Do I Need To Know Blackhat SEO

Sometimes it’s important to ask questions that may have answers that you already know. One such question popped in my mind yesterday, which obviously found its way onto twitter:


Ok Question tweeps: As an SEO do you NEED to know “black hat” tactics? Thoughts?

To my surprise I had a phenomenal number of responses. I either caught twitter at a good time, or the question is one that attracted peoples attention.

Of course not all answers were what I expected… Steve Plunkett asked:

define black hat tactics… lol

Fantomaster owns the Gray Hat

…which to be honest is a perfectly good question. How DO you define Black Hat SEO? How do you recognise the difference between those who are Black Hat and those that are merely hackers for hire? I think Greg Boser nailed it (and I think others thought so too, his response was retweeted a lot):

It’s pretty easy for me to define. I consider BHSEO the act of breaking rules, not laws.

That’s the difference. Search Engines have a whole bunch of rules they don’t like us violating, and which typically lead to sites being kicked out of the SERPs if caught. Breaking those rules makes you a BHSEO ( I won’t debate the whole buying links and Gray Hat SEO thing here because it’s much debated and covered territory). Hackers work outside the law. Case and point? The whole Ugg Boots scene that played out in the UK recently. I consider the whole Link Injections scene to be beyond Black Hat and illegal.

Of course some people like my friend Dave Snyder just refuse to belong to a classification…

Dave Snyder “I only wear hats Cause I am Bald”

(Dave is Co-Founder of Search and Social and regular blogger at Search Engine Journal)

But getting back to the point, do I as a White Hat SEO need to know Black Hat tactics? Do I need to understand the intricacies of the Dark Side? Why? Shouldn’t I just run at the mention of black hat? My twitter peeps don’t seem to think so:

@wiep (who by the way is a link building genius) how else would you know what white is? Which he then followed by the biggest problems are caused by cowboys who think they’re wh, but don’t have an f*ing clue what they’re doing…

@andyheaps(Head of Search at Latitude) need to know what they are and be able to recognise them, not necessarily implement them…

…unless you’re selling viagra!

@drewhoward as an SEO I think you do need to make yourself aware of black hat tactics so you know what to avoid and how to stay ethical

@mosquitohawk I think it helps if you’re going to really say you understand the search engines, but isn’t required to improve rankings generally

@MichelleRobbins Was quite succinct: absolutely.

@swerveball yeah. you need to be aware / have some understanding. you can’t master something by only studying half.

@APSG 9/10 times they’re the ones who find the exploits first – you could look at how to waterdown the tactic turn it grey / white

@SEO_Doctor often debated that. If you can do quality white hat, then no. Big G is getting too good at filtering. But it’s great playing…

@robwatts definitely – you need to understand dirty tricks to combat them

@davidjmain only to know what to Avoid!

@DavorGoldie I think you should have an understanding of blackhat tricks, tactics etc. You need to know what you’re up against…

@Fearless_Shultz I say yes, if nothing else to know whether you might be inadvertently using them! But also they can inspire white hat variants…

@GregBoser not only know, but be proficient at it. Anything less is a disservice to a client.

@Dixon_Jones (Dixon is the director of Receptional who do run the Majestic SEO Campaign) Sooner or later, you’ll do something “black” by mistake if you don’t know what you’re doing.

@yrewol (although unknown in the general SEO industry, I vouch this guy is a genius, and I consider him a good friend) you absolutely do need to know them. Whether you use them or report them, you need to understand them and their impact.

@Matt_Siltala I think if you do not test, and have never tested on the dark side, you really can’t call yourself an SEO

@seoidiot just give them a white hat name ………. “commercial link programme anyone?”

@Skitzzo i think you need to be able to spot the most frequently used BH tactics so you can understand why sites outrank you etc.

@fantomaster (if you don’t know this man, you need to read up. He KNOWS Black Hat SEO) Expectably, my take is: Most certainly! If only to stay in the loop on the state-of-the-art side of things. (BTW Ralph is launching Customized Content Creation soon)

But for me one of the best analogies was by Kenny Hyder (who by the way just launched

Do cops NEED to know how to think like criminals? Gotta know both sides to compete on either.

As you can see form the responses above, there is a certain pattern to peoples thoughts regarding BH SEO. What does that tell me? That I NEED to know Black Hat SEO:

  • because I should be able to spot any of it by my competition
  • because I have to make sure I am not inadvertently using it
  • because there may be tricks that could be used in WH SEO
  • because that is the way I stay on top of the game

And this old job posting on Search Engine Watch encourages me to add one more:

5. because my cients may request that I do

Some Resources:

(disclaimer: visit these sites at your own risk :P And be careful with any techniques, however harmless, that they talk about.)

With that, I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why YOU need to know Black Hat SEO – and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments! (Oh and a Fantomaster Special below :P )

Blackhat vs White Hat – Conversation






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