Does blackhat automatically mean unethical?

Can't believe it's not blackhatAs a general rule, blackhat SEO is NOT in and of itself unethical. Sure it tries to manipulate search engine algorithms, but that doesn’t violate any fundamental guidelines of human behaviour. But blackhat practices CAN be unethical.

(Image provided by Stephen T of )

The ethical line is drawn where blackhat SEO significantly and negatively affects humans, and not just some abstract mathematical system.

(I say significantly to avoid people extrapolating that bad user experience is unethical.)

Here are a few instances – hardly comprehensive – where blackhats’ spam is lacking in ethics.
1) Parasite hosting. Pay for your own hosting.
2) Wasting other people’s time because they’re busy moderating your junk comments/submissions etc. This also applies to disrupting the normal functioning of communities by creating massive amounts of spam threads, stories etc.
3) Cracking someone else’s site: you’re using property that doesn’t belong to you.
4) Related to #4, cracking sites in such a way that causes their SERP CTR to drop. E.g. by getting their site labelled as dangerous.
5) Referrer spamming to deliver trojans/viruses/affiliate cookies (e.g. cookie stuffing) to webmasters who you expect will check out their referring sites.
6) Google-bowling a competitor by linkspamming their domain and/or DDOS attacking them and/or cracking their site to have it deliver trojan installers.
7) Stealing other people’s content and republishing it without permission.

At the same time, there are some instances where blackhat SEO is ethical. These typically just take advantage of the limitations of automated ranking systems (search engine algorithms) without troubling humans.
1) Autogenerating content with a Markov Chain or madlib system or other technique.
2) Linkspamming abandoned sites that the owner no longer spends any time on. Of course, this is different than linkspamming someone to the point where they choose to abandon their site
3) Cloaking your content to rank higher (read:stuffing the cloaked content with keywords; not showing bicycles to SEs and pills to humans, since you’re again stealing humans’ time).
4) Using link farms, doorway pages and/or any other tactics which have no significant negative impact on humans. Doorway pages are kind of borderline since they require an extra click, but I put that more in the category of “crap usability that will kill your conversions” rather than unethical stuff.

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26 Comments on "Does blackhat automatically mean unethical?"

August 28, 2008 19:46

Thanks for throwing a link to Datapresser! That’s much appreciated.

If you ever have any questions about DP, well, now you have my email! Don’t hesitate to get in touch.


August 29, 2008 11:18

Stealing content is something that really bothers me, particularly with article submission when people take the content and don’t keep the link in there.

I’ve also noticed that people will steal your content and do a really rubbish re-write of it, changing literally two or three words in each paragraph.

If you’re going to be a content pirate, at least get creative people.

Whilst I agree that tricking algorithms is clever, as it involves manipulating an equation, I still don’t know whether I’d refer to it as ‘ethical’.

Interesting post.

August 29, 2008 11:47

“As a general rule, blackhat SEO is NOT in and of itself unethical. Sure it tries to manipulate search engine algorithms, but that doesn’t violate any fundamental guidelines of human behaviour.”


To tamper with or falsify for personal gain. – “manipulate”

Non sequitur? I think so.

August 29, 2008 14:43

@Charles – OK, let me rephrase that – to tamper with algorithms or falsify them for personal gain is not unethical. That’s like saying tweaking your own code is unethical – obviously not the case.

August 29, 2008 14:44

@Rob – My pleasure, that’s a badass tool you’ve got.
@Tom – That’s one that falls on the unethical side. But then, I doubt if BHs are doing this rather than generating stuff fully. Just seems like unethical whitehats stealing your content.

August 29, 2008 15:12

Gab/Tom: Re stealing content… Yeah it’s most certainly amateur SEO’s nicking your stuff and then trying to throw out a few articles to gain links into their sites. You do get a few scrapers and such that come by to steal your content now and again but most BH’s generate the content automatically.

August 29, 2008 17:08

Surely anything that ultimately wastes peoples time is unethical. If you link spam deserted sites and these push your rubbish site up the serps it wastes people’s time. If you auto-generate content it will show up in the serps and someone will waste their time looking at it.

Anything that makes the serps less meritocratic is surely unethical?


August 29, 2008 18:55

I frankly have no problem with blackhat SEO tactics as listed in the “ethical” section. Even though some are prohibited by Google (according to Google). They mostly seem “grey” to me. The other list deserves righteous retribution. In a perfect world, I would be able to dish out retribution kinda like the way the gangs do it in Mexico. But that’s wrong so…

But I always hated the “black hat vs white hat” debate. It always sounded to me like a bunch of BS. If it hurts clients, then it’s bad – but not a “black vs white” but more of… Read more »

Internet Marketing Joy
August 29, 2008 22:03

I agree..SEO doesn’t necessary mean that it is unethical right away..if it’s just there to alter the algorithm of SEs..but if starts to bug other people through continuous spamming then that’s unethical.


[…] Does blackhat automatically mean unethical? […]

Doug Heil
August 30, 2008 01:19

I think the SEO industry has lost their collective little minds.

In my opinion of course. Most seem to think that blackhat SEO is not unethical. That’s crap. Of course your search engine spam “could” be relevant, and of course it might even be what a search user is looking for, but what about the site who is abiding the stated rules of a search engine but is at #11 for the same term that blackhat spammy site is at #10? Is it ethical in your minds that you successfully are cheating the system for that #10 when a site NOT… Read more »

August 31, 2008 19:51

As always Doug, “cheating” implies there was an agreement. I have no agreement with Google.
They profit off me without asking me for my rules.
I profit off them without asking for there’s.

That’s the end of it.

Doug Heil
September 1, 2008 23:20

LOL Huh?

As always slightly; you can spin with the best of them.

You have an implied agreement with Google since you want to be in their index on THEIR website. You must abide by their rules. Google isn’t trying to get into YOUR website without your permission. You give them permission by not disallowing them. If you actually had the rule for Google to NOT profit off your website, it’s in your own power to do that.

The old arguement that Google profits off of you is just that……..real damn old. Give it up already.

You want in Google’s index; You abide… Read more »

Doug Heil
September 1, 2008 23:40


You wrote:
“They profit off me without asking me for my rules.”

They don’t have to ask you as you already state through your robots.txt that it’s OK for Google to profit off your site.

You don’t have to ask Google for their rules either. Google shows/tells you their rules on their own website, of which YOUR site wants to profit off of. Considering your site wants to profit off of Google, and your site wants to do well in the Google search results, then you either must abide by Google’s rules and be called ethical, or you don’t abide by their rules,… Read more »


[…] field. Now I will be the first to admit that I do quite love a bit of controversy, especially when black hat SEO is involved, and I respect passion, no matter where it’s directed, but why is it that we feel […]

September 3, 2008 16:37

this site is my first big site, in a competitive keyword market that is dominated by multi million dollar wall street firms.

our site has been dropped by google, so i put a post on google, and got accused of blackhat seo. i have no idea what that means, and googled it, and found your blog.

is this a serious offense that i or my design team has committed that i am unaware of, and if so would anyone be able to point me to what we have actually done thats wrong, etc…


September 3, 2008 16:54

Hi Dean:

can you point me in the direction of the post you put on Google? I will be more than happy to take a quick look at what could be wrong. You don’t seem to have a lot of back links into your site (35) so its not uncommon to see sites drop a little in a competitive market without regular links.

Give me more info and I will tell you what i can.

October 10, 2008 06:13

What a great point of view. Its nice to see that someone is out there that see’s Google for what they are, unlike doug Hitler Heil. He is so far up Matt Cutts’s backside that he can’t see anymore. What’s more he was trying to build reputation off your blog to his own site which is also SPAMMY doug even if the link wasn’t there.Ethical not! and look at his website who is he to be in here. Anyway enough about thicko great article.


[…] from Aimclear, Clickz and others. See the Sphinn thread I just linked to for more info. This is non-ethical blackhat SEO, if one can even call it that (I feel like I’m insulting the truly creative folks like this […]


[…] Gab Goldenberg decides when “blackhat” methods are ethical and unethical. [Chewie] […]

Internet Marketing Joy
June 5, 2009 22:33

I agree..SEO doesn't necessary mean that it is unethical right away..if it's just there to alter the algorithm of SEs..but if starts to bug other people through continuous spamming then that's unethical.

January 25, 2010 11:43

whitehatters that cant make money make up that stuff abotu ethics 😉

October 30, 2010 11:02

“whitehatters that cant make money make up that stuff abotu ethics ;)”


October 30, 2010 10:59

Just came across this by accident. Sad stuff.

The whole point of black hat SEO is to get a a better position in the serps, isn't it? Then at least one other site is being pushed down in the serps, to make room for your rise.

As you rose by 'technique', rather than the quality and value of your site, you effectively stole their positions. Now, that doesn't rank with murder, or even mugging. But it's still immoral (assuming you have any morals to start with!).

You do what you like (and you will!), but you are not cheating Google – you are… Read more »

October 12, 2011 05:34

There is a obvious answer to this that Black hat itself is unethical which is not exceptable by the search engines, so using such techniques may led your site to get banned.

May 23, 2012 06:04

It is really interesting post. I’m always looking for new methods to get my sites ranked higher. I’ve? been using automation software called SEO Optimization Demon. It’s worked great for getting me high PR back links to my websites plus I get a load more traffic because? my sites rank higher.