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Old 06-29-2005   #1
jewboy
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Question Is Black Hat SEO A Form Of Hacking?

Before I begin to pose my thoughts and questions, I'd like to clarify the type of hacking I'm reffering to. The official definition of a hacker, as defined by the Wikipedia is "a term used to describe different types of computer experts". The hacking I'm referring to is the latter definition the Wikipedia offers. The definition used by the general populace and media: "Computer Criminal" or "Clever Programmer", especially one who has particularly detailed knowledge or cleverly circumvents limits.

The verb hacking is often followed by the preposition into. Querying the terms "hack into" and "hacking into" on Google will yield over 1 million results in aggregate.

Thus most computer criminals hack into a PC, network, server or any other extenal platform in an effort to achieve desired results. But Search engines are very unique in nature. They send out spiders to collect data and cache the web, which defines where sites rank within the results pages. When one wants to manipulate the results to his or her advantage, the likely path is NOT via internal entry. Rather, the deceiptful webmaster or marketer plants manipulative devices on the outside. Some examples include: heavy off-topic linking, cloaking, keyword stuffing, falsfying domain ownership information, and a myriad of unnatural techniques.

Successful "computer criminals" manipulate the engines to their favor, yielding high results in the SERPS - funneling traffic not deserved. White hatters suffer and are at loss. Search engines lose relevancy, and are victims as well.

Just because you are not breaking and entering - if you practice black hat SEO - are you a "computer criminal"? Something to think about...
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Old 06-29-2005   #2
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Successful "computer criminals" manipulate the engines to their favor, yielding high results in the SERPS
So aren't white hats also manipulating the engines to yield high results? Or do white hats who rank well get there by accident?

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- funneling traffic not deserved.
Why would the color of the hat determine whether or not the traffic is deserved? That is supposed to be the function of properly functioning search engine algorithms.

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White hatters suffer and are at loss.
No, only the ones who aren't ranking are suffering, the white hats who are ranking aren't suffering at all.

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Search engines lose relevancy, and are victims as well.
The search engines are the ones who design the algorithms that determine which sites are relevant and rank well. How can the perpetrators be their own victims?

Mind you, I'm not accusing or defending anyone, just looking at the reality of the thing.
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Old 06-29-2005   #3
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Excellent points from a very realist perspective, Marcia. Thanks for sharing. I, too have wondered about the "evil" of spamming the search engines. In a way, it is improving relevancy over the long term by forcing the SEs to get smarter faster. It's also more akin to using a legal tax loophole than it is to stealing or doing something totally unethical.
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Old 06-29-2005   #4
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Depends on your definition of what constitutes white hat and black hat, but I would consider any form of deception a little more unethical than exploting a legal loophole.

If anything, "white hat" is more analogous to exploiting tax loopholes and "black hat" is more like setting up temporary, fake companies to avoid paying tax altogether.

Quote:
So aren't white hats also manipulating the engines to yield high results?
There's trying to put the pitcher off when he's about to pitch to you, and there's framing him for a crime so he can't play at all.

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Or do white hats who rank well get there by accident?
Sometimes.

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Why would the color of the hat determine whether or not the traffic is deserved? That is supposed to be the function of properly functioning search engine algorithms.
White hat optimisation is generally relevant (haha, well OK maybe not). Diffusing the responsibility back to search engines for actions that we as a profession take (black hat or white hat) is kidding ourselves. The industry is the way it is because so many people pushed the limits too far and forced change on the search engines.

Rand suggests this change is good, and sometimes it is. But I'm sure all the people who were sandboxed for months because some people took the piss with throw away, overnight success spam sites wont agree with that assessment.

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The search engines are the ones who design the algorithms that determine which sites are relevant and rank well. How can the perpetrators be their own victims?
I run my own forums. If someone spams them is that my fault for setting up the mechanism to allow them do so? Even if I've taken reasonable measures to prevent it?

Just playing devil's advocate.

Personally I don't think "black hats" are nearly as evil as they are made out, and in the same respect "white hats" are nowhere near as angelic as they consider themselves.

The reality of the business is that we're all in this big grey area and try to justify the methods we each use (blah blah it's just business, blah blah it's the ethical approach, blah blah...).

Google et al don't view the industry in the same way - yeh they embrace some of those who champion "white hat-ism", but that's in their best interests to do so - believe me, they'd rather none of us were doing what we do, because we all manipulate their work in one way or another.

This whole white hat vs black hat nonsense has just proliferated from the newbie generation who come into SEO, read a few posts on some random forums and think they are experts and think they need to be in one camp or another.

My one beef with white hat vs black hat stereotypes is that they offer different services but all wear the "SEO" label, which I think is extremely bad for the industry.

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Old 06-29-2005   #5
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There are idiots on both sites. Yes you have blackhat Traffic Powers out there that use crappy javacloaks to feed traffic to their clients and burn their clients because to get the cloaks to rank the core sites have to rank to the doorways.

BUT

You also have your wacko white hats whose white hat probably has a point on it and they wouldn't hesistate to burn a wooden G in a blackhat's lawn. They embarass themselves by blabbing their crap in moderate forums like this and are even rude to the point where they are uninvited and are so socially derelict they are bearly taken seriously.

Then you have spammers the ones that talk get mislabled as blackhat but are the majority of our industry. The ones that don't talk just making money under the guise of white hat. Their core sites are clean as anything. Their clients sites are clean. but when you look further they have a network of artificial verticals, directories, BLOGS and mini webs that they use to bake pagerank and push it to their clients.

Last edited by seomike : 06-29-2005 at 10:08 AM.
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Old 06-29-2005   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcia
So aren't white hats also manipulating the engines to yield high results? Or do white hats who rank well get there by accident?
IMHO white hats are not "manipulating", rather they are achieving desired results because they give the engines what they want. The engines want quality content, and natural IBL's. They want ontopic links. Whitehats don't spread off topic links across many Class C's with the intent of fooling the engines. White hats don't buy PageRank.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcia
Why would the color of the hat determine whether or not the traffic is deserved? That is supposed to be the function of properly functioning search engine algorithms..
The finest algorithms will still yield irrelevant results on many queries - commercial in particular. Black hat SEO practices (such as off topic linking or cloaking) are partially responsible. IMHO, the engines will always be vulnerable to tampering, even as they become more sophisticated by the day.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcia
No, only the ones who aren't ranking are suffering, the white hats who are ranking aren't suffering at all.
A white hat may be VERY happy with the number 3 spot for his or her prized keyword. But if a black hatter is occupying spot #2, the black hatter is in fact "stealing" traffic from the white hatter. And when one steals traffic, he or she also steals the conversions that come along with it.
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Old 06-29-2005   #7
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>I run my own forums. If someone spams them is that my fault for setting up the mechanism to allow them do so?

So let me get this straight...

You buy a domain name, you set a site up, you promote it, you invite people to comment on the forums, you keep any money you make. Now whose responsibilty do you think it is to ensure that site remains a quality resource?
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Old 06-29-2005   #8
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"There is nothing new under the sun."
Eccl. 1:9

Many hackers would be very angry at you for calling them criminals.

To quote wikipedia a little bit more:
Quote:
Hacker is a term used to describe different types of computer experts. The media and the general populace typically use the term to mean "computer criminal"; however, in many computer subcultures it simply means "clever programmer", with no connotation of computer security skill. It is also sometimes extended to mean any kind of expert, especially one who has particularly detailed knowledge or cleverly circumvents limits.

Very few SEO types are actually skilled hackers, and very few hackers are criminals. Often to joe-webmaster the line where white becomes black is right past his ability.

But, the most frustrating thing about reading posts from folks who call some SEO strategies criminal is the completely BS dichotomy of good and evil, virtue and sin.

The search engines broker information to earn money, those who practise the arts of SEO want a say in how that information is divvied.
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Old 06-29-2005   #9
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You buy a domain name, you set a site up, you promote it, you invite people to comment on the forums, you keep any money you make. Now whose responsibilty do you think it is to ensure that site remains a quality resource?
BOTH. The users, who, btw, agree not to spam the site as part of the signup process and, in the case of spammers, promptly violate said contract; and the site owner, who has the responsibility to minimize damage to and protect his/her property.

I've never liked the whole "blaming the victim" excuse.

"I stole their stuff because the door was unlocked", I raped her because she was dressed sexy", "I hit the kid because she was jaywalking", "I stole office supplies because I'm underpaid", "I was speeding because I didn't see the cop" - All of these excuses were used by real people, and every single one of them testified in court that they felt they were right to do what they did because the victim did or did not do something that would have prevented them. Blaming the victim. There is an implicit belief that they are entitled to do harm unless forced not to.

Spamming isn't on the same level as catagory one offences, of course, but the thinking is exactly the same. "It's the forum owners fault for letting me sign up and post", "its the search engines fault for trusting webmasters" "it's the email recipients fault for telling someone their email address".

How come it's never the SPAMMERS fault!? There is an implicit belief here that you are entited to spam unless forced not to.

The problem with that strategy is that it invites force as a response. Force is messy and tends to cause innocent casualties. The force could be physical, legal, social, programatic or mechanical, but it's still force.

It is the property owners responsibility to protect themselves from attack. But that doesn't leave the attackers off the hook for responsibility for their own actions. And it sure as heck doesn't make them the "good guys".


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Old 06-29-2005   #10
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Whilst this thread is straying a little to far into the old and tired ethics thing for my liking....

>How come it's never the SPAMMERS fault

I don't think the focus should be on fault, its on responsilbilty. Its down to me what happens on my websites, if I get it wrong and/or don't committ the effort and resources it needs thats down to me and me alone. When the kids are all teary eyed looking at the empty dinner table they don't look at Joe Spammer, they look at ME.

To look at it another way: I think that operating a website is a much more challenging thing to do than it has ever been in the past. Webmasters need to get with the program and realise that they need to up their game.

It seems that nowdays we have a new breed of webmasters, they seem to have been born of a different time. I get the impression that as the midwife lifted them from the bed she pulled them tight to her warm bossum and whispered gently "don't worry, life is fair". My midwife on the other hand dangled me by my legs and smacked my backside until I screamed.
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Old 06-29-2005   #11
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Arrow

Littleman: I'm not refering to most "hackers", as we both know the common hacker is nor evil or a theif.

However, there are those who use illegal methods to steal traffic to their site. 302 hijacking and copyright infringement are 2 perfectly good examples.
While link spamming may not be a criminal act now, it is certainly a civil wrong, or a tort. The traffic and consumers visit these black hat sites instead of those who deserve it.

A good example. Searching Google US for the query "cell phones" should bring the user to the top few cell phone companies in the US. The only ones on page 1 of this SERP are Verizon and Cingular. What happened to T-mobile, Sprint, Nextel, etc? Where's Motorola, Nokia, LG, etc? Instead, the page is occupied by sites that you've never heard of. A backlink analysis will reveal that those on top "may" have used artificial link building and other black techniques to raise themselves on the SERPs (as many of their IBL's look fishy and spammy).

When you hijack a position, you are in fact taking the revenues that belong with it. And that my friends is called stealing. Just because there are no laws on the books, does not mean it's OK!
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Old 06-29-2005   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcanerin
How come it's never the SPAMMERS fault!? There is an implicit belief here that you are entited to spam unless forced not to.
I think the bigger issue is that if you make it easy for people to wrong you they will. Complaining usually does little to change the situation. So complain, sure, but if you have ways to control it then try to keep it under control.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mcanerin
The problem with that strategy is that it invites force as a response. Force is messy and tends to cause innocent casualties. The force could be physical, legal, social, programatic or mechanical, but it's still force.
use the force. hehehe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mcanerin
It is the property owners responsibility to protect themselves from attack. But that doesn't leave the attackers off the hook for responsibility for their own actions. And it sure as heck doesn't make them the "good guys".
yes, but many people complaining about the "bad guys" are not as "good" as they pretend to be.
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Old 06-29-2005   #13
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many people complaining about the "bad guys" are not as "good" as they pretend to be.
That's exactly why I get really contrary about this issue.

When people call themselves an SEO: if they add meta tags, they are doing it to influence the search engine rankings - because users can't see them, and neither can clients unless they look at the source code. If they conduct a link acquisition campaign for their clients, it is being done for link popularity (or PR) - to influence the search engine rankings. Has anyone submitted to Yahoo lately for $299 per annum for the ton of traffic they get?

Any techniques whatsoever that are used specifically to improve search engine rankings are done to influence those results to rank a site higher, and not calling it "manipulation" is playing games with semantics. That's what EVERY person or company that does SEO gets PAID to do - to *influence" the search engines to rank the site as high as they can get it.

OK - websites are people's property. If they are hijacked and the hijacker is aware of it, then that is deliberate theft of someone else's property. If you see one site/URL in the SERPs and are redirected to another site, there is a degee of deception in that, unless there is a darn good reason.

And please don't anyone say "SEO copywriting" because by the very nature of what it's called, it's copy that's being written to "optimize" aka "influence" aka "manipulate" the rankings of a site higher than it would have if *normal* copy were used -which generally uses a heck of a lot less artificial keyword_stuffing than SEO copywriting usually does.

If anyone is doing SEO and *not* doing things that will "influence" the search engines to rank a site higher than it would have ranked had those things *not* be done - I'd like to hear what those things are.

Last edited by Marcia : 06-29-2005 at 09:58 PM.
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Old 06-29-2005   #14
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yes, but many people complaining about the "bad guys" are not as "good" as they pretend to be.
Completely irrelevant to the issue. If you are a bad guy pretending to be good - you are not a corrupt "good" guy, you're a bad guy. There is no such thing as a corrupt "good" guy, or a bad guy who "does good". These statements imply that the person themselves are "bad" or "good", and don't address the ACTIONS.

With the exception of a few individuals with severe mental disturbances, people themselves are not usually "good" or "bad", their actions are. People who routinely do good are "good" in that context - not due to some intrinsic "goodness" (at least, and for the record, that's how *I* use the term). Same with the "bad" guys. It's not intrinsic, it's actions. Actions speak louder than words (or hats).

You are what you do. Everything else is image.

If the Pope spams, he's a spammer. Period. If a known "black hat" makes a clean website, then as far as that site is concerned, it's a clean site. It's not "kinda clean". It's not "tainted", it's either compliant or it's not.

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It seems that nowdays we have a new breed of webmasters, they seem to have been born of a different time. I get the impression that as the midwife lifted them from the bed she pulled them tight to her warm bossum and whispered gently "don't worry, life is fair". My midwife on the other hand dangled me by my legs and smacked my backside until I screamed.
ROFL! I'll agree there.

Quote:
I think the bigger issue is that if you make it easy for people to wrong you they will. Complaining usually does little to change the situation. So complain, sure, but if you have ways to control it then try to keep it under control.
Actually, I would hold that if you allow people to wrong you without consequence then they will continue to do so. Did you know that in Russia a lot of people talk about the "good old days" of the KGB because there was a lot less crime (at least, crime being visited upon the common people). Force works. Really well. Most totalitarian regimes have low crime rates.

This isn't really the direction the web should go. There are a lot of countries that are free, the people are happy ,and crime is low. The reason is that there is a culture of being law abiding. Been to New York city recently? Take a look at the crime rate over the last few years. It's been dropping rapidly. These are the very same people as before, the culture has changed.

Quote:
I don't think the focus should be on fault, its on responsilbilty. Its down to me what happens on my websites, if I get it wrong and/or don't committ the effort and resources it needs thats down to me and me alone. When the kids are all teary eyed looking at the empty dinner table they don't look at Joe Spammer, they look at ME.
I agree on the responsibility vs fault, though in the case of predictable negative consequences stemming from deliberate behavior, fault is an accurate sub-category of responsibility.

But with all due respect NFFC, based on your reputation I have a hard time believing that you are incapable of making a good living by optimizing sites within guidelines. Unless I'm wrong about that, this is a red herring argument.

You don't have to starve. There are other food groups besides spam, you know. Personally, I like beer, pizza, and donuts - hold the spam.

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Last edited by mcanerin : 06-29-2005 at 11:22 PM.
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Old 06-30-2005   #15
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But with all due respect NFFC, based on your reputation I have a hard time believing that you are incapable of making a good living by optimizing sites within guidelines.
He can do just fine and he does. I know some of his sites; he is brilliant, does gorgeous work and his sites are brilliant. And that is not a biased opinion, it's based on pragmatic, realistic, unbiased observation.

Quote:
>How come it's never the SPAMMERS fault
Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't the SPAMMERS fault. Sometimes it's just incompetent or newbie SEO's whining and looking for a scapegoat to blame for their own deficiencies and shortcomings.
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Old 06-30-2005   #16
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I love it how a single question about SEO evolves into a philosophical discussion about Good and Evil!

In response to marcia, (and getting back to the original discussion) i do agree that all webmasters should take a proactive approach to shift the engines in their favor. whether you call this influence or manipulation i think is all about intent and the methods used.

if my goal is to rank high, and my methodology is via quality content, ontopic linking, directories - that's great. in fact, thats what one should be doing. It is influencing the engines, but it's the "right way". It's competing fairly in the marketplace.

If I intend on taking the top spots by spamming, irrelavant link building, and i have not put in the true effort to merit those positions, than that's simply cheating. It's the intent to get high rankings without following the rules (the engine TOS) that creates an unfair sphere of competition. so its not the act of altering ones rankings thats evil, its the methodology one choses to take. The straight way - is white, and the shortcut - is black.

The original question remains: Is black hat SEO an acceptable form of competing in the marketplace?

Last edited by jewboy : 06-30-2005 at 12:34 AM.
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Old 06-30-2005   #17
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Is black hat SEO an acceptable form of competing in the marketplace?
Acceptable to whom?

Search Engine: No
A site that wants to be #1 no matter what: Yes
A site that has to compete against 9 other sites that are all BH: Probably
Someone who is not skilled in SEO and hopes that stopping BH tactics will bring everyone down to their level of incompetence: No
A site that is very image concious: Probably not
A skilled WH with the #1 site: Who cares?
A client who is not fully aware of the risks: No

There are probably other times, but as you can see, this isn't a yes/no question.

I've always felt that it was taking the easy way out. I *do* like to study BH techniques and re-work them into equivilent WH ones - you would be surprised how often that's possible.

But that's just my opinion.

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Old 06-30-2005   #18
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I've always felt that it was taking the easy way out. I *do* like to study BH techniques and re-work them into equivilent WH ones - you would be surprised how often that's possible.

But that's just my opinion.
Touche! And more than likely, that's why the engines leave some of them out there, so they can monitor them and see what they're up to next, after the smoke and mirrors pass away. We have that same opportunity, when we find them. They're very educational.

But likewise, that's just my opinion.
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Old 06-30-2005   #19
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>> i think is all about intent

I think I'm going to scream if I hear that one more time.

The intent is to get the website highly ranked. Other than that and whatever previous knowledge of an individual SEO's methods you have you cannot divine intent by looking at the site.

Uninformed newbies spam horribly with the best of intent. People buy advertising with the best of intent. WH evangalists can justify links I don't find slightly natural by explaining their intent and I could find a 'good intent explanation' for almost any link you show me given 5 minutes and someone prepared to listen.

The intent argument is all in the eye of the beholder. Like Glengara asked in another thread yesterday, how exactly do SE's calculate intent? Seemingly, by the comments from the meet the engineers thing, by looking at previous similar actions and saying whether that intent was 'good' or 'bad' for the SERPS.

In which case we're right back to it's not about intent it's about pursuading the SE's you're being good. Totally different issue imho.
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Old 06-30-2005   #20
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it's not about intent it's about pursuading the SE's you're being good. Totally different issue imho.
Right. And the SEO newbies who couldn't get their site listed on their refrigerator door if they had a magnet are always quick to blame "SPAMMERS" rather than take responsibility for their own shortcomings, deficiencies and incapabilities.

THAT is *exactly* what gets some people's dander up and on the defensive whenever these black hat/white hat diatribes start in.
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