White Hat’s Not A Religion, It’s A Working Method

I’ve been following the 2nd SMX Advanced on Twitter today and it’s been great; kind of like when I followed SXSW earlier this year (the thing that reignited my use of Twitter), except that with SMX Advanced I actually know the people there. In fact it’s been rubbish, as it’s highlighted the fact that I’m here in London, rather than in Seattle with a lot of friends.

However, it has made for interesting reading. The panel I was following on the way home was one on Link Building. A lot of the tweets were about Jay Young’s presentation. A lot of people seemed disturbed by Jay’s comments, especially one where a slide showed a massive picture of Matt Cutts and Jay suggested that SEOs should stop being afraid of Matt because there is too much morality tied into what he says (please note, I’m paraphrasing this from Tweets I saw, so if I’ve misquoted what Jay said, please let me know in the comments).

Now personally I know exactly what I (think) Jay means here, and it doesn’t deserve the tuts that seemed to emanate on Twitter. Whilst, as I’ve said elsewhere, I respect Matt & what he does, and Google and a lot of the good work they do, at the end of the day he’s ‘just’ an employee of a corporation that is far from perfect, and we should take or leave his advice as we see fit.

Google’s guidelines are exactly that, and we should all make our own judgements on them. Personally I wouldn’t use a lot of the advice that Jay tends to give – I would be too nervous about the potential blow-back on clients. But that doesn’t necessarily make it ‘wrong’. Google has every right to suggest what it thinks makes for acceptable behaviour on the web and, for many of us, we would be foolish not to follow this advice to a large extent. However on other occasions, following their advice, for example on link buying, would be like turning up to a gun fight with a knife.

I like to think of myself as very white hat; I hate the idea of having to buy links, I’m glad that the law has changed in the UK to outlaw brands maquerading as consumers (if only because it takes away the temptation to do so). But none of this makes me a better person.

Take Jay for example. I met him for the first time at last year’s inaugural SMX Advanced. He didnt know me from Adam and yet he treated me like a long lost friend, was great fun to be around, and I’m therefore truly sorry that I’m not there with him, his lovely wife Julie, and all the other great friends I made in Seattle in 2007. And yet I’ve met so called white hats who were absolute idiots; puffed up with their own sense of importance and an absolute nightmare to be around.

So, before we start throwing around the terms white hat or black hat, like they’re some sort of term of moral superiority, let’s remember that arse-holes can play nice and nice guys often play dirty. And Jay & Matt seem to get on OK anyway.

Church image by Javiercit0 on flickr


  1. I just said to Kate, “How messed up is it what we’re looking at a blog post written by someone who isn’t here, about a different session, while we’re in another session?’

    Nice write-up. I wish I’d been at the link building panel instead of at the booth!

  2. Cirian, I agree with you. No one here is “bad.” We all have our own ideas, and we may disagree with someone else’s ideas, but it doesn’t make them bad. I consider myself very white hat and disagree with almost everything he said. But that is because I am more about branding and long term goals.

    Matt is just an employee, he is not Google. And Google is just a search engine. Jay was right, you should do what you want, but you have to deal with the possible consequences thereafter.

    I had a problem though with what Jay suggested as basically throwing ethics out the window. Just not caring about what is right or wrong is what is inherently wrong in the business world overall. And I am worried about people thinking that is what we are all about.

    Do some of his tricks work? Yep. Is it good to be aware of all of this? Yes. But I’m with you, I’ll never do it because of who my clients are and their goals. I’ve never needed it yet.

  3. Nicely put Kate.

    To be honest I think that what Jay was doing (and obviously I wasn’t there and even if I had been I couldn’t speak for Jay) was just trying to shake things up a bit. A lot of the things that people term as being ethical are nothing of the sort – they’re simply business decisions; it’s not like reporting political activists to totalitarian governments, or censoring web results.

    Knowing Jay a bit I’d say that he’s actually a pretty ethical person – he just doesn’t view gaming a search engine as being a question of ethics (please see my note about not being able to speak for Jay again – this is just my impression of him).

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