Is Black Hat SEO a Sin?

Is Black Hat SEO A Sin?In the world of SEO there are techniques we are all warned about, techniques the search engines deride, techniques known as “black hat SEO”.  From the way the search engines talk about black hat SEO, you would think it’s right up there with theft and fraud…maybe even murder and the people using it are the dregs of society…but are they really?

Is black hat SEO evil?

Google is not God.
Google says they know where you are and they claim to know what you are thinking. Bing says they can make your decisions for you.  They both do have a significant amount of economic and social power,  but they aren’t God.

Is black hat SEO illegal?
The simple answer is, “No.”  These are rules made up by the search engines for the search engines.  It’s not illegal to sell links, stuff keywords, cloak pages, or manipulate the search engines in any way.  However, there certainly can be consequences, serious ones, but those consequences are from the search engines not the state authorities.  (To be clear, I’m not talking about things like data mining which may be illegal)

Is black hat SEO a sin?
This is a bit more nuanced of a question.  Certainly, I’ve never read a verse in the Bible referring to black hat SEO and since we’ve already established that Google isn’t God 😉 , the seemingly obvious answer would be that, no, black hat SEO is not a sin.  But that reasoning neglects a few facts.

  1. Many black hat tactics are deceptive in nature. We all know lying is a sin.  Many black hat strategies are designed to either trick the search engines or visitors.  Are deceptive SEO techniques equivalent to lying?
  2. Black hat SEO violates terms of service. The search engines are reasonably clear (sometimes) about what they do not want you to do.  Is it wrong to violate a company’s terms of service?  Then again, did we ever agree to these terms of service?

Is black hat SEO just a risk?
The alternative to black hat SEO being wrong for one reason or another is that it’s just a risk.  A person can do x, y, or z on their site in hopes of getting high rankings and increasing traffic, but they are risking getting caught and having the search engines penalize or even ban them.  If there are no legal or moral reasons not to do black hat SEO, then it’s just a question of weighing the risks against the potential rewards.

What Do You Think?
This article has been a bit of a thought exercise for me and I’m curious what you think about black hat SEO.

Do you think it’s wrong to use black hat SEO?

Do you think it’s foolish to use  black hat SEO?

Do you think it’s perfectly fine as long as the rewards outweigh the risks?


Photo by steve-and-diane

38 Responses to “Is Black Hat SEO a Sin?”

  1. Kurt, I'd say it probably depends on the SEO tactics used. You make a pretty good case that you can do whatever you want on your own site, and while you may be taking a risk it's not sinful. However…

    When a person manually or using an automated tool, posts spammy links in blog comments, forums, and other places back their site in an effort to increase their search rankings (aka link spamming), I believe that steals resources, "link juice" and the time it takes people to remove the links and/or install preventative measures. Stealing is a sin, so I consider that tactic a sin.

  2. After having just deleted 15 spam comments that were posted in the last 24 hrs. I find it difficult to disagree with you. 😉

    Maybe this question isn't black and white (pun intended).

  3. "that which is done outside of faith is sin."

    "If a man believeth a thing to be a sin, to him it becomes a sin."

    "happy is he, who condemeth himself not;for that which he alloweth."

  4. Very good questions. As a Christian I don't know where I stand on these issues.

  5. Obviously we see where you stand on this issue, mr women workout routines.

    Anyways, I'm still working on this in my mind. I see how auto-generating accounts and posting backlinks to them could be considered unethical. But they're so powerful what is the alternative? Aye. Lots to think of.

    • It is a tricky subject, Ryan. Though, it seems you are considering whether the black hat seo is effective when deciding if it's wrong. There are many things in life that are effective, but also wrong. I could increase my income quickly by robbing a bank, but that wouldn't change the fact that it's stealing.

      Certainly, how effective something is comes into play if it's not a matter of right vs wrong, but rather just a matter of risk assessment, but does it come into play when figuring out if something is right or wrong?

  6. Great questions to push thought of technical Christians! Even as Christians, many over look what is right and wrong just because it can be done easily and often without immediate consequence. Pirating music is the obvious subject…

    Specifically regarding the black hat tactics of seo, I believe to be wrong. You are lying, stealing, and being deceptive using many of these tactics. However, that gives us an opportunity to be creative and tactical, which is an opportunity most of us techies will jump on.

    Thanks Kurt for the thought provoking article!

    • Thanks Rob.

      Yeah. The tough part is discerning between what may be inappropriate and what is creative.

      Great point about the pirating of music / movies, etc. Certainly easy and cheap do not make it right.

  7. I'm glad you guys found me on Twitter. It's good to find some Christian SEO's to dialogue with, or have some cyber fellowship.

    This is a topic that I've been engaging in over at SEOmoz. I'm new to SEO professionally and actually just learned about white hat and black hat SEO on July 29th. Thank you for the great article and questions. Here's my two cents for what it's worth.

    "Is Black Hat SEO a Sin?" Yes, I believe it is.

    "Do you think it’s wrong to use black hat SEO?" Yes I do.

    "Do not let us mistake necessary evils for good." – C.S. Lewis. This quote is one of my favorites but has been a hard truth to swallow at times, especially in the market place. The market place seems to be one of the areas that has a whole lot of temptation to make decisions based on profits. I know that there are plenty of passages in the bible showing black hat SEO strategies to be considered sinful behavior. I will not go crazy right now as much as I want to trying to gather a bunch of scriptures.

    John Newton the author of the most popular hymn "Amazing Grace" was saved and for the next 6 years he continued to sell slaves. I'm sure he said similar things like, well it's not illegal and there's really nothing specifically speaking against slavery in the bible. But it took 6 years for the Holy Spirit to completely convince John that selling slaves was hindering his relationship with the LORD and was a sin. Now of course I'm not comparing black hat SEO to slavery but I'm using the similar context of how someone justifies what they do.

    These are two scriptures that I have built my business on;

    Do everything with excellence. (So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.? – 1 Cor 10:31)

    Integrity is more valueable than profits (Better is the poor who walks in his integrity, Than he who is crooked though he be rich.? – Prov 28:6).

    With these two scriptures in mind I think we can agree that the LORD has a higher standard for us when it comes to our SEO practices.

    The next question that comes to mind is, can a black hatter be saved? Of course. It is by grace that we are saved and not of works. I think John Newtons story is a good example of having unethical and immoral business practices while being saved. There will be plenty of black hat SEO's in heaven and there will be plenty of white hat SEO's in hell.

    I know one thing is for sure, that hating black hat SEO's is definitely a sin and against Jesus's 2nd commandment. I think we need to challenge each other to be loving towards our SEO brothers and sisters of a darker shade for the sake of the Gospel.

    Another similar not so obvious sin topic would be smoking. Is smoking a sin? It's not illegal. 😉

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this SEOHollywoodFL. Certainly we should always strive for excellence and integrity.

  9. You're welcome Kurt. Thank you for the great post. My name is Brian Hughes.

  10. I'd say that black hat SEO is along the lines of sinning if you consider the people doing it and what measures you are taking (desperate) ones just to get traffic. In addition, blackhat seo marketers are as a group, sinners in nature and breaking the terms of service and even the law in most cases. For example, most blackhatters are all using stolen or cracked software (there are always exceptions) If you are telling yourself you are practicing righteousness and walking in the paths of the righteous while you blackhat SEO you are lying to yourself to justify your cowardly actions… everything is recorded some place, I'd rather have a clear conscious and practice more effective marketing aka white hat while following the law and keeping even my physical health in harmony. All in all, blackhat is just stupid if you ask me; however, some people get such good results with blackhat that they stay "SOLD" in general to this technique and ultimately end up breaking laws on a regular basis and in some causes have been sued or if they end up hacking and getting caught they can end up in the slammer.

  11. Good discussion. Sometimes it really becomes difficult to argue whether black hat SEO is good or bad~

  12. resell seo services June 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    With these two scriptures in mind I think we can agree that the LORD has a higher standard for us when it comes to our SEO practices

  13. Black hat SEO is not the sin but many people use it to harm the competitor website that is against ethics. If you use for your own website then it's fine.

  14. The black hat SEO technique which will help to boost the website traffic and ranking in search engine faster, but black hat SEO boots the website temporary that will be harmful for the website.

  15. Dark hat SEO is not the sin but many individuals use it to damage the opposition web page that is against concepts. If you use for your own web page then it’s excellent.

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  18. David Mwaniki May 28, 2015 at 4:00 am

    I was recently introduced to SEO and have been weighing my position as I launch into this exciting profession. This discussion has really helped me to crystallize my thoughts. It reminds me of Jacob when he was with Laban in Haran. sleek 'black hat' wasn't he? And he did make a fortune! But when he met God at the brook Jabbok he was converted from Jacob a deciever (Black Hat) to Israel a man who has wrestled with man and God and prevailed( a White hat).

    God's Word is very clear : Proverbs 11: 1, Romans 12:17(b), 2 Corinthians 8:21 and 1 Timothy 3:7. Best of all, God gives us His children, a wonderful guarantee:Proverbs 16:3. I'm convinced that one doesn't need to use black hat SEO to succeed especially when God is involved in every activity.

  19. David Mwaniki May 28, 2015 at 4:25 am

    I was recently introduced to SEO and have been weighing my position as I launch into this exciting profession. This discussion has really helped me to crystallize my thoughts. It reminds me of Jacob when he was with Laban in Haran. sleek 'black hat' wasn't he? And he did make a fortune! But when he met God at the brook Jabbok he was converted from Jacob a deciever (Black Hat) to Israel a man who has wrestled with man and God and prevailed( a White hat).

  20. Black Hat SEO is not illegal. It's just giving you the short time rankings. When any new update launch of Panda and Penguin your rankings hit on the top position and your website is penalized. Black hat is totally spam.

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  22. Great post sir can you give me more information for grey hat SEO technique. i really need this information thank you.

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  31. Well I don't think black hat SEO is a sin or illegal, but of-course it's not possible to do black hat either. Only a professional SEO worker can perform this amazing SEO strategy. You need to become very expertise in the field of online marketing and search engine optimization to perform black hat SEO.