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I am tired of the labels- black hat and white hat. Sure there are good and bad ways to do SEO but these labels have been rendered useless as pejoratives.Rather than speak in terms of the color of an SEO's headgear, we should instead talk about "risk" - how much risk they are willing to take. But it's not really about how risky an SEO is- what is more important is the riskiness of their specific techniques.What do you think? will you join me in dropping the headgear pejoratives and start describing specific techniques as risky or not?
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Avatar Administrator
from MattMcGee 1299 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Yeah, I'd generally agree with what you're saying, mainly because there's such a big gray area in the middle and some "white hats" aren't as white as they think, and some "black hat" techniques are actually not all that terrible depending on your intentions. I do think there's value in clients and prospects understanding the different levels of risk, as you say, but I don't think "white hat" and "black hat" do a good job of that because they're too simple and often misused.



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from lyndseo 1299 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I find that the terms "white hat" and "black hat" have transitioned to non-SEO experts; I see it used by sales staff more often.  SEOs know that there is no definitive label - and you're right about RISK being the important factor.

For the past while, I've only used the hat terms to people who only have a slight familiarity of SEO.  It's a little easier for them to understand.



Avatar Administrator
from Michelle 1299 Days ago #
Votes: 4

Until the industry stops using those labels to either describe their service orientation or the types of methods they use - mainstream acceptance of SEO as a legitimate industry and peer respect amongst other marketing disciplines will not happen. If for no other reason, those labels and descriptors need to be jettisoned from the collective language and writing of SEOs.



Avatar Moderator
from toddmintz 1299 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I think the industry is starting to move away from these labels...I'm not really hearing them used nearly as much as I used to.



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from seotheory 1299 Days ago #
Votes: -1

Adopting industry-wide standards would help move us quickly away from these wild west paradigms.



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from dunivan 1299 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Clients care, and thus we should too.

Industry-wide standards is out, because no seo campaign is the same. There is a real paradigm, either you do it right, and your client doesn't have to worry about you taking of one day and their site tanks, or you do it wrong, get your money, and move on.

With that said, I hear these labels normaily in the initial phases of an idea's implmentation, in prespective client meetings, I do not hear "black hat" seo much from the day to day, other then the naive seo'ers trying to use these tactics for their sites (blue hat.)



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from DavidZimm 1299 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Rather than "industry standards" maybe we should take a tactic-by-tactic approach, evaluating each by how much risk they pose?

Risk can mean different things:

  • some things are risky because they will get you banned by Google
  • some things are risky becasue, although they take time, they might not accomplish anything

Risk for each tactic can then be evaluated and then a decision made: for the return you might recieve, is it worth the risk?



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from JulieJoyce 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 2

I don't think clients truly understand colors anyway. They don't always even understand risk.



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from Jill 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Why should there ever be risk in anything a professional SEO ever does?

If there's risk, it's not SEO, it's just web spam.



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from DavidZimm 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Jill- I think it depends on your situation.

If you are are an affiliate marketer, who works on your own sites, your risk-tolerance is greater than someone working in an agency who would not be willing to risk becoming the new JCP story.

Also, as I am defining it, "risk" relates to ineffectiveness as well. So, as someone who works at an agency, I risk not moving the needle (and getting my client the results they desire) by spending my time on things that have no effect.



Avatar Moderator
from Jill 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 1

David, if you're an affiliate marketer doing your own sites and you care to be spamming the search engines, that's fine, but it's still web spam. Some might use the label blackhat under those circumstances. (I don't use those particular labels.)

And if you're working for clients doing things that get no results and taking their money anyway, you're an incompetent SEO (not you of course, but the collective you). You're certainly not what some call a whitehat SEO, though. And you're anything but a professional SEO.



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from DavidZimm 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Jill- completely agree with you.

My point is- rather than call people names ("white-hat", "black-hat", "spammer", "incompetent"), we should begin by talking about different tactics.

Then, when we talk about tactics, we shouldn't label each (and blow them off) by labeling them with a hat-color, but describe each tactic in terms of how risky it is.

My concern here is addressing the perception of SEO. When we label people we like or dislike with hat colors we make people who need and don't understand SEO think they have to look for someone on the "good guy" list and avoid the "bad guy" list. Who's on each list depends on who you ask.

If we, instead, take the focus to tactics then SEO becomes more accessable. I'm all for my clients having a better understanding of what I do for them on a tactical level- I think they make better clients.



Avatar Moderator
from Jill 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Coincidentally (started before this thread happened), to go along with what you're saying David, my newsletter article coming out today is discussing all the useless SEO tactics out there. And yes, educating clients is truly the only answer. Unfortuantely, it seems that no matter how much good information and education there is out there, it's difficult, if not impossible to counteract the bad.

A client asked me yesterday about some SEO tools which I explained were not useful, and she was like, "then why do so many people talk about them?" (The answer of course is to make money!)



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from Doc2626 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I agree that it would be nice if the BH/WH terms just faded into a vague memory, but until that happens, I think education is the only viable approach. We need to educate our clients on the inherent risks of iimplementing grey- or black-hat techniques, and let them make their own informed decision.

I don't advocate link-buying, for instance, but the niches in which I work aren't terribly competitive, either. If I were to take on a pharma client, my perspective might change. My viewpoint is that if I'm taking the client's money, I should be delivering what the client needs.



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from James1 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I couldn't agree more. Blackhat SEO is just another way of doing SEO. I agree with your risk scheme.



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from seotheory 1298 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Anyone who advocates "best practices" is pushing for standards.

Anyone who mitigates risk is pushing for standards.

Standards are not certification.  Standards define what the best practices are, what the risks are and how to mitigate them, and they set reasonable expectations.

When people agree to adopt standards they make a commitment to a minimum level of service and quality that improves performance across the industry.

The standards begin with the consensus of what constitutes "best practices".  Standards not only work, they work well and they always improve industry quality and performance.

SEO is in more dire need of standards than any white man in history.



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from StephenChapman 1297 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Great discussion! I'm happy to see it has brought out some of the more opinionated SEOs (I'm looking at you, Michael and Jill :) ).

While I love the idea of the perception of risk in lieu of hats, I think this discussion is unfortunately going to fall by the wayside as do so many other good discussions in the SEO industry, i.e. how SEO needs reputation management, how SEO needs standards, etc. In my humble opinion, whether we place methods on a scale of risk or by the color of hats, we're still working on a scale. Some people hate labels, but I love them. They give easy points of entry into a specific subset of methods/approaches/what have you, and I'm not just talking about with SEO. Being quite involved in the music world, these discussions take place *all the time* about people fitting bands into specific sub-genres and how some people loathe that idea.

While I totally understand the thinking behind that and not wanting to pigeonhole anything from SEO methods to bands, I love the idea that I can type "black hat SEO" or "progressive death metal djent" into a search engine and find almost exactly what I'm looking for instantly. All the same, typing "high risk" vs. "low risk" -- or some type of risk inbetween -- bears no dissimilarity to me from typing "black hat" vs. "white hat."

Maybe that's simply because I'm a fan of granularity and typing ridiculously specific search queries into Google, etc. Or, maybe after all these years of wearing various hats through various endeavors in life, I know I can use the color labels to quickly flesh out a particular subset of information I'm looking for.

Basically, what I'm getting at is that I'm all for a shift from hats to risk, but at the end of the day, I still see it as being the exact same thing -- just with a different label. What does "black hat" mean to you? What does it mean to others? Per my personal experience, people either know what it references or they don't -- and the ones who don't are able to quickly grasp the concept once explained in quite simple Wizard of Oz terms.

Therein lies one benefit I do see of shifting monikers: "High risk" seems more self-defined/self-explanatory to the everyman than "black hat," etc. I guess at the end of the day, I'm curious as to if this whole industry wants to take this on. I mean, you have to realize how ingrained the hat analogy is not only in this industry, but throughout many industries. Being WAY into keeping up with black hat methods, I know of many black hat communities out there that will provide plenty of pushback to something like this -- much like they do in search engines. It's much cooler to be affiliated with "black hat" than "high risk."

At that, who are we to introduce this paradigm shift? We are a vocal crowd; the ones on the cutting edge of waxing philosophical about SEO. If we really want to achieve something like this, it's going to take a herculean effort. We need to get Rand Fishkin onboard, Aaron Wall, Wil Reynolds, etc. etc. etc. Then, we need to shift the perspective of *everyone*. Could we get journalists to care enough to take this public? As a writer for ZDNet, I would totally be willing to, but my viewership is primarily comprised of people who I doubt would care -- but I could help create awareness.

All-in-all, I love the idea of this, but what are the chances this won't be a forgotten about discussion come next week as Sphinn continues populating the site with new content? What's the plan of action to make this happen? Is there really enough benefit to the industry and/or its onlookers/clientele to make such a shift?

Thanks for your time and my apologies for being so verbose. Great discussion; I've enjoyed reading all of your opinions so far.

And David, you tha man. =) Looking forward to catching up with you at BarCamp Charlotte here soon!

-Stephen



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from MBGEE 1293 Days ago #
Votes: 0

The point is not what you call it = "White Hat" or otherwise, and I disagree about all the gray area comments. It's generaly pretty clear, there's the right way to do things, and the not right way to do things and if you always approach it wearing your customer's hat - then it's not hard to get it right.



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