitioners (especially if they don’t get free, unsolicited links).
It is at this point that the lines are drawn, and quite frequently crossed. The crossroad is that point in a web site’s life cycle where the site has been up and running for about a quarter of a year, monetization is in process and SEO 101 (updating content, shopping for links and maybe even PPC on your best landing page) has been done. Yet rankings are mediocre or even "plain awful."
We end up with the whiners and the plodders. The plodders continue on their path, learn more and improve their skills — and hence their performance. The whiners either give up, trash the website and go on with the rest of their lives or complain about how unfair life is; this reminds me of a baby’s crying over candy. Then the whiners start to explore the dark arts of search engine optimization.
For the black hat SEO, Greed is King. Here is a quote from an author of Gung Ho LLC who manages www.trachbackspider.com: "When I first got into this SEO game I remember spending the majority of my time either soliciting other webmasters to trade links with me or finding sites that I could submit my link to …After about 3 months of doing this for 40+ hours a week…. I still could not get my site to rank in Google … and Yahoo and MSN were not very impressed with my efforts either! This is when I began learning about the ‘Dark Arts of SEO.’"
Most SEO companies would tell a client that SEO must be done for from six months to a year before quantifiable results can be expected. But greed makes the would-be black hat look for short cuts, justifying their actions with wails of " the search engines are not friendly," "nobody gives us links" and "getting good content is hard."
Note the self justification, the cop outs, and the refusal to accept responsibility for their apparent "failure." The practices they engage in bring in cash in the short term, mainly from AdSense or from affiliate marketing. The surprising thing is that your average black hat practitioner would work far more intensely than most "white hats" to make up for not having brand and also to allay the downsides of being delisted from the search engine SERPs. A lot of them build and develop multiple web sites a day, sometimes as many as 12. I have heard of cases of one man building, monetizing and uploading 20 sites in one day; that includes scraping and pasting content.
Black hat SEOs are also more tech savvy than most, because of their workload; they strive to use as many automated processes as possible. These automated processes encompass bots, submit links, comments, and software to count and track links. They subscribe to blog search engines that update them automatically on related feeds, then send scraper bots to retrieve the data, getting click bank links automatically.
If you have ever known an individual that’s a member of an organized crime syndicate or a street gang, you will notice the contempt for "non initiates" and the belief that they are "invincible." Black hat SEOs have a contempt for webmasters that is astounding! And I am not even talking about malware spreaders. Most of them search for forums and message boards on which to post their links, and some even put AdSense on someone else’s web page! They do it with impunity, believing that the wrath of the webmaster will not lead to dire consequences. This is because some of these SEOs are programmers (that’s why they automate processes programmatically) and in some cases they are hackers who as a hobby penetrate the security of other websites.
On forums discussing techniques, you get comments such as "it will get you a few angry emails, but they can’t do anything," "use a liberal host," and "it may take some before they catch on to what you are doing, but when they do you will have several angry web masters on your hands." To them such individuals are safe, tame people who are too scared to take risks.
It seems the black hat SEOs have this much in their favor: most of them tacitly discourage e-mail spamming. A lot of these black hat practitioners actually live very transparent and open lives, claiming they are CAN SPAM compliant so they are not doing anything illegal. There are seminars, forums, and blogs with the real names of the owners. They distribute the technologies and take no responsibility for how they are used. Basically unethical SEOs dance with Google in mind and keep one eye on the law, endeavoring to bend the rules but never actually doing anything that could get them convicted and sent to jail.
Most of them build sites for themselves and only serve clients with software applications to use in link building, so cases of litigation against a transparent "black hat" are not as common as you’d think. The problem of litigation from aggrieved clients is faced mostly by the SEO professionals who mix organic and black hat techniques when faced with the pressure of getting desired results. As some speakers will say, pressure is good. But when it makes you violate your internal value system, you are in trouble.
Who Is to Judge?
In previous articles about black hat SEO, I stressed the need to examine your practices, and not think the material is meant for another individual or company. Most people who practice black hat techniques did not grow up in crime ridden neighborhoods; they were probably college graduates or at least individuals with clean slates who got tempted when the pressure came on. Most of the criminal teens who have renegade mindsets and a contempt for the rule of law are the ones on the Spamhaus list of most dangerous spammers. Most criminal elements continue as criminals, get locked up a few times and become bigger criminals.
Your average black hat practitioner could have been me or you if he had made a few other choices rather than the ones he made, but once those choices are made, it’s far easier to continue down that road than to stop and make a U-turn. As they they say, "the leopard never changes its spots."