Posts Tagged ‘black hat seo


Dilbert Is God

Oh, Scott Adams, you brilliant, sick, insightful, geeky, trippy, edgy, mofo, arty, philosophic, GENIUS.

Did we mention brilliant?

Not only are you funny as hell, but you say in three panels what we’ve been trying to get across for 10 years and a half million or so words.

Yes, we do SEO for a living. Yes, we’re good at it. Yes, it works.

And YES, SEO is a negative force in the world. It weakens the integrity of the world’s knowledge depository. It makes it difficult for valuable content to find its way into the brains of those who need it most.

White hat, black hat, pantless weasel. The whole SEO industry is up to no good. Luckily, the end is near. (See our previous post for a hint.)


Google Busts Itself

Google Chrome Gets Caught Buying Links—Will Sergey Penalize Himself?


5 Ways SEO Can Be Used as a Weapon Against You

Be afraid! Be very afraid! The evil overlords of SEO have the power to destroy you! Well, maybe not destroy, exactly. But an unscrupulous competitor, disgruntled employee, unhappy customer, or personal enemy can use SEO techniques to cause you and your business a fair amount of grief. Some of these tactics can be defended against, some of the damages can be repaired, some of them you really may just have to live with. But you should definitely be aware that these things are out there, and happen.

  1. Google bombing. This one is a fun trick to play on Presidents and other public figures, but can also be used against businesses or non-public individuals. You may remember the “miserable failure” incident from a few years ago…  Here’s how it works. The Dark SEO Lord (DSL) marshals some substantial resource (social networks like DIGG and 4CHAN have been used this way) to generate massive quantities of links that point to your site using an unpleasant link text. If you get enough of these (and it takes fewer than you might imagine) you can end up becoming the very definition of, say, “greasy booger.” Or worse. Just ask Rick Santorum.
    SOLUTION: Maybe none. If it’s a significant attack (as was the case with the attack on George Bush) Google may be induced to step in and end it. They stopped the “miserable failure” attack after two years. The Santorum situation has been going for a while now with no signs of  changing.
  2. Bad neighborhooding. This one is devious, but not every site is vulnerable and it’s somewhat difficult to pull off.  The DSL first scans your site using a readily available link scanner looking for old links that now point to abandoned domains. (If your site is big and/or old, and you don’t do rigorous link maintenance, you probably have some.) Once the abandoned domains are identified, the DSL registers them under an assumed name. After that, it’s a simple matter of either publishing “bad” content, or 301 redirecting the site to porn, spam, phishing, or other icky places. Get a handful of these in place, and suddenly Google thinks you link to bad neighborhoods. And that can hurt.
    SOLUTION: Monitor your outbound links! Regularly! Get some link checking software, use it, and fix any broken links immediately.
  3. Link spamming. You gotta love the lengths some DSLs will go to.  This is where a whole bunch of crappy links are created (usually purchased from some spam broker) pointing to your site. They all will probably use some generic link text, just so they don’t accidentally do you very much good. This is designed to make it look like you were buying spammy links. They will then report you to Google anonymously. And your site might get penalized.
    SOLUTION: About all you can do is to file a complaint with Google. Tell them what you think happened, and supply a list of bad links. They will often just discount the links and restore your search posture. But it usually takes a while and a bunch of effort.
  4. Spoofed landing pages. Suppose your business is ACME Froo-Froo and your website is Then imagine some pissed-off DSL registers the domain and then uses it to publish a fake homepage. Maybe it looks a lot like yours, maybe not, but it is sure to contain damaging content of some sort. Maybe “free” offers or illegal merchandise. Or maybe more subtly just full of misspellings and crappy images. Or less subtly, full of scantily clad orangutans. Whatever. Then just suppose that said DSL works his/her/its SEO magic to get their fake page to rank above your real page when somebody looks for your favorite search term. You see a possible problem?
    SOLUTION: This attack is probably illegal, particularly if it uses your branding anywhere on the page, but also if the spoof domain is similar enough to yours. Report this attack as soon as you notice it. Report it to Google, and report it to whoever is hosting the site. If you have lawyers, get them to send take-down notices. All this remedial effort will work. It will also take time and resources.
  5. Review spamming.  Some person with anger management issues starts spreading malicious information about your products or your business. This sort of thing is as old as business itself. (“Not buy mastodon meat from Og. He not wash hands after he use bushes.”) And it’s been used a lot on the internet, from the very first. Now, though, with Google’s emphasis on “visitor interaction” the importance of reviews and comments will only grow. And so will the art of review spamming. We’ve seen reviews-for-hire packages cropping up all over the web in the last few months since Panda. We are sure that negative-reviews-for-hire are out there also. Can your product or service withstand 50 one-star reviews? What if it’s worse than just PR? What if those one-star reviews also cost you search position?
    SOLUTION: Well, you can contest the reviews, one at a time, and hope the review venue takes pity and removes them. Could take a very long time. The other option is fight ire with fire: buy or otherwise launch your own review campaign hoping to dilute the effects. Twenty five-star ratings will bring twenty one-star ratings up to a three!

Sigh. The evil DSL usually wins—because it doesn’t matter whether their campaign works or how bad it hurts or how long it lasts. Their real victory is that it costs you either search position, reputation, or at best it costs you the time and effort it takes to monitor, remedy, and recover.


Top 5 Stupidest Link Strategies that Might Kind of Work

Well, you know us….

We are really NOT huge fans of spam in any of it’s greasy forms. However, we do confess that some of the slimy things that spammers do are grounded in some measure effective. Otherwise, why would anyone pollute the universe with their dreck?

So, in the interest of full SEO disclosure, here’s a list of very questionable link tactics that seem to bear some fruit. Tainted fruit. Cursed, tainted fruit.

  1. Blog comment spam. We hate this shit. No really. If you’ve got a blog, you’ve seen it: “Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful . Amazing.” (Actual comment submitted to us.) They submit this en masse, to pretty much every blog anywhere, hoping enough suckers approve it to give them some link joy. Of course, we do approve them sometimes, only we change the referral name to “Asshat Spammer” just in case whoever hired them takes a look into their referral logs…. Effective? Maybe. This is one of the things SearchDex got in trouble for.
  2. Reciprocal link request spam. We hate these too. You know the ones. An email out of nowhere, with boilerplate stuff like “My name is [random name here], Web Marketing Consultant. I’ve greatly enjoyed looking through your site and I was wondering if you’d be interested in exchanging links with my website, which has a related subject. I can offer you a HOME PAGE link back from my PR 4 related website… ”  These requests are generated by software, which is purchased by losers who then flood the world with crap hoping to get a link or two from unsuspecting webbies. Does it work? If you send a million spam emails like this, you might get 50 or so links. So if you don’t mind being an asshole, you might get some return on investment. If you want to hate them even more, here’s a kind of fun exposé….
  3. Fake blog posting spam. This is where your genius black-hatter might create a host of one-post blogs that are nothing more than a vehicle for a backlink or two.  They are usually sort of on topic with whatever page they’re linking to, but of little to no content value. The content in them is also copied (sometimes with minor changes) from one fake blog to the next. Does it work? Meh. Used to, maybe. Nowadays, while Google likes links from blogs, they seem to lose value if the blog doesn’t update at least semi-regularly. And duplicate content gets picked up pretty easily now.
  4. Multi-way reciprocal link network spam. Some of these get complicated. It’s an effort to fool Google by trading links in such a roundabout fashion that the Goog can’t tell they’ve been traded. At first, they were all three-way links: A links to B, B links to C, C links to A. That worked pretty well in the old days. For a while, lots of sites had “link networks” set up. Of course, Google caught on to that. So then it was four-way, five-way, many-way link exchanges, which you can buy your way into pretty easily. Do they work? Maybe, but not very well, unless every site in the network is in a similar topic space. Which would make it kind of easy to spot, we think.
  5. Referral log spam. This one is kind of obscure, but still epidemic.  Here’s what they do: using software that mimic internal search engines, they pull lists of blogs within specific topicspaces, then fire off an automated click to all of those sites. What the site gets is fake traffic, but traffic that shows up in their referral logs. Since some small percentage of web hosts leave their referral logs on unsecured severs—in theory—those logs should get spidered and then count as backlinks to the originating site. Does it work? We really kind wonder how it could.  First, do that many hosts really leave their logs unsecured? And second, do search engines really index them? And third, what possible link value could be derived from a giant text page full of thousands and thousands of links? Dunno. But there must be something to it, because the sonsofbitches keep filling up our traffic reports with them.

So there are five link spam tactics that we better never catch you using. Because they suck. And they all pretty much piss us off. And we know where you live.


The Ethical Aspects of Black Hat SEO

Yesterday, as guest lecturer, I spoke to a class full of college seniors on the road to careers as business owners and corporate executives. It was my usual “Introduction to Search Engine Optimization” spiel, starting with a crude explanation of what a search engine does and ending with a brief discussion of that weird conundrum about the color of your hat. While I was speaking, I chanced upon two thoughts that—though not directly related—seemed interesting enough to be worth further exploration.

One: an Ethical Conundrum

The question of Black Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO is not a question of ethics. Not really.  Google and the other search engines are businesses. They make money by indexing a lot of other people’s information. Using a proprietary device that they actually do own (the search algorithm), they make all this information available to others who may or may not find it useful. They never ask anyone whether or not they would like to be in that index. They then attempt to enforce a set of “rules” that are designed to make their algorithm work better. They claim that everyone in the index—whether they are there voluntarily or not—are subject to these rules and must abide by them.

That’s all well and good, because if you are in the index—and the index likes you—it can be quite profitable.  But here’s the thing. By not following the “rules,” you can get the index to like you faster and more than if you do follow them.

Because it is not a crime to attempt to exploit an algorithm’s weaknesses, can it even be considered wrong to do so? Isn’t it cheating? And isn’t cheating ethically wrong?

Well, it might be ethically wrong to cheat—if you’re playing a game that you joined deliberately, with full knowledge and acceptance of the rules.

You’re walking down the sidewalk on an errand of your own purpose. You notice that there are pigeons wandering all around you. Then you notice that some few of the pigeons are carrying hundred dollar bills in their beaks. It occurs to you that you could chase them and maybe catch a buck or two. Then it occurs to you that you could buy a bag of popcorn and attract a lot of pigeons, who in order to eat it, would have to drop whatever they were carrying at your feet. Cool! So you buy popcorn and it works great and you soon have a small but growing pile of hundred dollar bills.

Until some guy comes out of nowhere and tells you: “This is my game and you’re cheating. The rules are you have to make the pigeons want to give you their dollar bills, but you can’t feed them. Or touch them. Or scare them. Or promise them anything.”

Then he gives you a list of fairly vague things you can do, and goes back in the building. So, is it unethical to keep feeding the pigeons? Is it unethical to keep the money you’ve already gained?

My thinking is that it’s obviously not unethical to game a search engine’s system and gain whatever you can from it. It is not even wrong to practice black hat SEO. But here’s the catch: Since the search engine has control over who is in its index and how well they perform there, they do have some significant power. The guy with the pigeons can stand next you and wave his arms and make them all fly away to another street where his game will continue without you.

So for me, the answer is Black Hat SEO is not wrong, but it is risky. I don’t do it because I don’t like the potential consequences. But if I ever think up a way to game Google’s algo without getting caught…..

Tomorrow, thought number Two: a Metaphor.


The Ten Commandments of White Hat SEO

Everybody even remotely associated with internet marketing has to be familiar with the SEO white hat/black hat dichotomy. White hat = good. Black hat = effective. White hat = loser. Black hat = busted. But just what is the difference? What makes an SEO’s hat white, black or gray?

Here’s the definition of white hat SEO, broken down into easy-to-remember rules, straight from the burning bush to your ears.

  1. Thou shalt not cloak thy site so that spiders may partake of other than that which is served the people.
  2. Thou shalt not hide text so that none but spiders may see it.
  3. Thou shalt not hide links.
  4. Thou shalt neither buy links from link farms, nor allow thy minions to buy links, nor allow any others to buy links in thy name.
  5. Thou shalt not stuff keywords into thy metatags or thy alt tags.
  6. Thou shalt not stuff keywords into thy page copy.
  7. Thou shalt not scrape or steal content from other sites except as permitted, nor shalt thou lay hands against the copyrights of others for double woe shall befall those who sin against a ©.
  8. Thou shalt neither create or cause to be created false content.
  9. Thou shalt never be known to raise spam against another’s blog comments, or contact form, nor shalt thou cause spam, nor shalt thou allow any spam to be caused in thy name, for the deepest, hottest, loneliest pits of torment await the spammer.
  10. Thou shalt always keep the internet user in thine heart and always do that which is right unto him and to her, and to always help to guide them to those places that they seek, and provide such manna and succor as thou canst.

If you follow these guides, the ranks of the Search Marketing Angels await, and you will be raised triumphant in the eyes of Google. Amen.


Penny-wise? Penny’s Foolish

wanna buy sum cheep linx?

Maybe you’ve heard about JC Penny’s recent moment of “Oh crap, we got caught peeing in the pool” moment, but whether you  have or  you haven’t, there’s a serious object lesson here. To recap, the New York Times ran an article this past weekend detailing an undercover investigative report on JC Penny’s search engine optimization strategies.

Those strategies involved Penny’s SEO provider, SearchDEX, who for many years has made lots and lots of money doing just this sort of thing. What sort of thing?

Link fraud.

There. I said it. The most cruel and horrible crime in all of human history. Okay, not really. But the tactics employed in Penny’s behalf by SearchDEX—and the sheer wanton, flagrant scale of the operation—really does create a threat (if not measurable harm) to all the other businesses who try to compete in the search arena without resorting to nasty tricks.

And just what is this “link fraud” carried out by SearchDex? They purchased, created, or encouraged others to purchase or create thousands if not tens of thousands of links to Penney’s website from any and every source imaginable. Links from sites with no relevance to Penny’s market space. Links from fake sites. Links from dead sites. Links from link farms, links from spam inserted into legitimate content like blogs.

The benefit derived from this profligate scheme was incredibly high search ranks for Penny’s for hundreds of different keywords, some keywords even that had no relationship at all to Penny’s business.

They’ve created a gigantic black hole of search, one from which no searcher can escape.

Google, meanwhile, alerted to Penny’s devious plot to rank better, took action and devalued all the ill-gotten links. Now, this may not seem like much, but in truth, it probably amounts to 30-40% reduction in traffic for the retail giant. That kind of hit could cripple an internet retailer with small margins and large competition.  But maybe not such a hit for everybody. Like Penny’s maybe. Who, incidentally, spends millions of dollars on paid advertising in search engines every year. So they’ll still show up on the first page of search results for any keyword that matters to them. And  they’ll still be free to hire another SEO firm of whatever scruples (or lack thereof) and move on to the next blackhat strategy.

Now, what have we learned from all this?

  1. At least in the short term, it can pay huge dividends to operate on the dark side of search engine optimization.
  2. You will get caught.
  3. Unless you are Fortune 500 material, it will hurt.
  4. If you are Fortune 500, so what.

Here’s the real lesson, though. Whether it works for a while or not, whether you get caught or not, whether it hurts your business or not, playing the backhat game just ain’t right. SearchDEX (and all the other blackhat outfits like them) make life tough for everybody. They reduce the usefulness of search in general by diluting the results with irrelevancy. They damage the marketspace by creating an environment where only cheaters can make it to page one. They make it damned hard for shoppers to find the things they’re looking to buy. And for me, the worst thing: they destroy the public’s faith in SEO as a legitimate marketing tool.

And that’s pissing in my pool.

More JC Penny’s stories

Big Brands and Bad Linking: How to Avoid Google Penalties
SEO’s Achilles’ Heel: The Misdirected Attack on Search Engine Optimizers