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The community has long had a debate as to how ’ethical’ blackhat SEO is. Here, I highlight which blackhat techniques are ethical and which aren’t, based on a line drawn at algo-gaming vs abusing humans.
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from Chewie 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Nice blog post Gab, hopefully we can sort out a lot more in the future.

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from NickWilsdon 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 1

OK but playing devil’s advocate, you miss out the search engine perspective here. That inserting large amount of pages/sites into the index that, as Matt once said, “rank higher than they deserve” can stop users finding good sites. Adding this material can make the search engine more spammy and less relevant for users, ultimately ruining their experience.  This assumes of course that the end product is low grade but BH’s don’t have a reputation for quality content, especially when auto-generated in bulk. SEs would certainly suggest that this bad experience for users would be nearer to the "abusing humans" end of the scale. despite the ethical claims.

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from jonnyscottie 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Two of my favourite SEO Young Guns Mr Chew and GG, love love love your work gents.

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from Gab 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Would love to guest more, Dean.@Nick - Depends if the autogenerated stuff is run for linkfarming or to rank itself. Also, considering that the people who rank for buy viagra obviously succeed in selling viagra ... I think the user experience isn’t all that bad. If BHs are converting their visitors, obviously there’s a level of user satisfaction there. That’s also why I made the distinction between offtopic crap (e.g. ranking porn for ’motorcycle’) and  relevant spam.@Jonny - Wow, thanks for the compliment. Much appreciated :D.Wonder what Matt Cutts will argue back?

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from NickWilsdon 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@GabGood point if they are selling something directly from their site. However this is often not the case, they are passing users through to third party sites, as an affiliate or ad publisher. In these cases, poor quality pages will often perform better, the user will click the ads in an attempt to continue their search. The poor quality of the information in front of them leaves them little choice (do that or press the back button). In those cases, it’s hard to argue that the BH site has given a good user experience, rather than converting because of the page, users may have converted despite it. This was just a layer of spam in the way of them finding the information they *really* wanted. 

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from NickWilsdon 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 1

To be honest, you’re better leaving talk of ethics out of the whole WH/BH debate. The only place it has any relevance is in the transparency between the SEM and the client. I agree with the post Vanessa wrote the other week, WH/BH is about guideline violations.

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from Halfdeck 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 7

Ethics becomes an issue when an entire industry endorses behavior that clearly only benefits a select few. When many people in the SEO industry endorse questionable tactics (e.g. 90% of SEOs high-fived Lyndon for his fake news bait and 90% of SEOs are pro-paid links that pass juice), it confirms in people’s minds the idea that most SEOs are spam-happy scum.These debates won’t change Matt Cutts’ mind nor will they convince the average webmaster that black hat seo is a good thing. So why bother debating, rationalizing, and justifying? Are SEOs so much of a goody-two-shoes that we need to constantly talk ourselves into believing that we’re not being bad?I don’t need Google’s permission to do what I do or to hear Matt’s opinion.

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from Kimota 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 2

Yup, I’m with Nick and Halfdeck. Lines have become blurred because there is blackhat (ie; related directly to Google guidelines) and then there’s unethical conduct (such as was claimed by a few SEOs in the case of Lyndon’s fake linkbait).It became common to describe any controversial SEO tactic as black hat, whereas I agree it should be reserved purely for guideline violations.Whether some guideline violations are also unethical is a different debate, and certainly doesn’t imply that all, or even most, violations are. In fact, it is possible to be entirely white hat and also be unethical. If I were to post a webpage describing torture techniques and/or inciting riots, my content would be unethical and probably even illegal, even though there is nothing in the Google guidelines that prevents me uploading such content.There does need to be an ethical standard in SEO and discussion of online ethics are welcome, but it isn’t WH/BH.

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from JohnHGohde 2215 Days ago #
Votes: -3

If you call that list of ethical BH, ethical then I will question your defintion of ethics.

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from Lyndon 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 1

There are no ethics in seo, only what works and what does not work.

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from TheMadHat 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 0

>> There are no ethics in seo, only what works and what does not work.Amen to that.

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from Gab 2215 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@Nick - Pretty cogent argument about folks converting despite the page. Hadn’t seen things in that light. In that case I’m inclined to say that they’re wasting people’s time. It’s a borderline case though whether wasting that time by requiring an extra click is unethical or whether in fact it’s closer to the ’annoying un-user-friendly-usability’ area described earlier. However, it’s obvious that in the aggregate, it steals folks time so I’d say it falls on the unethical side of things. Also, I note that this isn’t restricted to BHs, but to thin affiliates generally, many of whom tend to be whitehat and sometimes even public companies. That said, there are many BHs selling direct, as you know. E.g. whitelabel aff deals. As to discussing ethics, I felt that since the debate has mostly been one-sided, it was time to flip things around and highlight the blackhats’ side of the story. THere’s been so much annoying, stupid repetition about folks being ’ethical whitehats’ and how those ’unethical bhs’ are terrible that I felt compelled to try and bring some clarity to the discussion and hopefully help avoid more of that rehashed crap.For the record, I agree with Vanessa’s definition of wh/bh being a guidelines thing, though I think there are also shades of gray (e.g. Rand’s recent post on cloaking styles/situations).@John - Who are you to judge me? In fact, I question your definition of ethics. @Lyndon, Hatter/Aaron - I understand the sentiment, but think that you’re speaking to the above mentioned ignorants who call wh ethical and bh unethical, de facto.

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from IncrediBILL 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 4

Forget the ethics on your points about cracking sites, #3 and #4, because that isn’t black hat, it’s criminal and a felony that could send you to jail and find you with a bunk mate tatooing your ass with his "brand" using a lit cigarette.

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from dannysullivan 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 4

I can see the point here -- that just because you don’t follow some search engines rules, that doesn’t mean you’re operating in an "unethical" manner. Not everyone will agree with that, of course -- some think that to be ethical, you must follow the rules. I tend to agree with Nick on it -- blackhat/whitehat is a separate argument that whether you are an ethical marketer. For example, follow all the white hat rules you want, but if you charged someone $100,000 to rank them for "north carolina exterminators who kill mosquitos and ants," a pretty long and non-competitve term that few will search on, are you ethical? How ethical you are is more than a question of what hat you wear.Sadly, I just don’t have much energy for these types of debates. I guess having seen them go on and on and on with all the same answers and responses several times over the years, I’ve been beaten down. OK, I know I’m old, and I know there are always new people coming in who need to have education in these areas. But I swear -- I hear nothing new about the black hat - white hat debate much less the debates on ethics that has been said again and again and again. And yet nothing much really happens to change anything.Back to the point. Ethics is in the eye of the beholder. When Gab says this is ethical:"Linkspamming abandoned sites that the owner no longer spends any time on. Of course, this is different than linkspamming someone to the point where they choose to abandon their site."Bullshit. Hey, if I move out of my house, it’s not ethical to come along and spray paint graffiti on the side of it, not in my book. And if I no longer update a blog that’s say a tribute to some friend who has died, and you run a crappy little linkspamming tool to drop something on it, you suck. Sorry. But it does suck.Back in 2005, I tried to get the industry to push against linkspamming like this (see Can We Agree Automated Comment & Link Posting Is A Bad Thing?). I thought in an industry where no one seems to agree on ethics, maybe this particular tactic which has generated so much bad will and which seems pretty unethical to many might be something we could all agree was unethical. 57% said yep. 22% thought saying it was unethical was too strong. And despite the discussion, there’s still a sense of "all’s fair" or "it’s OK if the blog’s not used" or other justifications. And I grow weary.

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from DarkMatter 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 7

filling the serps with inferior, inaccurate, useless or spammy material is unethical. you are helping to ruin one of the most useful tools ever created. it shows a disregard for other people who need to use this tool, and for people who choose to add to knowledge rather than obscure it. this is a selfish act born of greed and laziness.it is entirely possible to make a very lucrative living in search without destroying something that many creative people have helped build.

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from yojpotter2 2214 Days ago #
Votes: -3

I agree with you..blackhat SEO is not unethical all the time..it just became unethical if it continuously spam other people’s page and site.

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from g1smd 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Anyone still think cookie stuffing is a good idea?

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from Jill 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@DarkMatter that’s a great way to put it. I couldn’t agree more.

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from Chewie 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@Darkmatter:You can also fill the serps with accurate spam! Many millions of people search for ’buy viagra’ and find a site to buy it from. If i had a blackhat site that was selling viagra yet didn’t get to the number one spot by following google’s guidlines is that unethical? I say no because i am actually giving the user what they want. Just because a site was automated and had a million backlinks through spamming does not automatically mean that its useless in the serps and a site that users dont want to buy from. Google have a monopoly share of the search world and can demmand what they want. Until UK law says that what i am doing is illegal then i will continue to manipulate the serps as i see fit, just as countless companies manipulate us day after day.I do agree that filing the serps with crap is no good for anyone, but at the end of the day if you provide a service that people want then as long as you are not breaking the law, or going against human ethics then who cares how you provide it?@g1smd:Cookie stuffing can be a good idea if you get away with it? There is a huge debate about the ethics of cooking stuffing and recently Shawn from DP just got sued for doing it... http://www.montysmegamarketing.com/digital-points-shawn-hogan-sued-for-cookie-stuffingI know many people much greater than me have talked this to death, but ethics are in the eye of the beholder (as per Danny’s post). If my site gives the user what they are searching for, then how i get there is not a matter of ethics but a matter of going against the guidelines of a company which holds a TOTAL monopoly of the market.

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from g1smd 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 0

I am totally aware of the e-bay lawsuit, that’s why I asked the question here...

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from Chewie 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@g1smdPerhaps your question would be better served in the Sphinn thread, on that exact topic?

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from JohnHGohde 2214 Days ago #
Votes: -1

@dannysullivan"Hey, if I move out of my house, it’s not ethical to come along and spray paint graffiti on the side of it, not in my book. And if I no longer update a blog that’s say a tribute to some friend who has died, and you run a crappy little linkspamming tool to drop something on it, you suck. Sorry. But it does suck."I would say that what was listed by gab as being ethical BH does in fact suck, even if that blog somebody just spammed all over wasn’t very noble to begin with.@Gab What is it with the younger generation who actually think that they should not be judged?  Sorry, but the entire concept of Western Culture and Civilization is based upon judging people.  I am not the one callings things Ethical and unethical, you are.I happen to have had read a half dozen heavy duty college level books on ethics and virtue.  In fact, the first placed that I stepped into when I first entered the Internet was a newsgroup discussion on ethics.  I will quote some of my posts on ethics and virtue."Virtue theory is the view that the foundation of morality is the development of good character traits, or virtues.  It is about agent-centered ethics .  Virtue Theory is opposed to act-centered morality." -- early June 1999"Virtue Ethics is ALWAYS about one individual:  YOURSELF.  What other people do is irrelevent." -- June 5, 1999"Well, I think taking the quickest way to anything is an extreme response.  Aristotle said that you have to train your character into becoming virtuous.  That sounds both like a slow and human approach to me.  Further, I believe that patience is a virtue. -- June 7, 1999"I would say that virtue rises out of the will to act virtuously, or more precisely being virtuous. That is to say, the goal of Virtue Ethics is to be Virtuous all the time because you enjoy being virtuous, rather doing a good deed, here and there, because of some perceived duty, or inorder to avoid punishment." -- June 8, 1999Gab, your list of Ethical black hat techniques is flawed precisely because you are proposing an act-centered code of ethics,  rather than agent-centered ethics.Gab, I am ethical precisely because I have chosen not to pollute the web or to engage in website spamming because I prefer to be virtuous and to voluntarily add value to the Web.I do not need to read nor abide by any of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines precisely because I have chosen to add value to the Web because I find enjoyment in adding value.  I prefer slow and steady growth as the virtuous way to build up website rank precisely because I have chosen to do so.  There is virtue in patience.  And, Google rewards patience well.  I act virtuously developing my web sites because I enjoy adding value to the Web, not because I want to avoid being punished by Google.I did that not make this declaration today, but rather back in June 1999.  Because Google groups talk.philosophy.misc documents that I did.

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from Jill 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Wow, two comments in a row by John I agree with. (Checking to make sure I’m really awake.)

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from NickWilsdon 2214 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@jill Yep I noticed that too - amazing eh? I even had to vote him up myself.

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from iBrian 2213 Days ago #
Votes: 1

"Hey, if I move out of my house, it’s not ethical to come along and spray paint graffiti on the side of it, not in my book."For those who disagree, it always seems "right" when done to other people, not themselves.Of all of the tactics that can be debated and discussed, anything which can potentially hurt somebody in a real emotional, spiritual or physical sense is not worth profiting from. I’m a SEO because I like to solve problems, help people, and get paid for it. Sometimes I’ve done things wrong, but I’ve tried to correct for those mistakes. I personally think there is no excuse for willfully hurting people once made aware these are the actions of your business decisions. I wouldn’t even call it an issue of ethics - it’s about being human.Lydon’s fake story didn’t aim to hurt anybody, but spamming sites which may look abandoned potentially does.2c.

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from Gab 2213 Days ago #
Votes: 0

"Bullshit. Hey, if I move out of my house, it’s not ethical to come along and spray paint graffiti on the side of it, not in my book. And if I no longer update a blog that’s say a tribute to some friend who has died, and you run a crappy little linkspamming tool to drop something on it, you suck. Sorry. But it does suck."Hmm, that’s a perspective I hadn’t considered. @John - You’re going way off on a tangent that I’m going to refute once and leave things as is afterwards. For the record, I’ve studied ethics in college and am studying law now (insert lawyer jokes here :D ). And I know plenty of folks who’ve read till their sight goes dim and that hardly makes an impression on me.While we’re on the topic though, I’ll point out this non-sequitur in your comment: "Sorry, but the entire concept of Western Culture and Civilization is based upon judging people.  I am not the one callings things Ethical and unethical, you are."[Putting aside your sweeping generalization about Western culture etc., which I don’t accept,] then consider that judging people is different than judging things or actions.  Yet you just assimilated the two, before differentiating them later on.As to act-centered ethics vs person-centered ethics, every major legal system in the world takes that as its basis. We charge people with committing unethical actions, not with being jerks. I think that speaks volumes .

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from JohnHGohde 2213 Days ago #
Votes: -1

From my very short sojourn into the SEM business, people make money off search engines by running some type of fraudulent business scam.  SEM and Sphinn is really very small potatoes when you look at the bigger picture of fraudulent business scams  going on in the Web.  So, the idea of trying to introduce ethics into a totally fraudulent small potatoes business in order to some how feel better about scramming money off of people seems quite ludicrous to me, if not downright offensive.  But, I can say that the Google spies out there are in fact taking notes off of these types of posts in order to root out more of the slimy webmastering from their search engine even though fraudulent PPC schemes seems to be their bread and butter.   I just guess that Google enjoys rubbing out the worst of the worst?  It is a funny world ain’t it?  There seems to be honor among thieves.And, we all know what the public perception of lawyers is. Human culture is all about judging people.  Just thought that you might want to know.  So, I have been very happy to post my opinions on Sphinn.Going into lawyering from SEM sounds like a person who cannot make up his mind about how he wants to scratch money.

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from Jill 2213 Days ago #
Votes: 0

Offtopic, but Gab, what law school are you attending? (My daughter will be applying soon.)

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from IncrediBILL 2212 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@John"people make money off search engines by running some type of fraudulent business scam."Your assuming that normally decent folk would do unethical things just because they do SEM which is a load of sanctimonious bullshit.In my experience the people that are greedy and/or have no creativity or patience to build a real business, the get rich quick types, those will stop at nothing to earn money.Then there are the creative types that come up with brilliant legit ideas and make hundreds ot thousands a year or even millions without scamming anyone."Human culture is all about judging people. " - and I’ve judged you from your last post because you must do the same things you accuse everyone else of doing otherwise you wouldn’t think it’s the way it’s done, guilt by association, how’s that for judging?

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from Gab 2212 Days ago #
Votes: 0

"I just guess that Google enjoys rubbing out the worst of the worst?"Good to hear - I have a pain in my right shoulder that would do just great with some rubbing :).Also, for people who can take a deep breath and read this objectively, I’m not advocating these tactics, for the record. I’m just saying that there’s a difference (as Nick, Vanessa et al suggest) between gaming algos and messing with humans and that’s the difference between being ethical/unethical. And my post applied that filter to various known tactics.Re:Linkspamming abandoned sites. Danny, you’ve convinced me that on the whole the tactic is usually unethical, but I still think there’s a number of sites that don’t matter to their owners anymore. It’s still defacing others’ property, and unethical there, but as far as bothering the owners, the odds are slim-to-none. I’d say there’s a range of abandonment. E.g. moved out vs forgot about that old aol memberpages thing entirely. In law, the latter would be considered res nullius (no one’s property) and free for the taking (although in fairness here the law doesn’t necesarrily match ethics directly). @Jill - I’m at McGill. Lemme know if your daughter needs a hand applying; I’ll be happy to review her cv+cover letter and share some interview tips. @Bill - Well said :D. +1

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from JohnHGohde 2212 Days ago #
Votes: -5

"the idea of trying to introduce ethics into ... [Black Hat SEO] in order to some how feel better ... seems quite ludicrous to me, if not downright offensive."I will stand by these comments of mine.Nice businesses would be foolish to risk getting banned by Google, if they were not making a lot of money.  A good 90% of the PPC ads that I have seen in Google are fraudlent, IMHO.People who engage in Black Hat SE0 are subject to be being banned by Google.  Black Hat SEO cannot be ethical under any sense of the term per Google’s TOS agreement.  Furthermore, consumer fraud happens to be a crime in many jurisdictions.

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from NickWilsdon 2212 Days ago #
Votes: 1

@GabYes but it’s hard to be selective in the sites you target with linkspamming. The technique is usually carried out automatically (by script) or at v. low cost overseas. Manual inspection of each site would push the ROI too high. That’s the problem. You either accept that there will be a % of collateral damage or you don’t use the technique in the first place. Some BH seem to opt for the latter, put blinkers on and tell themselves it’s all between them and the search engines. If you’re going to spam people just be honest about it. I don’t understand this obsession with trying to justify these techniques or try to fit them into ethical/unethical boxes.  As Halfdeck said so well above:"These debates won’t change Matt Cutts’ mind nor will they convince the average webmaster that black hat seo is a good thing. So why bother debating, rationalizing, and justifying? Are SEOs so much of a goody-two-shoes that we need to constantly talk ourselves into believing that we’re not being bad?"

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from IncrediBILL 2212 Days ago #
Votes: 0

"Furthermore, consumer fraud happens to be a crime in many jurisdictions."That assumes BH tricks are consumer fraud which most aren’t, they are tricks to game the SE which doesn’t imply fraud, just higher rankings and have even been used by companies outted by Matt Cutts like BWM.I’m sure BWM is just a big fat fraud."A good 90% of the PPC ads that I have seen in Google are fraudlent, IMHO"Your ignorance is shining brighter than a supernova in a moonless night sky.

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from JohnHGohde 2212 Days ago #
Votes: -3

PPC fraudulent business schemes ...participation in fraudulent business schemes, if you prefer ...

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from Gab 2210 Days ago #
Votes: 0

@Nick - You make a good point about linkspamming being done without being too selective about specifics. That said, depending on the footprints you mine, you’re more or less likely to find yourself causing collateral damage. E.g. "powered by pligg" vs site:geocities.yahoo.com sign my guestbook . Of course, no footprint is going to be foolproof, afaik, so in the end you’re right that you have to be willing to accept a level of collateral damage.But wrt to Halfdeck’s point - I decided to address a topic that has been covered ad nauseam because in the 2.5 years I’ve been doing search marketing, I’ve never seen anyone talk about ethical BH techniques with specifics. Just the odd rant that bh isn’t unethical, usually with an accompanying argument that doesn’t hold up.

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