Being a theology student, the discussion as to whether Black Hat SEO is a sin intrigued me academically, especially given some of the reasoning behind it. My suspicion (which I can in no way stand up rigorously) is that when we as churches need to ask whether or not something is a sin, we often know the answer on the subconscious level and we are trying to find a justification by which we can bend the boundaries ever so slightly.
It’s like the perennial question that get asked about sex before marriage in some Christian circles: how far is too far? The very fact that we are discussing this question should raise alarm bells: we know that we are aware of its morally dubious nature by the sense of disease we get in our consciences.
Black Hat SEO essentially works by deceit: it is the decision, whether explicit or not, that although there are a certain set of rules by which a game is played, I am not going to play by them. There are times when as Christians this is a perfectly acceptance stance to take: in the Christian tradition, we have quite rightly stood against the game rules set by economic powers that reduce people to cogs in a money making machine. We have quite rightly stood against philosophies that say that military power or physical violence is how truth and justice are best exercised in the world and instead point to the cross where true power was exercised in what looked like defeat.
The point was, however, that when the church refused to play by the rules, we did so because we believed that truth is more important than what is easy, convenient or popular. We did so because we believed that in following Jesus we knew a better way to live.
That’s not the case when we decide to engage in things that are classed as Black Hat SEO. There, we decide not to play by the rules; but it’s not for the sake of truth or righteousness. Instead, if we are tempted to engage in Black Hat SEO, we are doing so for the sake of trying to get more visitors than we are entitled to, trying to cheat our way through a system or trying to manipulate the search engines into doing what we want.
Apart from the fact that this is a colossally stupid thing to do (trust me, it’s really quite simple math to work out most black hat SEO tricks on a website, and Google has really quite a lot of computing power to turn towards this math), it is an activity which is falling far short of our calling to be salt and light in the world. In an environment where most businesses and co-operations won’t use Black Hat SEO simply because of the possible risks to their website and online reputation, it seems strange that the question should even be on the table when we are discussing how to market church and Christian websites.
We have to wonder why this is. Maybe it’s because we have a lack of confidence in our ability to produce good, credible quality content that will compete in the global marketplace. If this is the case, maybe we need to remember what we mean theologically when we talk about God as creator and the implications this has for our own creativity. Maybe we are, like many, always tempted to take a short cut, to get results without putting in the effort over many years. If so, maybe we need to remember what it means for the road to be narrow and to have to run the race with perseverance.
What do you think of the argument presented here?
Why might churches be tempted towards considering Black Hat SEO?