Black Hat Versus White Hat

by marty on January 12, 2011

I was reading some favorite old posts today and came across this one, from all the way back in 2006 by Stuntdubl:  http://www.stuntdubl.com/2006/11/24/stunttrain/.black hat SEO

Mr. Malicoat offers a lot of good things in here, but the one that made me want to scribble was this:

9. Blackhat is lying to clients, customers, partners, or vendors.
Whitehat is proactively discussing risk tolerance, process, expectations, and contribution to a community instead of just bilking people into teaching you to think.

A lot of things have changed in search since he wrote that almost 5 years ago – but I think this point is more salient today than ever. Thankfully people aren’t talking about this as much as they used to…but some still insist on climbing on a soapbox, and pretending that there are altruistic means behind their sweeping statements and judgements.

Defining what you do by some broad-stroke term is limiting at best. But the argument between whitehat and blackhat SEO techniques has always been that – an ultimately limiting and self-defeating approach.

I should know:

Hi, my name is Marty. I am a recovering whitehat.

In my own case, my couple years of chest-thumping whitehattedness were eventually replaced by data, and logic. But while it had me, I really drank that kool-aid, hard.

Here are some of the many misconceptions it created:

  • Buying links is bad, and will result in penalties. The truth is, buying links is commonplace and often results in success. Discretion.
  • Automating is bad. Impersonal approaches to web development scared me I think, because I was building sites, and didn’t want to see it all go away. It did anyway – open source changed everything. And it only made me run faster to catch-up once I finally decided to get in the game. 
  • Google is going to reward the best content.{Bwa-ha-haaaaaa-ha-ha-ha}
  • Link spam gets punished. Truth is, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve seen link spam work well, I’ve seen it (apparently) sink sites. Truth is, good sites get punished too.
  • Good content is required to top the SERPs. Sigh. As much as I would love for this to be the case, no such luck.   

Now, believing in whitehat came from a good place. I wanted to only do what my clients wanted – things I could be proud of later. But I was not taking Stuntdubl’s approach, and simply understanding risk tolerance better. I couldn’t communicate it to my clients, because I was too busy shunning things, because they seemed “shady.”

Flash forward a few years, and I don’t wear hats anymore – I now prefer scarves. Hardly gets cold enough in Atlanta for me to indulge, but I digress.

It may have taken me close to 5 years since I first read this post from Stuntdubl, but his last point is the one that now makes my bald head shine:

10. It’s all about the results

Yes it is…as long as those results are accompanied by the immaculately clear conscience that you are not screwing people over to get them. It is not by any means necessary – but it is by any reasonable means.

Bottom Line:

If you insist on actively defining yourself as either a blackhat or a whitehat SEO, chances are you are simply an asshat. Just do what is best to get the ranking you are after for you or your clients – and make it less about you. Remember what Stuntdubl said: It’s all about the results.

Late add: found another one, worth adding here. In the historical review of how this separation in the SEO industry devolves, I found another winner here: http://www.paydayloanaffiliate.com/blog/LateralVsTraditionalSEO.aspx and here: http://www.johnon.com/220/white-hat-sissies.html

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