Jenn, thanks for the "rant". Believe it or not I really do see most of your points. I probably am, though, a bit more cynical than you. It's true that "Knowledge is Power", but under pressure many well intentioned people can then believe and resort to the incorrect thinking that "Power is more of a Privilege than it is a Responsibility".
"You speak of black hats as if they are these evil people that are out to cheat us all and as if they are working evil dark magics to do it." = What I said was: "I know and agree, totally, that "Black hat SEO is neither illegal, nor immoral. It simply breaks the "arbitrary" rules that each of the individual search engines choose to setup." I also don't negatively judge the Black Hat SEO'ers themselves." As far as "WORKING EVIL DARK MAGICS" is concerned, if the knowledge/power that can come from "programming and analytics" due to certain people that are "focused on pushing all the boundaries and testing all the options" is able to eliminate any contest money going "to help spread awareness and raise money for human milk banking, a cause very dear to my heart.", then while it may not be "EVIL" per se, there will be a "LACK OF GOOD" that results, IMO.
I then added: "Since, my premise is that the more all SEO people use, or are forced to use, programming and analytics directed at the search engines only vs. "Doing everything necessary to improve a website's performance for it's target audience." (Stony deGeyter's quote from: http://forums.searchenginewatch.com...17&postcount=16
), the chances of the overall online search user's experience being good most of the time gets reduced, IMO." By that I mean that if what Stoney says is true: "White: Honor SE guidelines; Black: "trick" search engines" and "White: Site marketability is important; Black: Top rankings at any cost", and finally "White: Content driven; Black: Technology driven", then the sometimes "forgotten", but most important part of the whole Search Marketing equation (the online search user) MAY be served something other than the best quality content on the top of the 1st SERP because of programming and analytic techniques.
Even though I've read many forum discussions on the misleading terms "White Hat" and "Black Hat", I must admit I've been recently influenced by Alan Perkins "SEO: Sleepwalking Ever Onwards?"
. It was based on his opinions and experience from the last Chicago SES Conference. This article, along with Danny Sullivan saying not too long ago about the reputation of the industry that "Despite gains, many will still see us as the used car salespeople of the Web" means to me (maybe nobody else?) that any "ends justifies the means" behavior on the part of SEO's may further damage an already misunderstood and misperceived industry.
Yes, there are very nice and honorable "Black Hat" SEO's that only work on their own sites. I agree that "black hat doesn’t mean cold, heartless, greedy and selfish." These are all "generalizations" for which exceptions can be found, and it is right and proper for us to be talking in "generalizations". So, thanks for saying "most of the black hats that I know.." as I'm hoping you'll agree that you may not know all of them.
"Why are you so worried about a black hat winning an SEO contest? Why does it matter..it's a silly contest..." = "worried" may be the wrong keyword, as I am "concerned" about anything that positively or negatively affects the healthy and fast growth of the Search Marketing Industry. IT WAS CarCasher.com THAT SET THE STAGE FOR A GOOGLE (ONLY) SET OF GUIDELINES, when prize money is for Yahoo and MSN too. I guess I'm hoping that they are "worried" about all participants following their rules. Plus, I don't think that CarCasher.com thinks that "it's a silly contest". Maybe I'm wrong, but they are putting up a decent amount of prize money compared to other "silly" SEO contests.
"the reality is that most black hats are working to rank perfectly legitimate sites for perfectly legitimate phrases" = I hope you are right, but how do you know for sure? Plus, even if they are, the sites and SEO's that have to compete with their legitimate sites and phrases, may be encouraged to become more "Gray Hat" to compete?
"Maybe I’m reading into things..." regarding "Sort of read to me like “Oh no! *whisper* *whisper* Some white hats aren’t as innocent as we thought!" = How ironic, as a matter of fact the well known SEO who told me this DID lower his (or her) voice when he (or she) said it! I go to some SEM Conferences and speak with many SEO-SEM's.
"It’s usually black hats that discover the new optimization techniques that work and that ARE legit,.." = Agreed, but not about "legit", as that keyword is too "nebulous
("Lacking definite.. limits"). I say this because some of what was "legit" years ago is now "not legit". For example, look at how "linking policy" has evolved over the years.
"This whole “white” is good and “black” is bad thing is an old argument and one that really needs to be retired." = AGREED! However in trying to communicate the concepts involved, those words are what have evolved (for lack of better keywords that describe the situation succinctly). If you have some suggestions for replacement keywords that are succinct, I am "all ears", as I think the "hat" thing can mislead ignorant SEO prospects.
"It’s not the good verses the evil here, it’s two different ways of looking at things." = I understand what you are saying. But "evil" can be in the "eye of the (doer and) beholder", since it is very subjective vs. objective to most people. My take on the "evil" here has more to do with an overview of the current reputation of the industry, along with my concern for a constantly improving "online search user experience".
Jenn, you are a talented and honorable person, IMO, and I'm hoping we don't have to "agree to disagree" on too many things. But, if it winds up that way, then isn't it great to have online communities like forums, etc for people to express their individual opinions!
Lastly, you say: "How are you serving your clients and are you being honest with them? That’s what it boils down to." = For the most part, I agree with that statement. But, I wish some of the seemingly greedly and "ends justifies the means" mentality SEO clients and prospects would be more concerned with a "long term" vs. "short term", quality "value proposition" for their customers. IMO, every marketing priority-focus should be: the end-user-customers come first, the client-advertisers come second, and the SEM Consultant firms come third (but they are just as important overall). That's the best "order of things" to have a long term "win-win-win" situation. These prospects and ene-user-customers are the online search users in a growing number of cases, as broadband gets improved speed (FiOS, for example), and wider usage.
PS = Jenn, I'm hoping you do care if too many "Black Hats" win all the contest money & iPod since you said you want: "to help spread awareness and raise money for human milk banking, a cause very dear to my heart." I wish you success with your unselfish goal!