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Most people are taught that the first rule of SEO club is that you don’t talk about SEO club (some learn this rule harder than others.) This is an important question as far as most people in the SEO community are concerned. Based on the system that information is knowledge, power, and ultimately money, you can see how people often have a vested interest in outing other peoples techniques, or keeping them secret. You also learn very quickly that who you can trust is extremely important. Everyone has their own code. Mine personally is started with – ""their are no hats, only goals". With the essence of that being that only illegal techniques are truly crossing the line, but everyone has to determine their ultimate level of risk and reward (similar to investing or anything else). Hats are bullshit. Techniques and code should be determined by one’s career choice and goals.
My buddy Brent got a little bit of flack last night for this post, about digg selling links. I’ve also had more than a few conversations defending my friend Rand’s choices for outing sites on more than one occasion (as well as arguing with him about where I disagree with his choices). I figure I’d open it up for a bit of public debate, as well as state for the record where I stand with it, since I helped Brent in this case rather than mentioning it was a bad idea. This of course, got me riled up on a pretty good topic of discussion anyhow, so I figured it was a good time to put it on paper quick and bust out a blog post.
I’m not gonna point out names, but you know who you are, and where you stand.
When is it okay to out a site’s SEO techniques? Here’s the spectrum of types of people I would categorize people into. "Outing" a site includes doing a spam report or blogging about it, which are essentially different methods to do the same thing.
Old School Affiliate SEO/ Competitive Webmaster
It’s never okay to out a site. EVER. EVER. EVER. Google Japan buying links MAY qualify as an exception, but probably not. They’ll definitely talk about spammy techniques in the bar (and you’ll learn a helluva lot), and swear you to secrecy, or have you know that secrecy in these matters is always implied. I respect this code the most, and only disagree with it in a very few rare instances.
Basically – the rule is “keep your mouth shut unless you have been granted permission to speak about it” on anything outside of a conference presentation (especially if you heard it in a smokey pub at 1 am).
SEO Consultant/ Blogger (aka me)
It’s okay to out ultra large sites on very rare occasions with proper justification and research, knowing that they are large enough that there will be no penalization instituted because of the hypocrisy of search engines. Outing these sites is mainly to piss them off a bit (get their attention), or demonstrate the hypocrisy of search engines. I didn’t get this, until I saw some of my favorite OG SEO folks discussing Colgate, BMW, and other large brands that ultimately got a tiny slap that amounted to nearly nothing more than probably a link monkey getting a scolding from their boss. In cases of big brands being the new black hat
Personally, I still wouldn’t out these, but I can at least find a rational reason why a journalist/practioner (see below) might when they discover and seo company or consultant that totally sucks at what they do and does it for a giant dumb corporation. Again – not my thing (and I would never do it since I respect the OG affiliate competitive webmaster code far too much), but I can at least understand their logic, unlike some of the other following types of people.
This being said, on at least one occasion, I’ve ACCIDENTLY outed things that I didn’t mean to (and still feel bad about it JS:) Tough lessons to learn, so I always try to err on the side of STFU
Oh – one other time it’s probably okay to do a spam report – if you’re searching for blues clues and get beastiality pr0n
Weak (and cowardly) SEO
People who do spam reports and outings because they’re not competitive enough to play the game. I probably have the least amount of respect for these people than anyone. They hope that by reporting others, their rankings will improve. I learn from my competitors, and it pisses me off when someone acheives higher rankings than I with a bogus OLD technique. It still NEVER justifies reporting them in my opinion/code.
For people whose business model is based on news, hype, ratings, and traffic – they’re going to out as much stuff as they can to get the traffic. Just the same as traditional media, they are not active practicioners of SEO. The trouble becomes when you are an active practicioner of SEO and don’t respect your craft enough to have a solid code.
Pointy White Hat "Ethical" SEO.
These folks have spam report bookmarklets in their tool bar, and pride themselves on making the web a better place (by ruining other people’s livelihoods) because they think google will make a rather benovelent dictatorship. Kind of the equivalent of the religious right, and often get outed themselves with something equally as morally ambiguous like Jimmy Swaggert or Larry Craig.
Search Engine Engineer
Always okay. It’s they’re job, and at least their consistent in what they do. Even google japan deserves a penalty for buying links. I respect consistency.
It’s very difficult to be respected by both sides of the fence, but in order to do it you have to have a level of respect for both sides of those playing the SEO game.
So the question becomes – when is it okay to "out" a site, and where do you see yourself on the spectrum? Anything I missed?