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Published on February 16th, 2012 | by 011100110110010

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SEO Needs an Anti-Hero

This genius guest post was written by Joel K, the best looking man in the world 

There’s a scene in Batman: The Dark Knight where Batman is interviewing the Joker. I strongly recommend you watch it so that you catch all my awesome Batman references —> http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2164222/dark_knight_batman_interrogates_joker_scene/

 “I don’t want to kill you! …. You complete me!”

I love that scene because Joker is totally counter everything Batman is. Batman loves order and justice. The Joker loves chaos and destruction. They’re both arguably brilliant and yet driven to serve different causes.

How boring would that movie have been if the Joker was a white-knighting do-gooder who squirted old ladies with fake flowers, cracked puns and shared idiotic limericks? If Batman’s mission was just to publically shame the Joker by writing mean things about him on the internet?

And yet that’s exactly what we have in SEO right now. There are dozens of well known, incredibly smart white hat advocates –  these are your “Batmen”.

But who is the “Ying” to Rand’s “Yang”? Who is Wil Reynolds’ “Joker”? Who is Matt Cutts’ arch nemesis? At best we can label the “dark side” of SEO “Spammers”. We find it edgy and frightening when a well known figure advocates something that smacks of being even gray-hat.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWN.

 “You have all these rules, and you think they’ll save you!”

Where is the brilliant arch-nemesis to make this story complete?

SEO needs an unabashed black hat. A genius who doesn’t cling to the absurd optimism that one day Google will fix everything and we’ll all fart rainbows while riding a unicorn on our way to the top of the SERPs because we played by the rules.

Our industry is starving for someone with Rand Fishkin’s goatee and angrier eyebrows. Someone who wears golf shirts like Cutts, but only black ones with hoods sewn on. Someone who publishes “EvilBoard Fridays” and releases “Top 5 Ways to Make a Fool of Google” lists.

Someone who says, “You know all the things they’ve told you don’t work? They do and there’s nothing you can do about it!” – before unleashing a cackle and disappearing in a puff of digital smoke.

 “See, I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.”

What I would love to see is a well-known rule breaker; a black hat so insidious that though we hate them passionately, we also respect them.

That last bit is important. We categorize black hats as “lazy” without stopping to think that in a lot of cases these are the few really innovating in ways we haven’t thought of.

We collectively wave our finger at the mysterious enemy known as “spam” while patting each other on the backs for being more ethical than “the other guys”. We live in constant fear that Google is watching our every move.

We need to stop thinking that there’s only one effective way to get things done. Because there isn’t. That’s never been the case. We could learn a lot by studying our enemies instead of dismissing them as short-sighted idiots.

“Bad Makes Good Better!”

My point is this: Good can only become BETTER if it has some sort of opposition to fight against.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was discovering my local arch nemesis. I can see what this guy does to get rankings. It infuriates me. It physically upsets me. I swear at my computer screen. I curse Google for their inability to crush his evilness. I sometimes cry into my beer.

And then you know what I do? I figure out a way to whoop his ass without breaching my client’s trust. Like Batman I have my one rule: “Don’t compromise the client.” I stick to it at all costs though I often want to break it.

When I finally see my client’s site beat this competitor out, I rejoice. I turn on “Lowrider” and fist pump and air-thrust until my legs give out.

Because I earned that success against a worthy opponent.

So if you’re one of the “good guys”, then it’s time you found yourself an arch nemesis. Study them. Learn from them. Fight them. Your life (and your work) will be better for it.

If you’re a smart, personable, quirky black hat: The industry is waiting for you.

We need you badly.

Come step into the spotlight.

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SEO Needs an Anti-Hero, 9.6 out of 10 based on 8 ratings

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About the Author

One day I will make a living out of this industry, until then I'll carry on writing here.



75 Responses to SEO Needs an Anti-Hero

  1. Be careful with what you wish for, for it might come true.

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    • Joel K says:

      I seriously hope so Joost. I didn’t write this post as a troll or for some kind of shock value. I think our industry desperately needs an intelligent voice of dissent and someone to shake things up a bit. To be clear, it’s not that I don’t think we benefit from having smart and innovative leaders on the white hat side of things. It’s that I don’t think the industry is getting the whole story when we collectively write off gray and black hats as not worth listening to.

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      • Could this happen?

        Black hat tells the world whats what.
        White hats follow and edit to make techniques grey.
        Google clamps down on specific grey/black hat areas.
        Black hat loses money and cries into his well viewed blog.

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        • This can indeed happen. Google takes special interest in greyhats/blackhats that stand out. They know they can’t fight all of them, but if they can squash the public ones it might send a message to whitehats who are already nervous not to try anything “stupid”. There is another side to that coin as well. Plenty of blackhat techniques aren’t held by only one blackhat. The one who squawks about them is in danger of being targeted by other blackhats that want that guy to STFU and stop ruining it for the rest of them.

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          • Joel K says:

            I’d say not only can it happen, it’d pretty much inevitably happen. I don’t think necessarily the tactic would immediately stop working, but that BH would undoubtedly be targeted by others. Hated on all sides. Not much of a life, unfortunately.

            The argument stands though – it’d be killer for the SEO community to have a public BH to learn from who could change the public mentality that BH is for lazy, unintelligent “spammers”.

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      • Eppie Vojt says:

        The challenge for someone stepping into the limelight as a black hatter is that in doing so they increase the risk of getting wiped out — and not just from Google.

        If they’re exclusively running their own profitable sites, the risk of copycat competition skyrockets. It’s not hard to reverse-engineer an individual’s website holdings. I suppose you could get around this by not using any real examples, but how compelling are theoretical black hat posts without proof to back them up?

        If they’re doing client work, it’s even worse. Can you imagine the recoil from clients if anyone put themselves out their as the SEO villain? There goes all your legitimate business.

        The real issue here isn’t that we need an anti-hero. We just need our industry leaders to stop sugar coating everything. Acknowledge what works (white or black hat), let people know the associated risks, and let them decide for themselves how aggressive they want to be in their SEO strategy.

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        • Joel K says:

          “The real issue here isn’t that we need an anti-hero. We just need our industry leaders to stop sugar coating everything.”

          A-men. Once again, completely solid points about a black hat actually “Coming out”. But I’d kill to see it happen and to see someone carry the torch for black hat like we see so many doing for White Hat.

          I wonder if we’d start seeing the same phenomenon we already have, but in reverse – “Closet white hats”? Black hats who profess to be black but in reality secretly “create great content”? ha.

          But a killer way to sum it up. No sugarcoating, please. My throat is already sore.

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  2. …Humanoid
    nnngwar,intruder!
    i am increase sampling the sequence.

    that’s it. nice reading.

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  3. Nick LeRoy says:

    This post is great. As of this year I have made it a point to post more tips that cross the line. It might not be right for everyone but its dumb to not acknowledge that it does/can work.

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    • Joel K says:

      Thanks a lot Nick! Glad to hear it. As I said in the post, we need more people who are willing to unclamp their jaws and admit that there might be other ways of getting things done. I’ll be tuning in to see what comes out of the ol’ LeRoy blog in the future.

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      • “I’ll be tuning in to see what comes out of the ol’ LeRoy blog in the future.” +1, definitely

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  4. Kevin Wiles says:

    This made my lunch Hour!

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  5. Dan says:

    Awesome post and totally spot on. The few “hardcore” black hatters I use to follow seem to have either disappeared or stopped showing off their leet ranking styles, probably due to the fact that people kept calling the waaambulance on them.

    I’d love to find someone/many people to follow who aren’t sharing the same old content from the same old blogs that use the same old methods that really haven’t changed, just evolved.

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    • Joel K says:

      Thanks Dan! I share your sentiments exactly on the “same old content from the same old blogs that use the same old methods”. Good Lord, I’m so sick of reading blogs that equate to nothing more than “create good content”. Bullshit – give me more than that.

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  6. Barry Adams says:

    They already exist. You just don’t know them – and for good reason. Publicity to them is anathema, for it is accompanied by Google’s spotlight.

    Dig a wee bit deeper though, get in with the right communities, talk to the right people… and you’ll find a veritable host of SEO Jokers. In fact, I think they might just outnumber the Batmen.

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    • Joel K says:

      Barry – I agree they exist, but I guess I’d like to SEE them. Sure, publicity might be anathema. But what about a blackhatter with a persona? A smart black hat could unveil their secrets while covering their tracks at the same time. I think it could be done, and I think it could be awesome.

      Interesting though though, on “outnumbering the Batmen”. There’s certainly more gray hats out there than anyone is willing to admit.

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      • Barry Adams says:

        Keep your eye on contempt.me – he’s announced his imminent comeback to the SEO blogging scene. :)

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      • Martijn Oud says:

        I bet that’s because you’re either SUPER white hat, or a little grey. There is not really a middle ground when it comes to cowboy hats.

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        • Joel K says:

          In Calgary (my home town) we see our fair share of black cowboy hats. Usually rustlin’ cattle and causing a ruckus. ;)

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          • Martijn Oud says:

            Well then it’s just a 50/50 chance if they do SEO! They either do, or don’t.

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  7. Mavenface says:

    While I am in awe of your writing I disagree with your argument. Things in the real world are not so black and white. Your competitor probably thinks he’s the good one and your the evil one. Just like Bin Ladin thought he was on God’s side. In seo there is no white or black hat, just shades of grey.

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    • Joel K says:

      A totally relevant point, Mavenface. To him, I might be the arch nemesis. In the real world there’s nothing but gray, after all, where does link building end and manipulation begin? Is creating a wordpress template with your link in the footer ethical, or scummy? Is it wrong to embed links to your site in badges?

      But that said, I think my overarching point might still be a good one – find someone you respect and loathe at the same time. Learn from them. Stop “me too-ing”.

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  8. Chris says:

    Joel, I hope you find your antithesis and maybe this blog post will be the catalyst to call them out from the shadows and to provide you with some knowledge.

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    • Joel K says:

      Oh, I’ve got a local arch nemesis. His evils know no bounds, I can’t believe he charges money for what he offers to clients. And yet he ranks incredibly well on the merits of some incredibly seedy tactics he’s used, so the clients keep on coming. Undoing him is what gets me up in the morning some days!

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  9. Gonzo says:

    Joel, I could not agree more. I’ve always looked forward to those days when Michael Gray would bust Matty C’s balls ALL DAY. As it stands, no one is watching the Watchmen. Don’t forget that Ozymandias was the villain that no one suspected because he was a “good guy”. I’m not saying that the “good guys” are subject to the same corruption, but we need a Rorshach for checks and balances. All of these guys are willing to push the limits of what is “acceptable” practice in this business and we are ALL richer for it.
    My write-in’s for possible candidates:
    Ralph Tegtmeier: http://fantomaster.com/
    Darren Slatten: http://www.seomofo.com/
    Kris Roadruck: http://www.krisroadruck.com/

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    • Chris says:

      All good shouts Don….

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    • Joel K says:

      Thanks for sharing those! I’ll be digging in later today for certain. Loved the watchmen references, incredible book, that is. Some of the most interesting conversations about controversial tactics I’ve had have been with people in our industry regarded otherwise as “Batmen”.

      I just love it.

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  10. Chris says:

    Top of inbound.org ……… I am looking forward to more comments as this article is still only a few hours old!

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  11. Matt Goffrey says:

    There are ENTIRE FORUMS focused on black hat strategies. (blackhatworld as just one example)

    I seriously don’t even know what you’re talking about with this article.

    The only reason those people aren’t as “famous” as the Fishkin’s and Cutts’ of the world is that people don’t want to admit they use those techniques.

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    • Joel K says:

      Then you seriously missed my point. The point is that the industry could benefit FROM someone admitting they use these techniques and playing the role of devil’s advocate for all the mindless regurgitators of “create great content” and “be a great person”.

      Obviously there are black hats out there, but the point is that people dismiss them as lazy idiots instead of taking the time to study them. I think a compelling persona behind the black hat movement (just as we have COUNTLESS personas behind the opposite) would do a whole lot of good for the industry.

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    • Chris says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation Matt.

      What I believe Joel is trying to say is that alot of Black hat tactics aren’t openly talked and discussed they are often hidden behind password protected forums with anonymous profiles and numerous Forums are just places to sell Xrumer services at the lowest prices.

      By finding the Whitehat Antithesis we can become better SEO’s all of us.

      I openly admit to reading up on the latest tools that take link building to a whole new scalable process but I do this to understand the competition and to also see if these tools can be used to help me get results for my clients without using them out of the box as it were…

      Check my article on using Scrapebox for outreach >> http://www.rootswebsolutions.com/link-building-2/scrapebox-techniques/

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  12. Joel K says:

    Those who wouldn’t mind supporting the article on inbound.org can do so at http://inbound.org/seo/2012/02/seo-needs-an-antihero/ – loving the conversations coming out of there. Even Bill Slawski is involved!

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  13. I’ve got a lot of respect for Fantomaster as a blackhat SEO. He doesn’t get involved in slagging matches, never gets defensive and is open about what he does in a way few others have the balls to. He also justifies it in an intelligent and well thought out way. I wouldn’t use his tactics with my clients but I respect that he makes the choice to and doesn’t try to hide it.

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  14. Nick Eubanks says:

    Joel – Truly awesome, and as a HUGE fan of all things Batman, I think your choices and reflections are spot on. My favorite part so far is some of the awesome links that are coming out in the comments :)

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    • Totally! The conversation is exactly what I hoped would come out of a post like this. Hard not to be a little bit excited that it’s still so early in the day.

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  15. Julie Joyce says:

    I got my start in SEO through cloaking and just about every other spammy technique you can think of, and now I specialize in buying links. I talk to my main blackhat monkey every day (but I won’t reference him here since I hate sharing him) and can tell you that one big reason we don’t talk about exactly what we do and how we do it in a public manner is that we have clients to protect. I can assure you that there are blackhats out there with massive SEO contracts that are so tightly locked down through an NDA that they can barely breathe. Most blackhats I know are turning down loads of work that they keep getting simply because they ARE so closed-mouthed.

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    • Joel K says:

      You wouldn’t believe how many SEO’s have “aces in the hole”. Fall-back tactics that ride the line from gray to black that they resort to when the whole “great content” thing stops resonating with clients or doesn’t pan out. Or as the joker says,

      “Their morals, their code – it’s a bad joke – dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. When the chips are down, these civilized people will eat each other.”

      Ha! Anyways, another interesting perspective, you make a really great case for staying closed mouthed. I suppose it’s wishful thinking to hope that a quirky persona will emerge and start swingin’ hammers.

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  16. Chris says:

    I have always wanted to be “evil” hehehe. But I completely agree that White Hat’s USE black hats. White hats look at what the Black hats have done, and watch for Google’s reaction, if Google reacts well, it becomes best practice, if they react poorly, it gets squashed. It was not too long ago that keyword stuffing was actually a “best practice.”

    Secondly, I have to agree with the point that There are very few pure white hat’s. In fact, I believe they are like unicorns and faeries. They just don’t exist. I will use your own example, Batman is for justice, but he is a VIGILANTE, a cowboy. Batman wears all black, uses bats as his symbol. Bruce Wayne and Batman are two sides of the same coin, one dark, one light. As Bruce Wayne, he walks around freely, enjoys the high life of being considered a “Great and Ethical” guy, at night however, he becomes BATMAN, stalking in the shadows, etc…This is how many SEO’s behave. They do things in the shadows. They aren’t evil, they just have two different facades they show to two different people. For all we know Rand Fishkin has a Black Hat alter ego! (What a TWIST)

    Besides that, Search Engine Optimization (and SEO’s) are also like a vigilante, which only recently got told it was okay, that is, as long as it follows specific guidelines and rules. Batman makes his own rules, plays his own game, uses AUTOMATED gadgets and machinery, batarangs, grappling hooks, smoke pellets, kevlar gloves, and whatever else he can INVENT or CREATE. Anything that doesn’t actually outright kill someone, although, major brain damage and catastrophic injury are okay.

    Case and Point, Don’t believe the hype! =P

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    • Joel K says:

      Chris – your parallel between Bruce and Batman is UNREAL! Such an accurate picture. I think to some extent we ALL live in the shadows and I can name very, very few people who I’d consider exempt from that.

      Brilliant insight. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Chris says:

      As Bruce Wayne, he walks around freely, enjoys the high life of being considered a “Great and Ethical” guy, at night however, he becomes BATMAN, stalking in the shadows, etc…This is how many SEO’s behave. +1

      great name +10

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  17. Chris says:

    This truly is a great follow up to your post on Point Blank SEO

    Wasting client money on a white hat tactic that doesn’t work us just as bad (if not worse) than wasting client money on a grey or black hat tactic that does. http://pointblankseo.com/natural-link-comeback-3

    Content doesn’t always deliver the desired results and as SEO’s we need to understand what does deliver the best results for that client and that vertical.

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  18. Jason Duke says:

    Hmmmm

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  19. Dan says:

    Great post. This definitely needs to happen. I think once my friend sees this, he’s going to work very hard to accomplish this.

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  20. rishil says:

    They exist. They exist in circles you know of. Some “whitehats” actually are better than most at being “blackhat”. You need to know one to excel at the other.

    Unlike comic books, they dont go into “villain monologues”. They what they need to do.

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    • Joel K says:

      Villain monologues are just so fun, though! Ah, well.

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  21. Chris says:

    I believe one reason the SEOs who do any degree of black hat don’t “step into the spotlight” is because there’s more fame in white hat. You’ll get more airtime in SEOmoz or Search Engine Land. 95% of what I read on those sites are useless, detail-less, fluff that only raises more questions. Judging by their writing, all those guys in the SEOmoz and Distilled stable are not that experienced in real world SEO issues. Seems like they’d rather be writers than SEOs. Seriously – when has a working, experienced SEO ever read an SEOmoz or Distilled post and went “whoa – that was useful!” I know when I read black hat posts I walk away with something to do.

    I’m shocked that more people don’t call them out on this. Then maybe black hats would feel like they have an audience.

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    • Joel K says:

      “95% of what I read on those sites are useless, detail-less, fluff that only raises more questions.” – This is the problem with SEO blogging. It’s less about sharing valuable information and more about regurgitating the “tip of the week” or posturing your business so you look squeaky clean and people want to hire you.

      Interesting perspective, Chris!

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      • Ian Miller says:

        I completely agree. It’s nearly all written to get attention from , and respect as, a thought leader. If all a post does is reference the usual high-profile people then they are often just trying to get reflected glory and get “in” with them. The people that write genuinely new stuff, whether it just be musings, get the most respect from me.

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        • Cheers for stopping by Ian :) Like your URL, very slick.

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    • Jared McKiernan says:

      You’re absolutely right. The worst part of this is the tone of comments on SEOmoz where everyone replies “GREAT post! Thanks!” to the most obvious SEO 101 writing.

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  22. Joe says:

    The problem is motivation. What would the motivating factor be? The Joker is motivated by his sick desires, an outspoken blackhat / alternative SEO would have to be motivated by money, fame or also his desires.

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    • Joel K says:

      Don’t you think it’d be just a little fun to get off on poking massive holes in one of the world’s most recognized brands?

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    • How about the desire to just fuck things up a bit?

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  23. ian says:

    Fantastic piece! But I’m not sure I can HATE the black hats. I respect them a lot, because the good ones really know their stuff. And they reveal critical problems in the algorithms.

    My real foil is the crappy SEOs and fraud artists. They’re different from the black hats – a good black hat tells you exactly what you’re going to get, the risks, and the positives. The real bad guys are the ones who pretend to have a ‘secret formula’ when they actually have no clue – they just want your money.

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    • Joel K says:

      Ugh, crappy SEO’s! You know, thinking about it, that’s what makes my arch nemesis my arch nemesis, namely, I can’t believe he’s charging money for the piss poor offering he provides in return. This could almost be a completely separate post. In fact, it might be.

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  24. Joel – “The argument stands though – it’d be killer for the SEO community to have a public BH to learn from who could change the public mentality that BH is for lazy, unintelligent “spammers”.”

    I’d be interested to find out how many SEO’s think that black hats are lazy spammers. Rightly or wrongly I always perceive them to work much harder than the white hat guys!

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    • Joel K says:

      Yeah? Because in the videos and the articles I keep reading, people keep referring to spammers over and over again as being short sighted and “too lazy” to invest in sustainable SEO.

      Maybe I’m tapping into a false stigma, I can admit that if it’s true. There are certainly those who recognized BH’s are holding it down in a way all their own.

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      • Contempt says:

        That’s because 1 hour of my time is about 40 of someone elses. That’s why some people think we’re “lazy”. The bottom line is I find it a lot harder to locate a white hat that progresses at the scale I do, who isn’t there by chance.

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        • Joel K says:

          That’s a pretty awesome way of looking at it, and I don’t think your statement can ring anything other than true. Thanks very much for taking the time to put in your two cents, stoked this little post could elicit a response.

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  25. Bill Sebald says:

    I don’t believe you can really win ALL your SEO battles without hitting dark magic with more dark magic. The whitehat SEOs who are preaching that opposite are misleading people. That’s where I believe some SEO “experts” aren’t doing their civil service. They’re not telling us everything that works for them – just the same regurgitated stuff.

    With that said, as a former whitehat turned gray, for some you’re possibly risking your clients and your job. That’s a fact, thanks to the Google Webmaster Guidelines that many digital marketing executives take as the bible. Many blackhats stay indoors for that reason, but there are plenty of self-employed SEOs with enough practical experience to stroll right past the rankings of big brand clients and big name agencies. Being a former big brand SEO, I’ve seen it!

    I’d love to see more attention on these guys, since they’re really amazing talents.

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  26. I bet that “Evil Rand” is out there with his underground crew, but too weary of stepping into the spotlight on center stage for fear of his known tactics getting fixed and no longer working.

    However the concept still holds true and is valuable — competition breeds quality and passion

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    • Joel K says:

      What this post really needs is a picture of “Evil Rand”. Someone with more photoshop skills than me should whip it up. Heck I’d – wait for it…. LINK TO IT.

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  27. I actually posted a long blog on how underrepresented black hat is last week (though your version is admittedly way more entertaining).

    There are quite a few thriving black hats that share a lot on sites like blackhatworld.com. The most off-base comments I’ve heard from “white hat experts” always involve wildly inaccurate assumptions on how Google behaves. These are things that black hats have tested and white hats won’t touch (left out of pretty much all content on SEOmoz, SEW, SEL, SEJ).

    The face of “the SEO industry” isn’t all that welcome to them for all the reasons that you mentioned, so they don’t bother to blog. And it’s not their style anyway (unless you count autoblogs that spin $3 articles that were run through a spinner !! ).

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  28. Mark says:

    You know whats so funny about all of this…

    To Google, anything other than writing an article and putting a title tag on it is considered “black hat SEO”.

    Personally, I think the future of Black Hat SE will be centered around detection avoidance. LOL!

    Mark

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  29. Daniel says:

    I have a cunning little anti-hero plan…

    Whatever industry you’re in, create a blog that will entice your competitors to ask for a link. Once the paid offers come in, report straight to Google. Hopefully they’ll get penalized then.

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  30. Adam Marsh says:

    SEO had this anti-hero in Quadszilla of http://seoblackhat.com/ fame until he got lazy and quit publishing on his blog.

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  31. Pingback: Awesome SEO’s you probably don’t follow on Twitter (but should!) « Stoked SEO & Internet Marketing

  32. Carps says:

    I used to love Eli at Bluehat SEO for exactly the reasons you mention but he seems to have dropped off the radar (last post 2011). I surmise/suspect that eventually his methods started to get picked off by Google, but his old posts really give lie to that “black hats are lazy spammers” guff by outlining the sheer industry-strength technology that some of these guys deploy.

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