Black Hat, White Hat: Does It Really Matter Anymore?

Last session! Last session! Yay! I’m not even going to try to make this clever because we’re almost done!

Frank Watson, CEO, Kangamurra Media

Rand Fishkin, CEO,
Todd Friesen, VP Search, Position Technologies
David Naylor, SEO, Bronco
Matthew Bailey, SES Advisory Board & President, Site Logic Marketing
Bruce Clay, President, Bruce Clay, Inc.

panel of White Hat, Black Hat at SES Chicago 2009

I tried to convince Rand that he should go black hat for this panel. He said he wouldn’t be any good at it. Matt Bailey shows up last and gets named the black hat by default. Look, it’s the last session of the day, people. There’s no logic or sanity left.

Frank brings up the first iteration of the Search Engine Relationship Chart and how much it’s changed over the years.

In Frank’s estimation, Rand and Bruce are the white hats. Bailey’s in the middle. Frank and Dave are the black hats.

Y’all, I’m gonna tell you right now, we’re not even going to get anywhere near serious.

What is black hat?

Rand says that the definition changes frequently and it’s all about risk and fear of risk, and if you’re big enough, the line is further out than for other people. He says black hat is what’s expressly prohibited by guidelines.

Todd says that the only thing left that’s black hat is buying links.

Matt says amateur SEO is keyword stuffing, white on white.

Now they’re talking about why Wikipedia ranks. I wonder what else I could have been recapping right now. Wasn’t there an eye-tracking update? I love that sort of nerd info.

Todd says that Wikipedia is a dead end on the Internet and that’s a problem.

Rand kind of hopes that Wikipedia has hit their peak.

Matt calls Wikipedia a flavor of the week.

Todd: Is it black hat to pay the ten guys at the top of Digg to promote your article?

Rand: Google would say no, but he thinks Kevin Rose would say yes.

Dave: Being under the radar is black hat. There’s a guy who will submit a link to Digg, get buried, and then Google will find it and rank the Digg page. That’s spam. The only people who can fight it are the people who own the authority domains. They need to no index, no follow.

There’s a bit of a slap fight over whether or not Digg cares that they’re getting a ton of low-quality search traffic. Rand says no, Dave says yes.

Frank: What about spammers?

Dave: Google needs to get rid of the spam in its index. Spam is press button, inject. Look at maps, Google Base, etc. They’re all full of spam.

Rand: It seems like Google lets spam build to a critical mass and then cleans it up.

How long will Google real-time search last?

Everyone says “days”.

Rand: The only reason real-time search in Google exists is because they didn’t want Bing to get the press.

Bruce: Spam and black hat aren’t one and the same. When you’re playing cards there are professional card players and there are card cheats.

Todd: Back in the day he was ranking using tactics that Google wouldn’t have liked. But if Google’s all about user experience, which is what the users got, why was that bad? Way, way back, REAL spam wasn’t even on target.

Rand: The definition of spam is “What would Matt Cutts think? Imagine him in your head. What do you think he would do?”

Things are getting ranty in here. SEOmoz got a note from “an engine” >.> that they needed to nofollow links on their profile page or they’d get penalized. They want to know why webmasters even need to know about nofollow.

Matt says his soapbox is when you put up a new site and forget to redirect the old site then you lose your rankings. How is a small business even supposed to know about that?

Dave: Rel=”canonical” tore his client site apart.

Rand: He had a client remove the nofollow on their site and they tanked. They came to him and were like, “Google just said to take this off!”

Dave: Black hat stuff is illegal now.

Todd: He did some black hat stuff but none of it was going to land him in Bubba’s cell.

Bruce: The fundamental problem is that people don’t know when stuff is wrong. A couple of years ago he defined black hat as “something you wouldn’t want to be doing if Matt Cutts walked up behind you while you were working”. The others say that’s not fair because Google hasn’t defined all the things that are wrong.

Many of the panelists agree that at this point, black hat is aggressive link building. That’s all that’s left.

Sometimes Google just bans domains. No reason — they just do.

Search for “flights to Chicago” on Google UK. Are those first two map listings black hat? Dave thinks so and everyone else agrees.

Todd: Google should be thanking the black hats for finding all their holes and closing it up.

Is Google assessing intent?

Todd and Dave: They can’t!

Google wants to try though. ORM companies are trying to get sentiment analysis working and they’re not able to do it, and so how can Google do that on a link?

Black hats try to look like the mom and pops because Google doesn’t like to do one off work and they can’t take them out algorithmically.

Should I use special characters in my Title/Description?

Lots of chatter boils down to Matt: It’s your first marketing opportunity. Make it count.

Do you think Google Public DNS is going to have an effect on the Web?

Rand: It gives them a lot more data traffic access. I’m not sure what it does for them, though, because they have so much already. He doesn’t know how it will impact SEO.

Is it black hat to do stuff that will push Ripoff Report to the second page (or up to the first page so then people have to hire you to bring it down)?

The panelists say no, though Todd thinks the second one should be illegal.

Rand: Or you could pay them and they’ll deoptimize it.

Dave: Is gaming Google Suggest evil? No.

Frank thinks that Ripoff Report is evil.

Rand points out that Yahoo! and Bing banned them.

Matt says what they’re doing is extortion (Rand: And now they’re going to sue you) …er, like extortion. >.>

Does your AdWords spend affect your rankings?

Todd: Not that he’s ever seen. They barely know each other exist. They don’t collaborate well between projects.

Rand says it’s intentional that they don’t communicate well. It’s their culture.

Frank: No, but he saw his rankings drop because of spend and he made them fix it without doing a thing on his side.

Should you use Google Analytics?

Matt: Sure you can use it, but he wears a tinfoil hat. For the price it’s great.

Todd: That’s the key, for the price it’s great. But you can do a lot more with Omniture or Coremetrics.

Is anyone going to knock Google off?

Bruce: No. They have too much technology.

Matt: It’s hard to maintain a monopoly. He thinks it’ll be a lot of little specialized players nipping off share.

Dave: [After Todd tried to jump ahead] He thinks they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot over Bing. He then brings up the real-time search thing again and the deeply scary post that Rae wrote over at Outspoken Media today, Google Enables Real-Time Spam.

Todd thinks that Yahoo! and Bing are going to combine all the bad decisions that they’ve made over the last year, and Google is going to pick up market share. The only way Yahoo! and Bing pick up share is if they do everything right AND Google screws up. It’s hard to be better than Google. The only other way to take them down is if the search paradigm changes.

Dave: The arrogance may be what pushes them off the chair.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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3 Replies to “Black Hat, White Hat: Does It Really Matter Anymore?”

Susan Esparza

@kpaul — Brilliant! The alignment systems is so much more nuanced as long as we don’t fall into any Always Chaotic Evil cliches.

@Jason Braud — Glad you found it useful! Hope you checked out the related links as well for more coverage from conferences past on the same topics. Glad to have you here.

This post is ROCKIN Susan!

I’ve been looking for a post on the black hat and white hat topic.. And the answers are coming from these well respected men, can’t beat that.

I just stumbled upon this blog, great content! I will be visiting very frequently now. Keep up the great value Susan!

Jason Braud

I’ve decided to do away with using black hat and white hat and start using D&D alignments to categorize affiliate marketers.


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