Dirty SEO Or Tree Hugger: What Color is Your Hat?

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White hat, black hat, gray hat…SEOs come in ALL colors. As much as we hate to admit it, we still talk about “hats” in SEO. SES San Jose panelists update attendees on the latest black hat / white hat issues with plenty of time for audience involvement. Moderator Matt Bailey is President of SiteLogic, a search marketing consulting and training company.

There wasn’t any formal structure to this session. Instead, these experienced industry veterans participated in a collective conversation (that included the audience + Matt Cutts) about Black Hat / White Hat issues.

Rather than attempting to try to recreate a very free-flowing conversation which is very difficult to do, I’m going to pull apart the conversation structure entirely and assign all the nuggets of wisdom to the panelist who said them. The takeaways are what’s important here and my intent is to make them more accessible by presenting the information in this manner.

(Panelists quotes recounted as accurately as possible)
Greg Boser is the president and founder of WebGuerrilla, LLC, a marketing firm that provides SEO services to interactive agencies, PR agencies, and design firms serving Fortune 1000 clients.

  • White hat is a code name for SEO’s with no game.
  • Black hat for yourself is R&D that pays really well and that R&D will help white hat clients.
  • Too many SEO’s bite off more than they can chew. The sites that rank are the ones that put in the effort.
  • Doesn’t view buying links as black / evil.
  • Works dual tracks with clients…pure white for long term and other stuff for the short term.
  • New client, start with competitive research and figure out the client’s risk tolerance.
  • In the reinclusion request is where you might consider asking the search engines to clean up the space.
  • Blending into your particular space is key to SEO success.
  • No repercussions for big brands to spam.
  • Little guys pay the price for dangerous tactics…can get torched and never return.
  • The person with the most links wins.
  • Solving certain technical issues (involving IP issues) isn’t evil.

Todd Friesen is VP of Search for Visible Technologies.

  • Not much on hats…in some vehicles, it’s hard to compete without blackhat techniques (though you need to disclose such things to clients).
  • It isn’t common sense what is right and wrong.
  • If the goal is link acquisition…perhaps use the quick strategy to gain visibility which could in turn get links naturally.
  • Could spend money on marketing instead of paid links.
  • Not all affiliate marketing is bad / black hat. Value-add affiliates are good / white hat.
  • Doesn’t benefit the client at all to deceive the end user because those pages don’t convert.

Bruce Clay is president of Bruce Clay Inc., an Internet Marketing and Website Promotion Company.

  • Search Engines & Clients define “white/black hat”, not SEO’s.
  • Gray hats play on the edge…black hats play out of bounds.
  • Black hats who do pain to a client are evil.
  • Deception is what defines a black hat technique.
  • White hat people don’t color outside the lines. Since there are no rules, even white hats could color outside the lines.
  • Playing by the rules can be very slow. In the beginning, there weren’t any rules and early on, the search engines didn’t publish any rules and it was a while before they enforced them.
  • Buying links for traffic is OK…buying lots of links with the intent of increasing page rank isn’t. Nothing evil about commerce.
  • Much more risky to play out of bounds on an established site as opposed to a new site.
  • Can’t afford to burn your employer.
  • Established brands shouldn’t play on the dark side.

Dave Naylor is a search engine optimization consultant for Bronco.

  • Never seen a white hat site rank well in competitive industries.
  • Many common mistakes are made from within the organization without the knowledge of the SEO. Good black hats know where the threshold is.
  • The link component is the only “black” part of black hat SEO.
  • Black Hat isn’t necessary for everyone. Many clients don’t get the dangers of it.
  • Be sensible with embedding links in RSS.
  • In Branded searches, deception is a different game.
  • Lots of link buying sites are starting to get natural links.

Jill Whalen is CEO of HighRankings

  • Good SEOs don’t usually need these techniques.
  • Making the site better for users and engines is white hat.
  • Incompetent SEO’s are worse than white or black hats.
  • Don’t need to read the rules… it’s common sense what is right and wrong.
  • Need to have something worth linking to.
  • The premise of this panel is to share with the audience a collective conversation on Black Hat / White Hat issues.

Matt Cutts (from the audience): Lots of sites get taken out and you don’t know about (including big sites). Matt’s alludes to taking out a lot of bigger sites without letting folks know. In-house SEO’s have a different risk dynamic than agency folks.

Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide.

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