Most folks are familiar with the various types of SEO.
We have black hat SEO, where people are using techniques like content automation, backlinking software, hacked sites, and sneaky redirects in order to climb the ranks.
On the other side of the equation, we have our white hatters, who like to stay within the guidelines of Google’s terms of service.
Somewhere in the middle, we have the grey hats, who dabble in a bit of both.
But, you may not have heard about the ever elusive band of SEO’s called the “tin hats.” In a nutshell, tin hat SEO has a lot less to do with actual “ranking” then it does with “generally being freaked the hell out about everything crashing down in a single instant and ruining everything you’ve setup for the past year.” Read about the origin of the term “tin hat” here.
Tin hats are often the butt of jokes in the SEO community. They’re made fun of because of their lack of actual progress in ranking and earning due to the immense amount of time spent geeking-out about Google reading their emails, tracking their IPs, and discovering their foot prints.
Laugh as you might, but we all have a little tin hat inside of us. I know I do.
My personal stance on the whole subject of tracking, spying and what not: I think it’s extremely unlikely that it occurs. I think that Google has too much on their plate already.
Nonetheless, as long as it doesn’t take too much of my time, I figure it doesn’t hurt to take some precautions, just in case. I mean, (as I type this from my homemade bunker with 18 months of water and rations) one can never be too safe.
If you’re the same and you just want to know the essentials of how to protect yourself, you’re in the right place. I’ll be going over some of the common fears from the tin hats related to spying, IPs, document scans and more and the solutions for each.
What I won’t be discussing is the topic of PBN footprints which is a whole subject in itself. For that I will refer you to Daryl Rosser’s PBN guide.
That said, now onto the show:
1) How to Block Google Fonts
Paranoia level: 7/10
If you use WordPress for your PBNs, like most of us do, then this applies to you. Certain WordPress themes will call upon Google and ask for a downloadable set of fonts. Not only that, but the WordPress dashboard itself tries to download the font pack whenever you login.
If you look at the HTML source code when such a theme is loaded or when you’re logged into WordPress, it will look something like this…
The worry is that if you’re logging into many of your PBNs from the same IP address, Google will be able to see all of the different sites that you have WordPress access to, put your whole scheme together, and then blow your shit up.
To safeguard against this, people have tried many things:
- You could avoid using WordPress themes that have this API call, but WordPress itself calls for the fonts, so that does no good.
- You could try to remove the API call from the WordPress installation files, but the file that calls on the fonts is compiled and encrypted, so good luck with that.
- Lastly there’re plugins that claim to help, but I haven’t found a single one that can deal with the WordPress dashboard call.
The Solution: Hack your “hosts” file
Instead of attacking the problem at the level of your sites, simply prevent your computer from ever being able to ask for these files, period.
This is performed by editing the “hosts” file of your computer.
Open up this file and make sure to “Run as Administrator” (read more).
Add the following line to your “hosts” file:
Save the file and you’re done.
You’ll know it’s working because some sites that you visit are going to be uglier than normal. This is because they’re actually utilizing some of these fonts and are now unable to download them.
This is the price we pay for paranoia.
2) Browser, Account, and Search History Tracking
Paranoia level: 8/10
Have you ever had any of the following questions when you’re doing your work as an SEO?
- If I’m logged into my Google account when I’m searching, will Google be able to track all the sites I go to?
- If I use Chrome, will Google be able to see all the PBNs I log into?
- If I leave my search history turned on, will Google be able to destroy my life?
The tin hat philosophy behind this is similar to the Google fonts idea. If you’re being tracked, then essentially a complete list of sites that you visit and log into, is visible to Google.
There’re a couple of different solutions that I don’t quite recommend.
You could always:
- Switch to a new browser like Safari
- Make sure you never login to a Google account
- Always clear your search history
- Never save cookies
- Use a VPN to switch up your IP whenever you log into a PBN
However, this kind of defeats the purpose of using a modern browser that will save your passwords, perform autocomplete for you when you’re trying to work quickly, bookmark your sites, etc.
Not only that, but you’re still not fully untrackable. Even when you’re using a VPN, a simple webtrc command can pierce the veil.
Alternatively, you could use a browser like Epic Browser. This company can indeed successfully pull off what’s necessary to block you from being tracked.
However, this company and others like it make money from selling data. Specifically, the behavioral data collected from your browsing experience which is especially valuable for advertisement companies.
Essentially your tracked data isn’t directly readable by Google, but perhaps it might be in the future when the price is right. This is Inception level tin hit at its finest.
Luckily there’s an alternative.
Solution: Opera Browser with the Ghostery Plugin
The Opera Browser (to date) is not affiliated or partnered with Google at all, and is actually performs extremely well compared to its other non-affiliated peers. Between Opera and Firefox, I personally felt like Opera smashed it.
Browser Speed Comparison Table
Courtesy of DigitalTrends.com
Once you have Opera installed, download the Ghostery plugin.
Ghostery is a solid plugin and privacy tool that can effectively block your browser from sending any outgoing information. Just be sure you don’t opt-in when you’re installing it or it will sell your data to advertisement agencies, just like Epic Browser.
Here’s how to effectively set it up.
1) Install the plugin and go to the settings
2) Make sure the opt-in Ghostrank is turned off and the auto-update is turned on
3) Select all types of trackers and enable all of them.
4) Go over to advanced settings and make it look like this:
Now when you go to a website that instigating tracking, you can actually see what all is getting blocked by Ghostery.
3) Gmail is Scanning Your Email Content
Paranoia level: 6/10
It’s a well-known fact that Google scans the content of our Gmail accounts in order to serve us up advertisements that can potentially create revenue. They clearly state this in their terms of service.
Not to worry though, this process is performed algorithmically and based on filters. The only instance where a filter will trigger human interaction is in the case of child abuse/porn which, in my opinion, they have all rights to take action.
Nonetheless, if you want a full-proof solution to privacy…
Solution: Setup a Domain and Create Your Own Email Address
Simply register a domain and setup an email address for it.
This is a no-brainer anyways if you own an SEO agency, but even if you’re just starting out in SEO or stick mostly to doing affiliate SEO on your own, it never hurts to have a branded domain and your own email address.
Setup basic email on this account and then install either Outlook or Thunderbird on your laptop or home computer.
Personally, I prefer the features of desktop mail software over Gmail anyways. Got to love that “Do not deliver before” feature.
4) Google has access to your Google Drive Sheet and Documents
Paranoia level: 6/10
The Google terms of service is written in such a way to cover all of its products when it comes to being able to mine data from you. So just like Gmail, the Google Drive spreadsheets and documents applications are open for inspection.
To function properly in SEO, one needs to manage and track data such as backlinks, PBNs, etc. If you travel or manage a team, then your spreadsheets and SOPs need to be stored in the cloud. This will enable you, or anyone else, to always be able to access the most up-to-date version of the files you’re editing. The alternative of coordinating and uploading via Dropbox is simply a nightmare.
The Solution: Zoho Docs
Zoho Docs is essentially an all-in-one solution for online document management. It has everything you need as far as creating documents goes:
- Word documents
For free, you can create a basic account which will give you and two other people access to your documents.
In terms of how Zoho Docs fares against the other free online document editors, it’s solid. You can copy and paste freely between documents, create complex functions on spreadsheets, graph, the works. If you’re currently a One Drive user, once you switch over to Zoho, you’re going to think it’s the best software you’ve ever used.
I use Zoho for all of my management tasks. This includes tracking offsite SEO campaigns, managing budgets, writing SOPs, and more.