Why Black Hat SEO is Awesome

, January 29, 2014

black-hatBlack hat SEO. Say that in a group of internet marketers and you’ll receive a wide range of reactions.

Some people cringe at the very mention of the word. Some people love being called this name.

Why is it so polarizing?

Because despite what a “white hat” wants to believe or think, black hat techniques work. It’s the reason Matt Cutts has a job. (Although I am sure if spam didn’t exist, he’d be just as successful doing something else!) It’s why Google and other search engines have to create “guidelines” on what they consider to be ethical methods to use on the web to make it fair and balanced for everyone.

But we all know that isn’t true.

Big brands have immunity to Google penalties. Remember BMW, JC Penny and Rap Genius? They all did black hat techniques, got a tiny slap on the wrist, and were quickly back in the index.

Because it looks bad on Google if a well-known brand doesn’t appear in the SERPs. This is how the black hats even the playing field.

Before going any further, let’s make sure we know the difference between a spammer and a black hat.

Black Hat: Someone who blatantly goes against Google’s guidelines to get ranked

Spammer: Someone who emails you crap everyday, or redirects you to a crappy site

You see, black hatters have a code of ethics. They aren’t going to hijack an .edu site to inject their links. That’s what spammers do. Make sure you understand the difference between the two. Black hatters are about making money (tons of it) and doing it in an automated way. Spammers will use every exploit available to them and have no ethical line to cross in order to achieve their objective.

Black hatters find the weaknesses in the algorithm and exploit it for the short time that it’s open. This presents the rest of us with great opportunities.

The currency of the Internet

No matter what you read about anywhere, links are and always will be the currency of getting ranked. You can publish the secret to life, but if no one links to your content, it will never be found.

Automation: Google hates black hatters because they typically find ways to automate a process that traditionally takes a lot of time to be successful. Remember when forum signatures were a quick ticket to #1? Black hatters were doing that for 18 months before Angela’s Links was ever published.

Since black hatters are great at automation, it means they can also crank out the links in volume.

Guest posts are now fully on the radar of Google, and while I personally think guest posting is great if done for the right reasons, the black hatters (the good ones) have already moved on to the next “loophole” that’s working right now.

Next up for Google

A current method that will soon be crushed by Google? User-created content promotion sites like Scribd, Issuu, Docstoc and Slideshare. It’s very easy to create a profile, upload a PDF or powerpoint, and get some of that crazy link juice flowing to your site.

Black hatters love automated tools. Instabots, auto followers, likes and shares and views on YouTube can all be automated for a price, and if it gets your content ranked, who’s going to care besides the noble people who think that “outing” SEO techniques are a good thing.

Black hatters are the reverse engineers of the Google algorithm. I can already hear those people complaining about this. But here’s the thing. Google scrapes your content from your server and decides if they will rank your site. If you do everything right and play by their rules, you might be able to get one piece of great content ranked in a few months. Otherwise, your content will get pushed into the pile of content slush that is “good” but not “great” and therefore, not worthy of a first page ranking without any help.

Private networks. Yes, we know Google just killed the Anglo Rank network, but they made the mistake of advertising it. You know the best way to keep a secret?

Don’t tell anyone.

The great black hatters all have their own private networks of once-expired domains that they are leveraging the traffic or domain authority on to get that all important “aged domain” factor to impact their own sites. And the best part is, those private networks are probably more white hat than you’d think, and their money site will probably be one of the most properly optimized sites you will find on the web.

By paying attention to what the black hatters are doing, you can use that to your “white hat” advantage. Since user-created curation sites like Scribd and Slideshare are really effective right now, be sure to create a profile on each and upload your best stuff. If you truly offer high quality content, you will survive any Google algorithm update.

This is just one of the many reasons to keep your eyes on the black hats.

Author bio:

Paul Bliss has been performing SEO and social media services for over 11 years, and shares more of his thoughts at his site, ranksurge.com.

  • federico

    You can publish the secret to life, but if no one links to your content, it will never be found. Not true.

    • Kathleen Garvin

      Care to elaborate, Federico? :)

    • abieljogjes

      Sometimes we need something intelligent as the implementation of hard work. Here a person’s intelligence is required, rather than we just work hard with no tip base. But it is clear, do not overdo it.

  • Agent Blackhat

    An enjoyable article :)

    I don’t believe in Black or Whitehat, I believe in Smart Marketing. Google loves to define things as Blackhat because it creates a divide that many people feel is unethical to step over.

    • Kathleen Garvin

      That comment means a lot coming from you, Agent Blackhat ;) Smart marketing FTW in 2014!

  • Elya

    I used to be something that is called blackhatter but over a night my network of website which were earning me like 5k/months just disappeared and everything ruined.

    BH is not a long term business model. It s more to be a get quick rich scheme.

  • James Khann

    Brilliant article, I have never used Black Hat SEO but still did get a google penalty not once not twice but 3 times :-/. And for no obvious reasons. I know many people who are using black hat techniques but dont get any penalty. Its like law, you cant get a big and powerful guy but you can certainly punish small guys !

  • Matt

    That’s all well and good when you’re working on your own “money sites” – you can approach this knowing your site will eventually be burned, and plan accordingly. But if you’re being paid to work on your clients’ websites then you’d be nuts to get involved in any of this without an iron-clad contract full of caveats that absolve you of all responsibility when the brown stuff inevitably hits the fan. If they’re made aware of the risks and decide to proceed anyway, fair play, otherwise I think it would be negligent – the risk is just too high.

  • Matt O’Toole

    I’m not sure I’d agreed with the line you’re drawing between black hatters and spammers since you mention BHs using bots and bots can throw up crappy websites and fill blogs with comment spam. It’s irritating dealing with spam (especially if you moderate a blog) and spun content and other techniques fill the web with c**p.

    Click farms and other ways of automating likes and views are pretty sad (they hardly help the third world to develop really useful skills) and help to provide marketers and clients with misinformation.

    I’ve often believed there’s a lot of ego at play, because it’s like BHs saying “Look at me. I can outwit all those Harvard and MIT grads at Mountain View.”

  • Rafael Baptista

    Black hat SEO is a bad idea for almost everyone – even when you have a technique that “works”. Even if you succeed this year – search engines get smarter every year. Techniques that are undetectable today will eventually become detectable and then you get hit with a penalty. The only time black hat is worth it – is if you have a short term cash generating opportunity and want to cash in on a domain knowing that it will get burned out within a year or two. But that is small potatoes and hardly worth your time. Real money is in building solid brands for the long term – and for that black hat will always eventually hurt you.

  • John Crenshaw

    Interesting post Paul. I’m not sure black hat is so awesome anymore now that Google’s shown they’re willing to penalize sites for grey-ish hat tactics.

    As someone who managed an in-house link network and has spent $10k+ on high PR domains, I can tell you that keeping it private would certainly help, but it’s not enough.

    I’d also dispute your point about penalties. Sure, big brands (or rather high authority sites) can get away with a lot more, but I can assure you if you try to do any of the common BH/GH tactics for your own non-big brand site you’re going to get killed.

    So BH/GH is no longer a sustainable strategy. I could take the risk and try those new loopholes, and they may work for a while, but the risk of getting nailed is too high now. With that in mind, it’s just not a sustainable strategy anymore unless you really just want to be a dedicated BH/GH SEO and risk eventually running out of tricks.

  • robert

    well, i believe black or white has nothing to do with ethic. it’s about guidelines of SE. You disobey the rules, you don’t get ranked (high) and they are smarter and soon notice your actions.. why we are feeling unethical being black ?

  • Russ Jones

    It is a vice of mine to be easily drawn into debate where I think a false position is being made and, unfortunately, I am falling into that vice again. It is rare that I give an impassioned defense of white hat because I have always seemed to comment in defense of black or gray hat strategies primarily because they are being attacked on false premises, not necessarily because I endorse the practices. My vice is merely revealing itself. It is even stranger in this particular context as I personally coined the term “Awesome Hat” at a conference years ago to describe some types of techniques that seemed to sit outside the guidelines, only violating perhaps in spirit but not letter. It has become clear now that “spirit” is as important to Google as “letter”, so I don’t think it is nearly as “awesome” as it used to be. But I digress.

    First, I want to point out that it is silly to claim that “black hatters have a code of ethics” as if there is some monolithic group that subscribes to the same principles. There is no blackhatters creed, there is no organization with membership meetings where they go over their mission statement and blackhat webmaster guidelines. It is really not worth getting into discussions of categorical or consequential ethics at this time, but I believe it is safe to say that Blackhat, in the sense of SEO for Google, only exists as an “other”, or separate from “Adherence to the Google Guidelines”. There are no further moral proscriptions necessary to carry the title “Blackhat”. It exists like a shadow exists: the projected rejection of light or, in this case, the projected rejection of the Webmaster Guidelines.

    Second, let’s address the issue of “spam”. Spam by definition is “send the same message indiscriminately to (large numbers of recipients) on the Internet”. This message needn’t be email, it could be easily construed to be automated HTTP POSTs that force links to be placed on webmasters sites. Notice that the definition does not claim anything about the purpose or impact, but it does have to be indiscriminate, materially the same, and a large number. This means that a substantial amount of what traditional blackhat encompasses IS spam by definition – posting materially similar comments to blog comments, for example. Spammers do not necessarily “hijack an .edu site to inject their links”. In fact, unless they did that to a large number of sites, indiscriminately, with materially similar messages, they would not be spammers. And if they did, if their intent would be to manipulate the search results with the links that were placed, they would both be Blackhats AND Spammers. The two are not mutually exclusive to any degree. It is logically incoherent. You are correct that blackhats do not necesssarily need to be “spammers” by definition, but it is certainly false to say that Blackhats are necessarily not spammers due to some unsubstantiated claims to a monolithic ethic.

    Third, it is wrong to suggest that “automation” is a tool only accessible to blackhats. There is an intense amount of automation regularly used within the guidelines. For example, the automation of keyword discovery and qualification is, in most cases, within the Google Guidelines – especially if rather than scraping Google you use Bing’s API to determine comeptitiveness. The only “automation” almost exclusively denied to Whitehats is that which we would typically describe as spam. If I automate the process of sending an email to all of my friends to let them know about my latest blog-post, that is automated email outreach which is likely whitehat, depending on the language used. What you describe, for example the posting of signature links (which began well before 18 months prior to Angela’s links, btw) is by definition both Blackhat and Spam, because it indiscriminately posts a message to a large number of entities. Automation can be a tool used by whitehats. You are drawing a false dichotomy here.

    Fourth, “black hatters are the reverse engineers of the Google algorithm” is just plainly false. Most of the examples you provided previous to this statement and afterwords are nothing more that script kiddies finding the latest WFO and running with it. There are tons of great SEOs who are completely whitehat who research Google’s algorithm intensely. Whether we are talking about the folks at Moz or Portent or the Open Algorithm Project (http://www.theopenalgorithm.com/) or things like Virante’s Penguin Analysis are outside the boundaries of “hats” because they are knowledge building and not, in themselves, attempts to manipulate the search rankings. Certainly one can use the knowledge of the algo to do both Blackhat and Whitehat techniques. If I learned from a study of the algo that topically relevant content ranks better (which we know it does due to white hat studies by Moz and Virante), I could use nTopic to guide my writing of great content, or I could use nTopic to generate tag spam. You can’t simply state accurately that the accumulation of knowledge about the algo is itself blackhat. This is patently false.

    I hate to say this, but your article falls victim to the same sort of linguistic failures we see over and over again in our industry. Subsequently, you paint Blackhats as this group of rebels when, in reality, most Blackhat search activity on the web amounts to nothing more than automated vandalism. Likely millions of human work hours are spent each year simply filtering out all the spam the typical Blackhatters generate – which is why I personally rail so hard against automated comment, guestbook, forum, wiki, etc. spam which does nothing but litter the internet, do harm to real people (webmasters), and sullies our industry. It is why we continue to operate LinkSleeve.org and OpenCaptcha.com as well as RemoveEm.com, tools that have contributed to the prevention and removal of hundreds of millions of spam links on the web.

    It is time that people be honest with themselves about the techniques they use. Even if you have decided to write off Google as being a relevant party to your ethical decisions, at least consider the other webmasters whom you may be negatively impacting. Maybe blackhatters should be thinking about whether spamming Scribd and Slideshare is really within their personal ethical principles. Maybe blackhatters should be thinking about whether their execution of certain techniques in the long run impacts their ability to do business. Maybe blackhatters should be thinking and not just automating.

  • Scott

    Blackhatters choose blackhat because their business model and business objectives lend to the technique. If a blackhat marketer is executing a blackhat campaign, it’s largely because his/her business model is designed to work the blackhat angle. Their customers and their approach to pleasing them deals in a specific skillset and execution. Conversely, if the marketer (agency, firm, whatever) is looking for long-term, more stable success, by contrast, they look to build relationships with customers meant to have, slower, but steadier outcomes. In the latter the outcomes are typically less sexy and sudden that perhaps blackhat, but also more replicable, more sustainable and thus more stable. Not knocking one, just observing both. I prefer white for the reasons I highlighted.

  • Moose

    “Black hatters are the reverse engineers of the Google algorithm” – Love that

  • WJ Kosko

    Google is going to what they want. So you should too. As long as your content is useful, inspiring, or entertaining, who cares how you get there. Are you hurting anyone else? Besides their pride, of course, people only hate on “blackhat” because they didn’t think of it first. Google hates anyone who outsmarts them, which, quite frankly is not hard to do. Society continues to add more control because society doesn’t like smart people who don’t listen. It’s the same with Google, and the internet. If you take away control, the people who work the hardest mentally, physically, and spiritually would succeed more in this world. Rather than those who constantly manipulate and bring crap into the world…

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