Google's Effective 'White Hat' Marketing Case Study

Apr 15th

There's the safe way & the high risk approach. The shortcut takers & those who win through hard work & superior offering.

One is white hat and the other is black hat.

With the increasing search ecosystem instability over the past couple years, some see these labels constantly sliding, sometimes on an ex-post-facto basis, turning thousands of white hats into black hats arbitrarily overnight.

Are you a white hat SEO? or a black hat SEO?

Do you even know?

Before you answer, please have a quick read of this Washington Post article highlighting how Google manipulated & undermined the US political system.

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Seriously, go read it now.

It's fantastic journalism & an important read for anyone who considers themselves an SEO.

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Take the offline analog to Google's search "quality" guidelines & in spirit Google repeatedly violated every single one of them.

Advertorials

creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank

Advertorials are spam, except when they are not: "the staff and professors at GMU’s law center were in regular contact with Google executives, who supplied them with the company’s arguments against antitrust action and helped them get favorable op-ed pieces published"

Deception

Don't deceive your users.

Ads should be clearly labeled, except when they are not: "GMU officials later told Dellarocas they were planning to have him participate from the audience," which is just like an infomercial that must be labeled as an advertisement!

Preventing Money from Manipulating Editorial

Make reasonable efforts to ensure that advertisements do not affect search engine rankings. For example, Google's AdSense ads and DoubleClick links are blocked from being crawled by a robots.txt file.

Money influencing outcomes is wrong, except when it's not: "Google’s lobbying corps — now numbering more than 100 — is split equally, like its campaign donations, among Democrats and Republicans. ... Google became the second-largest corporate spender on lobbying in the United States in 2012."

Content Quality

The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.

Payment should be disclosed, except when it shouldn't: "The school and Google staffers worked to organize a second academic conference focused on search. This time, however, Google’s involvement was not publicly disclosed."

Cloaking

Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines. Cloaking is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because it provides our users with different results than they expected.

cloaking is evil, except when it's not: Even as Google executives peppered the GMU staff with suggestions of speakers and guests to invite to the event, the company asked the school not to broadcast its involvement. “We will certainly limit who we announce publicly from Google”

...and on and on and on...

It's not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn't included on this page, Google approves of it.

And while they may not approve of something, that doesn't mean they avoid the strategy when mapping out their own approach.

There's a lesson & it isn't a particularly subtle one.

Free markets aren't free. Who could have known?

Published: April 15, 2014

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Comments

April 15, 2014 - 10:04am

Hi,
It’s an excellent article. Most of the peoples are using black hat technique to increase the visibility in Google SERP but it hampers the value of web site. After Penguin update Google became very strict about the link building processes. You are right about the quality content, everybody should try to write very user friendly content and post on web site or blog and definitely you will get natural link. Don’t try to buy links to escape from bad eye of Google.

April 16, 2014 - 3:15pm

Good article. I've been coming back here off and on for years just for the anti-Google rants/posts. I read the washington post piece. Google is just buying government officials the legal way. They're playing the game of buying politics. I can't blame them for that, I blame the system.

In my mind I see Google riding a fine line. They're dominating search. Their decisions effect business's. I think they should be regulated but how? Their algo's are closed and they do have the right to run their business their way but there have been some super mixed signals within the past 3/4 years that IMHO have pushed out the small guy and have provided a smaller choice of search options (I'm just trying to say the SERPS are sucking more and more with every update).

They're using fear to mask their limitations. The rules that they set forth seem like some mystical law, that if you break you're damned and shall be stricketh from thy SERPS for all damnation.

Guest posts are good/now guest posts are bad. Bad links linking to you won't hurt you/now you're affected by links that are out of your control. E-commerce we'll just make that a pay to play system (PLA) and organic be damned! I think the whole white hat/black hat conversation is not crystal clear and Google must flood the pipes with fear because of their limitations.

I don't think there's a white hat/black hat situation anymore. I think it's a what is your plan B, C and D besides Google.

April 16, 2014 - 5:45pm

"I've been coming back here off and on for years just for the anti-Google rants/posts"

I don't view the point of my posts as being anti-Google so much as being anti-fascism. Search is just the market I know well. John Andrews covered this in the past as well:

The Internet has been unique in that small players could actually compete in markets, despite the positions and efforts of big monopolies. So far, anyway. As Google locks down search, Google becomes an attractive competitive tool to be wielded against competitors. As Google changes to become a BigMonster, it is much more likely to align with other BigMonsters than smaller, more innovative and less “monstery” companies. The Tool that is Google may become available to an exclusive club of large players. I don’t like that idea.
...
Is Johnon.com Anti-Google? Only when necessary, and only with the hopes of helping Google’s human employees to understand the basis of their authority, and the responsibilites that come with the power.

The issue of concentration of power and authority WITHOUT a matching concentration of responsibility is NOT a trivial issue:

America's original sin was making people into property.

Seems to me we're way back at confusing people with property again.

First we made people into property.

Now we've made property into people.

Slavery was the almost fatal flaw in great experiment that is the United States of America.

It took the American Civil War, which almost destroyed the nation, to reverse this great economic and governance mistake and the Civil Rights movement to begin to correct the moral and social damage.

It remains to be seen whether another fundamental flaw in the design can be corrected before it leads to a calamity as great as the American Civil War: the concentration of power and wealth without an equal concentration of personal accountability.

The Noam Chomsky video I embedded above highlights how our concept of free markets is a chimera. In that video he cites official source after source. Other independent research comes to the same conclusion:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

"They're playing the game of buying politics. I can't blame them for that, I blame the system."

I don't know...if they claim to be idealistic & want to change things & make them better, then adopt the worst aspects of existing problems to further their monopoly, they deserve plenty of blame.

The "they're just playing the game" excuse perhaps works if they are tiny and too small to change the markets. But their revenues, their margins & that Washington Post article all show that they are large enough to change things for the better if they wanted to. Recall that this is the same Google which bitched about the impact of lobbyists before becoming the second biggest lobbyist in the United States. And they are one of the most valuable companies in the world.

These are the same guys pushing for transparency by others while...

  • filing secret court documents against Paypal in Australia
  • building (likely illegal) bundling conditions into their Android system & making those documents "for attorney eyes only"
  • engaging in anti-employee agreements with direct competitors where they mention not wanting to due the deals in writing because they don't want to leave a paper trail for which they can be sued for
  • manually overriding the automated safety systems in their ad software to allow ads promoting the sales of illegal steroids
  • etc.

"I think they should be regulated but how?"

The first starting point should be that so long as they have a monopoly in search they shouldn't be allowed to keep buying marketshare by bundling Chrome in Flash security updates, buying default search placement in other web browsers, tying default search placement in with the Android operating system, etc.

"I don't think there's a white hat/black hat situation anymore. I think it's a what is your plan B, C and D besides Google."

Yup, this was a big part of the point of the above post. The labels are arbitrary & Google is pushing to own/control/dominate larger and larger slices of the online ecosystem.

April 16, 2014 - 8:07pm

"I don't view the point of my posts as being anti-Google so much as being anti-fascism. Search is just the market I know well. John Andrews covered this in the past as well:"

- Yeah should of worded it differently. But the overall feeling (IMHO) is the same. It was a post geared towards the negative of what Google's doing. Which sucks, but I don't think Google has as much control as we would like to believe. They're one of the players on the hill but if they don't rub noses with the right people their competition will find a loophole in something to hurt their core business. I think they are watching their backs.

"I don't know...if they claim to be idealistic & want to change things & make them better, then adopt the worst aspects of existing problems to further their monopoly, they deserve plenty of blame."

- IMHO The don't be evil mantra died when Larry & Sergey took control back Schmidt. Larry wants to have an island with no laws according to his Google I/O 2013 speech. I think generally there's allot of people that do care to move things forward at Google but that's shrouded by the harsh reality of the current state of greedy American business. You either swim with the sharks or get eaten.

"filing secret court documents against Paypal in Australia
building (likely illegal) bundling conditions into their Android system & making those documents "for attorney eyes only"
engaging in anti-employee agreements with direct competitors where they mention not wanting to due the deals in writing because they don't want to leave a paper trail for which they can be sued for
manually overriding the automated safety systems in their ad software to allow ads promoting the sales of illegal steroids"

-Google is a big ship with multiple people responsible for that crap. If it was one guy/gal responsible then yeah but people are people no matter how noble the company they work for claim to be.

"The first starting point should be that so long as they have a monopoly in search they shouldn't be allowed to keep buying marketshare by bundling Chrome in Flash security updates, buying default search placement in other web browsers, tying default search placement in with the Android operating system, etc."

-Good points. I've always wished that Apple would just buy Yahoo so that we can have a solid third/second. Not that Apple would do anything great with Yahoo, just because Apple is well Apple. Slap the Apple logo and change the color scheme, change the default search engine to Apple on iDevices and boom. Millions upon millions of iDevices running on Apple's search engine:-)

April 16, 2014 - 9:47pm

"Google is a big ship with multiple people responsible for that crap. If it was one guy/gal responsible then yeah but people are people no matter how noble the company they work for claim to be."

Those sorts of issues were issues where the leaders HAD DIRECT KNOWLEDGE of them.

  • Eric Schmidt was the person quoted on the "no paper trail" stuff.
  • Likewise the state attorney mentioned they were certain people high in Google were aware of the steroid pushing & Google even was made to revise their own public remarks on it after they tried to downplay it. "Suffice to say this was not two or three rogue employees at the customer service level doing this on their own," said Mr. Neronha, the U.S. attorney. "This was corporate decision to engage in this conduct."
  • No company worth hundreds of billions of Dollars has partnership documents in areas where they have invested over $10 billion with "confidential: for attorney eyes only" on them without the executive being aware of them.
  • And legal attacks on large partners doesn't happen without the CEO knowing about them in advance.

I am 100% with you on Larry pushing to make Google more belligerent and anti-competitive, and on it being great if Apple either bought Yahoo! or developed their own search property and dumped Google.

May 1, 2014 - 11:47am

I believe that the only way to escape Google's wrath, and a fool-proof one, is through posting quality, unique content on your website, your bllog comments, your guest posts, and your articles in article submission sites and press release sites. This technique will surely stand the tests of time, even with Google's continuous policy updates and change of rules. Buying back links (no matter how great their page ranking may be) may sound plausible at the moment to give your website's page ranking a boost, but how about when Google catches you?

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