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SEO Professional Observations by Tim Dineen


Beating Matt Cutts at a Black Hat game

Kinda ;)    PubCon Las Vegas 2007

Werewolf SEO game 

This was my first PubCon... special thanks Rand and SEOmoz for organizing an ice-breaker!

Big Kudos and thanks to SEOmoz for getting us all together! They got maybe a hundred of us to play a unique game and have some clean (inexpensive) fun on Wednesday night!

The idea of this game initially struck me as odd. It was called Werewolf, or Mafia, but even though many of us had read the instructions (via Wikipedia) beforehand, many didn't follow the rules of the game. (I guess Wikipedia should be rel=nofollow after all?)

But we all learned quickly as Rand "White Hat, Yellow Shoes" Fishkin worked the room table-by-table instructing all of the beginners and encouraging the crowd to understand and become active.

Basically, each card in the deck represented a Black Hat, White Hat, a Matt "The Revealer" Cutts and a Danny "Gracious Granter of Re-Inclusion" Sullivan... we learned that the minority Black Hats were expected to eject the White Hat card holders from the table. (The Black Hats had knowledge of who the White Hats were, but not vice versa.)

Eventually, as a Black-Hat card holder, I was able to work with my team including fellow BH card holder Dave Davis and some good strategy (recognizing the "Revealer" early on to get rid of him) thus we prevailed! Rand said it's pretty rare that Black Hats win this game - I'll take that to the closest Vegas bank (oh wait, there aren't any)!

 Werewolf Rand Fishkin

Werewolf Matt CuttsAfter being the last Hat standing in that first round, myself and my BH team moved on to the "championship" round. This was truly an SEO celeb experience as (the real) Matt Cutts, Rand Fishkin and a dozen other well-known SE celebs were seated and ready to play. A crowd gathered, the video camera was focussed, and it felt like the final table at the World Poker Tour.

So... yet again I drew a BlackHat card. Yikes! it's kinda surreal to "be" a BlackHat whilst in Matt Cutts' presence.


Playing the game, we BHs knocked off most WhiteHats pretty handily... though we lost Dave Davis far too early from our own team. Then, when Matt Cutts and another player started arguing over which of them was the 'Danny Sullivan' player it was easy to recognize that the "strongest-link" on the table had to go! My fellow Black-Hats were all pointing at (the real) Matt Cutts for ejection!

To me, voting for MC to be ejected was the last thing I wanted to do - being purely White Hat (in real life) the last thing I wanted to do was become known as a BH to Matt Cutts as my first introduction to "The Revealer" himself. But Matt was promptly ejected...

(I wanted to excuse myself or at least argue that it's just a game... of course Matt wouldn't have needed that - he was enjoying the play as much as any of us.)

Werewolf Danny Sullivan 

Werewold Thomas Bindl  Several rounds ensued in which I, as a Black Hat, somehow remained. I'm sure it was my quiet demeanor and the fact that I really am not well known amongst the rest of these SEO celebs that allowed me to stay on-board until the final voting.

Eventually, with just Rand Fishkin and Mike McDonald remaining, the two picked me as the BH to be voted off the table. So close!

Well, at least "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? right? OK - but regardless I still didn't want Matt Cutts walking away thinking that I was some Black-Hat werewolf kinda guy. Not a good first-impression!

Once the game was over, MC promptly beat me up and banned me from the premises. OK, not really - Matt introduced himself and was quite cordial despite that he hadn't been able to play to the end of the game...

Since this was the first time I'd ever spoken to Matt Cutts, I was a little concerned that he'd consider me an enemy after the game we'd just played.

I think my saving grace was that I (honestly) didn't even know the BH whose card I was holding. Who is Thomas Bindl?

So, besides having had the privilege (or dishonor) of being one of the BHs who voted Matt Cutts away from our game... I also was able to say hello to Matt while, at the same time, sharing my lack of Black Hat knowledge by explaining that I didn't even know the guy I was apparently portraying!

Yep. As Dave said, I'm probably as White Hat as they come!

PS: Here are the printed rules:
Werewolf SEO rules

Posted by Tim Dineen

Posted 12/15/2007

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