I’m only now realizing the strange world of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and its impact on the web. Just taking a peek at it reminds of Star Wars and the Jedi knights. It’s almost like a sub-branch of hacking (in the cracker sense) with black hats and white hats. Seems like a lot of SEO experts have some kind of background in programming or system administration. It underlies the fact that Google is our environment. It is the bank that many of us make withdrawals from. It’s a great field for reformed crackers and script kiddies to venture into without crossing over into crime such as running botnets or spamming.
I’ve always been mystified when surfing the web of websites that seem devoid of any intrinsic value getting high traffic and generally placing well with search engines while well-designed sites with great content languished in the shadows. I think I may know why.
SEO is still and will always be a very lucrative area. The border between black hat and white hat is definitely grey with many “black hats” running lucrative consulting gigs as white hats. The only real distinction between the two is essentially whether Google frowns upon the practice or not. As the SEOs have pointed out, there are many large media outlets using what were once considered black hat techniques to their advantage without so much as a complaint from Google.
It’s a delicate balance. Google needs to be percieved as being pro-active against what some consider unethical manipulation of search results without killing their online advertising cash cow. I think the issue is already taking a toll on their “don’t be evil mantra” and will become a big issue in the years to come.
This really brings us to the issue of what is moral or amoral on the web. Surely, spamming and aggressive black hat SEO techniques decrease our enjoyment of the web by serving us an unhealthy dose of trash that serves no other purpose but to make others rich.
However, the morality of the issue is really something tacked on by us users and completely irrelevant as long as the web is really ruled by uncaring algorithms. The fact is we need a better system.
Having said that there are many legitimate ways for hard-working content producers to get more out of the web with standard SEO techniques. So much so that many black hats are going white hat for the stability of income, not having to worry about another Google crackdown. It’s probably indicative of how much the average blogger, web application developer, media outlet, etc. is clueless about SEO.