Are SEO Blackhats Turning White or Is The Industry Melting?

Dec 16, 2008 • 8:05 am | comments (25) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Search Engine Industry News

Last week was the SES Chicago show, we were unable to make it, but I am hearing a lot of buzz about it from the community. As someone who has been reporting on the industry for over five years now, I found one topic pretty interesting.

It seems like either SEO "blackhats" are becoming more "whitehat" or that we are all starting to understand each other a lot better or maybe, the line has blurred more over the years. What makes me say this now?

Well, besides for many folks, including (I am 99% sure) Matt Cutts of Google claiming that more and more blackhats are learning that its best to go whitehat - we have a post from the whitest of whitehats, Doug Heil. Now, if you don't know Doug, Doug has been in the industry for a really long time - he has always been on the extreme whitehat side. So much so, he has taken stances against certain conferences, forums and individuals in the industry.

Doug, for the first time (I believe), attended and spoke at the Search Engine Strategies show. In fact, he spoke on a panel named Black Hat, White Hat & the Best Kept Secrets to Search. Now, he spoke on the panel with Richard Zwicky, Eric Enge, Todd Friesen, and David Naylor. I assume Todd and David were the blackhats and Richard and Eric were the whitehats. Now, for Doug to agree to sit down on a panel at an SES with blackhats is major. But it is even more major how Doug described his experience at his forums, I Help You Forums and Search Engine Watch Forums.

He outed Todd as a whitehat:

Todd Friesen; This dude rocks. He tries his best to maintain the blackhat image, but trust me; after having quite a few talks with him, he's nothing but pure BS and totally whitehat. That's right; whitehat. You've been outed Todd. I think he understands my definition of cloaking now as well.

Actually; Todd (oilman) has been a whitehat for a very long time. I simply confirmed my own thoughts last week about it. Yes; he buys links, but buys them for large .com's with lots of quality incoming links. That's a big difference from the small to medium who are buying those links. If Todd buys 5 links for someone like, I call that buying paid advertising. NO risk at all.

And claimed that David Naylor will soon be a whitehat:

Dave is really nothing but a teddybear. He's a blackhat, but I think I can sway him to the other side eventually.

Naylor? He will be a whitehat in due time. He's not much a blackhat anyhoo.

Really good stuff, in fact - he is now open to communication with "blackhats," which is a wonderful thing.

But you see, Doug also seems to imply that certain link buys and certain forms of redirection are not considered blackhat. I do not know if Doug always felt this way, but for some reason - I think 4 years ago, he would not have found buying links "for someone like" as "buying paid advertising." Nor would I have thought he would be okay with any form of "content delivery" in any way.

So what has happened over the years? I think the most important thing is that Google is more detailed about what is allowed and what is not allowed. Clearly there are forms of content delivery and redirection that is allowed. But four years ago, that was a mystery. Link buys, well - Doug's comments surprised me.

In any event, I am really happy to see a more open dialog between the whitehat side of things and the blackhat side of things. Now if we can get Doug to sit down with Ralph Tegtmeier (a.k.a. Fantomaster) at SES London. :)

Forum discussion at I Help You Forums and Search Engine Watch Forums.

Previous story: Google Sitelinks Being Cut Off?


Jill Whalen

12/16/2008 03:03 pm

Yep, the old-timer black hats are definitely mostly white hat these days and have been for years. But that doesn't mean there are no more black hats. I'm sure there are plenty still working in the pills, porn, casino areas (PPC as Boser likes to call it). They may eventually tire of it as well and go legit, but who knows.

Steve Hill

12/16/2008 03:25 pm

So what about seroundtable? Is this site going to go white-hat anytime soon?

Barry Schwartz

12/16/2008 04:13 pm

Too much cloaking going on here Steve? ;-)


12/16/2008 04:20 pm

Does that mean that I am unable to purchase a text link from you? Lol

Barry Schwartz

12/16/2008 04:37 pm

Like Doug said above, those are ad buys. But here, they are specifically folks who want to help this blog continue. I trust them, I do not allow any type of sponsor, they have to be related to this blog. I have blogged about this before. I am like the only SEO blog that has taken a stance. Our Google PageRank is a 4, but should be a 7, so we got hit but I am still taking a stance. I trust and verify all links that are not nofollowed on this site. Comments and forum links are nofollowed or redirected cause I cannot validate them all.

Michael Martinez

12/16/2008 08:18 pm

There are still plenty of black hats out there scraping other sites, injecting malware onto people's computers, and using mashups to build link profiles for their made-for-adsense sites.

Benj Arriola

12/16/2008 10:34 pm

I can testify to Barry, where I once attempted to buy a link for a high prized SEO contest. And purchased the expensive link from a text link broker where you cannot see the page, just the price. I was already leading in the contest and just wanted to secure the lead and bought a link here on the last month. After 1 day it was on the sidebar, it was removed. *LOL* I still ended up winning the contest and saved money from the refund for the removed link. :)

David Temple

12/17/2008 12:14 am

Doug Heil spoke at SES, totally cool. Sorry I missed that. Now we're all one big happy seo family, dysfunctional yes, but seo family none the less.

No Name

12/17/2008 02:09 am

The worst blackhat SEO I have seen and experienced is a method where a hacker hacked into a popular website to put links to his (or his clients') websites. Can this dirty method even be considered SEO?

Matt Cutts

12/17/2008 06:44 am

I haven't seen Doug in person in years, so I'm sorry I missed him. He came to visit me when the original Googleplex was just one building and we had a nice long visit.

Ian Turner

12/17/2008 05:02 pm

"but buys them for large .com's with lots of quality incoming links. That's a big difference from the small to medium who are buying those links." Really - so Doug now thinks it is one law for the rich and one for the poor? If Google really makes that kind of distinction then it is much less of a search engine than it was before they told webmasters anything. However I am fairly sure this is not the case. In a lot of cases the differences between black hats and white hats were not that great - many were labelled black hat because they strayed into areas that had not really been defined, such as buying links before it became commonplace or geo-cloaking. Really these were just grey areas, Doug was one of the few who was vociforous about not straying into undefined areas and keeping things whiter than white.

Doug Heil

12/17/2008 05:48 pm

As usual, there is total confusion in this industry. No, there is not one law for the rich and one for the poor. I use the law called common sense actually, and always have. If a large .com has many quality "natural" incoming links, and that large .com is sponsoring or buying advertising at a few sites, it's not going to make one bit of difference. A quality SEO, which Todd Friesen is, knows to simply buy the advertising for that type of client. What's wrong with that? If joe the plumber sites try the same tactic with very little authority at all, he/she could be taking a big risk. Trust and Authority are two parts of any algo that are not discussed enough at all for some reason or another. The SES conference experience was wonderful.

Doug Heil

12/17/2008 05:54 pm

Oh; I've never called targeting a location by geography, or targeting whether or not a browser has flash installed as cloaking. I've been very specific as to what cloaking is and is not. I never waver on it or my stances.

Barry Schwartz

12/17/2008 06:05 pm

Doug, thanks for coming in and explaining some of my questions. I appreciate it!

Ian Turner

12/17/2008 06:33 pm

"Trust and Authority are two parts of any algo that are not discussed enough at all for some reason or another." Yes, I agree with that - especially as there are many iniquities being carried out under their umbrella. Also I disagree that Joe the plumber should be taking any more of a risk than Amazon by buying links from any site - and if this really is the case I am disappointed. My personal view is that the links are likely to be discounted in both cases - its just that the discounting will appear to do greater damage to joe the plumber's site than it will do to Amazon who have hundreds of thousands of other links. On the subject of geo-cloaking - I have certainly hit problems with this area in the past - showing ads to countries where a site doesn't deliver its products/services worked fine if the the US is covered by your product delivery but didn't if you don't deliver to the US. (Side Note: Almost all search engine IPs resolve to the US)

Doug Heil

12/17/2008 07:09 pm

Oh Sure Barry; you are welcome. Ian; I don't think you are getting my angle with the paid link thing. I call that geo-content delivery. Not cloaking. You are targeting the IP's of spiders, are you? You should be targeting the IP range of the geography you are targeting. That's called IP delivery..and again, not cloaking. :)

Terry Van Horne

12/17/2008 08:06 pm

hmmm, Doug how come Joe can't buy advertising but Amazon can. Me thinks you been sippin' the purple koolaid over there at SES. ;-) I agree to some extent that it's about the link profile and even having too many directory or anything IBLs is likely opening yourself up to not only the wrath of the "Paid Link" rats but negative SEO which IMO, is the new Blackhat!

Ian Turner

12/17/2008 08:30 pm

Doug - I understand where you are coming from with the paid linking thing, I just slightly disagree with your thinking - if you are correct then Google's algorithm is bad in that it does not provide an even playing field, however my view is that Google's algorithm is probably fair and that it is just how the elimination of paid links in the algorithm plays out that makes it seem iniquitous to some. On the cloaking issue, I only ever targetted the geographic locations - and this still caused problems, due to the fact that SE IPs resolve to the US geographic area. When I showed ads to this area, it effectively lowered the quality of the page from an SE perspective (because the SE IPs were US), thus causing loss in rankings across the board (even in areas where I wasn't showing ads). It isn't problem that you would have seen if you are focussed on the US market, however for UK/European SEOs it was a significant issue. (Since Google improved its geographic results presentation the value in this kind of ad geotargetting has significantly diminished)

Matt Wood

12/17/2008 11:11 pm

So paying for promotion at article and pr directories is buying links? I'm still amazed that the word "natural" never seems to be in quotes. Not even Office Depot and Staples are going to have natural or similar linking profiles. Just "natural" ones.

Doug Heil

12/18/2008 03:28 am

Hi Ian, You wrote: " if you are correct then Google's algorithm is bad in that it does not provide an even playing field," Why is that? I stated a few times that authority weighs big in the algo. I don't know what that has to do with the algo being bad. It seems to me the algo has it right. If you are small with few incoming links, buying any amount of links is very risky. If you are big with lots of great links, buying links is not risky since your authority is through the roof. It all makes sense to me.


12/18/2008 09:18 am

"proportional linkage".. imho.. What used to be black seems to be grey now.. Maybe thats just me.. getting old..

Michelle MacPhearson

12/18/2008 10:26 am

The lines have been blurred in the past few years, much of that coming from they way we look at the web as a more collaborative environment. Plus, some blackhat techniques (link buying, for example) are old now and not as "shocking" to even the lily whitest whitehats.

Matt Wood

12/26/2008 09:22 pm

Very well put, Doug. Do the se's remind anybody of the Joker getting everybody he comes near to fight to the death, or is that just me?


12/29/2008 04:40 pm

Maybe it's time people began to realize that the "white hat"/"black hat" dichotomy has been trashed to death and was one big silly misunderstanding from its very inception anyway. Not only is it an old carrot that a "black hat" worth his or her salt can out-whitehat any self-professed "white hats" anytime. Also, there's more than one "white hat" who has resorted to techniques generally deemed to be anything but "white". But so what? At the end of the day, SEO is (or should be) about what works - with some strategies perhaps constituting more of a risk than others. No way this is going to change in the foreseeable future, no matter what Matt Cutts may claim. As to whether some "professed black hat" have really disavowed their "evil" ways or not, get real, folks! Not calling any names here, but hey, when was the last time you spilled all your beans to your competitors? Or to the search engine big brass? Concerning SES London - will be attending SEO de Janeiro instead (right during Carnival, too). Which actually IS one big time "black hat" event - or at least it's being touted as such... :) Anyway, thanks for the heads-up.


02/04/2009 12:26 am

Ahh - but Heil's "Joe Plumer" site is actually taking LESS risk by buying links. If you're only getting 100 visits a day to your site, what are you really risking by buying links? 3k Visits a month? Who cares? The upside potential, on the other hand, is huge. No, it's not that everyone is going all whitehat. It's that Google has shown time and time again that they prefer if people SAY they are white hats. At the end of the day, all any of us really cares about it "what works".

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