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October 21, 2008

White Hat vs Black Hat Social Media Optimization

The whole white hat vs black hat distinction is huge in SEO.

  • Which techniques are unethical? (Black Hat)
  • Which are controversial? (Gray Hat)
  • Which tactics are too risky?

Every SEO has to answer those questions for themselves. Most black hats feel they have iron-clad reasons why what they do is ok. Google outlines some clear good and bad practices in their Webmaster Guidelines.

I choose to be white hat. I disagree with those that say that white hat SEO’s are ineffective. But this blog post is not about that. This post is about: What can White Hat and Black Hat SEO teach us about social media optimization?

What is Social Media Optimization?

Says Wikipedia: “Social media optimization (SMO) is a set of methods for generating publicity through social media, online communities and community websites. Methods of SMO include adding RSS feeds, adding a “Digg This” button, blogging and incorporating third party community functionalities like Flickr photo slides and galleries or YouTube videos. Social media optimization is related to search engine marketing, but differs in several ways, primarily the focus on driving traffic from sources other than search engines, though improved search ranking is also a benefit of successful SMO.”

I take issue with the last sentence. Knowing that social media profiles might help you dominate top ten rankings for your brand name, you might engage in social media for many of its direct goals, including traffic from social media sites, but your primary goal could still be the search rankings you receive for these efforts. Keep in mind, however, that keyword-heavy social media profile names may not be as well received by those who are wary of keyword spam.

Social Media Optimization and Online Reputation

Through a combination of efforts on several websites, numerous blogs, and social networks, I currently have six of the top ten rankings for my name. And ten of the top twenty. This is no small deal, since Brian Carter is relatively common name in the world. For search result space, I compete with a wine-seller, a football player, an engineer, and a hippie musician.

In my opinion, it would be black hat of me to try to get all ten rankings. To be fair, if you search for Brian Carter, most people should get the most popular and relevant Brian Carter. Of course I think that’s me, and I’m offended not tobe number one, but I think that six rankings on the top ten makes up for that.

What you get is:

It helps that I have a lot of different interests, businesses, etc. And that I’ve invested a lot of work into multiple sites, blogs, and social profiles. I believe these search results are earned. It’s no coincidence that the Brian Carter with the most search results is in the Social Media industry.

What is Black Hat Social Media Optimization?

First let’s look at types of spam throughout internet history:

1. Search Engine Submission
2. Keyword Spamming
3. Doorway Pages/Cloaking
4. Link Spamming, Reciprocals, Buying
5. Wikispam (Knolspam)
6. Social Media Spam

Suffice it to say, if there’s a way to do something online, black hat spammers have found ways to exploit it. And Google has caught up to most of it.

Here are the white hat counterparts to the previous list:

1. (Search Engine Submission: outdated, use sitemaps)
2. Appropriate Keyword Usage + LSI
3. Appropriate 301 redirects: Redesigns, Canonicalization
4. Link & Relationship Building
5. Third-party Content Relationships: Wikis, Forums, Guest Blogging, Commenting
6. Social Media Authentic Participation

To succeed at white hat, you have to produce quality and create and maintain a good reputation.

Are These Social Media Tactics Ethical?

  • Fake profiles = Dishonest via Demographics?
  • Redundant profiles = Duplicate Content
  • Keyword spam profiles = Keyword Spamming
  • Aggregator endless loops = Programmatic Content Rearrangement
  • Social Media for link building only = Disingenuous link spamming

Obvious from the equivalencies, my answer is no.

To me, the fundamental issue is your approach. You choose to game the system or take the high road.

Basement Plan Hatching vs. Real World Relationship Building

My experiences has been that if you spend more time with real people, you’re less likely to sit around coming up with crazy schemes.

Scheming Tactics

  • Reverse Engineering
  • Secrets
  • Spam App Programming
  • Rationalization

Honest Work

  • Building Valuable Sites
  • Authentic Participation
  • Building Real Relationships
  • Living by Principle

In my opinion, though black hat tactics might create temporary wins, they’re overall the loser way to live. Maybe I have an overactive conscience… I’m happier and sleep better when I do the right thing. How about you?

Consequences of Black Hat and White Hat SEO/SMO

Scheming Tactics

  • Penalties, moving target
  • Lying reduces other abilities
  • Apps break
  • Wrong living requires psych meds

Honest Work

  • People need quality
  • People respond to authenticity
  • People control links, jobs, relationships, algorithms
  • Better sleep, more energy, better quality of life

Pithy Sayings:

Here are a few statements that came to mind while pondering the choice between black hat and white hat SMO:

  • The ironic thing is that it’s black hat SEO’s themselves…that have convinced me black hat SEO isn’t worth the effort.
  • SEO’s should spend more time with real human beings… and less time in their heads hatching crazy schemes.
  • Is there really any difference between a “GET RICH QUICK” scheme…and a “GET RANKED QUICK” scheme?

White and Black Hat SMO Scaling Tactics

So how do you increase in authority and popularity in social media? What are the black hat and white hat methods?

Scheming Tactics

  • Fake profiles
  • Keyword spam profiles
  • Interlocking profiles
  • Leveraging programming for disingenuous tactics

Honest Tactics

  • Real people profiles
  • Keyword usage
  • Natural networking
  • Leveraging people and communities

I hope at least I’ve created some useful dichotomies for discussion. Enjoy!

Brian Carter optimizes everything except his wife. He directs PPC, SEO, and Social Media for Fuel Interactive. Brian is a frequent blogger, conference presenter and keynote speaker. Most importantly: he’s kid-approved and dolphin-safe.” – Brian