Reality check: you can be a white hat spammer.

Reality check: you can be a white hat spammer.

(it takes one to know one.)

I’m not trying to advocate for black hat tactics, but here’s the thing about Black Hat SEOs: at least they don’t routinely hide behind the facade of “ethics” while still doing incredibly shady shit. Furthermore, just because you conduct your efforts within Google’s guidelines (actually, in one way or another, there’s a reaaally good chance you don’t.) doesn’t mean you’re doing SEO ethically. It doesn’t mean your “White Hat Link Building” agency is morally superior to any service a black hatter provides. And it definitely doesn’t mean you’re not spamming the internet.

When SEOs talk about spammy link tactics, they’re usually referring to some of these:

  • Blog comments
  • Reciprocal links
  • Paying for links
  • Signature links

All of these link types are easily and very often abused, there’s absolutely no denying that. They are also completely ineffective if used as a sole link building tactic. But when considering how normal internet users behave, they are all completely valid types of links.


It’s fine if you don’t want to use these dated tactics (and best if you don’t) – I just wish the community would admit that they’re not using them because they’re ineffective, not because they’re morally “above” spamming the internet:

Blog commenting: This is something that normal people with no knowledge that SEO even exists do all the time. Not to mention the fact that most blogs literally invite you to join the discussion in the comments. SEOs love to talk about blog commenting negatively, meanwhile you can take a look at virtually any SEO blog that has a Website field in their comment form and you’ll see lots of links to “White Hat” SEOs’ websites. LOL @ that.

Reciprocal links: Online or off, most people don’t do something with no reward for themselves. The reason why reciprocals are frowned upon is not because it’s bad practice to create a relationship with someone where you both benefit. It’s bad because the type of pages where you’re most likely to get a reciprocal offer are complete garbage. If you’re reaching out to someone because “you really think your site would make a great addition to their links page and be of benefit to their site visitors” then wouldn’t it make intuitive sense that sharing their website with your customers might also be beneficial?

Also, if you’re getting a lot of responses asking for reciprocals, it’s because you’re targeting poor websites that would probably be of very little benefit regardless of any reciprocal link arrangement. I’ve never given a reciprocal link, but I could see how I would under the right circumstances.

Paying for links: Most of my reciprocal links elaboration applies to this as well. Obviously reaching out to anyone and everyone offering money for link placement is stupid for a list of reasons, but a one-off payment agreement between two website owners who both have a business to run and money to make/spend is a pretty straight forward business transaction. Also, just because a link might have been paid for doesn’t mean it doesn’t benefit the user.

Signature links: Oh my god. You tweet dozens of times per day with a link to your website in your Twitter bio. What’s the difference between that and a forum signature link besides that it takes a single extra click to get there? Obviously keyword stuffed links in forum signatures is a shady thing to do. I just think it’s funny that “joining conversations!” relevant to your brand has SEOs and digital marketers raging, but Cutts forbid actually doing so while linking to yourself in a natural and relevant way that probably lends credibility to your comments! (Just to be clear: Hundreds or thousands of links from irrelevant forums = not okay, obviously. A few dozen (maybe even hundreds or thousands of) links resulting from participating in a forum directly related to your brand = totally okay; probably even good.)


Most link building “experts” wouldn’t be caught dead incorporating any of the above mentioned link tactics into their SEO strategy, which is hilarious considering a lot of SEOs seem to shamelessly encourage other “current” tactics which can be just as spammy.  Here are a couple scenarios you might find yourself in after following the advice of today’s White Hat SEOs, some of which are morally and ethically worse than spam tactics of old:

Scholarships: You create a scholarship for students who are majoring in a subject loosely related to the industry your company or client operates in – because $500 is very generous and really helps those poor students. It’s just collateral damage that you’re gonna end up with dozens of High Quality .EDU LinksTM as a result, so everyone wins, right?! Spam.

Content: You find a great opportunity to recreate some content that your competitors have (only their version totally sucks). You’re going to rewrite it (so it’s better!), maybe add some more information, and just generally “add value” to the web. Okay. Does the internet really need another bland article titled “Top 10 Tools for ______ on a Budget”? I know Buzzsumo showed you several similar articles that got a ton of links and social shares, but that’s still spam. It totally is.

Badges/awards: You create a badge or “award” to dole out to bloggers within your niche – because will be totally stoked to share with his readers that awarded him with “Best Decorations” for Fluffy’s surprise birthday party (which was posted on his blog 9 months ago). Not sarcasm. He’ll probably be ecstatic about that and definitely give you a link. That doesn’t make it not spam, though.

Totally relevant story:
A couple years ago, I had a client who sold bird cages. I’m a parrot owner (aka “parront”), so I was able to strike up a bunch of conversations with parrot bloggers pretty naturally. This one in particular had just wrote about one of her birds being sick. Like almost dead sick. As a parront, I felt bad for her. But as a link builder I knew that was a chance to strike up a conversation. And so I did. With an opportunity like that, what’s a “100% relevant white hat link builder” gonna do? Here’s how I turned that into a link: I took a picture of the bird off of her website, went straight to Canva, and overlaid a stylish “Get Well Soon” message as well as a “tasteful” insertion of my client’s logo on the bottom corner of the picture. It actually looked really good even though I totally suck at graphic design. So I sent that shit to her and she was PUMPED. Seriously. She was all “thank you so much!!!” and then posted that picture I made as well as a link to my client’s website in an update about the bird. I got the client a link on a “real” website (one people are actually reading) that none of their competitors were on. The client was happy with it and it made the blogger lady’s day. I felt like a god damn genius, but I also felt kind of bad about it. Pretty sure that didn’t violate any guidelines, but if that “white hat” link wasn’t spam, it was definitely at least a little unethical. Anyways, one of my birds died about a year later. I’m still real sad about it but I guess that’s what I get.

Links/Resources pages: You Googled a simple search string like “[keyword] inurl:links” and now you’ve got a list of hundreds of totally relevant sites who might want your link. You email them all. I’m not afraid to admit that I do this, but it’s something that only a spammer would do. Regardless of how “personalized” you write your emails, blasting out unsolicited messages to a list of target sites is the literal definition of spam. I’ll also never understand how SEOs can think that having a bunch of links from URLs that look like ( will never be considered a sign of a spammy backlink profile.


Just because you’re not stuffing keywords or spinning content doesn’t mean you’re not spamming the internet. Actually, before I conclude, let’s talk about those two things real quick:

Keywords: Stop being afraid to use them (responsibly).

Spun content: You probably are spinning content. Just because it wasn’t (re)written by a robot doesn’t mean your article isn’t a spun piece of trash. Googling a topic, pulling a bullet point or two from several different articles, rewriting and combining them all into your own piece of content is spinning content and it is spam. You know you’ve done that.

One Reply to “Reality check: you can be a white hat spammer.”

  1. As someone who in 2006 encouraged Realtors to reciprocally link, yes “whitehat” can turn to spam. These guys went NUTS. They saw rankings improve and went and reciprocally linked to HUNDREDS of other Realtors (all on our one C block of hosted sites). We got blocked from Yahoo and Google was next up when we systemwide purged all their reciprocal link pages they setup.

    Any effective tactic can NOT be overused or it becomes spam.

    I’m your huckleberry.

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