HighlyStructured.com is a blog website run by Mike D'Agostino about search engine positioning, online marketing, php/MySQL, tae kwon do, and various other topics.

Black Hat SEO vs. White Hat SEO

April 06, 2006

The debate continues about black hat and white hat seo, and with the recent addition of a supposed black hat seo practitioner at SEOMoz.org, I thought I would comment.

I think the best analogy of black hat/white hat seo is to compare it to anti-virus and computer network security vs. "hackers". Hackers, virus creators and distributors, phishing scam creators, etc. are going to cause trouble and mayhem. But one could argue that these types of people also have a purpose in mind, to prove that they can successfully put together these types of programs and campaigns without getting caught. In doing so they are "foiling" an information security program and can claim some sort of notoriety and sense of self-accomplishment. The information security vendor then must develop and re-develop their programs to be more secure and prevent similar future attacks. This cycle is what keeps the information security industry going.

Let's look at the Windows operating system, one of the, if not the most widely attacked systems in the world. The reason is obvious, they have the largest footprint in technology and operating systems and because of the shear number of users and ubiquity of the operating system it is a prime target. Hackers, virus creators, etc. are constantly trying to exploit security vulnerabilities. In turn, Windows is constantly trying to patch these security flaws and develop better software to prevent future attacks.

Search engine optimization practitioners are no different. There are the white hat seo's, the majority of the people that conform to the search engine rules and algorithms and try to optimize websites by sticking to the "rules" created by the search engines to rank higher in the results. And then there are the black hat seo's, practitioners that try to exploit the weaknesses in the search engine algorithms and "make a quick buck".

Throughout the history of search engines there have been black hat seo's trying to beat the system. The keyword META tag was used at one point as a deciding factor in a website's ranking...the more times a particular keyword appeared in the keyword META tag, the higher the site's ranking. The search engines caught on and now the keyword META tag is virtually useless. When Google announced that the volume of incoming links would play a pivotal role in search results, black hat seo's started developing link farms with thousands of links pointing to a certain domain name. In response, the "quality" of incoming links has been added to the equation and the search engines go to great lengths to ban these link farms.

While I don't condone black hat seo techniques, I do think the community serves a purpose. The result of their activity is to make the search engines better, to force them to stay "on their toes" and develop better ways of ranking sites. Just as Windows must keep developing new ways to prevent people from hacking into their operating system, Google must keep developing new algorithms to ensure only the highest quality sites rank at the top of their results pages. In the end I think black hat seo's may make some money, but the value they bring is to keep the search engines evolving and produce better quality results.

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