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I Double Dog Dare You

KOMarketing has a fun post comparing Black Hat SEO to the recent incident in the National Football League (NFL) involving illegal video taping of on-field signals. It’s a fun, and if you’re competitive, an interesting comparison. Not sure I agree completely, however.

The NFL coach was caught (allegedly) video taping the New Jersey Jets signals, after being specifically told not to do that, and while it was illegal to do so under league rules. Important aspects: he was a member of a league, there was a clear “law” on the issue, and an advance, specific warning.

When you join a league you abide by league rules because they enable to league to exist and thus your team to play. No league = no opportunity to play. It’s a financial consideration.

SEO (even Black Hat SEO) does not involve any such league membership, does not violate any such league laws, and the guidelines which exist do not support a league and enable the teams but rather they support a company (the search engine) and arguable the “fans” (users of Google). In many ways it can be argued that the company and community benefit at the expense of the web publishers (teams), which makes it even worse to be a player but not a winner. Second place is the first loser.

One can argue that we all need to support the fans to maintain an opportunity to play, but search is a business market so that’s hogwash. Were Google to fail, the users would still have plenty of opportunity to play. Except for sites added during the past 2 years, most web sites did not start publishing in order to serve ads. They serve ads to enable them to publish, and they publish for other reasons.
If Bill Belichick did tape those signals on purpose, then he was cheating at NFL football . I dare you to name a Black hat SEO tactic and describe why it is cheating. Go ahead. I double dog dare you. Comments are open.


  1. Derek wrote:

    Very good points here. I was looking more to infer how a competitive environment with high stakes and/or pressure will push people to consider all avenues and opportunities – and what may happen if there is a violation, even if that is a subjective discussion.

    There are no official laws related to search, but there are systems and patterns that can be analyzed and uncovered, which means that people will undoubtedly look for ways to create a competitive advantage.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 10:09 am | Permalink
  2. NKMedia wrote:

    (for arguments sake)
    Search is exactly like a league, in the terms you define. No league=No opportunity to play. No Search Engines=No opportunity to play. Search TOS then in that context are the league rules. Black Hat is so named because it goes under (or attempts to) the TOS radar. If, in your SE optimization, you go against the TOS on purpose, like with Belicheck, then it is exactly the same. Cheating.

    Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  3. IncrediBILL wrote:

    John, what do you mean there are no rules?

    They are called the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

    If you don’t play by those rules you’ll find yourself in Google Hell just like all those delisted directories we’ve been reading about and other sites hit with various penalties.

    The LEAGUE is called the internet, each website has is it’s own TEAM, and Google is the self-appointed referee.


    Friday, September 21, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  4. PW wrote:

    If you are referring to obvious “tactics” such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, link networks, etc… I would agree with the blog post. I also have to disagree with BH techniques violating the TOS for search engines. Thankfully, inclusion in an engine’s index does not require acceptance of any terms. It would be a dark day for the Internet should that ever change.


    Tactics such as blog comment spamming and content scraping definitely go beyond competitive practices. The former is as reprehensible as email spam, which is illegal (at least in the States and other western countries), and the latter trounces all over copyright laws and intellectual property rights. Last I checked, content scapers do not check to see whether the content they are duplicating has a license allowing them to reproduce it. In the U.S., more malicious tactics, such as attempts to de-rank a competitor’s site or hijack a domain, can actually have legal ramifications.

    Friday, September 21, 2007 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  5. john andrews wrote:

    I had hoped someone would highlight a specific tactic and describe why it was cheating. No takers so far?

    @Bill, I don’t see the Internet as a league. It’s an International commons. Leagues contract playing arenas and parking lots and concession stands and TV time on behalf of their members, and arrange exclusive territories and such to enable competitive tiering (championships). Search engines mostly take, not give. Google’s indexed pages might be a league, but as NKMedia says, closing that to league-only would be a big problem.

    @PW I hate comment spam but it’s my own responsibility, much like I am responsible for putting out a “no trespassing” sign if I don’t want door to door solicitors to ring the bell. The police assist me in enforcing those “guidelines” when necessary, because I have civil rights, and that’s sort of what we have with CAN-SPAM and business disruption (DDOS) laws. But if I leave comments open, people will comment and that’s not illegal. As for scraping, we have fair use exemptions that are very vague (as they have to be) so very scrape is not a copyright violation. Some yes, but not all.

    So what technique is clearly cheating??

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  6. Derek wrote:

    The professional sporting concept is not as related to the Internet as it is to search engine optimization. But it can be related. Each keyword opportunity is a separate game and the players/teams are the websites vying for that top spot. The league is the entity holding access to the opportunity realized by people (fans) looking for that keyword, be it Google, Yahoo etc. Blackhat tactics arise when there are more fans associated to a keyword (volume). It can become less about the fan and more about the potential gain that can be realized by the player/team for attaining that coveted spot (even though the fan is what gave them the opportunity in the first place!).

    Given this scenario, “successful cheating” infers that someone or some entity violated the guidelines associated to what would be considered “fair play” as it relates to ranking for a keyword. There’s only a handful of techniques I can think of that violates the given scenario and most of them fall under this sentence from Google Webmaster Guidelines: “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank.” We’re clearly seeing this debate get more heated in recent months and it is debatable as to what is a violation and what is not.

    (There, I think I took the bait)

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007 at 7:46 pm | Permalink