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January 07, 2009

Blackhat discussed at ACM

Ross Malaga (Professor in information systems at Montclair State University) wrote an article for the ACM in December 08 about what the worst practises in SEO were and which ones got you banned from Google.  I am sure many of you SEO's will have plenty to say about this.  The article is an ACM one so you need to have access.  In case you don't, I'm going to list the main points up for discussion.

He summarises the process of SEO as being:
1) Keywords/phrases are "developed", 2) quickly get the engines to index the site, 3) On-page components manipulation (meta-tags, page content, nav...), 4) Link building.

I would argue that #3 comes before #2.

Also enough already of using the term "manipulation", it's "optimisation" - this is something I have a real problem with because it contributes to giving SEO a bad name.  

"Manipulation":exerting shrewd or devious influence especially for one's own advantage (Wnet)
"Optimisation": the act of rendering optimal (WNet)

He lists the main Black Hat technique for indexing as being Blog-ping.  He explains that an optimised (person) establishes loads of blogs and then posts a link to the new site on each blog and then continually ping the blogs.  

He lists the on-page black hat techniques as being cloaking ("The purpose of cloaking is to achieve high rankings on all of the major search engines", doorway pages ("The purpose of cloaking is to achieve high rankings on all of the major search engines") and invisible elements ("More recently optimizers have taken to using cascading style sheets(CSS) to hide elements. The elements the optimizer wants to hide are placed within hidden div tags").  

He lists off-page black hat techniques as being artificial inbound link inflation.  He says that guestbook spamming is one such technique, as well as link farms and HTML injection "which allows optimizers to insert a link in search programs that run on another site." 

"Bowling over the competition" is also listed as a black hat technique, which can be done using HTML injections (keyword stuffing).  

Also: "Since the major search engines, and Google in particular, use the quality of the links coming into a site to determine rankings, black hat optimizers manipulate these links in order to negatively impact competitors. For instance, a black hat might request links to the competitor’s site from link farms, gambling sites, or adult oriented sites. Links from these bad neighborhoods result in penalties and bans."

I am going to leave all of that open to you for discussion.  I think that a professional SEO would have written a much more thorough and accurate article.  This is why you guys need to get involved, you should be educating the computing community about this.  You are the experts here.

I will comment on this:  "However, those that pursue SEO are up against an arsenal of black hat techniques. In addition, even those optimizers who try to stay on the white hat side may find that they have inadvertently crossed the line leading to penalties or even a ban."

I have never been black-hat, not ever.  How could I with my background?! I don't see how you can "inadvertently cross the line" and get banned.

In advice for choosing an SEO company, he advocates seeing how high they rank for "SEO" or "search engine optimisation".  That is a logical thing to look at, but honestly, there are far far more important things to consider, not every company is going to suit you and your businesses needs.  Also going after "search engine optimisation" is maybe not the best approach for every SEO company, there are plenty of other terms. 

This wasn't a bad article, it simply (for me anyway), lacked the expertise I am accustomed to in the SEO world.  Obviously the author is not an SEO professional and in that respect this introduction was ok.  It didn't talk about any of the new stuff going on at the moment or how the situation is likely to change.

Update (12/12/09): Professor Malaga has clarified:  

"First, I am also an SEO practitioner and the paper was primarily written from that angle. 

Second, I agree that many of the techniques are behind the times. This is mostly due to the fact that the paper was accepted by CACM in 2005 and only published a few months ago."

This does make a lot more sense now doesn't it?  He is going to publish a much more current review so we look forward to seeing that.

I still think that more SEO experts should get involved to and have a lot to offer.


Marios Alexandrou said...

I find papers and discussion from researches to be missing many of the details that practitioners would focus on. However, that's actually fine with me as those same papers and discussions offer value in their own way.

With white hat related topics the researches seem to be ahead of practitioners. But when it comes to black hat, they're woefully behind.

Internet Marketing Access said...

People on the outside looking in to blackhat will for the most part always be behind. Blackhat techniques that are just discovered to work well are never made public until after they have been abused or out right banned/blocked from working again. It is hard for me to read some papers and watch presentations discussing blackhat many of those people have never really tried it themselves.

CJ said...

Hi Marios,

Yes I agree with you, which is why I think more SEO people should start participating in the researchers forums.



Prof Malaga said...

As the author of the research paper, let me make a few quick points.

First, I am also an SEO practitioner and the paper was primarily written from that angle.

Second, I agree that many of the techniques are behind the times. This is mostly due to the fact that the paper was accepted by CACM in 2005 and only published a few months ago.

Clearly, there are a whole host of new BH techniques (and WH as well). I am planning a follow-up and would be very interested in your feedback and advice.

CJ said...

Hello Professor Malaga,

thank you for the clarification! This makes much more sense now.

I'd be really happy to point to your new resource once you have it ready.

It seems odd that ACM waited so long, these techniques get out of date so fast.

Thank you for the feedback, duly noted :)

Prof Malaga said...

C.J. yes the time delay was extremely annoying. It seems that CACM (and many other IS journals) have a huge backlog of papers (something to keep in mind as I see you're getting your Ph.D.).

CACM recently added a digital version which cleared out the backlog.

What is your Ph.D. topic?

CJ said...

I will keep that in mind - it definitely warps things doesn't it.

My PhD is in natural language generation and understanding. I'm working on some new and alternative techniques. More evaluation will show how it compares to traditional techniques and current commercial systems.

Paper due this year, let me know if you want to know more. I have been gently told that the only time anyone really wants to hear about your PhD is in your viva :)

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