White vs. Black Hat SEO

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Rand Fishkin's presentation at SMX Sydney 2011 on transforming black hat tactics into long term, white hat marketing successes.

Transcript of White vs. Black Hat SEO

Positioning and Messages May 5, 2010

White Hat vs. Black HatHow to choose between them and transform risky tactics into stable, long term wins

Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-founder, SEOmozApril 2011

At SEOmoz, we make SOFTWARE!! We dont offer any consulting.

The Sweet Seduction of Black Hat SEO



http://www.google.com.au/search?q=compare+mobile+phone+plansHalf these rank because of spammy links. One cloaks

http://www.google.com.au/search?q=mens+suits+online Some nasty link manipulation + even redirects in these SERPs

http://www.google.com.au/search?q=car+insurance+companies These results have a lot of link manipulation in virtually every geography

http://www.google.com.au/search?q=car+insurance+companies Bing is better than this in the US (most of the time). Hopefully improved algos will roll out here.

http://www.google.com.au/search?q=car+insurance+companies Ugh To be fair, Google has some junky stuff in their top 10 for this, too.

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/white-hat-seo-it-fing-works-12421#jtc138625 heres the commentWhat Really Makes Me Mad:You can do blatant, un-adulterated BH and hacking and google doesn't care. Dont believe me? This blog has been hacked and the links all the way down the bottom are from people who have pushed their backlinks into compromised pre 2.9 wordpress blogs. There are thousands of these blogs out there and you force all of them to accept your backlinks! Instant 1st page position for any keyword. Here is a challenge to the SEOMOZ community Lets see if you can get any of the sites in the links down the bottom removed from SERPs by letting Google know. I bet you can't! Here is the link check it out yourself:

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/white-hat-seo-it-fing-works-12421 - read this post for moreWebSpam SucksNovice SEOs see it and thinkI guess thats how SEO is done.Searchers see it and trust Bing + Google less, meaning less opportunity for everyone in search/web marketing.Brand marketers, developers and executives see it and presume SEO is just a manipulative dark art.

Why Choose White Hat?

I received more than 30 sites in reply, unfortunately, more than a few werent using entirely white hat tactics. Those that were white hat, though, got a link + exposure.#1: Youve Got Nothing to Hide

Every time Google removes spam from their index, dozens to hundreds of posts appear - http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters/label?lid=41234c84d9491af8&hl=en read some of the horror stories of webmasters and youll never want to spam again.#2: No Long-Term Risk

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/traffic-source-diversity-is-essential-for-successful-seo#3: Every Action Builds Marketing Value (outside of just SEO)

SEO makes up ~35% of SEOmozs trafficLinks that send traffic are highly likely to be passing SEO value, too.

12 Black Hat Tactics Transformed into Long Term, White Hat Wins

Searching Google or Bing for SEO Link Directory brings up lots of these. The smart black hats know which ones will help your site vs. hurt it through testing. New SEOs, sadly, take the brunt of the penalties.#1B: Crappy, Pay-to-List Directories

Try edu / org as the site modifiers, or terms like links, directory, world wide web, or suggested sites (get creative, too this list can help: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/long-list-of-link-searches#1W: Awesome Resource Lists

Just apply some broad keywords, change up the TLD extension, and you can find awesome lists in any sector.

James probably should have checked out the site a bit more; the sidebar notes that this particular blogger is married to me #2B: Email Requests to Rent Links

Starting with connections and reciprocation on social media is a great way to build a relationship prior to requesting content contribution. Its more likely to get a yes, too.#2W: Email Offers to Create Content

Tragically, despite Wordpress efforts to kill sponsored themes, they persist in all shapes and forms. This blog post explains: http://angelanatcus.com/sponsor-a-wordpress-theme-and-drive-traffic-to-your-site/#3B: Sponsored Wordpress Theme Links

You dont even need to build something necessarily relevant to your site! If you just contribute a useful plugin, you will earn authentic links from folks who appreciate it.#3W: Useful Wordpress Plugins

Thats Bob Rains, a former black hat and crazy smart SEO. He explained on a panel in Munich how fake Twitter accounts brought value. I think he could have done even better with white hat ones #4B: Fake Twitter Accounts to Tweet/RT Links

Business.com built this account for one of their many blogs by sharing good, relevant updates on the topic. Now its got 14K+ followers and can powerfully influence traffic to their own site, too.#4W: Build Highly Followed, Real Twitter Accounts

When I was in Italy, I noticed that many, many sites there seem to like the sitewide footers with anchor text as a linking tactic. Unfortunately, these are often devalued.#5B: Sitewide Footer Links

#5W: Sitewide Links to a Partner Page

Instead of a direct link without much context, we link to a page explaining our relationship and why were endorsing this company. Weve done this in the past with all our partnerships, and CTR is often higher!

This comes via Matt Cutts blog. Its pretty hard to find cloaked text this basic in Googles index anymore, though more sophisticated stuff still appears on occasion.#6B: Cloaking Text on a Page

Via the Moz Features Page: http://www.seomoz.org/features#6W: Make that Content Visible in a CSS Tab

The left/right arrows and top menu control which content to display, but its by no means hidden or cloaked.

Luckily, from what I bothered to check, not many of these seem to be doing well because of it. And who knows? Maybe limo sites just make lots of friends.#7B: Reciprocal Link Pages

Cmon! Seriously?! Who actually still calls their reciprocal link page link-partners.htm?

Testimonial rule via the always excellent and greatly missed Kathy Sierra: http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/02/rethinking_test.html#7W: Give + Receive Testimonials

Make sure to send a testimonial that follows this rule, includes your full name, title, link and a photo.

When you see links like this, then search for those keywords and see the target websites rank its the worst feeling. No way to know for sure if these are the links that are putting them there, but it bums white hats out every time.#8B: Automated Link Drop Spam

A comment on Mark Susters blog led to a post, links + tweets from him, and an in-person breakfast in Los Angeles. Its a perfect example of how authentic web marketing wins more than just SEO.#8W: Authentic Comment Marketing

Line of text#9B: Falsified Facebook Like Buttons

Some nefarious black hats will make the Facebook like button trigger from clicks on other parts of the page. Watch your status bar to be sure of what youre clicking when browsing sketchy portions of the web.

Screenshot from http://unbounce.com/blog/ which just rocks in general and should be read by every organic web marketer.#9W: Earn Shares! They Cant Be Gamed, But Theyre Way More Powerful


Although voters thought Twitter data / tweets to URLs were more influential, Facebooks metrics are substantially better correlated with rankings. Time to get more FB Shares!Correlation of Social Media-Based Factors(data via Topsy API & Google Buzz API)

Amazing: Facebook Shares is our single highest correlated metric with higher Google rankings.

Spinning is where sites re-write a single piece of content using software or low cost writers dozens-hundreds of times and publish all over the web to get links or visits.#10B: Article Spinning

The creative commons licensing system can work very well for some folks http://creativecommons.org/choose/ or you can create your own license rules.#10W: Content SyndicationBecause we syndicate our full content RSS feed with absolute links (not relative) back to our site, we benefit from dozens of re-publishers of our work with every post!

I dont understand why anyone even does this anymore. Its such a high risk, low return behavior, and its so rare that theres value in showing different content to bots vs. users.#11B: Cloaking for Search Bots


Always make sure that the default, search visitor, non-logged-in experience matches what search engines see, or you could still fall foul of cloaking guidelines.#11W: Use Cookies/Logins to Show Varied Content Based on Behavior

Amazon knows a lot about me, so they can give me a richer experience when I visit

#12B: Using Link Brokers

#12B: Costs of Buying Links40 Link Rental Sources (relatively few)Average Price of $300/month (thats low, BTW)$300 * 40 * 12 = $144,000/yearWhat else could I do with that money?

Just today, he created an eBook of an article using Themeforest + other tools and then blogged about how anyone can do it: http://unbounce.com/social-media/how-i-created-a-viral-ebook-landing-page-for-8-using-themeforest-paywithatweet-kissinsights-and-unbounce/#12W: Hire a Director of Inbound Marketing

Writes awesome, link-worthy blog postsGuest posts for Unbounce on other sitesBuilds gorgeous infographics that spread Answers questions on Q+A sitesHas built a Twitter account w/ 20K+ followersRuns their FB page w/ 4K+ fans

We need to stop pretending that black hat is OK. It hurts our entire industrys opportunity, and its a lazy, short-term approach to building a business on the web.