Should going Whitehat be an ethical decision or a Business decision?

White hat SEO
First published 2011

To Go White Hat or Black Hat SEO is not an ethical decision it’s a business decision

The aim of the white hat seo is to unnaturally manipulate the Google results page in their favour. The aim of the black hat seo is exactly the same.

Where it differs is the white hat keeps within the Google guidelines and the black hat does not.

Therefore it is inaccurate to call the black hat unethical as it is absurd to allow an American Corporation whose legal obligation is to its share holders to define what is ethical and what is not ethical behaviour.

It is not an ethical decision to employ black hat techniques, or white hat. It is a business decision.

Sometimes I use what is erroneously called black hat techniques, sometimes I use white hat. I use what works.

What works is defined by how Google works.

I would have no problem being 100% whitehat if blackhat made little business sense.

When I realised that many seo agencies who publicly said they were whitehat but were ranking by employing blackhat techniques I realised it wasn’t about slavishly following what Matt Cutts told us to do, in fact in some niches if you follow the Google guidelines you will lose.

When well known newspapers sell links for thousands of pounds with impunity you have to ask, what exactly is going on here?

I don’t do paid links as I have other skills which I can use. But I have to compete against sites which do buy links. I have no problem with that per se, but why doesn’t Google level the playing field.

Unload the dice and make the buying of links in line with the Terms of Service. Because right now it’s the big boys which can get away with buying links whilst the small guy is terrified of getting caught.

Now that is what I call unethical.

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Comments

  1. Lyndon Antcliff says

    Richard, what word you attach to the meaning does not change the meaning.

    The meaning is to change your ranking, from one place to another, call it what you will the nature of the result is the same.

    This word “naturally”, not quite sure I understand how natural the results of a machine based algo can be. It works on the basis of input/output, are you saying when you perform seo it is more “natural” than others.

    How do you perform natural seo anyway, do you need to do it from a Hemp powered workstation.

    If you look up a dictionary definition of manipulate, you will find

    “to handle, manage, or use, especially with skill, in some process of treatment or performance:”

    Sounds like whitehat seo to me.

  2. says

    The word “unnaturally” is used in the article so it should’t be unreasonable to use the opposite.

    IMO there is a big difference between “unnaturally manipulating” search results and improving your site to make it rank better. The latter I would consider natural, the former, unnatural – I don’t think that’s a difficult concept.

    If we’re playing the dictionary definitions game, how about:

    Manipulate:
    -to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage
    -to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/manipulate

    Doesn’t sound much like whitehat to me.

    For what it’s worth I agree with much of the article and don’t have any issue with SEOs using different tactics as long as they are honest about them. Big “so called” whitehat agencies who don’t practise what they preach get least respect from me.

  3. Lyndon Antcliff says

    Richard I think you are being a bit silly with semantics. something that I am well used to when dealing with seo people. Whilst ignoring the nuance and tone of the language you seek to interpret the words in the way which fits your argument, rather than in the way you intended. In essence you are having an argument with yourself, I just hope you win.

    Just because a word can SOMETIMES have negative connotations does not mean it is ALWAYS a negative word. It is down to which meaning you chose to attach. If you chose a different meaning to the one intended, not much I can do about that.

    With nonsense marketing words like organic seo and natural seo it’s no wonder non professionals get confused. It is not unethical to purchase a link to your website. It is simply against one search engines terms of service.

    BTW, are you saying you and your agency are 100% white hat? Best check with the PR dept before answering ;)

  4. says

    The many contributing factors needed to manipulate search results are of course a business decision. The application of, or degree to which guidelines are adhered to, to be black or white hat, is also a business decision.

    A business owner who is focused on creating a favorable experience for her website visitors might debate those who focus on tactics to attract users, before thinking about the user experience may be unethical.

    SEO tactics or not are surely relative to other historical channels, the ask is much more about how much risk is acceptable to the business more than nay one tactics or guideline.

  5. says

    Lyndon, I’ll give you the last word there and let others decide for themselves – it’s not really relevant enough to what is a good article to argue. I think the above exchange speaks for itself and I appreciate you having the decency to publish the second one ;-)

    But yes, we’re whitehat, no need for the PR dept. As I say, I’ve got no problem with whatever type of SEO people want to practise; black, white or grey provided they don’t pretend they are something they are not.

  6. Steve says

    I agree with the writer. SEO of any kind is pursued by gaming the system. There is nothing “natural” about any form of SEO. The fundamental concept of SEO is exploiting a flaw in a search engine’s ranking algorithm. The difference between white and black hat tactics is merely a function of where Google decides to draw a line, and this line is at least somewhat arbitrary.

  7. says

    Everything is subjective – It all depends on your definition of SEO. IMO

    In my mind, SEO = : manipulating search engine ranking factors to achieve tactically desirable organic search engine results page rankings.

    from my own definition (feel free to correct/disagree with me!) , I can’t really see where “black/white/yellow/blue/lilac” SEO comes into it….

    Just like money, rankings don’t care where they come from.. Since people are cognitive misers, i guess it makes sense “box up” these ranking mechanisms. into convenient categories. It’s all just bullshit though. it’s all just SEO.

    So who says some of these tactics are “dodgy” or “blackhat” ? oh the guys at Google who scrape our sites and make £ by parasiting on our content for big advertising bucks.

    Clever marketers of course play cat and mouse w/ Search-Enginges day after day – and the SE’s change and adapt their algos to try to beat the ‘SEO hackers. Those in the know KNOW that the system is flawed. The SE’s KNOW they are fighting a losing battle due to technological limitations.

    Let’s face it all you SEOs.. – We all know that SEO is ‘gaming the system’ – it’s artificial – it needs to be nurtured and fed – so it’s far from organic. the cream does not rise to the top – big business and “SEO budgets” and BHers win 95% of the time.

    Black hiat .. White hat.. Meh. Can we just be honest and call it SEO ?

  8. says

    Loved this article Lyndon, and I completely agree with you. In my mind the way to play the game is to be gray. Use the white techniques that you know are worth it and work. Use the black ones that aren’t likely to get you in trouble. Avoid the things that you know are going to get your banned. These are all business decisions like you said. They’re risks that you choose to take or not to take.

    SEO has become this huge ethical debate and I honestly don’t get it. White or black, you’re trying to game the system in some way.

  9. andy says

    I guess that whitehat SEO means that you create your content and simply leave it out there to be found. If it’s good then you’ll get the links you need in order to rank? Hmm, I think not.

    Although the definition of manipulation is correct it’s being being used to describe something nefarious. Isn’t using your contacts to tweet, link to, like, etc, blah, a form manipulating the SERPs?

    Like GamblingSEO said, it’s juts SEO!