The Dark Side of SEO with Craig Campbell

dark side of SEO Craig Campbell

The Dark Side of SEO: Sketchiest black hat SEO techniques, SEO Agencies & Clients from hell

Why do you do SEO?

SEO is all I’ve really known, I was fortunate to stumble across it from a very early age and it beats digging up roads or any other type of horrible jobs that require manual labour. Also, I like gadgets and I think SEO tools, new websites and projects keep me entertained to some degree. It really is more of a well-paid hobby than a job if I’m honest, I love the conferences and networking side of things as well as having a good debate on what works and what doesn’t so to be fair it ticks a lot of boxes for me.

Craig Campbell SEO
Photo from the Chiang Mai SEO Conference 2018,

And I have no idea what else I would do if I was to leave SEO, I’d say I’m unemployable these days, so it’s best I stick in and earn an income here.

Tell us about your online courses, how much they cost and what can everyone gain from it.

I have a couple of courses for SEO, one aimed at the beginner’s side of SEO, and then a more advanced course, which is all set up on a platform where I have screencasts to give people a much better understanding of SEO, how the tools work. I have done the screencast stuff because people can pick things up quickly, but we do have transcriptions etc under the screencasts for those of you who like to read.

But they are more for people trying to get into SEO, they are not aimed at the experienced Digital Marketing experts, there will be an affiliate marketing course coming out in November this year which will go into the stuff people in affiliate marketing will want to know about.

I do also provide in-person training courses which can be tailored to suit the individuals, this is probably the most popular type of course, in all honesty, I think there is massive value in sitting beside someone and learning whilst being able to pick their brains.

You have courses for SEOs on doing their own SEO agency. What’s your advice and tips for those that want to offer an SEO service on how to handle shitty clients?

I think many people who start agencies in this industry are not necessarily businessmen and very often find themselves in a position where they have built an agency, but get squeezed so hard by piss-taking clients that they struggle to make ends meet. And then there are other agencies who take on a ton of clients but are not charging enough and will struggle to service the clients, because they again have allowed the client to beat them down on price, or giving too much value for money because the budget isn’t there to do the job properly as well as run an agency.

Being able to say no to certain clients is a must, managing client expectations, client education and all of this stuff is important and I think my experience of doing an agency so badly first time around, helped me then go on to build a successful agency so I think I’ve picked up a lot of tips and tricks along the way that helps people handle clients including putting in processes and procedures to make sure you are secure too.

But in general, how you manage the expectations is important, as is signing these clients up into contracts as I think the client very often knows they can take the piss and will push you as far as they can if there is no structure or setup to your business and it will make you poor, stressed and potentially put you out of business.

Can you tell us one story of a client from hell?

This is difficult, yes I’ve done consulting the problem I have is which client from hell I want to talk about haha. I once had a client who started a new online business, it was an online butcher so the competition wasn’t so high, it was a fairly easy gig if I’m honest but the client was sceptical about SEO and all of the usual stuff. So we convince the client to go ahead paying around 1k per month to kick things off to see how we go.

Some great results got a lot of people onto the site and the client in the first 4-5 months had turned over 250k with online orders all as a result of SEO, he did no other form of marketing at all. So he asked us for a meeting and we thought let’s go down here, we will get more budget and we can really ramp up on things we are absolutely killing it.

So we get down there to meet the client, he starts slaughtering us saying SEO is garbage it’s not working and that we’re not giving him the details on what we are doing. Typically we will report on rankings, traffic and conversions as we do with any other client. This guy wanted to sponge us for all the information and then pull someone in-house to do the work and cut us out, this is common which is why most SEO’s are very vague in their techniques. But we have been a success here, but we instantly got fired for a guy who spent 5k and got a turnover of 250k it was at this point I started to ask myself if working with clients was worth it. Even with a success story, you get clients kicking you out the door because we wouldn’t tell him exactly what we were doing for his retainer of 1k per month.

SEOs and SEO agencies I think have a bad reputation and especially in igaming. That is, I’ve seen a lot of black hat SEO work really well and many SEOs and agencies charging a lot of money and totally not delivering. What’s your take on some of the negative perception people have towards SEO?

Listen there are loads of SEO’s and Agencies who are taking peoples money and providing little to no service, some agencies, for example, have to turn over say 20k to break even and pay a few staff and some overheads, they take on clients but very often find themselves not being able to pay for content, links, development and tools to be able to do the job properly. Undercharging and over-promising is a problem, and it gives the whole industry a bad name.

In an industry that isn’t regulated, with one guys opinion being completely different from another guy we really do have a situation where we don’t know who to trust. One thing I would say is if an SEO or agency is a lot cheaper than other quotes you have had, then it is likely because you won’t get results, you really do get what you pay for in this industry. But try and get someone with a proven track record that can show you case studies and results.

Black Hat tactics can still work, but there is a cost to everything, so you need to be able to sell better and get the money you need to get results in igaming, gambling, pills or porn or any other competitive niche. It’s impossible on a 1k a month retainer to get results in these types of industries.

Speaking of black hat, what is the sketchiest black hat SEO thing you’ve ever heard of?

So I was speaking at a conference the other day and it was full of gambling affiliates, great conference and some great stories from over there, so this one guy (he was Polish) said that a few years ago a plane crashed that was carrying a flight full of high profile businessmen and politicians. This dude went through some government document on the crash and grabbed all the dead guys websites and used them as PBN’s, that’s pretty sick, right?

But there are tons of shady tricks, lots of these black hat guys have no morals, I’ve seen some other wild stuff that I don’t want to say too much about as somehow it always comes back to bite me in the ass and somehow people think it’s me who does all this stuff. But I know guys who:

  • Do outreach in a female’s name and flirt to get links
  • Place URL shorteners with affiliate links in clients GMB’s
  • Used to steal unverified GMBs and make lead gen sites
  • Cloaking links using Bing ads because bing is too dumb to stop it

There are a million tricks to be fair, way too many to mention them all 😀

This might get you in trouble for leaving people out but which SEOs are people you follow and respect?

I will no doubt get moans and groans but it isn’t a popularity contest so please don’t be offended if you’re not listed below, I’ve tried to give a mix of different types of people in the industry rather than a whole bunch of so-called black hat guys, I’ve selected people here based on me picking up tips from these guys. So I’ve put together a list and tried to mix it up, I don’t think they would ever all sit at one table but I’m sure it would be a great convo if they did.

  • Matt Diggity
  • Matt Woodward
  • Gareth Hoyle
  • Charles Floate
  • James Dooley
  • James Gregory
  • Dawn Anderson
  • Peter Van Der Graaf
  • Arnout Hellimans
  • Nick Wilsdon
  • Gerry White
  • Ross Tavendale
  • Holly Starks
  • Kyle Roof
  • Andrea D’ Ottavio
  • Vaibhav Kakkar
  • Bill Slawski

Dan Ray is a grimy bastard because …

haha Dan’s a good lad to be fair but more than happy to throw him under the bus for something, to be fair I’ve only met Dan on a couple of occasions in person, and all of the time we have been really pissed, ok he’s a grimy bastard because he turned up at a private party at an SEO conference which was invite-only, I think I mentioned that if he used my name Dan and a couple of others will most likely get in. I didn’t realise Dan brought half of his group with him and there were about 40 people there trying to use my name to get into this party.

So yeah he’s a grimy bastard alright.

Which SEO conferences do you think are worth attending for affiliate marketers?

This is something I’m asked all the time, it’s hard to think of one conference as a go-to event, I much prefer small masterminds, the best event I’ve been to so far is SEO Rejis which was in Poland, it was full of affiliate marketing guys and there was a real high level of knowledge there. And Chiang Mai SEO again another event that has such a high level of knowledge and is full of affiliate marketers, these two events would be high up on my list of go to places if you want to learn more.

If you can, give me your best tip for increasing click through rates in Google whether for page titles, descriptions or rich snippets, asking for a friend

So tell your friend he can go to and set up a campaign there where he will be able to manipulate CTR on pages that he would like to do this on, using real people and it’s also very cheap. Either that or you can use a tool like which also allows you to mess around with CTR and you can make it look like organic, direct, social traffic and can specify the countries the traffic comes from too.

Let me know if your friend finds that useful.

One problem I see over and over again with affiliate marketers is they launch a site in an ultra competitive niche and never get off the ground, what are your tips for those people that want to launch a website and get search traffic?

Try going for something a little less competitive, there are tons of niches where you can make quick easy money, most humans will lose motivation if they enter a difficult niche and don’t have the right set up or budget to see it through, start with a bunch of long-tail stuff in an easier niche and build things up. Not sure why people go about trying to hit the jackpot right away, there is enough money doing it the other way.

About Craig Campbell

Craig Campbell SEO courses

Visit to learn more about Craig, find which conferences he’ll be speaking at and if you want to become an SEO or launch an agency, you gotta check out his courses.