Episode 7: Behind the blackhat with Craig Campbell

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you'll get some insight into techniques that blackhat SEO have been used to rank in Google, and prepare people to make them a lot of money. Listening to Craig Campbell will give businesses insight into what their competitors may be doing, how to protect themselves and maybe some inspiration to think outside the SEO box.

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Podcast transcription:

MC: Welcome to episode 7 of the Search with Candour podcast, recorded on Saturday the 20th of April 2019. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and today I have a special episode for you, which is a recording from a SearchNorwich event. SearchNorwich for those that don't know is a bimonthly search marketing Meetup held in Norwich that's free to attend. We get two expert speakers on SEO or PPC to come and give you a 20 minute talk each. There is free food and drink and some really great people to meet.

This talk is called ‘Behind the blackhat’ and it was very kindly given to us by a chap named Craig Campbell who is a quite I think, an infamous SEO who traveled down from Scotland to give this talk. To say it split the room would be an understatement. I think some people were shocked by what they heard, others maybe disgusted and others couldn't get enough of it. The video itself got 25,000 views, well 24,914 as I'm looking at it now, so it certainly created some interest at least. Personally I think it's a good talk for everyone to listen to, so if you are running a business online and you think well I've got no interest in blackhat SEO or risking my business doing this, it's still worth listening to, because you will hear what some of your competition are doing and by understanding what's happening you can defend yourself against certain things. So Craig will go into some techniques that he used on some companies that actually ended up to be in their detriment. So it's really good for everyone to understand what some people are up to, and for other people maybe those running their own websites/affiliate sites. I think it's really interesting to hear what kind of blackhat techniques are still working in 2019 with Google. With that said I think the only thing left to say is Craig's language does get a little bit colourful so if you're easily offended maybe not the episode for you, otherwise enjoy.

CG: So my name's Craig and normally what I do is training and consultancy. I’ve been there done that agency crap that quite a lot of people might do and I did not enjoy it. Listen, each to their own, just I've not got the right temperament for listening to clients, but I started out as a freelancer in my bedroom. Built up an agency, decided to sell my agency because as I see clients where busting my brains and wasting too much of my time and it wasn't enjoyable for me so obviously I've been through this. The different events, speaking at Brighton SEO, SMXL Milan, you may see me on SEMrush webinars and talking at Chiang Mai SEO conference which is on in October, I think it's sold out now so if anyone wants to watch it’s too late. But that's with a lot of the blackhat people, or people who are cheating are going to talk and that's where you probably pick up quite a lot of knowledge because as Mark said, trying to find out this information is really hard out there.

You know I spent years going around in circles believing in one guy, making mistakes, believing that this tool was the best thing or this strategy was the best thing and it was all a lot of garbage. So it takes quite a bit of time to figure out what's what and how things work. So as I say I had nine years at an agency - not for me. Now which hat do successful SEO’s wear? I don't really like being called the ‘blackhat guy’, people term me as blackhat and and quite a lot of people in the industry will tell me as blackhat, dodgy or whatever. The same as someone will be called whitehat because you know they're doing all that kind of stuff and allegedly not cheating but I've got friends in agencies and stuff and they claim to be PR agencies and all whitehat and stuff. Virtually it is as much as the next guy, it’s just what sales pitch you want to give to your clients and obviously if you say that you're doing something dodgy a lot of clients do gets scared.

So what is whitehat? You know ethical issues or ethical practices, you need huge budgets to throw behind pay-per-click and everything else - PR, getting stuff in newspapers, small budgets won’t work that far. When I was starting out at an agency I had guys that were paying £300, £400, £500 a month for fairly small businesses - builders. plumbers. And that stuff. You can get them a link to the BBC or whatever there's just not enough time to pitch that, write the content etc. so somehow you have to cheap or you just take the guy's money and do no work which means that you'll no longer get paid in the long term.

Blackhat as far as I'm concerned, there's these spammers - you've probably seen them all in Facebook groups and all that kind of stuff selling 500 links for $5.00 or that website or called Fiverr - there's all sorts of garbage on there. That stuff to me is pretty much blackhat, and what advocates consider I do is the moneyhat stuff so I think it's silly to label yourself one or the other, at the end of the day we're all here to make money, be successful, help our clients, and keep staff in whatever else your goals are as an agency to hit your targets. So there's a difference between being clever and being spammy as far as I'm concerned, I don't go to Fiverr and that's what I think a lot of customers will think that I do. When they hear that term ‘blackhat’ they think Fiverr gigs and that kind of content, it’s all garbage.

So blackhat SEO - it does exist in extent and but it's a load of garbage, people who know what they're doing wouldn’t really label themselves. It doesn't really exist the same way that the tooth fairy, santa claus, these guys don't exist - it's all nonsense, everything's all lies. I put a thing up here - ‘he who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life’, you know I've sat in an agency earning £100,000 a year, you know I was able to take care of an agency - it was garbage you know it's not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things when you're turning over and you've got all these staff and all these overheads and all these tools and everything else.I think sometimes you have to ask yourself the question ‘do I want to take risks and make more money?’ and that's what I've decided to do. So traffic bonus is what it's all about, getting high traffic going to websites that you work on whether you're you own them or whether it's client websites or whatever. So the term ‘traffic bonus’ would tend to be something along the lines of that growing up the week obviously, and that's someone that I've done a bit of work for and want to see traffic going up. That income that they get you know, £86,000 a month is not bad for someone who was earning a lot less than what he's probably earning about in October last year. But you know £86,000 a month for someone isn't about the income - it's nearly a million pound business. Doing a bit of SEO and what I have done was so-called blackhat SEO.

Productivity is the key, what I hate about agency life is that you have to do a lot of justification and not doing a lot of work. You've got a lot of pitches, a lot of board meetings, a lot of pie charts, and a whole load of other garbage and trying to pretend to the client you're actually doing work that you're not actually doing. So I think productivity is the key to this, actually getting down and doing a bit of work is hugely important. Time is money at the end of the day, report on what you need to to clients - rankings, traffic, conversions, clients are too noisy they want to know everything: what links you're building, how you're doing it, why you're not doing this. You know clients will say to me ‘oh I see Neil Patel talking on a blog’ and chatting some stuff out there that he doesn't even write. His ghost writer probably stole it off my website!

Clients are too nosy but there's nothing more painful when you hear clients saying ‘I heard this guy saying that bumped into a guy down the pub and they said this is the best way to do stuff.’ You’re always arguing with clients, so time is money you want to automate a lot of that stuff - reporting and all that kind of stuff and get away from it if you can. Or just you can evolve and work smarter not harder, and we can delegate a lot of their stuff - you can outsource it or you can use automation for a lot of the reporting and all that kind of client garbage that you have to put up with.

So I'm going to go through some of this stuff that you guys probably want to hear about, I'm not going to go into too much about private blog networks purely because the last few talks I've done have all been based around private blog networks. If you want to know the ins and outs of how they work you can watch one of the other videos. I don’t want to be the one who keeps saying the same thing over and over again, but private blog networks work really well if they’re done properly. To this day I buy domain names from guys, expired the meanings and power up websites with them and they worked really really well. There's a picture of a graph where the PBN backlinks started, and you can see the increase in traffic as a result of that. They do work, you know a lot of people say PBN’s don’t work they’re garbage - these are only guys that have been caught. The guys that set up PBN’s that are all on the same server, they’re all full of crap content and that kind of stuff. Google will penalize that kind of rubbish, but if you get PBN’s treated properly - they've got content on their own backlink profiles and whatever else then they are powerful assets - it's just the same as getting a link from another website. So PBN’s do still work.

You can have a tiered structure with PBN’s, you've got your money website (you’ve got different tiers there) and then you've got all other tiers below it. You don't want to power too much PBN’s right to your money website you want to, for example an article on a website and maybe I've been lucky enough to get a link to that article but maybe power that article up with a whole bunch of PBN’s to make it really worth my while because your article’s probably going to be average in terms of power. In terms of power not average in writing, and so I would want to power that thing up and and make it worth my while and that's where PBN’s come in.

What a lot of people do is called ‘juicing up links’, they’ll also use things like ‘Sape’ which is a Russian network of links and basically what the Russian guys do is just hack websites. So if I want a whole bunch of construction links then the guys from Sape will get me links and, whether you like it or not and whether you own the website, my links getting placed in your website and will repeatedly get put in that website because I think over 30% of websites are wordpress which is very easy to hack. So you might think you're protecting yourself but those guys are placing links on your website every other day so that's what Sape is and that is what I would power up content with if I had a link on it. So I'm not going to damage my own website, the chances are you're getting damaged so if there's any penalties they go in your way.

Now other things that work: now what I would say is be careful when you follow the masses. Now everyone in SEO I know has tried and tested click-through rate as a ranking factor. It would be common sense, obviously no one knows the in’s and out’s of how Google works but obviously it's all about testing. Click-through rate is something I've tested personally and had good results. you know I'll use things like HitLeap or whatever to send traffic to a website so I can make it look as if that page is getting a lot of clicks and and the rankings improve. It's there for everyone to see.

So what I've done is do a lot of testing so I can try, you know, traffic from different countries or whatever as well - in like the US and stuff like that. Just throughout my testing phase it goes up and it goes down because I took it off, then it was back up and it goes down so click-through-rate manipulation for me does work. It's something I've tried and tested - that's my own website. I ranked for shit in America - don’t have any American links but when I started testing that out you can see the results. I do increase and decrease when you stop doing it so as far as I'm concerned click-through rate is a big thing.

Now one of the tools that you can use for click-through rate manipulation would be HitLeap, the cool thing about HitLeap is it's fairly low cost. Don’t know if I’ve got the price on there, so you would probably only need about 100,000 hits a month, maybe not even as much as that, maybe 30,000 so it's $19.00. Basically what you can do on HitLeap is you can make that website look organic, you can make it look like referral traffic, you can make it look like whatever you want so if you want to make your website look as is it’s getting traffic from the BBC or any of these big powerful websites you can do so using HitLeap and it all shows up in your analytics as well and works well. So click-through rate manipulation is another thing that I would use to boost websites on top of PBN’s and everything else that I would choose to do and it works really well. So Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen say it doesn’t work. Not sure what feeling they've got behind everyone I know. You can do stuff like that to get a decent lift on their websites.

Now other tricks that I have done. This is quite a naughty one, I've had to be careful because I wasn't sure if this would have been a felon or not but this is one I no longer really do. A blackhat trick that I used to do. So I was doing a lot of affiliate stuff for hotels through and obviously I was getting decent money for it and I was thinking ‘how do I get more traffic to my website? How can I trick people into doing it?’ Then you can go out there and say ‘get me great content, let's do that the next thing, or go out and get links’ or do something. I couldn't be bothered doing this. So what I've done was every Hotel that I approached and basically saying ‘I want to do a free audit for your website, I'll give you a free audit, I want access to your search console, analytics, map listing. I'll make sure it's all in place and I'll do it for free with a view to maybe getting the SEO gig.' Now I had no interest in getting the SEO gig whatsoever and what I used to do was basically go into the Google Map listing and where it says ‘website’ I used to put my affiliate link there, but I used to use a URL shortener and then that was it. I gave them a free audit, you know Screaming Frog or whatever.

Now these people are so dumb, no one's going to go in to the Google Map listing to check whether that is done and even if they dead physically go and look at it they're not going to know what the fuck that is - it's just a URL shortener. Now everyone who's gone through that google map listing is definitely an affiliate fee, and I got away with it for years and years and years. So when Google Map listings came out, it was quite a good trick and and it still works to this day. But I see Mark’s coughing over there in the corner! Now even in an area, mind I’ve not done this to the Hilton in Glasgow and just in case there's any Hilton representatives that are going to watch this video. But even a hotel like the Hilton in Glasgow gets 14,800 searches a month so there's literally thousands of people looking for the Hilton hotel in Glasgow and we'll go to that map listing and click on it, and I'm getting a percentage of every fee. Hilton don't know! They don't have a clue, they just paid me thinking I’m some great SEO guy, so I made quite a lot of money doing that so that's another blackhat trick so you've got to think outside the box is the point here.

There’s more ways than writing good content to make money and that's that's the way it goes. Now what I tend to do is also a putting premium number on the map listing so I get paid 7p for every call they got as well, and so anytime people were phoning up you used to get websites/companies out there like that one there who will give you revenue for having premium numbers on your website. So that's something you could do as well on top of that to make a lot of money.

Now I'll tell you [not on slides] another good way I made some decent money as well and it's a genius tip, and I made a lot of money doing it. Elodie talked a little bit about content and how much of that is really important, what I did was ‘I can't be bothered writing all that content, can't be faked, can’t be bothered fighting Elodie’ so what I've done was built a website that’s just full of contact numbers for the likes of anyone who's get customer services. Whether it's insurance, banks, whatever it may be, so I've got a website out there and I'll show you later on if you want once there's cameras off, and what I've done is just ranked well for things like Barclays Bank customer service. All I'm competing with is a contact page that has no content on it, so content alone ranks me well for it. So when someone Google's ‘Barclays Bank customer service’ my page comes up number one and I've got a premium number on it, and there's literally hundreds of thousands of people searching for that a month so that's another naughty little trick that you can do with premium numbers to make some money.

Link building tips, now there’s a couple of link building tricks I want this year that have worked really well over the years. 78% of the facts on it are unverified, it's all just bollocks that people are putting out there. As far as I'm concerned Wise make amazing SEO and if you tell Wise you may actually get somewhere.

So you've got things like The Telegraph newspaper and I'm not saying you can use The Telegraph news like you can use like the Liverpool Echo or any of the local papers and stuff like that. You always see at the very bottom they always credit whoever that image belongs to. Now no one checks, remember what I said before. What I've done and done it very successfully was reach out to people saying ‘that's my image and I want credit for it.’ The stupid web editor doesn't even query it, 9/10 people do not query that and give me a link on the website for free. So you just got your pitch, just do an outreach campaign and 9/10 people will give you a link willingly without even asking a question ‘like prove it's your picture’ or whatever. Obviously 1/10 will deny you, you can either just bow out at that or you can say ‘oh it's very similar to one I took last month’ or whatever. So that works really well!

What works really well with bloggers is will they always put a source near there so you could claim that that line or your picture or whatever was yours, and the chances are that you would get the link which is quite a cool trick. It does get you quite a lot of links and has been hugely successful for me over the years. Also otherwise as you can tell, and quite a lot my PR agency friends do this kinda stuff. They claim to be super PR people and they've got contacts in all the right places, all they're doing is making up fake case studies, making up stats and data, and asking a webmaster to update the stats and data. All these newspapers and stuff are hungry for content, desperate for stats, and if you can provide them with those stats the journals will never ever check that stuff. I've never had the journalist check that in my life, I don't know if some of you agency guys pitch it to get articles placed, if anyone even verifies what rubbish you've given them. They don't, if your stats sound good enough then they're good on that article - job done. So just tell what's better than telling the truth as far as I'm concerned.

I reach out to those lazy webmasters, they don’t care - the editorial person or it may be an intern or whatever it may be, they don't really care they'll just do what you ask them. The link gets placed then I need assurance and repeat that process, and again that's another way of getting some decent links.

The RSS feed trick, now this might be quite naughty (Elodie might not like this one) but what I could do is sign up to a bunch or your RSS feed, your agency's website or whatever, and whenever you post a blog I've got a custom made tool, not me other people get custom made tools which will take your content, alert me and I'll just copy and paste your content in the indexing tool. I'll get my article indexed before you, and you’re seen as the one that's copying and pasting the content not me. So if you ever want free content that works really well. You get a custom made tool for about $100.00, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do and grab someone like Elodie’s content and pass it off as your own. You may get into legal battles and stuff but there's people out there doing that stuff for PBN’s, and they don't really care about legal battles because the websites are knots. Listed under any legit person’s name so that works really well in this. if you're doing affiliate marketing stuff as well then laws and legal stuff really do not come into it.

But it might be different if you're an agency or whatever but that's quite a good trick.

Another good tool, it's not so much blackhat - I don’t know if any of you have heard of of Linked Helper which basically automates your whole LinkedIn process. So after quite a big following I think I've got nearly 40,000 followers, well I don't really post a lot of great content or near because I'm not really interested in trying to acquire new clients. But what I can do is outreach so if I wanted the link in the New York Times I can reach out to someone automatically for the New York Times or people who are interns at big newspaper publishers or whatever. I can add them, mass message them, and I can get links from them so you can use it as an automated kind of outreach tool. But you can do a whole heap of other things, you can basically add people within the relevant industry and you can delete people that you don't want, like the recruiters if they're bugging me then you can automatically delete people from it.

You can view people's profiles, you can endorse them automatically, add them to groups automatically and it's a great tool and it only cost $15 a month and that's been the secret to me building up my LinkedIn profile over the years is that automation, so that when anyone does actually manually message me then i can just do it manually no problem at all. But all that grunt work is done automatically and it's doing the work 24/7 so it works really well.

But that is enough tips - don’t know if I’m running out of time or not but that is a couple of blackhat tips that I wanted to share with you. You can take from them what you will, but they do all work and work really effectively so that's just some of the stuff that' other dodgy SEO’s are doing, and above some of the stuff you guys are maybe thinking you're doing or talking about doing.Those guys out there are doing all sorts of outrageous stuff outside the box, I think that's what you need to be to be doing rather than chatting it up to clients. So that's me!

MC: And that was Craig Campbell. I really hope you enjoyed that talk, as I say if you would like to you'd like to be a speaker at SearchNorwich or you would like to attend do hop along to and you can get more information on that. You can also find all of Craig's slides and actually a video of him doing this talk to give you the context of seeing the slides as he speaks in our show notes, and they're available at My name is Mark Williams-Cook and I hope you tune in next Monday for our next episode of Search with Candour.

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