The Human Side of Black Hat SEO

Editors Note: I thought I would take the day off today and invite a guest author on the blog for you all! Please be nice to Dustin it’s his first time here, he approached me with an epic idea for a post and with recent events in our little “SEO bubble” I couldn’t wait to hit the Publish button on this one…

Author’s Note: Chris helped me out a ton in gathering interviews and giving me ideas. He’s the best. I’m sad I couldn’t use everything that everyone typed, because most of it was brilliant. I’d also like to thank Bill, Ian, Paddy, Paul, Rand, Eric and the folks on Reddit who answered my silly questions. You’re all great. 



“Forgive me Matt Cutts, for I have sinned…”

I don’t use some of the same SEO practices I used 8 months ago. I’ve moved on from some ineffective and borderline spammy practices, but I’m still the same person I always was. Some industry dinosaurs label practices I still use as “spammy” or “black hat” even when I wholeheartedly disagree. These prehistoric lizards have seen the SEO world evolve from its Jurassic period to its Cretaceous period and they’re quick to point fingers. And we’re all quick to point fingers at one another—but we’re all people.

Regardless of our experience, our insider knowledge, the size of our cubicles and our psychic search algorithm predictions, we’re all just people. That means those black hat practices we speak of only in hushed whispers are the product of people. People just like us.

People who use black hat tactics aren’t cloaked warlocks reciting ancient incantations in dark towers—they’re our friends, our siblings and our lovers. They’re us. People use black hat practices because they can get away with it, because they disagree with Google’s policies, because the money is good or because white hat strategies just don’t work for them. I think it’s time to examine the human side of black hat SEO.

What is Black Hat SEO?

We usually define black hat SEO as “the tactics other people use” or “the tactics I would never use,” but it goes beyond that.

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Developing a Content Strategy for your Niche Site



Once you have determined the main theme for your niche site you need to set out a content strategy for it. I am currently working on the design and content strategy for two of my new niche sites and as I want to make sure that these sites are both successful and profitable I am investing a lot of time right now in these early stages.

In the pre-Panda days it was very common place that after a bit of keyword research to determine the long tail and related search terms for your niche site thin, spun or cheaply outsourced articles would be generated to make it possible to rank your site for these search terms. Today I think it’s very important that people who are developing niche sites as a source of income develop a content strategy that puts the user first and not the search engines.

Niche Site Content Strategy 2009


Niche Site Content Strategy Today



“Content strategy is an emerging field of practice encompassing every aspect of content, including its design, development, analysis, presentation, measurement, evaluation, production, management, and governance.”

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My 2013 Goals

This is more of a personal blog post on where I plan to move my focus and direction in 2013. I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, as I wasn’t sure people would be interested in reading it.


The long and the short of it is this year I am going to be focusing a lot less on client work and back my own abilities to build up a handful of websites that can generate a “passive income”.

Of course there is never a truly “passive income” but what I aim to do is invest my time upfront to build websites that can generate an income which I can reinvest in to new projects.

Ever since I became a full time SEO consultant I have been working a lot of hours, and although I could put up my prices it’s a realisation that offering SEO services is never really a long term solution for my own personal goals.

I decided to work for myself so that I could spend more time with the family and a good man reminded me that kids spell love… T-I-M-E

I also found inspiration from this post from Hiten Shah:


In January, you get a lot of posts with tips about how to make the New Year awesome.

A lot of those posts are garbage. Really, they are.

If you’re actually practicing being a conscious and growth-focused entrepreneur, you shouldn’t be waiting for some socially acceptable milestone to inspire yourself to become better than you are.

You have to be continually igniting that flame from within, regardless of what the calendar date is.

So, how do you do that? By doing what scares you the most.

I’m serious. You see, usually, the “right” thing to do is the one action that really scares the s*** out of you.

Once you know what that is in terms of your business (or maybe your life), go do it.

And I don’t mean do it all half-assed and crazy–you’ve got to think before you act, spend a small amount of time planning, and then move on that plan right away.

Tips are good. But those ones that roll around every New Year just don’t help because they let your brain and your focus atrophy the rest of the year.

Resolve to scare yourself each day. This is way better than a new year’s resolution.


The thing is building my own sites and making them rank doesn’t scare me but cutting back on client work so that I can reap the benefits in a few months from now does, especially with 2 young kids to provide for. So there will be a few lean months in our household as I wait for a positive ROI on these projects, but then again the most exciting and lucrative gambles are the ones where we back ourselves.

The Past

I got into online marketing by running a couple of music blogs back in the hedonistic days of 2006. I then learnt about the magical and mystical world of SEO and how I could quickly build a website, throw up some content and get a few links and make some money via Adsense.

My addiction moved on to affiliate marketing, and paid search too, and then it got serious as I learnt about creating PHP scripts that offered up personalised landing pages which would pull in content from Yahoo images based on the keyword and I made sure that all these crappy pages were getting indexed, giving me more content and more search traffic.

At my peak I had over 120 websites – I was in a serious spiral of churn and burn… Find what works then scale it.

But these sites taught me more about online marketing than reading any blog or course would have ever done. I was A/B testing everything, I was learning how to make people move through a site, how can I get people to spend more, how can I get more people to link to me that can send me more traffic.

Change of Direction

After about 12 months a friend asked me to build him a website and rank it so he could get more sales for his business, then more friends asked me and more. I realised that I couldn’t just build spammy links for these people they weren’t as risk averse as I was and after all they had businesses that had other people depending upon them for a pay cheque every month.

So I began to do SEO properly – the nice friendly neighbourhood white hat way. I then found more and more businesses who needed online marketing consultancy and those businesses who didn’t believe in paying upfront for SEO I created lead generation sites and then sold them referrals.

Towards the end of 2010 I was getting jittery with my personal sites I knew Google were getting smarter and I received a very good offer for my portfolio from a local guy I knew who had been good enough to share some of his affiliate marketing secrets with me.

If I had held on to these sites I can tell you the four horsemen of the affiliate marketing apocalypse would have ridden in to town and by that I mean:

  1. Panda would have got them
  2. Penguin would have got them
  3. Parton would have got them
  4. EMD update would have got them

Some people may be shaking their heads but you know what I can guarantee there are hundreds of “white hat” SEO’s who had some sideline sites like these that brought in a little extra income for them to enjoy themselves at a weekend with.

So what’s that got to do with any of this Chris?

Well a lot of people still have the perception that to succeed in affiliate marketing you need to do it in a dirty way. But even though the very early days of my online marketing career were playing in this space I know that there are many affiliate marketers having a lot of success doing things the “right way”.

I want to show people, that you don’t have to build crappy sites to succeed. If you invest the time and money into building websites that people actually want to use you can make a decent income from them whatever your monetisation strategy.

I plan to chronicle my journey on this blog, it probably means there are going to be a few different types of post from time to time than you are used to. But hopefully I can give you real examples from what I am doing.  All too often there is a lot theory in online marketing blogs but I plan to be able to share as much detail as possible with you from my projects.

I’ll keep this short as I have rambled on a bit but I plan to announce some of my projects very soon.

Build Links and Get More Traffic like Derek Halpern


How’d you like to learn great ways to promote your content that get you high quality links and even more traffic?

You’ve heard of Derek Halpern, right?

Derek is the guy behind the popular marketing blog Social Triggers; he is known for writing up psychological research and business case studies to help bloggers and businesses make more money online.

I’ve been reading his blog on and off for about the past 18 months and I’ve found a wealth of great tips and ideas on his site that have given me more insight into the way people think and therefore the best ways I can persuade them to link to my projects.

In this post I’ve curated a list of some of my favourite posts that I think will be of interest to you whether you’re either creating content or contacting people to promote your content; which will hopefully give you an extra little edge over others.


Create an Information Gap

If you want to write an email or a piece of content that draws people in straight away then you need to make the most of curiosity.

The first line of this blog post is just another way for me to generate an information gap to draw you in and read more!

How’d you like to learn great ways to promote your content that get you more links and more traffic?

I just followed Derek’s formula:

[New, Cool, and/or Hopefully Remarkable Thing] [Desirable Outcome][Curious Reader / Viewer]


Quite simply, curiosity, as defined by Loewenstein, is an innate human behavior that’s triggered when people feel there is a gap between what they know and what they want to know. (source).


TL:DR  when you create a gap between what people know, and what people want to know, they feel compelled to fill that gap.


How to email Influencers

You don’t need me to tell you that the key to a great content promotion campaign is getting your content in front of influential people in your niche. Preferably these people will have the ability to spread the content for you online.

  1. Avoid long emails – people are too busy
  2. Create an Information Gap

If you visit this blog post there is some free template emails you can download which Derek personally uses when he is emailing people to share his content or if he wants them to feature on his podcast.


The Drafting Technique

This is the method that Derek Halpern recommends to get press in major newspapers and big blogs.

The name of the technique comes from the cycling term “drafting”, whereby the lead cyclist breaks the wind resistance and the riders following behind can travel at the same speed as the lead rider whilst expending less effort. Some people refer to it as slipstreaming.

There are three simple steps for using “The Drafting Technique.”

Step 1: What will you promote

Step 2: Who is interested in it

Step 3: Persuade them to feature you

TL;DR make the most of trends in your industry to help journalists and bloggers create unique content that features you or your client.


Thinking or Feeling?

In the video below Derek discusses which is more persuasive, I THINK or I FEEL?

You probably don’t THINK this is a big deal but once you watch the video below I THINK you will FEEL differently about the way in which you use these two words in your emails, blog posts or conversations with the people you work with.


The Power of Persuasion

A few days ago I finally got around to publishing my post on psychology and link building. While I was researching and writing that post Derek published a great article on the power of persuasion.

In the post he highlights a theory proposed by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in Freakonomics.

In it, they say there are just three types of incentive:

  1. Economic incentives – financial gains
  2. Social incentives – looking good in the eyes of others
  3. Moral incentives – doing the greater good

Apparently, when you want to contact someone that you don’t know, with hopes of persuading them to link to you then you should appeal to one (or all) of the three incentives.

There are some great email templates in this post if you want to learn more.

TL;DR  the secret to getting people to do something for you is providing an incentive for them to do it.


How do you think you could implement these tips in your content promotion strategy? Leave a comment. And, if you are already using your own versions of these techniques then please share them too.


PS don’t forget if you’re new here, then sign up to my RSS feed to discover more ways to build links and improve your online presence.

How To Be More Persuasive – Psychology 101 for Link Builders

Over the past few years I have spent an increasing amount of time learning about different psychology theories to enhance the results of my work.

As a link builder it is your role to deliver your content to the communities who are most likely to consume and link to it. To gain an upper hand and get the attention of people who are being pitched to dozens, if not hundreds of times per day, it will often come down to how well you understand your link prospects motivations and mindset.

In this post I hope to give you an overview of a number of theories I have used in the past couple of years in helping me to convert my outreach efforts into links.

Speak their Language

A very powerful way of establishing rapport with someone else is to adopt the language style of their preferred representational system.

Our preferred representational systems are our points of contact with the outside world i.e. our five senses. Every one of us has a mixture of all four representational systems but we all have one that we prefer and operate in most of the time.

When we take the time to learn to recognise other people’s preferred representational styles we can relate better to them by adapting our style to theirs.

Auditory: people with an auditory preference are great story tellers and love to talk. Ultimately they want to have fun and attend “fun” events. They are big picture orientated so don’t require the details so consider picking up the phone and having a chat.

Auditory Digital: individuals with an auditory digital preference are very detail orientated perfectionists, preferring order over chaos and their personal space. When you write an email to them be specific, prepared and precise & offer them plenty of links and references for further research such as charts and data.

Visual: people with a visual style are driven and very businesslike. They don’t want the detail and need the big picture so make sure your communications with these types of people are brief and to the point. These types of people prefer visualisations (infographics and photos) and very much love to win; so think about blogging competitions and ego bait to get this particular groups attention.

Kinaesthetic: individuals who have a kinaesthetic preference are doers and want to take action. These types of people enjoy getting out and interacting so why not arrange a meet-up with other webmasters in their location, pick up the phone, invite them for a coffee or host a webinar.

Optimal Distinctiveness Theory

Optimal Distinctiveness Theory is a social psychology theory which states that individuals work to achieve a balance of integration and uniqueness within social groups and situations. When people feel similar to others, they seek out some way to be different.

When they feel different, they try to be more similar. The Optimal Distinctiveness Theory suggests that individuals are constantly making adjustments to maintain equilibrium between the need to be similar and the need to be different.

This is a great theory that a link builder should be aware of in crafting an outreach campaign. It is human nature for individuals to want to differentiate themselves from a group, but simultaneously wish to maintain a certain similarity with a group.

As a link builder you can design your campaign so that it speaks to these two opposing motivators in a clever way, appealing to a person’s need to be different, by showing them a new angle or offering an exclusive, such as an interview with a senior member of staff.

Yet at the same time, your campaign will need to promote the fact that a person will be seen as keeping up with popular behaviour, because by featuring your content they will be seen to fit in to the trend of the other websites in their niche.

So how does this work in reality?
 “Hi [First Name],

I just read your article on [blog topic] and I would love the opportunity to write more about the subject for your blog.

As you know [blog topic] is pretty hot right now and I have recently written some very popular posts on the subject at [list of websites in their niche], and I notice very few people are writing about [proposed blog topic].

Let me know if it is of interest to you and I will send across a draft in the next few days,



Appeal to their Ego

We all have an ego and most of us don’t mind when our ego is massaged from time to time

Egobait is an incredibly simple and effective marketing tactic to get your head around and is a very good way to get onto the radar of a thought leader in your niche:

  1. Curate a best of post or Top 10 list
  2. Create a badge or award
  3. Mention Influencers in your blog posts (link out)

If you want to learn more about creating Egobait then I recommend this post by James Agate, this post from Anthony D Nelson and there is a great round up from Steve Morgan on Communitybait where you egobait a larger group of people, rather than just focusing on a few individuals.

Create an Information Gap

Most experts think they know a lot about their subject matter area and by creating a need based desire you create an itch that only you can scratch.

In the competitive and ego-driven mindset that most of us have developed we pick up on details and drive wedges between ourselves and others in order to have a clear and distinct position.

Dr. George Lowenstien wrote a paper about Information Gap Theory in 1994 and it works like this:

When we come across something new that is not explained by our previous knowledge or experiences, an information gap is formed, and we have a desire to find the answer. 

This is marketing 101 and yet very few people utilise this in their outreach efforts. I have given an example of this type of email before, but just in case you missed it, here is another:
Hi [First Name],

I came across some research that shows (insert the conclusion of the research)

If you would like me to send across more information about the research let me know, and I’ll happily email it across.

Many Thanks,



This is a great link building tactic I like to use a lot as it means they are asking me for the link to my client’s content and therefore I am not sending the stereotypical outreach email.

Prospect Theory

Prospect theory was developed by Kahneman and Tversky to explain how we make decisions, particularly in the face of risk. It is one of the most direct and strong applications of psychology to business because of the solid research basis.

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