Yes, I said White Hat is far more risky. Not less.
And by the way, I’m actually entirely pro-whitehat. I just wish it worked consistently, and didn’t leave gaping holes for the true villains (infringing scraper sites, reverse SEO practitioners, mass comment spammers, etc.) to have their way with my site and its rankings…
This blog post should be considered an open letter to Google, from yours truly. Because I actually still do invest pretty much all of my substantial time & energy into building truly awesome content, and building links the “right” way.
(But it’s a shame that I have to hedge against that by simultaneously running GrayHat campaigns – on different sites / different servers – as a sort of income insurance policy…)
Basically, as a publisher, I want to K-N-O-W beyond a doubt that hard work, creating an awesome user experience and really going to great lengths to add value to the web will pay off. The fact is that in the current Google playground, the only people who can’t sleep at night are White Hat webmasters. The GH and BH crowd are laughing all the way to the bank.
So let’s dig right into it.
Starting from the top…
Reason #3: “Quality Original Content” Only Means Something if it’s Secured by Domain Authority.
So you’ve invested all this time into building your first round of initial content. You’re paying writers handsomely because you want your users to love their time on your site, and you want to be earning “editorial backlinks” (people liking your stuff and hence linking to it).
That’s nice. Too bad it can all be thrown in the garbage overnight by some asshole with an autoblog that has just a little (or a lot) more domain authority than you can just OUTRIGHT STEAL your content and be recognized by GoogleBot as the “original owner”.
All it takes is monitoring any popular SEO/webmaster forum to see the widespread number of victims of “source of content” theft accumulating in droves.
Now, this is a lot more preventable if you could really get some solid domain authority out of the gate, in completely WhiteHat ways.
But you can’t. Because…
Reason #2: WhiteHat Link Building (For New Sites) is a Joke.
You know, even though I’ve been active as an affiliate publisher for the last several years, I’m still fairly “new” to the SEO world in any measurable sense. But even I’ve seen the so-called White Hat industry increasingly become an incestuous little cesspool of self-righteous bastards.
Article marketing used to be completely white hat. Now it’s “bad”.
Mass directory submission PRECEDED the search engines. But now – of course – it’s “evil”.
Even press releases, to an extent and in some cases, are viewed as a questionable form of linkbuilding, because “anyone” can distribute them for a fee.
Instead, what today’s White Hat “authorities” are telling us to do, is to just create “great content”, submit our Google sitemaps, and engage is relevant social media discussion to “let the world know” about our site, which will magically make those casual social users link to our new sites from their… profiles?
Maybe 1% of them have blogs/sites? Or less?
You know – this works (sort of) in niches where there’s a lot of blogging activity. But what if you’re a commercial pipe fitter? Or an insurance broker specializing in international shipping?
Should you go and “get involved” in the thriving social scene that exists online for international shipping insurance? Maybe send a few tweets or Facebook posts out about some incredibly boring “infographic” that visually outlines the importance of insuring goods in transit?
Obviously, you won’t get any traction. In that position and industry, there IS NO “White Hat” pathway for sites trying to gain their initial footing. None.
And this applies to less extreme niches / industries as well. (But the d-bag who’s ripping off your content so they can cash in on some easy AdSense rev is having a heyday, since you can’t build domain authority, but he can).
Reason #1: Because Your Competitors ABSOLUTELY CAN Harm Your Rankings.
It’s now 100% confirmed.
External, “unnatural links” will trigger a Google penalty. Even if it’s not something that you did, yourself.
I’m sure you’ve already seen several examples of this in living color. Maybe you’ve had the great fortune of experiencing this first hand.
Sites are getting wiped out left and right. All it takes is for someone to fire up their copy of (the aptly named) SENUKE software or equivalent, and start lambasting your site with thousands of crap links.
But don’t worry. According to Google’s warning notification that’s sent to webmasters who have acquired (voluntarily or involuntarily) these “unnatural links”, all you have to do is somehow bring your site back into compliance with their webmaster guidelines, and then you can resubmit your site for re-inclusion.
I’m sure that the tens of thousands of splogs, inactive / abandoned forums, neglected web communities and every other shitty link source is going to be more than happy to accomodate your request.
Translation from Sarcastic to English: Hopeless. Not going to happen. Ever.
Even if you were, oh, say, a Fortune 500 brand (that Google is more than happy to unfairly defer to in their SERPs) with the resources to send out DMCA’s and removal orders all day long – all that has to happen to trip another filter is for someone to fire up SENUKE once again, and go to town.
This is a complete travesty, and puts absolutely everything in the “White Hat” universe at risk.
Google – ask yourselves something… Why wouldn’t a black hat spammer just spend their days building “unnatural links” to their competition, and then report those sites from your handy “Spam Reporting” interface, inevitably slotting at least SOME of those sites into a penalty?
Even if it’s just a temporary penalty – it’s degrading the SERPs and hurting real business (including consumers, not just the vendors). And it’s also creating a dark business model (reverse SEO).
What the hell are you thinking?
See folks – here’s the thing…
Online publishing is still where it’s at. And affiliate marketing it still the best revenue game in town, for online publishers. SEO is still a safer bet than “mastering” Adwords, in my opinion. Because at least you can always start a new site. With adwords, once you get slapped – that’s it. Game over.
And yes, the best pathway (in my opinion) as a publisher is still to build a defensible, highest-possible-quality authority site with awesome content and a diverse and powerful foundation of quality, natural backlinks. That is hard-built, hard-won and full of challenges. It takes a LOT of time and effort.
But it has the highest return, in the long run. Because if you’re smart, you’ll realize that an authority site is a form of real estate. And real estate can be sold. Depending on your tax code where you are – that can be classified as a capital gain. Not just income. (Which means that it’s a REAL pay-day. And you get to keep a lot more of that significant windfall).
It’s just that as a standalone, and singular business model – it’s VERY risky. At least in terms of montly income and consistency.
What if your site gets penalized as a result of someone else’s doing? What if your content gets ripped off and syndicated across someone’s vast spam network?
And what if this happens while you’re still in “growth stage”, and have no subscriber base or user base to lean on as a fallback if you drop out of the SERPs for months at a time?
These are serious considerations. These are holes in Google’s algorithm, and instead of burying their heads in the sand, or having Matt Cutts deliver sugar-coated ambiguity and tiptoe around REAL issues like this with a nice nerdy smile – they need to be addressed.
Here’s some easy fixes and suggestions for Google that will never be implemented, but I offer them anyway:
* Allow webmasters to voluntarily discount inbound / external links from Webmaster Tools. Everyone wins if this is the case – and it directly contributes to helping the overall algorithm improve, since bad neighborhoods and low-level link sources will be indentified directly.
* Allow webmasters to claim ownership of their content as it’s published. This should be built into the dynamic sitemap reader, and also alternatively available as a manual submission.
Ah…. wishful thinking.
But until they do address these things, as an affiliate publisher, you need to be realistic, and play both sides of the coin.
You still need to be building some primary, main authority sites (even if it’s just one), where you actually “have something” you’re proud of. This is essentially your retirement strategy. You need to build something worth selling for a small (or perhaps a large) fortune. This will not occur overnight.
At the same time, however, I advise that you hedge your bets (so to speak), and build out a network of small affiliate sites (mini-sites, conduit sites, etc.), completely separate from your “real” site(s).
Different IPs, different servers – different everything. Zero crosslinking. Zero determinable footprint to link them to eachother. This includes using different google accounts to monitor Wembaster Tools and Analytics! This also means using different Privacy / TOS content, and using images (instead of text) for things like mailing addresses or corporate information, such as a company name.
With these sites, you go GrayHat. They should still have good content, which shouldn’t be a problem for anyone, since you don’t want to be exceeding more than 10 pages or so per site. Keep them small, and automate as much of your external SEO as possible. (How? Read my previous blog post )
In simple terms, the only difference between “Gray Hat” and “White Hat” is that you simulate natural backlinks, rather than earning them sporadically and organically (and uncontrollably). There is no difference from an on-site perspective, other than my recommendation that you keep GrayHat properties small, and easily replicatable.
Some of them will probably get penalized or deindexed. That’s why you keep them small. Never build a gray hat site that you can’t replace in 2 days. Some may last indefinitely, though.
Usually, each site will have a nice run for 6+ months, or years, before anything happens. (Unless you’re being totally stupid with backlinking like building masses of profile links, etc.). And most commonly, they just fade off the SERPs due to competition or algo adjustments – not penalties.
In reality, a GrayHat site is completely within ethical and legal compliance so long as you’re simply buying links from willing site owners, or distributing content to willing publishers who want to post it, along with your byline/links. Google might not “like” this, but they can go to hell. They aren’t the internet police.
Note: While you can flip these sites, you should definitely disclose your backlink activities to prospective buyers (so they know what they’re getting). GrayHat sites aren’t really what I’d call a retirement strategy.
Target a variety of profitable markets as you build out your “Gray Hat” empire. Don’t just focus on one niche. This spreads your risk.
Treat the whole operation like a production line. Don’t become attached to these sites whatsoever. They serve a purpose, that is all. And that purpose is to hedge against the massive risks involved in facing temporary penalties and competitor-driven hurdles that Google currently allows to afflict WhiteHat publishers.
It’s as close as you’ll get to “affiliate marketing insurance”.
And unfortunately, because Google is actively facilitating reverse SEO, it’s a necessary evil if you want to (eventually) establish a completely WhiteHat authority site.
Perhaps a better title for this post would’ve been… “Succeeding With Google – And Why You Have to Break the Rules in Order to Survive Long Enough to Follow Them…”
Well guys – you’ve heard my $0.02
What are your thoughts on all this?
Have you had this happen to you first-hand? Do you think Google’s (retarded) algo-holes are temporary?
I think there’s some valuable discussion to be had here.
Who knows? Maybe someone on Google’s payroll will actually see this, and extract some form of logic from it.
Would love to hear your opinion in the comments below…
P.S. Shameless plug time:
Affiliate Recon – which opens in just a few days now – is an awesome resource for Gray Hat niche targets and easily-rankable product keywords in (verifiable) 6 figure markets.
In a sentence, it’s basically SEMRush, but instead of just letting you “research stuff” – it shows you WHAT to research, and you can dig as deep as you like from there. A very profitable exercise. New niches and intel reports added monthly.
You can see our in-progress site at: http://AffiliateRecon.com