Going From Black Hat To White Hat SEO Doesn’t Mean Google Will Like You

    March 31, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Much of the discussion in the SEO community of late has been related to Google’s efforts to “level the playing field” for mom and pops vs. those with bigger marketing budgets, and comments to this effect made by Matt Cutts at SXSW recently. He indicated that Google is working on things that would make it so people who “over-optmize” their sites don’t necessarily rank better than others who didn’t worry about SEO, but have great content.

Are black hat SEO tactics worth the risk? Tell us what you think.

To a great extent, Google has been working on these kinds of things for a long time. The Panda update was certainly designed to make content quality matter more, but Google also regularly gives tips about how to optimize your site better and releases lists of algorithmic changes, which practically beg webmasters to try and exploit them. Google, of course doesn’t take this stance, but when they release the signals, people pay attention, and try to play to them. Why wouldn’t they?

Google knows this, of course, which is why they won’t release their entire list of signals, let alone talk about how much weight certain signals have compared to others, although if you pay close enough attention, you’ll sometimes catch hints at this too.

You might say Google sends mixed signals to webmasters. Danny Sullivan asks if Google’s over-optimization penalty is its “jump the shark” moment. He makes the case that it’s more about PR for Google to indicate they’re actively working on making results more relevant.

The whole de-indexing of paid blog/link networks plays to the whole making over-optimization matter less concept, but based on Google’s webmaster guidelines, it seems like doing so would have always fit into the company’s policy.

When you play the black hat, or even gray hat game, you’re taking a big risk of being dealt a damaging penalty. Google didn’t even hesitate to penalize its own site for violating guidelines (at least after they were called out on it), which may have even cost Chrome some browser market share.

Going white hat after playing it at a darker shade in the past isn’t necessarily going to help your rankings either though, as one blogger indicated in a recent post at SEOBullshit:

I did paid links, paid reviews, and never, ever did any shit like “cloaking”, “spam”, or “stuffing.” Hence, the “grey” hat campaign type. I had awesome content. I had a crawlable site. It was perfect in every way. I used paid links and reviews to scream at GoogleBot, “Hey, notice me! I’m right here! I have killer content and reputable sites link to it.” The results were great. The money. Terrific. I left the competition scratching their heads since my site was HTTPS, it was hard to reverse engineer as most link-finding tools couldn’t really find my backlinks.

However, the stress of running a grey-hat campaign eventually wears on you and you long for the peace of a white hat campaign. So, I hatched a plan to wean my site from grey and pray that the results weren’t too bad. I expected a 15-25% drop in SERPS and traffic which I could then recover by getting a big relevant, content piece linked up to the pages where I removed the TLA’s.

Fucking failure. Total and monstrous failure.

He continues on saying his total traffic drop was -72.5%.

Every time Google makes big adjustments to its algorithm, sites pay the price. Sometimes that price is deserved, and sometimes it’s not. I find that often, people tend to think they didn’t deserve to lose their rankings. Even with the latest Panda refresh, we had sites telling us about ranking declines.

The intro of a recent Entrepreneur article sums up the conundrum of the small business perfectly: “As a small business owner using the web to reach customers, you’ve surely been implementing search engine optimization tactics to make sure your site turns up high in web searches. But just when you might feel like you’re starting to get the hang of this SEO thing, it appears that search giant Google might start penalizing websites that are over-optimized.”

We understand that there are plenty of white hat SEO tactics that Google not only is OK with, but encourages. However, most people simply don’t know what SEO even is. Matt Cutts himself shared results this week from a survey he conducted, finding only one in five people in the U.S. have even heard of SEO.

It’s not surprising that sites would be tempted to go for the darker hat techniques. But as Google continues on this new (same) path of leveling the playing field, however, it may be more playing with fire than ever. And once you start, engaging in SEO’s dark arts, you may have a hard time returning to the lighter side, should you ever choose to do so.

Have you ever been helped or hurt by using black hat SEO tactics? Let us know in the comments (you don’t have to use your real name).

  • james levy

    well one thing is sure: if google de-index those blog networks, it means google still see link-back as a major factor, there by blach hat techniques are still relavent.

  • james levy

    Also I think google is moving from SEO to SEOR (SEO REPUTATION)
    in seor the links are factor and social footprint are factor, both are going to be the multiple for google improved AI abilities, to judge your pages quality

  • http://www.mmocarts.com barry

    Matt Cutts once sas” We try to make the GoogleBot smarter, try to make our relevance more adaptive, so that if people don’t do SEO we handle that”, the site should provider high valuable information and relevant link, like mmocarts.com doing. i believe Google Will Like You from the beginning, high quality is key to Google seo, of course, it is useful for customer reading.

  • CouponSnapshot

    We know that Google like original & high-quality content. It says that if you offer good content, you will attract more natural links, as well as traffics. But, how good is good enough? If I do offer content in high quality, will I must attract many links? I think there is a long way before GoogleBot becomes smarter enough.

  • http://www.linkstycoon.com Jacob Dayeh

    Gray Hat SEO is all about risk versus reward. Some Gray Hat techniques may be frowned by search engines, but are not necessarily against their rules. LinksTycoon

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/blog/ Nick Stamoulis

    For me, black hat SEO just isn’t worth the risk. I know plenty of site owners have used black hat and been successful with it, but I’m not willing to risk the long term value of my company or my clients’ for short terms gains. I think it’s better to stay white hat and take the long road.

  • http://www.catholicetc.com Bill

    Nick, I agree. I’m looking long-term with my efforts, building a recurring visitor base organically. Maybe it’s that I don;t have the money for paid links, but whatever….

  • http://rankedzilla.com Bobby Lim

    I think people will always try to find loop holes and short cuts to beat the system. Black hat SEO might be an easy short term solution, but in the long run, it’s not very sustainable.

  • http://cozumelmexico.net Bob Rodriguez


  • Palusko

    Google algorithm does not know quality. Just check the SERPS. Despite of all the changes and updates to their algo, SERPS are still populated by tons of low-value websites. Not sure that social indicators work too well either, because many of the sites have very low social presence. I don’t know what it is that makes a website rank well in SERPS, but quality or popularity of the content certainly does not play a major role. Not yet.

  • Patricia

    Black hat is very good, just do it on your competition’s web site ! That’ll get rid of them.

    That’s what happened to me, but google doesn’t want to hear from us because we don’t buy adwords. My site has vanished when i wasn’t even doing anything wrong, except writing excellent unique content every day. My competitor was too pissed about me behing always on top for so long and started to do black hat on our site.

    Google has became a heartless monster that doesn’t care about small businesses and families who are behind.

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  • http://whatever it-depends

    I have followed Web Pro News since 2003. I have used many of the tactics and strategies. Search Engines change, but they do not always follow their own rules. I see sites ranking #1 on page 1 that have too long titles, too long description, too many keywords etc. etc.
    Having many domains on one or 5 servers interlinking is not necessarily a problem, if content is genuine.
    There is no reason to panic! Just don’t overdo it with illegal tricks. A little shade of gray or black occassionally is acceptable, but not black permanently. As a campaign for a campaign-domain name, even blackhat works.
    That’s just a fact.

  • http://www.McATEnt.com McAT Enterprises

    To heack with Google and all the search engines, they dont buy from us. All content should be written with the buying customer in mind. It needs to be written soly for them and not search engines. That’s how we do it.

  • http://webovator.com/ Chris Sentman

    I felt that this article was boring and uninformative. It was a good attempt though. I am just fed up with the entire industry, the blind leading the blind. You gave one example of a guy’s traffic dropping 72%. And this was the basis for your headline and the rest of the article. Cry me a river. It’s competitive. Adapt or go extinct.

  • Paul

    There was a time when g! was relevant – that time has passed, although I do still find myself telling people to ‘google it’ but quickly have to add that the first couple of pages in the results are most likely ads or spam trying to sell you the answer or malware infected sites.

    Such a shame that it is a victim of its own success – it used to be useful, I used it to search all the time – now I hardly use it.

    I have websites and google traffic is welcome but I don’t optimise for g! the traffic from g! varies greatly depending on what their current update is targeting – I no longer worry about it as the traffic from other areas is more targeted and converts more that the g! stuff.

  • http://a-1asphalt.com Jon

    We get hurt by black hat techniques all the time. Every day our email is filled with fake link builders telling us how how great our site is, or this is the exact information I was looking for…The days of this crap I am sure are numbered. Good riddance.

    Btw, your site saved me much time!

  • http://www.reynoldspest.com Brian Reynolds

    I totally agree about the not knowing what SEO is statement. I had no idea that paying for back links was a bad thing, what key word density is, and other techniques. What is even more confusing is that when you see sites ranking high, you figure as a novice that you should do what they do. Well, that may not be the case.

    There needs to be a standardized Best Management Practices publication made by Search Engines to clarify these matters please.

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    Why doesn’t ‘The Goo’ cut everyone a break and double, triple its per page results? Everyone wants the first page because of the lazy searchers (most people) who won’t dig passed that page.
    It’s admirable of ‘The Goo’ to want to please the searchers but what about the suppliers of the content?!

  • Robert

    “.. “level the playing field” for mom and pops vs. those with bigger marketing budgets…”

    Sorry but per ole Matt himself in a 2009 video “How do I optimize an e-commerce site without rich content?” http://youtu.be/uf7gEfAKoaw , I get the impression of “eh, do something else cuz we don’t care”

  • http://www.medlawplus.com medlaw

    I think the whole Google update process such as Panda is a sham. It doesn’t lead to better search results. It just shifts traffic around the internet every three to four months, which makes search engine traffic received through SEO less reliable as a business model. How does Google benefit constantly altering its algorithm? The only true reliable source of search engine traffic through Google is Adsense and that, IMHO, is the motivation behind all of this.

    • http://www.medlawplus.com medlaw

      I meant “Adwords” not “Adsense”.

  • http://smartbuykitchenswfl.com Daniel Cuenya

    I never use Black Hat techniques because my site is too important to me to get banned. I may dabble with some gray hat techniques but, I limit myself. I quit using Google search a long time ago, it seems that Bing comes up with great content. Like yesterday I did a massive looking for one keyword and I managed to click on 9 out of ten sites on the first and second page, unlike Google, I can I only find a couple that I would hit.

  • Jo Wood

    I totally think black hat SEO tactics are worth the risk.

    However, I work for a non-profit where integrity, and openness, and confidence are three of our most important values.

    We have discussed using black hat SEO tactics several times, and every time we agree not to use them. Being found on Google is not the most important factor for us; public confidence in our organisation, clear personal consciences and self-esteem are far more important.

    That’s probably bad for revenue, and most of you are thinking ‘What a jerk !’ or ‘I hope he’s not one of our trustees’, but that’s who we are.

  • http://inceptdesign.com Incept Design

    It’s a never ending game of cat and mouse. SEO always seems to adapt to any changes Google makes.

  • Andrea

    Really anyone thinks that a small high quality website could rank higher against another website which spends 1000 bucks per week on Adwords? That would be completely nonsense and we all know the position of Big G about money right?

    This is just PR plus another move to have the right, in the eyes of users, to slay any website they want, one because it’s not optimized, another one because it’s too optimized. That is to say “whatever you do if we want we can make you disappear”.

    The real fact is that they want to decide the rankings of websites according to their own reasons and are killing all those who are trying to trick the system: article directories, paid links, blog networks, probably next comment systems, etc.

    They are not providing a service, they are making business and use every tactic to win over competitors.

    Again, really someone thinks they would slap in the face an AdWords advertiser? Not in the real world.

  • chase

    It’s gong to be interesting to see how the new Google ranking which as you say is supposed to level the playing field, if the Mobile providers get their way by prioritizing and appropriating more bandwidthto those that pay for it while choking bandwidth for those sites that don’t. They are voting or going to be making a decision on that shortly from what I understand.

    I would think one will play against the other and really screw up the net no matter what hat you wear since mobile is what most use as access given todays smart phones , tablets and laptops having the combined market share lead over desktop.

    If the battle continues for control, the net will implode on itself. It’s already becoming more and more frustrating for the average surfer.

    It’s going to get interesting, perhaps even intolerable soon enough I suspect. Time will tell.

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Daniel

    This latest Google Algorithm update is said to be the greatest compared to all previous updates, in terms of the effects it will have on sites.

    As another person has stated above, you will probably be penalized for either over optimizing or under optimizing.

    I read an incredibly detailed post that basically showed how Google is trying to make it so you ” Never leave Google” as they increasingly have their hand in just about every area from the ground up, on the web.
    The article showed(through info graphs and related data) how Google takes it’s own cut, in many areas(procedures) that people may not even be aware of.

    Another thing is, many people are getting the dreaded ” We have detected unnatural links on your site” message from Google(it shows in their Webmaster tools messages).

    My view on this is that, considering people who do not engage in any Black hat practices are also receiving these messages, I would say Google just blasted these messages out, hoping to catch people whom Google had not really detected.

  • Robert S

    Really? Matt Cutts and Google is going to level the playing field for mom and pop sites? I am a mom and pop site and played by the rules according to Google to build PR. Now it gets equalized with those who didn’t? We put a ton of time and effort into this.

    Googles unpredictability is bad for the internet. We can’t fully invest in web projects because we simply don’t know when Google is going to change the rules yet again and pull the rug out from under us. Just saying.

  • http://www.soulsanctuarymusic.com Metalcore

    Either that or their competitors were using black hat tactics to give them bad rankings.

  • http://www.website-consultancy.com/ Website Consultancy

    Black Hat SEO goes against the whole ethics of the web, so well done Google for weeding it out. If this happened on our high streets or in our shopping malls everyone would be up in arms, so why on the web do some people think it’s acceptable.

  • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

    Unfortunately, black hat techniques can produce results. Were that not the case, there wouldn’t be those employing black-hat techniques and forever searching for new loop-holes to squirm through as the old ones close up.

    That last part though is the pay-off for sticking with gray/white-hat techniques. ‘Gray hat’ meaning not necessarily against any rule or ethic per se but not ‘White hat’ either.

    If one spends one’s time concentrating on one’s content that starts out with quality and continues that standard as opposed to constantly having to find new ways to promote lesser quality content, it would seem one would have a better hedge against future changes.

  • http://www.the-black-angel.com Dan Oliver

    I think that the way Google is changing things around constantly over the past years is actually hurting smaller website owners, like myself, and like other posters here.

    We don’t have big budgets to hire people to constantly adapt our website to the changes Google might make, so if chose an SEO strategy that was fine two years ago and now suddenly it isn’t, we can’t afford to change our entire website over. The big-bucks companies can, but small-medium business can’t, so we’re getting hurt, the adverse effect of what they’re trying to do.

    Also, after the last update, some really weird search results turn up for our keywords. We’re on a nice market and know all of our competitors, it’s always the same 5-6 names, for the past decade. And now, suddenly out of nowhere, a completely unknown company shows up, whose last news entry is two years old, and which smells like scam (WesternUnion payment method, usually a sure hint).

    If that is leveling the playing field, I very much preferred it when it was uneven. I don’t mind losing a rank to a competitor who has more money to invest in ad campaigns and SEO, but losing ranks to a company that has not had any news in two years, has a dreadful website, no content and completely hides it’s real identity, location of offices, etc… well that stinks.

  • Steve

    Of course switching from “grey hat” or “white hat” means nothing to Google! Those adjectives only apply to small publishers, large publishers get only temporary penalties. Eric Schmidt said that humans favor brands and that in the “cesspool” which is the internet, brands are the “solution not the problem.” It doesn’t matter if Google busted Chrome when youtube gets landing on the top of the SERPs.

    Panda is but one in a series of algorithms which Google has created to improve rankings which they feel will bring them the most profit. Big brand$ are safe for Google. They can afford to hire IT staffers, writers, etc. to make sense of Google’s constant tinkerings with search quality. When Google slapped Demand Media with a penalty (Panda hit ehow), Google was making money off Demand Media’s heavy use of video content hosted on youtube!

    Small publishers don’t have the finances and connections to challenge Google in the way mega companies e.g. Microsoft does through organizations like Fairsearch.org; Cutts even referred to Facebook -one of it’s biggest revenue rivals – as a brand which publishers should look to as something Google deems high quality.

    People need to stop promoting Google. Google is a business not a benevolent entity which exists to make the world a better place. Mega corps are self-serving, they have to be if they hope to remain mega corporations.

    Publishers should concentrate on what is most beneficial to their readers not Google. They should optimize for the other search engines as well as social media and any other form of promotion that will help get the attention of the masses.

    Eventually Google will be toppled, Search Plus Your World could be the end of them(time will tell) but in the meantime stop jumping every time Google says “boo!” because they’re only able to control those who allow themselves to be controlled.

  • http://www.profromgo.com/surviving-white-hat-seo-tactics Pasty Germaine

    I’ve got agree with Andrea – it’s silly to think that G is going to mess with their top Adwords customers by really letting the little guys have a chance, at least a chance with purely whitehate techniques. Still, could you be more specific on which tactics you think will / won’t work? Sure, the Panda updates were hard on a lot of people who use purely whitehat tactics, but then you’ve got grey-area stuff like the BMR network – which was de-indexed! What types of black-hat stuff are people still even getting away with?

  • http://www.contentforconversions.com/an-article-writing-service-review-of-google-panda-3/ Pasty Germaine

    You’re right in that Google is mainly out to make money, with their service to other businesses being of secondary concern – like pretty much any other business. I mean, they do a pretty good job of appealing to the consumers (searchers), and doing so is where the real money is. I wonder if we’re ever going to see any actual legislation on this? E-commerce is so huge, and whatever Google does with its algorithms affects thousands of people.

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  • http://whitehatseoteam.com/ Savanna@white hat seo

    Google strictly discourage black hat seo service. That’s why Google can not be count this kind of seo service.Google always encourage white hat seo service. Now those company going black hat seo to white hat seo Google also don’t like those company because they can not forget their tendency to provide black hat seo service to their client’s. So Google didn’t like them.