Black or White Hat? #Linklove teaches us that it’s better to be Grey Hat…

IMG 0565 300x178 Black or White Hat? #Linklove teaches us that it’s better to be Grey Hat...A while back, Red or Blue went to SES London, and while that was a great conference, with plenty of interesting seminars, Distilled’s event blew it out of the water in terms of new ideas, tips and tricks to try out. While the overall theme was “linkbuilding”, what we really took away from the seminar was that Google, and search in general, is changing, and we as SEO consultants need to change with it or risk getting left behind. The other overall “theme” was the blurring of the boundary in many places between black hat and white hat link building strategies. Will Critchlow even talked about “reclaiming black hat tactics for white hat”. So lets get down to what we felt were the key points of the seminar:

Rand Fishkin’s “The future of Link Building” talk focused in on how Google is changing the way it ranks pages, since the Farmer/Panda (Or Panda Farmer, as it came to be known as over the course of the day….who says SEOers don’t have a sense of humour?) algorithm update. Essentially, mass directory submissions and link volume are becoming less and less important, so old-fashioned black hat tactics are going to become less valuable.  Rand went on to suggest some possible new indicators that Google may be using either now, or in the near future, and how to make sure you are making the most of them.

  • Social Media
    • Spam tweets and so on don’t matter, since Google seems to be able to differentiate between them  and genuine, useful tweets.
    • The key to success is genuine engagement. Try to get plenty of genuine followers,  and make regular, genuine tweets.
    • Tweets can overpower links. A highly tweeted page can now compensate for a lack of links, often even outranking pages with a lot of links.
    • Create social media-centric content
    • Social media users love nothing better than talking about themselves, so make content on your page about them, then use social media to promote it. Eg, write an article about Twitter, then tweet on Twitter about your article.
    • Use to find key bloggers and Twitter users that talk about your industry, and contact them to get them to talk about you
  • User Usage and usage signals
    • Google is now more able than ever before to collect usage data, via the Chrome toolbar, and this is likely to feature more and more in search results. If a user makes a similar search soon after clicking a result, Google will learn that it is a poor result. Similarly, results can be excluded altogether, such as eHow or Yahoo answer results.
    • So, make sure that if you target keywords, you actually satisfy the user’s search
  • High quality content is more important than high quantity of content.
    • If you have a blog, it’s not enough to just publish posts every day. Mass produced content is everywhere, so the only way to stand out is to produce fewer, higher quality pieces of content.
  • Quality videos
    • A lot of search results are dominated by video results, but Youtube is not the only place to place videos.
    • In fact, most of the volume is accounted for by other “long tail” sites. Youtube has the greatest individual share, but overall has less than half the traffic.
  • Design of the site
    • Great designers are surprisingly cheap. Having a well-designed, easy to use website will ensure people talk about and link to your site.
    • Search engines might be able to tell if images are advertisements, so don’t use too many.
    • Layout of text is also important, make sure that the information the user is looking for isn’t hard to find, and isn’t obscured by images or adverts
    • The “About us” page is surprisingly important. Make sure it is populated with details of real people, with real contact details, and links to real profiles on other sites. Users will go here to help them decide if they trust you and your page.
  • File some patents or fund scholarly research
    • Surprisingly easy to do, but if you invest a small amount of time and money, you can get great links from all the big, authoritative .gov and .ac sites.

Rand gave a pretty great talk, and left us all with some interesting ideas buzzing around our heads, but the best thing he said was that if you follow all these tips and ideas, even if Google isn’t interested in them, and you don’t rank any better than before, at the very least you will have built a great, well designed site that people like, talk about and visit often to look at all the great content you have on there, and would that be such a failure anyway?

In terms of impact and mind-boggling ideas, Martin McDonald’s “Lesson’s from the dark side” was the overall winner of the conference, I think. He had several really great ideas that could very easily be used to get huge short term spikes in traffic, in contrast with Rand’s longer-term approach. He pointed out that while its all very well and good to have nice, clean white hat strategies, but if nobody sees your site, you’ll never get it off the ground. Sometimes you really need that black hat spike to get you going.

Martin said straight from the start that he no longer believes in buying links. Interestingly, he didn’t say this from some moral standpoint, he argued that it simply wasn’t economically viable any more, which I found to be a refreshing take. He said that given that Panda Farmer is going to take into more account the quality of any links you have, paying huge sums for links is just not worth the money.

He said one easy way to get links is to start an affiliate scheme, and use a piece of code he called a “Pagerank Transfer Protocol”,  a name he made up, to transfer that affiliate link into a direct link, by using a hashtag redirect, which would be translated by the piece of code into a normal, direct link, so that everyone who links to you via your affiliate programme would in fact be giving you a free link.

Another great tip was the use of widgets. Martin showed how a widget could be used to generate huge volumes of links instantly, by just changing the link and anchor text within the widget. His example of how he used one of his widgets to create over a million links to the Distilled event page in less than a minute drew gasps of both horror and appreciation from  the crowd. While it might be incredibly risky in the long term, as a short-term traffic boost, this trick can’t really be beaten.

But the real shocker was what Martin had to say about Twitter. He talked about the catch-22 dilemma we all face when trying to build traffic via social media, which is that before you can get traffic, you need to build a social media following, and to build a following, you need traffic. The paradox can only be solved through persistence and hard work. Or at least that’s what we thought. Martin let us in on the secret of promoted tweets with Twitter, which allow your tweets to reach a much broader audience than your actual followers, and you only pay when someone re-tweets you or follows you. But the real shocker was just how cheap it is. The news that re-tweets cost ten cents each, and followers cost fifty cents each drew gasps of surprise when he pointed out that for fifty or sixty dollars, you could get a few hundred extra re-tweets, each linking to your site.

These seemingly black hat tactics still got the attendees enthused, as we all saw the possibility of how we could adapt and use them for our own campaigns pretty easily.

Will Critchlow’s presentation on “Scaling white hat link building” was very interesting, but I didn’t feel like I took away a whole lot of great ideas from it. He mainly talked about how the generation of great content is super-important, but that we should learn from the operations of Demand Media and try to apply it to our own content production. He suggested we automate as much as possible, but the crucial thing is to get really great writers to make sure the quality remains high. A lot of his presentation focused on statistics and data, showing how many pieces of content various sites needed to produce to gain one new linking domain, and so on. An illuminating stat was brought to light when he discussed a question he had asked on Twitter recently: “What is the top page on the internet?” The answer was the GPL download page. Will said that this shows that the best thing you can create is a piece of content that people need rather than just want.

All in all, the Distilled Link Building Seminar was fantastic. We got a lot of great tips that we are eager to try out as soon as we can, and we are in fact in the process of doing exactly that. We’ve taken some of the best ideas from the event and are busy experimenting with them….we’ll let you know soon how it goes. The biggest thing we learnt though (aside from the fact that we value great conference catering almost as much as we value great conference speakers…if not more) was that it’s foolish to label yourself black or white hat. Will used a quote in his presentation that summed up the whole conference really. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”…but he adapted it to: “Any sufficiently scalable link building strategy is indistinguishable from black hat”….which is a great thought to finish on. Thanks for reading.


Written by Shaun Myandee

Information Analyst at Red or Blue, has a weakness for shiny toys and tech, is an avid football fan, and loves all that London has to offer (especially food and drink...) Is also the world's best looking SEO guy.


3 Comments on "Black or White Hat? #Linklove teaches us that it’s better to be Grey Hat…"

  1. Great round up. The part about twitter RT’s for 50 bucks really makes me want to try this out.

    Speaking of twitter, is it just me or do you have no RT button on here?

  2. Shaun says:

    Thanks Filip! Glad you liked it.
    A shocking oversight, I know. Facebook, but no Twitter….all fixed now though, so feel free to tweet it!

  3. John says:

    Such a wonderful text! No idea how you were able to say this’d take me long hours. Well worth it though, I’d suspect. Have you considered selling ads on your website?

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