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Black-Hat Ops

Black-hat services - who will you hire? What will they do?

Just over a year ago I published a post called, A Conspiracy of Blog Comments. I had had my WordPress blog only a month or two but I could already detect a trend – odd comments leading to similarly designed shell web sites which pointed to under-the-radar products at Amazon. Engine lifts, electric cellos, etc. It made me wonder who would put the time, effort, and money into setting these up for such obscure items.

In this morning’s NYT Business section the lead story, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, pries back the lid just a bit on what the industry calls black-hat services – SEO companies which are hired to stack the deck in terms of Google rankings. The article deals on a larger scale, JC Penney and its search rankings, but the fingerprints are similar to what I saw happening with blog comments, products, and Amazon.

I find this seamy underbelly interesting. It makes one think of dark alleys, persistent rain, and Blade Runner-esque visions of the future. Large corporations hiring questionable companies in corporate backwaters to set up bogus sites, seeding the Internet with links to those sites, all with the goal of funneling traffic. It’s a lot of work, the scope is huge, and it doesn’t appear that it can be completely automated like email spam. Who is doing this and where are they located? Are there blog comment sweatshops out there? The black-hats…