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.

Pligg Auto Submitter Released

This is a couple of days old now, so forgive me for writing this post a little late. I did start it over the weekend when i got news of the release but didn’t finish my blog post until today.

Saturday saw the release of Syndk8’s Auto Pligg Submitter, for those who aren’t aware, Syndk8 is pretty much the top black forum on the net and Pligg is a sort of content management system which is effectively a clone of the much loved Pligg allows members to submit news stories about various topics and then vote and comment on said stories. This in turn effects what shows up on the front page, and how long for, its a social media news site.

The Pligg Auto submitter is being sold for $189 which for what it actually does is peanuts. Basically the software will allow you to mass spam almost any Pligg based site out in the wild. You would be forgiven in thinking that it isn’t a big deal until you realise that some high profile sites such as are using the Pligg engine.

Lets look at some of the features that the Pligg spammer (i mean auto submitter) has…

  • Automatically register for accounts. Even breaks CAPTCHAs!!
  • Create UNLIMITED profiles and identities
  • Submit stories and comment to 1000’s of sites
  • Automated pinging after each submission
  • Stats to show succesful submissions
  • Proxy support

So as you can see, it’s a pretty rounded product, and the big thing here is that it can break captcha’s which is a pretty big deal in the world of spamming. Basically you are getting a piece of software which can automate the posting of hundreds of stories and links back to your site without you hardly lifting a finger.

So lets look at this from the point of spamming and building your site up, you could spend $180 on this product and be able to spam a hell of a lot of sites and get some decent links in or you could spend $180 one ok quility link. If you do a Google Search for “powered by pligg” you can see that the results number in the 1,380,000 range. Even if you assume that 25% of those sites no longer exist then you still have a massive amount of sites at your disposal to spam. Lets also check out the number of Google Searches going on at the moment…

As you can see from the image above, even though this software has only been out for four days, the amount of people searching for “powered by pligg” to spam the sites is pretty high, so what can webmasters do about it?

  • Remove the “powered by pligg” footprint in your template
  • Take a look at using ReCaptcha instead of Pliggs built in Captcha system, there is a (sort of) guide on the Pligg forum
  • Add in another layer of capture which asks a questions such as “is water a liquid or gas?”
  • Ensure that you monitor the number of users in the admin area, if you see this number shooting up then its safe to say that you are being targetted
  • Like the above point, watch to see the number of stories being submitted, if they jump up then you are probably being targetted

I would imagine that within the next couple of releases Pligg will probably address a lot of the loopholes that the auto submitter is using to work, however it seems that this is an on going project from Syndk8 so it looks like this battle will last for some time. I must admit the Pligg development cycle can be a bit hit and miss so only time will tell what will happen.

In closing, i have tried to write this post from both the positive view points of a spammer and also the negative viewpoints of a Pligg admin, who knows, i may even use this software to promote my own Pligg based site 🙂

If you liked this post give it a Sphinn over at

Cookie Stuffing with .htaccess

I recently got the chance to speak on Whiteboard Friday over at SEOmoz, it was a quick session whereby a few SEO’s just give up a couple of tricks that the general population may not be aware of, i chose to talk about cookie stuffing.

Cookie stuffing is not new and has been blogged about a few times so i am not pretending to have actually come up with the method. I wanted to talk about it because i have been doing it slightly different using .htaccess and i have also been getting some really good results.

Basically, Cookie stuffing is a method in which you place cookies on users computers without them nessecerally knowing about it. It can be used on your affiliate sites to auto drop a cookie without the user actually clicking through your banner and converting on the retailers site. This allows you to get a much better conversion rate for visitors of your site because even if they hit your page, bounce, and then goto the retailers page at a later date (within the cookie length) you still get the sale.

It can also be used off site, whereby you would drop a cookie for a large affiliate site (such as ebay or amazon) by simply having a reference to your image. You can use this trick anywhere which allows you to use image code.

So here are the steps to do it…

1) Create a directory on your server with an inconspicuous name such as /stats
2) In that directory create a .htaccess file with the following code…
RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule yourfakeimage.jpg [R,L]
3) Place the /stats/yourfakeimage.jpg code in the footer of your site and then when the browser requests the image the .htaccess will return them the url which drops the cookie, this is all done in the background so unless someone is specifically looking out for it then you should get away with doing it

Obviously, you can use /stats/yourfakeimage.jpg in any other site that allows you to reference an image, aslong as the site doesnt cache the image locally on their server then you will be able to serve up as many cookies as you like.

There has been a lot of debate about whether using this method on external sites is classed as stealing and Esrun wrote a great article on cookie dropping.

I just want to add that you should be careful doing this, obviously if your affiliate see’s that you are generating a 100% clickthrough rate then they are going to start asking questions and can even ban you from the program.

Edit: Reader El Bueno has come up with a method for doing this on Windows IIS, you can see his solution in his comment