The Gray Area Between Black Hat and White Hat SEO
After listening to an archived show of NetIncome, Jeremy’s show on WebmasterRadio, I started thinking about black hat optimization and the reputation that it has received in the industry. In the particular episode I’m referencing, Jeremy spoke with legendary “black hat” Quadzilla from SEO Blackhat. Together, they did something that has been needed in the industry for a long time… they provided us with clear examples as to why black hat optimization is truly just effective optimization.
Both Jeremy and Quadzilla commented early in the program that traditional white hat SEO is filled with the same tips and strategies, regurgitated from one source to the next. They hit the nail on the head too, indicating that most of what’s available in terms of articles and tips is repetitive, boring and ineffective to a large degree. In battling for improved rankings on the SERPs, there’s really only so much you can gain from optimized titles, meta tags and link building.
Quadzilla offered a wealth of information on the show, and I’d like to go through some of his comments (as well as Jeremy’s) because they really indicate that there is indeed a gray area between black and white SEO. Those that actively practice the advanced optimization in these gray areas should not be frowned upon. On the contrary, we’re talking about very seasoned individuals that develop advanced techniques that require dedication, research and credentials to be effective.
More importantly, it’s very difficult to practice pure black hat optimization. I know that there’s a strong market of black hat pay per click groups out there — but there are very few in the true SEO landscape. While folks bend the rules and limitations, true black hats are usually exposed before they close up shop and move onto a new niche or vertical. While they continue to exploit holes in the system — those in the gray area are the ones capitalizing on their success.
See, to me the beauty of optimising blog posts for SEO purposes and its advanced optimization techniques, aside from the fact that they’re highly effective — is that they’re well guarded. Unfortunately, many SEOs conjure up the image of these advanced SEMs as a “black hat”, putting in minimal time to exploit the weaknesses of search algorithms.
That’s not at all the truth.
In this blog post, I hope to clear up a bit of that confusion, using comments from both Jeremy and Quadzilla, experienced players in the advanced SEM game to help us along. Hopefully, I’ll get it right.
There was a question in particular that stood out to me — and it was posed from Matt Cutts of all people: If you were a search engine, what would you tackle next to reduce web spam? Quadzilla responded with:
Everything that Google’s doing now is reactionary…. They’ll take a list of results and apply a new filter to it… ..They won’t hand code the results, but they’ll say: If we apply this filter or that filter to the algorithm which gives us the best general results? So, they’re being very reactive in terms of what’s being done to improve the algorithm.
This is a very telling quote and one worth basing your efforts around. For years now, the battles that take place for specific SERPs are incredible. Yet, with a few tweaks — Google can (and in many cases has) altered the playing field to weed out what they deem to be the spam or over-optimized players. Unfortunately, this is also what has ruined the once mastered practice of search optimization. In short, Google’s reactionary stance towards cleaning up their engine has caused (what is seen as) white hat SEO to much less effective.
Too often, beginning SEOs literally expect for traditional white hat SEO to be effective. As Quadzilla points out in the interview though, what these people see as white hat SEO can really be learned in as little as four hours.
Moving on, let’s analyze another quote…
The bottom line for what I do anyway, is I look at what works, and what works for me. I think that’s what everyone should be looking at is, you know, what works for you,… What’s working for someone else? How can I copy what they’re doing right in my own business? — And, not worry so much about if it’s technically falling on this side of white hat, or black hat… Just, do what works and at the end of the day if you have a good check coming to you, you’ve probably done something right.
To me, this quote from Quad really reminds me of what the industry was like before SEO became as popular as it is today. In those days, no one ever referenced Google’s Webmaster Guidelines when discussing their practices. Today, 95% of the players in the game market themselves as white hat players who adhere to those guidelines.
Optimizing title tags and cleaning up your code is all well and good — but as more people practice these techniques, the less effective they become. More importantly, if every new site has this built in from the ground up, there’s only so much to be gained from optimization.
To me, the name of the game is in advanced optimization techniques — the gray area beyond those plainly formatted webmaster guidelines. It’s in the things you won’t read about regularly, but practice often. For example, according to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines — you should:
- “avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings”
- “feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you’
- and ask yourself… “Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
I don’t know about you — but I’ve got more important things to do than create effective title tags, collect effective keywords and write compelling meta descriptions. Still, I do these things because I know they’ll improve my rankings. I know that the sites I’m competing with do the same — and we all do it because search engines exist.
Does that make me a black hat? Of course not — it makes me smart enough to realize that there’s an element of politics and some smoke and mirrors involved in Google’s operations.
Rather than get off on that tangent though, lets look at one final quote from Quad as he responds to Jeremy’s question of — in closing, what’s the advice you’d give to someone looking to get started?
In Google’s current algorithm, the trust of the domain is supremely important. So if you’re going to do white hat or black hat or whatever for a site, you don’t want to start it, in my opinion, on a fresh domain…
Again, Quad’s giving us some sound advice as to how to be effective. New sites are incredibly difficult to get off the ground. While you could spend months creating a domain and building backlinks — it’s much easier to just purchase a domain that has the platform you need to succeed. Depending upon your techniques, that platform or base could be a particular level of backlinks, history in a specific vertical or niche, a numbers of years of actively indexed content, etc.
So, before you go reporting every questionable SERP you see — investigate it. Take notes, record information and see what they’re doing right. Then, ask yourself if you’re taking the easy way out by filing a SPAM complaint — or if you’re absolutely sure that what the site is doing is creating an unfair playing field.
I’m willing to bet that in most cases, you’re simply selling yourself short on what you could accomplish if you took the time to learn and practice the same advanced optimization techniques.
One thought on “The Gray Area Between Black Hat and White Hat SEO”
Excellent summary of points from that episode. Outside of eBay and some random forum postings are you aware of any organized marketplaces for buying/selling web sites?