Black Hat SEO, part two: SEOwN3d!!1
As search engine optimizers played fast and loose, a reaction from the search engine companies became inevitable. Now SEOs are forced to choose hats: black or white. (Part two in a series.)
April 07, 2008 — CSO —
In part one of our series on the collision of search engine optimization and black-hat hacking (see "Black Hat SEOs: Is This the Future of Search?"), we explored how search engine optimizers, or SEOs, have learned tricks that change the search results that drive much of the traffic to successful websites. (The practice of search engine optimization is also called SEO.) Many of these upstart entrepreneurs have made small fortunes as SEO consultants. Many also use SEO to drive traffic to their own sites that sell products, ads or referrals--a business known as search marketing.
We explored how the tactics of SEO include some unsavory ones that range from digital ffibs to aggressive deception. The tricks are called black-hat SEO, though that's something of a misnomer since, as SEOs like to say, they don't break the law, just the search companies' terms of service. The search companies tried to stay ahead of black-hat SEO by tweaking their algorithms and adding filters that penalize sites for questionable tactics. Increasingly, though, it looked as if the combined forces of SEO and black-hat hacking would be too much for any algorithm....
As search companies have tried to contain the more aggressive techniques that SEOs were using to manipulate search-engine rankings, black-hat SEOs have responded by circumventing the rules. Rather than just using loopholes, they began actively abusing the algorithms used to determine search engine results. The tactics became so aggressive that the SEOs started to make the search engines look bad: Search results started to reflect the SEO's reality, rather than a reality that rewarded good sites. Like all arms races, this one eventually escalated to an untenable level. The game had to change again. And it did, about 18 months ago.
Suddenly and without much warning, search companies--Google especially, the SEOs say--decided to enforce its terms of service, and severely. The algorithms wised up some, but more than that, it appeared that Google was buttressing its algorithm with filters and manual labor. If enough complaints came in about a site using black-hat tactics, Google would manually adjust the rankings or simply blacklist the site--a process SEOs call a "hand job."
Some SEOs and search marketers were surprised. The top SEOs generally maintained good lines of communication with Google and other search companies. Some, like Jeremy Schoemaker--a search marketer known online as Shoemoney--would even periodically ask for advice on SEO techniques and whether they'd get him in trouble.