SEO hats and the browser of the future
19 August 2017
The field of Search Engine Optimization has white hat SEO, black hat SEO, and gray hat SEO.
White hat SEO helps a user get a better search result, and complies with search engine policies. Examples include accurately using the same words that users search on, and getting honest inbound links.
Black hat SEO is clearly against search engine policies. Link farming, keyword stuffing, cloaking, and a zillion other schemes. If they see you doing it, your site gets penalized in search results.
Gray hat SEO is everything that doesn't help the user get a better search result, but technically doesn't violate a search engine policy.
Most SEO experts advise you not to put a lot of time and effort into gray hat, because eventually the search engines will notice your gray hat scheme and start penalizing sites that do it. Gray hat is just stuff that's going to be black hat when the search engines figure it out.
Adtech has gray hat, too. Rocket Fuel Awarded Two Patents to Help Leverage First-Party Cookies to More Meaningfully Reach Consumers.
This scheme seems to be intended to get around existing third-party cookie protection, which is turned on by default in Apple Safari and available in other browsers.
But how long will it work?
Maybe the browser of the future won't run a "kangaroo cookie court" but will ship with a built-in "kangaroo law school" so that each copy of the browser will develop its own local "courts" and its own local "case law" based on the user's choices. It will become harder to predict how long any single gray hat adtech scheme will continue working.
In the big picture: in order to sell advertising you need to give the advertiser some credible information on who the audience is. Since the "browser wars" of the 1990s, most browsers have been bad at protecting personal information about the user, so web advertising has become a game where a whole bunch of companies compete to covertly capture as much user info as they can.
Today, browsers are getting better at implementing people's preferences about sharing their information. The result is a change in the rules of the game. Investment in taking people's personal info is becoming less rewarding, as browsers compete to reflect people's preferences. (That patent will be irrelevant thanks to browser updates long before it expires.)
Adfraud is the other half of this story. Fraudbots are getting smarter at creating human-looking ad impressions just as humans are getting better protected. If you think that a web publisher's response to harder-to-detect bots, viewing more high-CPM video ads, should be "pivot to video!!1!!" I don't know if I can help you.
And investments in building sites and brands that are trustworthy enough for people to want to share their information will tend to become more rewarding. (This shift naturally leads to complaints from people who are used to winning the old game, but will probably be better for customers who want to use trustworthy brands and for people who want to earn money by making ad-supported news and cultural works.)