Is gaming Google a gateway to crime?

In other words, are businesses that hire "blackhat" search-engine manipulators more likely to engage in outright criminal activity than those who play the traffic-generation game by Google's rules?

That's the suggestion being made by Google Web-spam enforcer/blogger Matt Cutts in a provocative post that's unlikely to win him friends among SEO types, many of whom already consider Cutts the enemy.

The assertion by Cutts was prompted by news of the arrest of Matt Marlon, who was CEO of Traffic Power, a blackhat SEO operator that Google banned in 2006 and Cutts held up as an example of manipulation the search giant won't tolerate. Marlon is accused of running a mortgage scam in Nevada.

So is mere hiring of such characters a gateway to corporate crime?

Cutts writes yesterday:

For a while now, I've had a slight hunch that clients that embrace blackhat SEO on their site are willing to cut corners in other areas of business as well. Earlier today I was reviewing an email from 2001 (!) where Google removed a very large company's website from our index for hidden GIF links, machine-generated doorway pages, and cloaking. It's interesting to look back with the benefit of hindsight now. Later on, the company:

- had 10+ employees convicted for inflating revenue

- the CEO was sentenced to 10+ years in jail

- another executive was sentenced to 2+ years in jail

Can I definitively claim that there's a connection between a willingness to embrace blackhat SEO and a willingness to cut corners in other areas of business? No, of course not. But I have seen several examples like the one I mention above. That's why I'm glad that as more site owners learn about SEO, the long-term odds of blatant SEO scams going undetected go down.

Cutts doesn't name names, so it's difficult to confirm the accuracy of his account of the criminal accounting, but there's no reason to doubt that such situations have occurred. And, as generalizations go, I'm personally willing to buy the argument that search engine cheaters are more likely to cook the books than are those who consider terms of use sacred.

But it's still quite a leap.

After all, incurring the wrath of Google may result in a euphemistic fate worse than death - banishment from search rankings - but it's not going to land you in the slammer.

At least not until Google completes its quest for world domination.

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