Is White Hat Link Building a Myth?
Updated August, 2015 (Originally posted May, 2006)

weatheronyoursite

The original Weather Channel widget

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?

See this little Weather Channel box? Once upon a time I helped The Weather Channel with a project that was designed to give any webmaster the ability to add a snippet of code to their site that would allow them to show the current weather for their site’s visitors. The project was extremely successful. Thousands of sites added that code, extending The Weather Channel’s brand online quite quickly and in a useful, clever way.

Today you’d call that a “widget”. Back then they called them “magnets”.  Today you’d better make sure you “nofollow” any link in widget code. Back then it didn’t matter. The widget/branding mattered more than the link.

And who is to say what is acceptable and what isn’t? Google? Isn’t what works is what’s acceptable, and vice-versa? It’s not your fault blog comment spam got out of control. It’s the other guy. It’s not your fault your competitors are all buying links on PBNs. If they’d stop so would you. Right?

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.

Eric