Consider the following scenario: you are pitching SEO/Website Optimisation to a prospective client and you explain to them the importance of great copy and content, how acquiring links (ethically) can increase page rank, why the quality of the HTML build matters (H1, H2 tags, w3c validation etc), why keyword research is beneficial, you may drop in a few Google Webmaster Guideline or Matt Cutts references to back up your claims and rubbish the "back hat" approach as being no longer effective for good measure. Your advice is ethical and in the eyes of best practices, spot on.

Then, the client points out to you some of their long established competitors on Google and you see these competitor websites ranking in the top spots (1 to 3) for medium to highly competitive search phrases that your client wants to compete for. These websites totally contradict your ethical approach and pretty much violate every best practice previously noted. They even out perform other "white hat" competitors who are in accordance with the above guidelines.

I experienced this today. One of these well ranking websites had:

  • About six microsites with more or less the same copy and a slightly varied layout
  • Little or not textual content
  • I would almost say duplicate content across the sites, but there was so little of it it could barely qualify for being duplicate
  • All the content in Flash (with a music track that kicked in on each page load, not so much of an SEO issue - but it helps paint the picture)
  • Keyword stuffing behind the Flash file with a bunch of black text on black background in the style of keyword 1 keyword 2,keyword1,keyword 2,keyword 2 keyword 3 and so on...
  • The exact keyword stuffed combination present on every page of the website
  • A bunch of clearly self made links from poor quality forums and directories with little or no Page Rank
  • Links exchanged across the microsites

How do you explain your way out of this when this hard evidence is sat in front of you undermining your great pitch?

  • I'm curious what the keywords are that you consider medium to high competition.
    – John Conde
    Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 0:04
  • how old are the sites/domains? The description of the site sounds like something that was common a long time back, so the age of the domain could be an important factor. Incumbents seem very difficult to displace. If the site has been round for a while, it may be that they have a lot of inbound links. Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 2:02
  • @Anthonyg: Fair point, only these are 2007 which adds to my frustration. @John Conde: Ideally I would like to keep this "keyword agnostic". The search volumes range from 5,000 to 10,000 searches a month, which in terms of search isn't THAT much but there a lot of companies fighting this corner, adwords are in excess of £1.50 per click and I've gone as far as the first 20 pages in Google and can tell by the titles and style of writing the the webpages are directly competing for this phrase. This is my definition of medium (maybe 'high' was a little bit too far upon relfection) competition.
    – BradB
    Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 9:44
  • I think, anyone doesn't have these type of question in 2018. Google is now very smart. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 5:38

3 Answers 3


Without knowing the keywords or the sites I would speculate and point out the following:

  • The hidden text behind the flash file may not be doing them any good. It may be there, but that doesn't mean it is helping their rankings. There is a good chance that attempt at keyword stuffing is being ignored..

  • The links exchanged across the microsites isn't black hat. It isn't also necessarily helping them. Being that a link pattern is obvious those links may be, and probably are, devalued. One way links are almost always worth more then reciprocal and networked links.

  • You don't need a lot of content to rank well since search engines rank pages, not sites. So a one page website can have its home page, and only page, rank as well as any page on a huge website if the criteria are right (quality links, proper content, etc.)

  • Those links from forums and directories almost certainly carry little weight. They also aren't black hat to have.

  • Have you researched their backlinks? They may have some high quality links that are giving them a lot of help. Due to the search engines not reporting all backlinks you may not be able to determine this if it is indeed the case.

What you should consider doing is:

  • Report the sites with the keyword stuffing behind the flash

  • If the prospective SEO client thinks black hat is the way to go tell them that something that you can get away with today could get you banned tomorrow. Would they want to risk being banned from Google and potentially lose out on priceless free advertising? A smart business wouldn't.

  • Tell them that those sites are crap and if they do the right thing they'll have an advantage over the competition. Isn't that what they are looking to hire you for?

  • Good point about reporting these sites. Have you ever managed to get a black hat website banned? I've reported a handful of sites in the past but have never noticed any obvious penalty imposed!
    – BradB
    Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 9:46
  • 2
    I have reported 1 or 2 black hat sites via webmasters tools with success. Within a day or two they dropped off the first page, they re-appeared slightly further down several weeks later minus the blackhat.
    – MrG
    Commented Oct 29, 2010 at 9:52

For the same reason women date @#$holes. They may be bad, but they get a short simple message across.

It is all relative. If you do a search for Dolphin Pizza, i am sure its easy to rank. Do a search for laser printer and its harder. These sites just fill a void or a niche, but its hard to get a site with poor seo to rank well when there is a real market.

I also think domain name has a lot with it. I once saw a one page .org site that ranked first on google because its name was my search term. Verusus sites that had much better content.

The truth is, even if a poor site ranks well it doesnt do well. What a waste of time to build up the ranking of a worthless site, id rather focus on building a great product first.


If you are certain there are no genuine reasons they rank well (see Mr Conde's answer for details) I'd suggest explaning as much as you can in front of the client and then report them.

Leave your details and tell him to check where the competitors sites rank in a week.

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