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Is White Hat Linking a Myth?
by Eric Ward
Originally posted May, 2006

Last week's Link Whore firestorm really has me in deep thought, and that's always painful.

At what point does a link-building tactic make the leap from acceptable to not? When does white hat become black hat? Or gray hat? Or pink?

And who is to say what is acceptable and what isn't? What works is what's acceptable, and vice-versa, right? It's not your fault blog comment spam got out of control. It's the other guy. If he'd stop link farming so would I. Ok. Sure. I give.

I think the whole white hat / black hat link-building and SEM argument clouds the larger point. Appropriate link building tactics will be different depending on the site you are seeking links for. This site needs a different approach than this one. Your link pursuits should always be driven by your content, and yes, I agree sometimes your content can even be driven by link opportunities, though that's a slippery slope.

In its most simplest terms: to me white hat link building means the links you seek are not being sought for organic search rank improvement. This does not mean you can't improve your search rank via that approach, but that it's a residual effect, icing on the cake, if you will. 

If I can go Miyagi on you for a moment, I would say "high rank is the by-product of content judged well, then well linked". But this isn't all. Even non-SEO links can be spam and make the web an uglier place. "Intent" is at the core of the white hat / black hat debate. Why do you want that link? Answer that queston honestly and you'll see why I wrote last week's post.

The sad downside of the algorithmic link analysis is that when combined with increased user generated content and links, the intent of the linker can no longer be trusted. So links today are becoming like meta tags 10 years ago. Anything goes as long as it gets me traffic, right?

Nope. Not for me. 

So, either I don't get it, or you don't.  I'll bet on myself, and let's see who ranks for link building expert in a few years.



About the Author
Eric Ward founded the Web's first services for announcing, linking, and publicizing Web sites back in 1994. Ward is best known as the person behind the linking campaigns for Books,, Rodney Dangerfield (, the AMA, and His services won the 1995 Award for Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web's 100 most influential people by Websight magazine. In 2009 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes. In 2013, Eric wrote The Ultimate Guide To Link Building for Entrepreneur Press. Eric has spoken at over 150 industry conferences and now publishes LinkMoses Private, a subscription based link opportunity and strategy service. Eric has written linking strategy and advice columns for SearchEngineLand, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, Search Marketing Standard, SearchEngineGuide, Web Marketing Today, and Ad Age magazine. Learn more about Eric and his content publicity and link building services at


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