White Hat vs Black Hat? Does it matter which hat we wear?

The white hat vs black hat debate has been rumbling along for a long time, and will likely do so for the foreseeable future.  Many a respected SEO has weighed in on the debate, most recently Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz and many present conflicting views. Most well-known SEO professionals position themselves as ‘white hat’, primarily because they have to.  The negative press around black hat (or grey hat if there is such a thing) means that those positioning themselves on the black side of the fence run the risk of damaging their own, and their companies reputations and unless, as the legendary fantomaster, you want to go all the way to ‘the dark side’ it is not something that would be recommended.

But do the colour of your hat, and the methods you undertake really matter?  Surely what is more important are the results you achieve.  Obviously both sides of the fence have their advantages and disadvantages but so long as you understand these and accept them in the methods you undertake, surely it then becomes irrelevant?

Yes, true white hat SEO techniques are the less risky (notice I didn’t say risk free) option, and more likely to produce the longer term, more sustainable results. But they are also more difficult, more labour intensive and potentially more costly from a man hour perspective.  For large brands with reputations to protect, and businesses potentially reliant on the search engines, this is the best path forward.  There is not point risking it all for a few quick wins and, as frustrating as it may be, patience and persistence are key.

But what if you are working with a site which needs quick results or which has a finite window of opportunity for a particular product or service.  Surely in this situation taking the white hat moral high ground is counterproductive and not in the best interest of the achieving your objectives?  And lets not forget, you can still end up on the wrong side of a penalty or algorithm change even if you didn’t consider your methods black hat. And, as a fellow ranter Paul Madden points out , what’s more ethical?  A transparent programme where everyone is aware of the risks, or a completely white hat programme where the client pays large fees for little reward?

The tactics employed on an SEO programme should, in my opinion, be based on the individual circumstances and the agreed success criteria.  It is pointless stubbornly sitting in either camp if that isn’t in the best interest of the business looking for results.  If you are working with large businesses you are more often than not going to have to consider the long term impact of tactics employed on behalf of their clients and so are going to end up promoting white hat tactics. But that does not mean you should be completely dismissive of the other tactics available that we may need to call upon when the time arrives.

To Shout or not to Shout?

should SEO broadcast their knowledge?There are a lot of people in the world of digital marketing, and more specifically search engine marketing, who make bold claims to being “experts”, “gurus”, “thought leaders” and many other superlatives about their skills and knowledge.  Im sure some of them are very knowledgeable people who may well be considered experts, Im also very sure some of them are far from expert and more likely have a little knowledge and are getting by on the fact that some areas of search engine marketing are still considered “black magic” by the general public.

What I began wondering the other day around this subject is in this scenario, where you have an industry still in rapid evolution, is it best to shout the loudest, and be a self proclaimed (and sometimes merited) “expert”.  Or keep quiet, and go about your daily work, safe in the kowledge you are at the leading edge of what you do, without feeling the need to go shouting it from the rooftops.

I could easily name a half dozen people who are well known in UK SEO community whose knowledge is shaky at best when interrogated.  Yet these people command reaonsably senior positions and probably earn good salaries, mostly off the back of a persception that they know a lot due to their prominence in the industry.  Then there is probably somebody practicing SEO on an in house site, or with a smaller agency, who knows a great deal and could wipe the floor with these people, but he/she doesnt go to the meetups, engage in the SEO community etc and ends up losing out because of it.

So is it best to shout and run the risk of being found out? Or keep quiet safe in the knowledge you know what you need to know.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Im stealing this from David Naylor because I like its simplicity.  SEO explained in picture, and more importantly as a cycle and a continuous process.


  • Invest in content to get links
  • Get the links and you get traffic (either through rankings or referrals)
  • Get the trafficand you get the money (and profit, business model allowing!)
  • Invest the money back into the content and the cycle continues!

Remove any part of the cycle, and it just doesnt work!

seo diagram

Posted in SEO

Google Gets a Caffeine Boost

The SEO industry faces even more changes in Google results in the not too distant future as Google announced a “secret project” this week which they have been working on aimed at pushing the envelope with respect to “size (of index), indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions”.  The Google Caffeine update was announced on the Google Webmaster Blog on Monday with Google taking a pro-community approach and releasing the changes in a sandbox environment so SEO’s and website owners can preview the changes and see what impact they are likely to have.  This is a breath of fresh air for search marketing professionals as it is a long way from the usual challenge of waking up one day to find the SERPs completely different to when you went to bed.

google caffeine update

Google has asked that in return for access to the sandbox environment, users feedback on differences in the current results and the caffeinated results.  The important word in this is I suppose “differences” and this is highlighted bold in the release.  Google isn’t going to be interested in the positives or negatives of the results as this is subjective, just the differences so it can make its own mind up.

It is reasonably safe to assume that by “speed improvements” Google is indicating the caffeine update will improve the speed at which breaking news and information is indexed.  Real time search is a hot topic in SEO at present and twitter has stolen a march on the search engines when it comes to breaking news stories due to its real time nature.  Google, Bing and Yahoo are going to have to find ways to combat this and ensure breaking stories are available as quickly as possible if they are to keep up with social utilities when it comes to real time information.

If you want to compare results between the current index and the caffeinated version fellow Latitude employee Rob Watts has produced a handy tool for assessing the impact Google Caffeine will have on the SERPs.

Yahoo Highlighting Potential Spyware Sites

I spotted something today in the Yahoo Search results I had not seen before.  Now this isn’t to say it hasn’t been around for a while as I can confess to rarely using Yahoo and relying on Google for my search fix mostly because of my iGoogle homepage.

What I found when I searched for virus protection specialist bullguard were notifications in the natural search listings marking the site which had potentially dangerous downloads and spyware potential.  The site in question was Kazaa which was listed twice in the SEO results, both listed accompanied by the message “Warning: Dangerous Downloads“.  This is the first time I have ever seen this warning before in the search results and I would be interested to find out whether it is a manual label on specific sites or if it is picked up automatically in some way.  Either way it is great for the user to see such warnings and catastrophic for the site as I certainly now I would be steering clear of clicking them.

yahoo show spyware warnings in seo results for natural search engine results

yahoo show spyware warnings in seo results