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Open Letter to Spammers

John Doherty —  April 11, 2011
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I would love to just write this:

Dear Spammers,

Go away.

Sincerely,

John

I cannot however, because I have mixed feelings about spammers.

Background

Today this site was hit with some massive spam by someone labeling themselves Betus Promotion Code. This is betting/gambling website that I guess is trying to achieve rankings through comment spam, hoping that their nofollowed (at least on my site) profile names in comments will help them rank.

Let me be clear: I do not like spammers. However, I do respect a lot of blackhat (and dark greyhat, I guess) SEOs, for a couple of different reasons.

Why I Respect BlackHat

I respect blackhat because let’s face it, those guys are brilliant. You really have to know your code and craft in order to maliciously inject hidden links into websites without their knowledge. In fact, I even think JCPenney’s “SEO” company that was buying links all over the place and achieved #1 rankings for so many terms was brilliant, because they did it for so long without anyone knowing.

Whenever I hear blackhat SEOs speak, I am always mesmerized and impressed by what they can do. When I saw Martin MacDonald build 1.4 MILLION links to Distilled’s website (as a show of what he can do, not what he does do), I was unduly impressed. I was speechless, in fact.

Now, do I approve of these tactics? Of course not. They give the SEO industry a bad name when they are caught and stories are thrown across the Internet (think of JCPenney and Overstock). I don’t like that when SEO was portrayed on CBS’ The Good Wife that the character was labeled a “spammer.” Is that the name our industry has?

Blackhat SEOs think in creative ways as well. In spite of what we might say, or want to believe, they use interesting ways to exploit weaknesses in other websites, and apply these tactics to the same problems that so called “whitehat” SEOs are trying to solve. They simply do it in different ways.

Why Blackhat SEO is Necessary

Blackhat SEO is necessary, in my opinion, because it keeps the good guys in business when the bad guys are caught. Those of us who try to work ethically, earn our links, produce content that is of value and relevant, who desire to build and work with websites who treat others well and want to provide a good experience, also have the opportunity, and challenge, to educate companies about what it takes to win, and to win well for a long time.

If we build sustainable SEO strategies and set companies up for longterm success (which is what all companies should strive for, in my opinion), then we are doing a service to these companies. Also, creating these strategies takes a lot of hard work. It is much more expensive and time consuming to have a team of creative linkbuilders, graphic designers, and IT people working together to dream up, create, and distribute valuable content. It seems much easier, albeit requiring a lot of other skills, to spin content and inject hidden links. Press a button once you have found the target websites, spin your content, automatically create your profiles, and go grab a coffee.

I’m sorry, but that’s not the kind of work I could be proud of.

Risk Talk

Let me end this diatribe by saying that I agree with this article on Sphinn. I think we need to stop using “hats” and talk about “risk.” One of the commenters even went so far as to say “If there’s risk, it’s not SEO, it’s just web spam.” I don’t know if I would go this far, but I would say that risky SEO is just that. It’s not only risking the websites these people are working with, but it is also risking (or contributing to the already existing) the name of our industry.

John Doherty

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I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

3 responses to Open Letter to Spammers

  1. Hi John – I couldn’t agree more about changing the way we label or think about ‘hats’. Our industry should be all about assessing risk, long term strategy v short term and deciding, ultimately, what we all want to be AND be remembered for in the future. Good post.

    Best wishes
    Paul
    @bagseo

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul!

      This is not a thought original to me (I think I got it from Kris Roadruck), but I prefer the “risk” talk as well. The recent articles about Digital Due Diligence highlight this further. In essence, when you do things against Google’s guidelines, you are taking a risk of someday (and it may be a long way off, even…) getting torched. We all must be aware of it!

  2. It seems more and more like White Hat is a religion to some people instead of an adjective to simply describe certain practices. It’s good people are starting to get over their inextricable fear of “black hat” – there’s plenty to be learned from both camps.

    My abilities as an SEO in general have improved greatly once I realized my fat head was big enough for two hats – I started doing my own tests to see exactly where Google’s limits lie. These tests would, by definition, be black hat, but that doesn’t matter when they’re completely separate from your normal affairs.

    Did you know, for example, that you can push a million links per day through a 301 redirect and the target site will start ranking surprisingly well for a short period of time? 1.38 million links, though, is right about where it breaks off and the site on the other end of the 301 gets penalized into oblivion (so I thought it was pretty funny when Martin chose that number of links).

    The key point here is that Black hat isn’t illegal. The only reason it isn’t widely excepted in commercial SEO is because, well, you can’t really sell Blackhat – it’s risky, and when it works it needs constant attention to sustain its momentum. That notwithstanding, understanding black hat link building (understanding cloaking isn’t going to get you anywhere), why it works, and why (and how long till) it stops working only serves to make you a better SEO. Food for thought!