Got The Black Hat Blues? Put On Your Thinking Cap!

Some of the stuff that folks do, trying to fool the search engines, is just laughable. I tried to take the Independence Day weekend off, and not think about search engines, but I got this email on Thursday night as I was packing up, and it occured to me that a few folks could stand to trade in their black hats for what my second grade teacher called a “thinking cap.”

This particular would-be black hat SEO (we’ll call him “Bob” because that’s not his name) could not understand how his entire link farm network had been sniffed out and penalized so easily… after all, he had set up separate hosting accounts for all 150 domains, used “anonymous” domain registration (a useful service offered by GoDaddy and other registrars to protect customers from email spam), and in spite of all that, the link farm just wasn’t showing up in Google.

Now I don’t know if Bob’s actually been penalized, for all I know he forgot to get some links into his network. I mean, if you’re confused enough to set up 150 web hosting accounts (his credit card company actually froze his account temporarily from all the online transactions), there’s no telling how confused you are beyond that. But, I do know that Google is a domain registrar, and they can see right past that little wall of anonymity into the real registration records.

What’s really remarkable is that this guy could have accomplished his objective very easily, with simple, natural SEO strategies. What he spent, in time and money, to construct an elaborate and ultimately failed scheme, could have gone into real content, a real website, and some more intelligent linking strategies.

It’s natural to think that there “must be some kind of trick” to this search engine game, but it’s actually not that hard to play within the rules and win. Can the readers of this blog actually imagine how much time it took to build 150 fake websites, to upload all that screen-scraped content, with 150 different accounts?

That’s it. I have had enough… this week the SitePoint SEM blog will be all about real natural linking strategies that work. About working smarter, not harder. About getting ranked with a few quality links, instead of a mountain of rented links. Stay tuned, and if you can find your thinking cap, put it on. Your contributions can help here.

“Bob,” thanks for sharing your story, and agreeing to allow this (pseudonymous) public flogging. I promise you that it will be easier to just do it the right way.

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  • nortypig

    That’s sooo funny lol. A major investment in wasted time, resources and money.

  • http://www.rideontwo.com z0s0

    But, I do know that Google is a domain registrar, and they can see right past that little wall of anonymity into the real registration records.

    How could Google see past the obscured contact details that such anonymizing registars place in the whois? Such services do not release any other personally identifying info into the wild (aka public whois)

  • craig34

    Google is a domain registrar themselves, much like NSI or GoDaddy. It sounds like Dan is saying that this would give them the ability to see the *actual* registration records, rather than the anonymous records that we see via a WHOIS.

    This would actually be a fairly good explanation for why Google became a registrar in the first place – something that had people both confused and guessing their intentions.

  • http://www.seoresearchlabs.com DanThies

    Yes, that’s how it was explained to me, Craig. Not that they would need such a crystal ball with 150 screen scraper web sites crosslinked like crazy and all registered through “Domains By Proxy.”

    For those who have emailed with funny questions:
    1) My second grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Bates. No, I don’t recall if she was “hot.” At the time I was much more interested in Carolyn, the cute girl next door.
    2) No, this guy isn’t targeting a PPC (porn, pills, and casinos) market, and trackback spam is not the kind of natural linking strategy I’m talking about.
    3) When I say natural linking, I don’t mean goofy automated schemes that are supposed to “look natural.”

    Anyone with success stories based on natural linking strategies, let me hear from you, there just might be a (natural) link in it for you.

  • http://www.designity.nl peach

    This article from seomoz sums up quite a few nice link building strategies that I use all the time:

    http://www.seomoz.org/articles/advanced-link-building.php

  • http://www.seoresearchlabs.com DanThies

    … as well as some very dicey methods.

  • http://www.rideontwo.com z0s0

    A lot of people seem to think posting comments on SitePoint’s blogs is an effective strategy… I’ve been banning a lot of new forum users with “uk-credit-cars-finance.com” etc in their signatures lately. Or maybe just one very persistent fool.

  • Ned Collyer

    Seriously tho, SEO is all about what you deserve.
    Does your site deserve a top 100 rank?

    Overtime, as search engines/alogrithms are built smarter, quality is what will get you noticed.

    As Dan says, “it’s actually not that hard to play within the rules and win.”

    Its simple. A couple of days research (and handy blogs like this one), and you have all the tools required for building quality current gen SEO websites with futureproof strategies.

    Intelligent programming is destroying the evil spam market. :) Spam me quality!

  • brianoz

    I’m not convinced that being a domain registrar lets you “see past the wall of anonymity”. The private record details aren’t published in the publicly available whois database, or they wouldn’t be private, and I’m not sure a whole lot more data is available to the registrars. I’d love to hear if anyone knows for sure.

    I’m tipping something else gave him away; possibly a common site error, or using similar IPs or nameservers, and he was just unlucky enough to be sprung. Or having them all submitted to Google from the one IP address in a short range of time – now that could be a good giveaway! :)

  • http://www.rideontwo.com z0s0

    I’m inclined to agree with your Brian.

  • http://www.igeek.info asp_funda

    I’m not convinced that being a domain registrar lets you “see past the wall of anonymity”. The private record details aren’t published in the publicly available whois database, or they wouldn’t be private,

    As I know of it, the public whois database is different than the registry records maintained by VeriSign and other registry keepers. In there, as per ICANN rules, you have to have the original registrant data, no ifs and buts!! The anonymity provided by these registrars like GoDady, NetworkSolutions, etc. is for cloaking your details to prevent spamming etc. & not to hide you from authorities for any un-fair/illegal business practices. If you read their disclaimer and details of the service, I’m sure it’ll be mentioned there. Or you can simply send in an email or a support ticket to your registrar to ask them about it, I’m sure they’ll say more-or-less what I’ve.
    Anonymous domain registration is not like getting a private unlisted telephone number, if you are thinking like that!! :)

    and I’m not sure a whole lot more data is available to the registrars.

    I believe that a whole lot more data is available to registrars than what we see when we do a WHOIS on a domain. They have access to the registries of domains they are authorised to register and the data in them. That’s one reason that anyone can’t become a registrar. You can’t go out to ICANN and say “hey dudes, I wanna be a domain registrar”!! ;)

  • matthewmurcia

    I wonder how people come to think like this about SEO in the first place. Maybe it’s inbred or maybe it has to do with education. I went to see a client the other day who I’ve been talking with for a few weeks about SEO. He’s a web designer. Even so, after last weeks chat, about how not to include so much flash and so many heavy images in his pages, his wonderful idea this week, which he spurted out before I had even sat down, was:

    “I know, I’ve got it, I have an idea about how to kill two birds with one stone. We can like, put the text above the flash but then make the text the same colour as the background!!! Theeeeenn, the visitors see the flash and the robot sees the text. Whadya’ think??”

    I sat down and tried not to sigh too much.

  • http://www.OfficialDesktop.com NatashaRobinson

    Matthew wrote: “I wonder how people come to think like this about SEO in the first place.”

    Simple, because of readers like Ned who believe – “Its simple. A couple of days research (and handy blogs like this one), and you have all the tools required for building quality current gen SEO websites with futureproof strategies.”

    My number #1 rule of Search Marketing related Blogs and Forums is don’t believe everything you read unless you test it yourself.

    I’m sure that “Bob” read this would work somewhere and believed it. He like many web site owners should have tested his “theory” before spending all that money.

    Natasha “That Girl From Marketing” Robinson

  • http://www.professional-website-content.com amberstar702

    A business owner I know brags about all his black hat techniques which he has been using for well over a year. Nothing that unique – just the “stuff” listed above and more. Thus far, he has not been caught and is raking in loads of cash.

  • http://NewbieHangout.com b2phat

    I’ve never understood some people’s reasoning when it comes to using black hat SEO techniques.

    Since we came online when I was very, very much the newbie … we’ve always ranked well. With no training or whatever, we started out ranking well. It just proves that content is king and honesty will get you much further than the alternative.