Rand Fishkin SMX Talk April 14th, Sydney – “Black hat VS. White Hat SEO”

On April 14 I had the opportunity to attend the keynote held by SEO guru Rand Fishkin on White Hat and Black Hat SEO at SMX Sydney 2011.

This is, without a doubt, one of the hottest topics in the industry and certainly one which Rand enjoys talking about.

After watching him present back in Italy only a couple of months ago I was definitely looking forward to another dose of high-quality SEO insights.

Rand is CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz and considered one of the most influential SEO experts in the World (have a look at his Klout score to get an idea: http://klout.com/randfish) and is always a great pleasure to listen to him… his passion is contagious and he never misses an opportunity to share great tips and tricks with the audience.

Black Hat vs White Hat… a never ending fight?

Given the complexity of the topic (Wikipedia provides a great snapshot on white & black hat SEO) I really appreciated the way Rand approached it, by providing a short introduction and then moving quickly to actionable insights.

He began by saying that (sadly) there is still a lot of spam in the results of both Google and Bing.

This leads to several negative consequences:

  • Brand marketers, developers and executives see it and think SEO is a manipulative “dark art”
  • Novice SEO’s see it and think “I guess that’s how SEO is done”
  • Companies could end up being misinformed about SEO and its importance and therefore decide to stop investing in SEO, which would lead to important economic damage.

So why choose white-hat SEO tactics?

Rand provided three awesome reasons:

  1. You have nothing to hide à If you follow white-hat practices, SEO is done in total transparency
  2. They don’t involve long-term risk
  3. Every white-hat action builds marketing value (outside of just SEO) because it’s aimed at creating  a strategy aimed at fulfilling intents.

How black hat tactics can be turned into white-hat

During the second part of his speech, Rand shared 12 black-hat tactics that can be turned into white-hat for long-term success:

    1. Pay-to-list, spammy directories – Resource Lists. Instead of buying links on low quality directories, Rand recommends to find the so-called “resource lists”, which send real traffic to your site and that require consistency and authenticity in order to be included in them. This blog posted by Rand hosts some valuable link sources: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/long-list-of-link-searches
    2. E-mail requests to get backlinks – send e-mail proposing to create content. Instead of asking webmasters for a backlink, consider proposing yourself as a content provider. As author, it’s very likely that you will be able to include a link back to your site, while at the same time providing REAL VALUE to the readers.
    3. Sponsored links on WordPress Themes – Use WordPress themes and plugins. Instead of paying a developer to add a link pointing to your website at the bottom of their theme, hire someone to build a useful WordPress theme or plugin that is relevant to your niche with a link back to your site. This can be very cost-effective and very much achievable even if you have no development skills as you can outsource using sites like http://www.freelancer.com.
    4. Fake / spam Twitter accounts – High Quality Twitter profiles. Aim at creating real, influencial and highly-followed Twitter accounts by providing useful and engaging content to your followers.
    5. Links placed in the footer of all pages – Site wide Links to Partner Page. Instead of placing spammy links on the footer of your webpages, consider creating links to a partner page of your website in which you explain the relationship that you have with your partner. You can then add site wide links linking to this partner page. This is a great solution for both SEO and usability.
    6. Cloaking (hidden text on the page) Make the content visible in a tab CSS.  One of the techniques that most spammers use consists in hiding content to users. A white-hat alternative to that would be to create a CSS tab which makes content visible to both search engines and users in a structured way.
    7. Link exchange Offer to receive testimony. Instead of the outdated practice of exchanging links, offer to review a product/service. This is very likely to grant you a link back to your website.
    8. Automated Link Drop spam – Content marketing. Spamming blog posts with useless comments and their only goal is to place a link is a common practice that yet could reveal itself to be highly damaging. What’s more effective is to leverage comments to engage in a meaningful conversation and provide a unique point of view or useful ideas (possibly) including a link back to your website.
    9. Facebook “like” button falsified – Gain real shares. Some SEO companies have managed to hide Facebook Likes/Shares buttons by using unethical coding practices. Instead of doing this, a much more effective strategy is to encourage your readers to share your content across their online social networks, in a natural manner.
    10. Article Spinning Content Syndication. Instead of spreading your content across low-quality sites, a much more ethical option is to encourage people to repurpose and republish your content. Make your content interesting, and people will naturally want to share it.
    11. Cloaking for Search Bots – Use Cookies/Logins to Show Varied Content Based on Behaviour. Cloaking is a very dangerous practice, which can cause your website to be highly penalised by Google. It is very important to ensure that each visitor experience (when not logged in) is the same as the search engines experience

And as a final tip:

  1. Instead of using Link Brokers, hire a marketing director who is familiar with white-hat techniques and implementsinbound marketing … and stop pretending that black-hat tactics are acceptable.

Wrapping up…

There are many ethical SEOs out there that have to compete with un-ethical black-hat practitioners.

Black hat continues to be the thorn of the entire SEO industry but it’s great to see influencers explicitly standing for the good health of the industry and showing the way to do things right in a very practical way.

Bruce Clay has been preaching white hat SEO since always, and has even created the SEO Code of Ethics, which we are using every day in our client interactions. We invite every SEO to do the same.

A big THANK YOU to Rand for sharing his ideas with us.

See you at SMX Sydney 2012.

Here you can find the slides of Rand presentation:

White vs. Black Hat SEO

View more presentations from Rand Fishkin



Sara Borghi is a Search Marketing Analyst at Bruce Clay Australia, where she’s been helping clients and developed her SEO skills for the past 2 years. She has a strong passion for travel and she loves to go back to Italy – her home country – to enjoy the amazing food and culture whenever she can. She enjoys sports, reading, live music and – of course – Sydney, Australia. To connect, find her on Google+.

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

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One Reply to “Rand Fishkin SMX Talk April 14th, Sydney – “Black hat VS. White Hat SEO””

Unless its natural, all link building is Blackhat!

I often read many posts where SEO experts frown upon Blackhat strategies but then openly promote link building. According to Google’s TOS, natural links are links others point back to your site without the need to pay for it, ask for it, comment for it or insert a link in your article to gain it.

So, if all link building strategies are in effect manipulating search engine results, doesn’t it stand to reason that all link building is Blackhat and the majority of off-page SEO practiced by SEO firms is in effect, Blackhat?

Isn’t having an online business all about rankings, traffic and conversions in the first place and search engine optimization should essentially be a technical, and possibly not a moral or ethical issue?


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