WE Charity Search Engine Manipulation & Black Hat SEO: Explained

Get a glimpse into the dark world of black hat SEO and how it’s leveraged by organizations – illustrated by Craig Kielburger’s WE Charity 2018 & 2019 incidents

Gaining traction in the news this week is a WE Charity incident involving the use of Google search algorithm manipulation. According to the National Post, “the Google manipulation campaign was used to boost the visibility of two positive stories about the WE Charity, while burying any potential negative coverage.”

CEO of Elite Digital, Robert Burko, is quoted in the article in regards to the campaign: “This is highly unethical. This is violating the terms of service of any site that they’re interacting with. As a veteran in the industry, I frown on all of this.”

In digital marketing agencies, we call this campaign ‘black hat’ SEO (search engine optimization) marketing. 

Although a variety of news sources are covering the WE Charity manipulation, there hasn’t been much – if any – explanation as to what this actually means. 

For anyone who wants to know more about the WE Charity SEO manipulation, what black hat SEO is, how cheating Google works, and if it actually works, keep reading: 

How did the WE Campaign manipulate search engines? 

In an effort to promote positive stories on the WE Charity after negative coverage from 2018 and 2019, 180 or more workers from microworkers.com were hired to manipulate Google’s search algorithm. Although it’s unclear who hired the black hat SEO specialists, they were paid to help boost the visibility of positive media coverage of the Craig Kielburger-founded charity on search engines in order to push other negative stories further down on search results pages. 

In short, someone paid workers to first look up specific search phrases such as ‘Craig Kielburger + CNN’ and click on two specific articles, positive in tone, from Toronto Star and CNN.com. The posting then asked workers to spend approximately one minute on each of these pages and click a link on each. 

Wondering why anyone would pay someone for this? 

The purpose is to manipulate Google into thinking the content on these pages is resonating with users. This is an SEO factor that outranks other articles that can be found using similar search queries. 

This tactic is known in the digital marketing world as black hat SEO.

Black hat seo job posting for we.org founded by Craig Kielburger
An example of a job posting from an unknown source to perform black hat SEO tactics for we.org. Source: National Post

What is ‘black hat’ SEO?

The definition of Black hat SEO is a series of practices used to increase a site or page’s search engine ranking using methods that violate the search engines’ terms of service. Some common black hat tactics used are: 

  • Bulk backlink purchasing from link farms, link wheels or link networks
  • Hidden text and links within web pages (often done by blending the text color with the webpage color) 
  • Reporting competitors (this is done in an attempt to have search engines penalize competitor websites in order to rank above them) 
  • Scraped content (this is content that’s not unique and has been copied from other sources)
  • And many more

By employing these strategies, you risk your website being banned from search engines and affiliate sites. Google Webmaster Guidelines and Bing Webmaster Guidelines have outlined all of these tactics and how their use can impact your website rankings.

Can you cheat Google with ‘black hat’ SEO? 

The short answer is no. There may be some short-term benefits to this type of shady marketing, but Google and other search engines are getting smarter by the day. In fact, Google changes its algorithm about 500-600 times each year. 

The more black hat marketers try to manipulate the system, the more search engines are taking action to penalize these tactics. For example, not too long ago, bulk backlink purchases helped thousands of websites rank higher on search engines. Now, these websites are facing major penalties and companies are spending small fortunes trying to revert the damage done from these past expenditures.  

Additionally, as in the case of the WE Charity incident, companies can face negative media exposure if caught red-handed. 

Cons of Black Hat SEO 

Although it’s possible to increase your website ranking through the use of black hat SEO tactics, keep in mind that there are some definite risks. Google penalizes websites that employ questionable ranking strategies and these penalties can have long-lasting detriments for your website. 

The bottom line: if you’re trying to build a long-lasting business with an upstanding reputation – say ‘no’ to black hat SEO. 

The best alternative? White hat SEO! When done right, traditional SEO increases traffic, visibility – and better yet, these benefits are long-term with no risks. 

White Hat SEO Wins Every Time

Overall, navigating the dark waters of black hat SEO can result in getting lost and forgotten in the endless void of search results. The short term benefits may seem tempting, but white hat SEO offers everlasting results including higher visibility, greater amounts of relevant traffic, and increased brand credibility.

To learn more about white hat SEO and it’s long term benefits, read this article on the value of SEO.

Want to smooth-sail on the white hat SEO revenue stream? The team of expert SEO specialists at Elite Digital can help take your business where it needs to be. 

About Alexis Soer

SEO Strategist & Content Creator at Elite Digital

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