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What’s So Bad About “Black Hat” Anyway?

If you’ve ever tried to get a website to climb up in search engine rankings, you’re probably familiar with the term ‘€œblack hat SEO.’€ It refers to any unethical practice designed to help a web page rank higher. While I agree that unethical practices should be kept in check, I also have one glaring issue with those who champion against black hat SEO: who makes the rules?


The fact is, many practices considered to be ‘€œblack hat’€ were once absolutely acceptable. Webmasters worked hard to do everything they could to achieve higher site rankings, and when they found ways to manipulate search engines they took advantage of them. From a business perspective, who can argue with that? And how could it be considered ‘€œunethical?’

Search engine behemoths such as Google made the rules, and people learned to win within those parameters. They created an environment in which keyword stuffing, invisible text and gateway pages all helped businesses earn high rankings. Then, they changed the rules, forcing businesses to spend countless hours and financial resources to adjust their search engine optimization practices.

Now, believe me when I say that I think any SEO efforts should accurately represent page content. Endless pages of irrelevant text are bogus, and serve no real purpose. I understand why search engines need to establish rules for ranking websites with relevance. It makes the search engines themselves relevant, and allows them to stay in business.

That said, I also want to point out that search engines are automated tools. The fabled algorithms work to dynamically and automatically index sites according to established rules. Augment organic results with paid advertising, and you have a powerful business model.

Yet despite the fact that search engine rankings are automated, their ranking rules seem to thwart any other automation attempts. Automated linking, article spinning, machine translation? All automated processes, and all considered ‘€œblack hat.’€

In one of the most severe examples of hypocrisy, the powers-that-be (search engines) expect all content to be human-generated yet incorporate business models based entirely on automation. Talk about the fedora calling the bowler black!

One of the biggest gripes I have with search engine optimization is the rule against duplicate content, which is known to jeopardize rankings. I’m not in favor of article spinning or of publishing the same article on hundreds or thousands of websites; however, it’s worth noting that sometimes duplicate content is part of a powerful marketing model. You see, sometimes marketers develop the perfect sales copy, a combination of words that becomes a powerful motivator for customers to buy. Yet, per SEO rules, they can publish that sales copy in only one indexed location or risk being penalized in search engine rankings.

Print marketing doesn’t have this problem. If you have the perfect marketing pitch, you can promote it on brochures, posters, postcards and other print marketing materials. No one is going to penalize you for that. If you put up a poster at your local mall, the postal service won’t limit distribution of postcards carrying an identical message. Why, then, should you have to limit deployment of the perfect copy online?

While I’m not in favor of deceptive SEO practices, I do think some of the practices considered to be ‘€œblack hat’€ do have their place. What’s more, it’s a safe bet that several acceptable SEO practices today will be considered ‘€œblack hat’€ in the future; search engines change their rules as people find ways to game the system. But a few bad apples shouldn’t be able to ruin earnest efforts made by others.

The problem is not knowing whether the ‘€œwhite hat’ efforts you’re putting in today will be erased by future search engine algorithms. Huge corporations can deal with that, but small businesses have limited budgets and cannot afford to continually level the SEO playing field. If search engines don’t come up with a way to punish unethical practices while rewarding those deemed ethical, then they will become less relevant -€“ even if their results seem pure at face value.

If an automated algorithm demands manually generated content, then it should employ some level of manual decision-making. If a small business has done everything it can within the rules to earn high search engine rankings, those ‘white hat’€ efforts should be taken into consideration when the algorithm changes. If not, eventually, only the ‘€œblack hat’€ marketers will win the war for rankings, because they’ll be the only ones who can afford to continue fighting.

Written By

Brian Morris writes for the PsPrint Design & Printing Blog. PsPrint is an online commercial printing company. Follow PsPrint on Twitter @PsPrint



  1. Sekhar

    December 27, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    How bad it may be, its always tempting to use back-hat techniques for increasing your site SERP ranking. Being a new blogger I was always tempted to build back-links easily through black-hat, but have resisted. :-p

  2. Steve Morris

    December 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Rules? Who said anything about rules? Search engines employ algorithms. They are designed to rank websites. They follow their own rules. If you don’t like it, that’s tough. You aren’t paying them to rank your site. They aren’t trying to make life easy for you.

  3. Meridith

    December 29, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Unfortunately, rules change over time, and it’s the marketers responsibility to make sure they adhere to SEO rules. That being said, some things seem more like grey hat SEO than black or white. Especially things that used to be okay, but are not considered to be anymore.

  4. Rohit

    January 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Google is continuously trying to improve their algorithm especially designed to check all these Black Hat techniques, this is reflected Google different updates.., like penguin, panda etc…! by the way nice article.. 🙂

  5. Robert

    January 19, 2014 at 6:07 am

    It is no matter for me whether I do Black Hat or White hat. I always try to reach my consumer and sell my product. Profit maximization is my main theme. I don’t care how much GOOGLE RANK I have. It White Hat SEO let me help to get more visitor to my website, I will definitely use it.

  6. rohit

    January 27, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Black Hat search engine optimization is about finding and aggressively exploiting the vulnerabilities of search engines.

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