Crap Hats

"Mug shot" of Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan, Search Industry Watcher

The Internet is full of crap. There, I said it.

Search industry analyst Danny Sullivan agrees: “Search engines have ‘rules’ that they themselves knowingly allow others to break. Arguments erupt over the idea that any type of marketing is ‘manipulation.’ But at some point, enough is enough with some tactics. And today, I’m done. I’m calling bullshit on anyone who is link spamming or creating crappy nonsensical content sites.”

Then at his Search Marketing Expo a few weeks ago, Danny pleaded: “Just don’t be a ‘crap hat.’ Don’t do the crap stuff. Off-topic link drops, automated link insertions. It’s all just crap. Just say no to crap. And tell others to say no. Make it like racist jokes, don’t put up with it. Enough crappy MP3 sites, comment spamming, god knows what else. Just enough. Be leaders. Grow up and if it’s money you’re leaving on the table, leave it.”


Since I started this site a few years ago, I’ve filtered tens of thousands of auto-generated spam comments and trackback links, planted by crap hats in hope of boosting their reputation in search engines, especially Google.

I recently explained how SEO spammers are further corrupting the social media commons by planting spam links amidst human-generated comments, which are much harder to detect. Some of these comments even convey mild intelligence, but ultimately are not authentic and have the result of cheapening the comment venue.

The comment spam noted above is motivated by my willingness to open up and allow search engines to discover content in the comments, technically referred to as “do follow.” Many people have told me I should prohibit search engines from discovering comments — known technically as “no follow” — but I’ve been reluctant.

While this site is not a raging community comment forum, I believe the comments I receive add value to my postings. They often are more valuable than what I write in the first place. By allowing search engines to discover all of the content — postings and comments — the ideas and discussions that take place here become more likely to travel and achieve impact. I now manage my comments with DISQUS’s comment technology, and hope the team there will continue to innovate and empower commenting, partly through technologies that prevent crap hats from interfering.

But It Gets Much Worse.

I thought the comment-spam gnats were bad enough, but in May 2008 I was hacked. Being a crap hat is a violation to others, but it becomes definitively illegal and upsetting when one breaks into your site.  Some evildoers planted malicious code that secretly embedded hyperlinks to dozens of shady offshore businesses, such as casinos, MP3 retailers and adult sites. It was even more violating because that malicious code and its effects were designed, very technically, to be invisible to me. Without my knowing, my site became part of an illegal link network.

But that’s not all. Yesterday, during my weekly review of this site’s traffic stats, I noticed several visitors being referred from the V7 Network Web Development Community. It turns out this site is being advertised as part of a list of 244 “do follow blogs” available for $15. The anonymous (of course) guy selling the list even advises: “don’t spam these blogs, give relevant comments. backlinks it is very easy.”

Crap Hats Hurt The Commons.

Similar to email spammers, fighting crap hats is a never-ending battle. Indeed, the time and technology required to fight crap hats is a tax on our usage of the open Internet. Crap hats don’t simply hurt individuals, they hurt the commons.

What Can We Do About Crap Hats?

It’s often said that search is is the operating system of the Internet. If that’s true, then the operating system is comprised largely of Google as well as a a few second-tier players. What are they doing to protect not only the commons, but the online reputations of people and sites like this one? Efforts seem disjointed and muddied.

Importantly, is there anything that the rest of us good people in the commons can do to save it from crap hats? Call out businesses that enable crap hats? Criminalize and enforce crap-hat acts?

Is there any hope?

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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