Black hat SEO is a topic that has been getting a lot of media attention, as of late. The term black hat SEO refers to manipulating Search Engine results using “unethical” means. Here’s more info on the top from Wikipedia.
A couple days ago, this article was published: Sequoia Fails to Spot Milanoo’s Black Hat Tactics Before Investing. It details how a fashion start-up, Milanoo, backed by the most well known Venture Capital firm, Sequoia, engaged black hat tactics to rank itself for 4 keywords: “cheap dresses” (rank 2), “evening gown” (rank 1), “cheap wedding dresses” (rank 1), and “summer dresses” (rank 2). In terms of Google AdWords spend, these 4 terms and spots are worth $200K/month.
It’s quite an interesting read and makes you question how you can successfully compete with someone engaging in black hat. (In case you’re wondering, I consider the SEO Matrix methodology white hat.)
So, are only the more daring, budding start-up sites engaging in black hat techniques? Certainly not! The New York Times published a great article just two months prior on the wide use of black hat by well known Fortune 500 companies.
Another interesting read: The Dirty Little Secrets of Search. This article details how just this past holiday season, J. C. Penney engaged in massive amounts of black hat to get ranked for competitive and sale-generating keywords. Again, this was a massive undertaking. The were ranked #1 for keywords ranging from “bedding” to “skinny jeans” to “grommet top curtains” to “Samsonite carry on luggage” (yes! J. C. Penney was ranked above Samsonite itself), and so on.
Considering Christmas season represents the largest retail sales period of the year and online sales hit a record high this year (not to mention online searches leading to increase retail store traffic), I cannot fathom how much money J. C. Penney reaped in through this black hat effort. (Actually, I can probably look this up from their 10-Q, but I’ll leave that to your curious mind. )
Now, onto the moral dilemma.
- Google is becoming a crowded and competitive arena. If companies, big and small, are engaging in black hat, should you?
- If not, how do you economically (in terms of time, effort, and money spent) compete against someone who is engaging in black hat?
- If your competitors are all doing it, does it still make it unethical? (If everyone’s collaborating on a take home exam, does it make it wrong for you to do the same?)
- Is it our jobs not to engage in black hat, or is it Google’s job to police and prevent these methods from affecting results?
- To put it another way, is our only responsibility to not get caught? (If you drive over the speed limit, but aren’t given a ticket, are you still breaking the law?)
- Finally, are you really doing anything wrong by breaking rules created by a company, i.e. Google?
So, where do you stand? I personally put responsibility on Google.