It’s not Spy vs. Spy. It’s different.
I’ve only been to one SEO Event, as it’s much easier (faster, cheaper…) to do my research online. Recently there’s been a lot of chatter about one of Danny Sullivan’s events that some felt went too far into Black Hat Territory. I found a response that said “Guess what suckas! There is no White Hat!” of course I paraphrase.
For n00bs (new people, to you n00bs), most believe there are two ways to do better in search engine results: White Hat – being “honest” and not doing Black Hat – making changes to your site, or getting links that have nothing to do with the user experience, and are done solely to score higher in the engines.
Jason Calacanis deployed some f’ing astonishing Ju-Jitsu a little more than a year ago, stating that SEO was all BS. He issued a challenge made a lot of important points and said that SEO is “pissing in the community’s well”, based on his image of what the future would be (and I think he’s on the mark). The beauty of it all though is that it both validates the business model and drives traffic for his new venture Mahalo. A beautiful example of participating in social media and leveraging community. It’s not possible to buy or fake that kind of hype – but kids, don’t try this at home, you’re watching a professional stuntman here.
Ok, so all that said… What to do? From what I’ve seen I think the wild west days are over. The web has become a communtity and the search engines are the law enforcement professionals. Black Hat has become like any other life of crime – it can provide benefit, but the downside is that you are always at risk of being found out and crushed. The truth is that you have your business on the line and the law enforcement people have no emotional involvement whatsoever. The guys that tweak the search algorithms come to work every day and think about how to tighten it up.
This will continue for years, people going to work and the corporate bureaucracy, patching holes at a slow pace, but crushing everything in their path. And it’s just like these cold case shows on TV, you may get away with it today, but 3 years from now they come up with a new way to examine the evidence and you get the cuffs.
Don’t take on the risk of Black Hat until you’ve exhausted everything possible from White Hat. Building an easy to navigate site with lots of great resources that the rest of the world can’t help but link to is a great way to build traffic that you can work on and never have to worry about waking up one morning and finding your site banished and traffic wiped out. This is becoming less and less of a technical function (making sure your html tags are properly formatted) and more of a copywriting one.
Wear the black hat if you have no long term plans for the domain. There’s a reason why PPC (Pills, Porn, Casinos) excel at black hat – if they have to close down spankme.blackjack.bluepill.com that’s not a big deal, if you have a legitmate URL with your company name the stakes are much higher.
There are many people who can make money off of exploiting weaknesses in the search engines, but like most neighborhoods where the exploitation gets the attention of law enforcement, you probably don’t want to hang out there.