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What’s Your SEO Code? – Musings on Outing other Websites for Fun and Profit

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 12 years and 18 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

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.

I think Rae sums it up nicely, “back in the days when we used to have Omerta and anyone with a name earned it – kinda like television before reality TV”

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

"I’m curious who the genius is that told Experian buying a straight link on Digg was a good idea. Pretty fuckin clueless." – Greg Boser on Twitter

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?

More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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  • @steveplunkett

    I think spam report is pretty much the only way to report someone, even if and especially if they are SEO Champion..

  • DazzlinDonna

    I’d have to place myself on the fence between It’s never okay to out a site. EVER. EVER. EVER. and very rare occasions with proper justification. I’m mostly in the never ever corner, but there’s bound to be some cases that are exceptions, so I’m not one to say never. Either an outing isn’t really an outing because it’s been outed before, or it deserves it because it is so foul, so illegal, so reprehensible, that it would be hurtful to the world to not out it. Probably other cases exist as well, but in MOST cases, I’d go with “Just don’t out”.

  • Greg

    That’s probably the best breakdown I’ve seen. I’m pretty much in the OG camp. But I think big public brands are different because there is just no way the story isn’t going to be told.

    If Brent didn’t write that post, someone else definitely would have. To me that’s a bit different than outing a direct competitor. The only time I think that is cool is when the competitor outs you first and gets you torched. Once someone crosses the line, it’s game on. And then from that point, things always get very entertaining. Like this:

  • Jill Whalen

    Maybe because I’m old, but I’ve always gone with the Old School Webmaster of not reporting anything.

    The most I’ll do is if a SERP is really bad because someone has coveted multiple positions with numerous sites they own, is hit the “poor quality of this SERP” link at the bottom of Google. (I forget how it’s actually named.)

    I laugh when I see old time blackhatters outing others, even when they are big companies.

  • David Leonhardt

    I’m not sure it’s fair to compare a tweet about something that shows up in public (what could be more public than a paid link on the likes od Digg?) with outing another SEO’s techniques for competitive reasons. I know this is not a black and white issue, but I feel there is a difference.

    After years of refusing to comment on any other SEO consultant’s techniques, I finally did a few weeks ago (causing a minor commotion on Sphinn). But I was dealing with the spammy link-builder in a different capacity; as the receiver of non-stop spam at . In other words, it was not so much a competitive issue as a harassment issue – although I do confess that the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he spammed the site with link text that read “ethical SEO…” So, the guy who refuses to comment on other SEOs for years, finally found an exception to the rule. Nothing is black and white, especially not SEO hats.

  • Simply Ideas

    Hi Stuntdubl,
    Great post, I really like the way you broke down the groups of SEO pros and onlookers. It really helps to think of them that way.
    One comment about no hats only goals. I look at it more like there are no hats only processes because you may set out to do something when it is totally accepted as white hat and it may not turn out that way when complete or even worse later when Google decides to make adjustments.

  • Andy Beard

    Hanging my hat somewhere between old school and consultant, and occasionally I dearly wish I could throw a INC500 into the Google fire just to demonstrate the 2 tier policing – I have a few blatant/recent examples lined up.

  • Zak Nicola

    Everyone has their own motives. Outing companies has never been something that I have thought well of, but I will say that when I come across fake “SEO eWizards” I get so disgusted with how they have tricked people of out their money that I just want to post the site on digg and shout to all friends about the spam n such. In the end, I get a hold of my head, the value that could be got from such call outs isn’t worth the bad taste that would be left behind.

  • SEO Aware

    Very funny and insightful.

  • Professional SEO

    I can’t respect SEOs who DON’T out competitors, if those competitors are ranking higher than they are in the SERPs. You do what you have to do to win.

  • Tony

    I got into the industry knowing i had to do whatever it takes to get results. Funny though, I was one of those “for the good of the web peeps”

    A couple years ago I could have outed some people that screwed me and reported them…but I didn’t…Why? Because there really was no benefit for me to do it other than attention, which is really not important.

  • Andrew Gerhart

    I definitely fall into the first, “Old School”, camp. I don’t believe in outing others for buying or selling links. The only exception to this is outing the actual search engines.

    For example, when I saw Yahoo! Autos was buying links a few years ago I reported that…and when I saw them cloaking I reported it again. The justification here is that it illustrates their hypocrisy and that even departments within their own companies have to go against their vague “guidelines” to compete in certain industries.

    I agree with Oilman’s post earlier today. Google created these rules about links. Let them sort it out. We’re just playing the game they created.

  • Stuntdubl SEO

    @Andrew – but were you working for an auto site when you reported that too? (kinda changes the perspective a bit).

    Even that one could POTENTIALLY be called into question by OG standards.

    >there really was no benefit for me to do it other than attention, which is

    Amazing how many people take years to figure that one out. Well said.

    Well said also. I think that’s the mentality MOST good folks I know tend to adopt.

  • Bartek KrzemieÅ„

    Solid entry :). Since you asked if there is anything missing – I think the ‘market maturity’ factor is missing.

    The spectrum you described fits, lets say, to (US|UK) market. Other, especially Internet-developing markets, are very different. Overall awareness of tweaks achievable by search marketing is painfully low. Everywhere: on clients side, in the media, and even in majority of so called SEO companies. You won’t find that many journalists aiming for blackhat SEO linkbait – they don’t even know what SEO is :). And since they don’t know, what about their readers?

    I remember there was a case in Poland, where one company publicly accused another of some bad practices. One of them was blackhat SEO. They requested “an intervention” from Polish branch of Internet Advertising Bureau. What did IAB do? They washed their hands of it by saying they are not the right entity to address this :).

    Maturity and awareness really matter. That is why I really enjoy open debates on important topics, which (US+UK) search industry is mature enough to conduct.

  • Andrew Gerhart


    I disagree only because it is the actual search engines. Those making the rules.

    There are tons of sites in our market buying links. We don’t rat them out. It’s part of the game.

  • Rhea Drysdale

    I think I’ve been beaten into an Old School Affiliate, but I still have moments where I want to go screaming onto the field with a cross on my shoulder. My problem is that I don’t know when to just STFU. Everyone looks like a happy bunny friend, but they aren’t. I learned a lesson and now there’s a very clear code, I just need people to remind me of that from time to time. Nice breakdown Todd and an interesting topic for personal reflection.

  • SEO Aware

    This may be weird to some, but I am almost afraid of screwing someone over because of the whole karma thing or the whole “what goes around comes around” thing.

    I have had one SEO really try to hurt me on the Web, but I didn’t do anything. It just made me more determined and I am still in business and he is not :-)

  • Stuntdubl SEO

    @Andrew – I do agree – since it is an actual search engine – but it’s also fair to mention it was in your vertical – that being said, as you mentioned, you also didn’t do mention ANY of the other competitors buying links or doing whatever.

    In the case with digg – I see them in the same light as the SE’s – since they’re the social media equivalent that makes their own hypocritical rulesets. It wasn’t outing FCR (thought that certainly happens somewhat unintentionally, and if there SEO was any good – they should know better) it was outing Digg in the same way that we would with a SE – mainly because of their recent inclination towards black hole SEO and other recent shenanigans.

    @Rhea – about time you came around – and you’re right – unfortunately not everyone is a great happy bunny friend – there’s still lots of competition, and it can get cut throat, but there are right and wrong ways to handle things to keep people’s respect.

    @Bartek –
    Very nice point on market maturity. SEO/SEM certainly has a long way to go, and that’s why I like making the occasional post/ discussion about this sort of thing.

    @professionalseo – I like how you didn’t leave a website or anything – staying in your hole is a great way to have no one gun for your sites I suppose.

  • http://www.suburban-glory.coml AndyW

    I’ve only ever outed a site once.

    I was doing a redesign for a charity and they were pretty clueless about all things internet so they forgot to their renew domain.

    Consequently, they lost it and some domain hoarder bought it – I checked, this guy owned over 500 domains.

    Using the “waybackmachine” he took an old index page from this charity, and put adverts on the site which was still PageRank 5.

    I emailed the new owner of the domain asking him to remove the copyright violation and he never replied – I emailed the hosting company and they never replied.

    Now I think pretending to be a charity just to earn money is really pretty low, don’t you?

    So I sent a DMCA report to Google asking them to remove Adsense from the site – they did. Good.

    I then used the Webmaster tools console to inform them that this guy was selling links. I did this twice.

    Months later the site’s PageRank is still intact so you take from that whether it is even worth reporting a site for selling links if you are that way inclined.

  • Jeremy Luebke

    OG all the way, unless they are hacking sites, or something else actually illegal.

    As far as getting outed, you much better off with someone doing a webmaster tools spam report about you than a public outing on a blog. If Google is embarrassed you are much more likely to get torched.

  • Sockmoney

    [quote]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.[/quote]

    What if a site steals 20,000 pages of your content, re-publishes is and starts ranking for it all because they are using a link-farm of hundreds of domains all pointing links back at their “site” of stolen content?

    Yeah… I’m bitter cuz it happened to me… ;-)

    Long story short, they got “outed” and in turn “booted” from G’s index.

    Justice served. And no, I’m not going to play the same game just to “compete”. Guess I’m a coward. I’ll take that any day over stooping to the same level of these d-bags that stole my content… ;-)

  • john andrews

    Nice thought-provoking post, Todd. And the best part is Rhea admitting she’s achieving enlightenment ;-)

    This sort of competitive SEO is not unlike a street fight, in a sense. IF you are in a fight, do you meet the level of armament (he has a knife, so I can use a knife. He has a bat, so I can use a bat, etc) or do you cry foul and seek an authority (“he’s not fighting fair! He has a knife and I don’t!).

    No…no… it’s a street fight, not a game. As you age and become enlightened you realize that in a street fight there are no rules, except the rule of survival. Do what you have to do to get out of there, or better, avoid getting into the fight at all.

    Ever wonder why so many SEO people are MMA/UFC fans?

    That’s our battle… no holds barred, except maybe the really gruesome possibilities because, well, it isn’t really survival, although it is, but not entirely… ouch my brain hurts. The big difference is we know we will survive, but we don’t want to survive in really poor condition. So it’s better to win.

    The real question is, will Rhea hit me over the head with a bat to win? Stab me in the heart? Poke my eyes out, or maybe just one eye, leaving me some sight out of compassion? And will I, with my one remaining eye, aim my crossbow at her back as she walks away thinking she won, only to discover she missed her chance to survive when she revealed her weakness (compassion) and allowed her foe to survive?

    And what will you think of me for shooting her in the back.. the girl who maimed me and left me one eye blind in a viscious street fight? And will I care?

    SEO is infinitely interesting. Let’s make sure we all keep meeting up for drinks, so we can ontinue to have fun while battling in the SERPs.

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  • leapbrowser

    I have often wondered about those who makes the rules break the rules. Google, yahoo etc are business’s. Like all they are going to protect their own interests first, yours, after they are done. When advertising or using their network they are always going to win. What that said, is not Yahoo directory itself not paid links?

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  • seoz87

    Damn you hit the nail on the head…I always wonder Why Google don’t give them some sort of awards..:S
    and yeah for all those good loyal safe internet practitioners single comment from me…..bitches always like to moan …. :P
    (don’t dare to censor it buddy ..don’t…)
    And there is only one thing that counts in SEO or in any other business..(umm.SEO is business.. right?) ..


  • Stefan Juhl

    Good post, and some good comments here as well.

    I strongly believe in not outing anything, no matter how blatant or annoying it is, or how profitable it would be to get it busted. Of course one will probably be able to find exceptions, but I think those cases would primarily fall into the category of the other having made it personal, and in war everything goes…

    When it comes to the arguments, of having to do what it takes to rank, to justify outing, I call bullshit.. That’s like saying you’d rather just buy a ticket in the lottery than do competitive seo. I can’t sit back and wait until Google maybe decides to penalize something in one way or another but maybe not at all. And even less can I afford any increase in manual reviews within the markets where I operate, as Google tend to do false positives a bit too often.

    But what’s more important than all this, when it comes to outing paid links, is the risk of collateral damage! I hope most SEOs understand why black hole seo is usually a bad thing. So please realize, if you get a site penalized for selling links and Google stops it from passing juice, you might just have created yet another black hole site. Heck, you might end up hurting your own rankings. One thing I’m sure about, the usual ratio of editorial links to paid links doesn’t justify having link selling sites not pass juice.

  • jonah stein


    I have filed exactly two spam reports in my life. One was a scraper site the stole a bunch of content from a client. I guess I draw the line at plagerism.

    The other was an exact match domain name for a company that has gone out of business with a site full of broken links and stale content. The site still ranks two years later, although someone did bother to install a server side RSS driven list of recent articles with excerpts. All in all, a complete was of time for the user like many MFA sites, but I wouldn’t report them again, even though it is junk.

    Having said that, I side with Danny when it come to Crap Hat. Littering the web with auto generated junk posts to drive traffic is parasitic, as it dropping your presell pages on .edu sites and using cross scripting to drive users to your dick pill affiliate program.

    I would not out an individual site/webmaster, but I will continue to crusade against this kind of virtual blight which destroys value for pennies on the dollar. Geo Cities being closed by Yahoo this month clearly demonstrates the ability of parasitic marketers to ruin a site.

  • Adam

    This is a wonderful piece. Regardless of where you land on the “outing” spectrum described here, the main point I see is that this industry is all mixed up. It’s the wild west. Everybody’s version of the rules (or code) are different. You can’t get a straight answer – seriously. I believe this stems from how new SEO is (in business terms people, it’s new even if you *were* doing it in 1998). I think this entire idea of “outing” will be gone in a few years (if that). Why? Because business results are what win in the end. The Street Fight poster a few above mentioned this as survival… I call it business results.. Same thing.

    Right now, with high fear / low education about SEO – it’s easy to get business results based on fear (which is what outing a site really is – scaring other people into reading about it).

    I think of outing a site like showing bloddy car crashes on the news. Or a public flogging. Or the stockade in the town square. People love to stare at misery. But how long does a site really last doing that? True in politics and in SEO – What goes around comes around.”

    In a few years (months?) – outing a site just won’t be news anymore. If it doesn’t bring controversy and traffic, people will stop doing it. I say, get ahead of that curve. Earn it the real way – get to work.

  • Elisabet

    I have mixed feelings about this. Should you just out someone because they do better than you? No. Because their techniques work? No. What about when they spam entire categories with spammy redirect sites by using a form on the page, so Google does not see the redirect? Not sure, maybe, because users are not getting a fair choice. (real case) And buys up all the adwords spaces with their spammy pages? Maybe.

    However, when it comes to unethical SEO’s why are we protecting them? Sorry don’t see the point. BTW before I get slammed. Unethical to me is not black or gray hat. In some industries, I see why people utilize these techniques. I mean unethical, craphat, do not know what they are doing or do not care what they are doing, taking money from small businesses and hurting them in the long run “SEO’s”. I am working with a charity that lost 5 figures of money to one of these types of companies. They cannot recover from that. That money was their “life’s savings” so to speak and this is the case for many small businesses as well. Why do we protect these people? For some misplaced loyalty?

    Now I have not outed anyone yet, but since our industry is completely unregulated and clients count on their web services providers to guide them, I have been very tempted. Why? Because they cause so much damage. Because they make it difficult when you try to work with clients who have already been burned. Because in the end they hurt our industry. I think the only way our industry can get the respect it deserves is to out these people at some point…

    But I might be missing the point of this article…If I am then forgive my rant, but it is one of my biggest pet peeves. The amount of incompetent or even worse, unethical web service providers out there. Whether websites or SEO or back-end development. When do we, as an industry, start telling others to beware…

    Ok off soapbox :)

  • Jason

    New to SEO but quite an interesting article about the different types of SEO’s out there. Don’t talk about SEO Club!

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