Ethical Search Engine Optimization, in our Humble Opinion ...
First, Do No Harm ...
One of the first questions we are usually asked about is our policy on ethical search engine optimization. It is a great question, and should be asked by any one looking to hire a search engine optimization company.
As with politics and religion, there is always more than one side to the debate of what defines ethical SEO, all sides are strongly opinionated, and seldom do they follow the same path to reach a common destination.
I hope that this article will answer any questions regarding our stance of ethical search engine optimization.
"SEO Ethics Defined"
What is ethical search engine optimization? Is Professional SEO the same as Ethical SEO? This seems to be a really hot topic of debate. Maybe I am looking at this too simplistically, but the answers seem very clear.
SEO guidelines originate with the search engines. Each search engine has its own set of rules, which are clearly posted for all to see. It is laid out in black and white as to what “to do” and what “not to do.” So, if the search engines are stating the rules, what is all the controversy about?
Is the controversy the interpretation of the guidelines? What one person reads and understands one way, another may completely interpret or understand differently. This can lead to what is considered “Gray Hat.” This area is where the boundaries seem to get tested more frequently; some push slightly harder than others, which can be a topic of debate.
My opinion regarding Gray Hat is that you should not use any method you don’t feel comfortable explaining to Google (or other search engines) if required. Testing boundaries is not necessarily a bad thing. This is how many new acceptable techniques are revealed to work with the changing technology of websites.
Then, there are those who march to their own drummers and do whatever they feel will give them a better position. Interpretation is not an issue with them. They have bigger problems to address. This practice is known as “Black Hat.” Black Hat may work for the short term. However, this practice could and probably will get their sites 8-balled by the search engines. My philosophy is simple; if you are trying to deliberately trick a search engine you are wasting your time and someone else’s money. Why not do it right the first time?
There is more to being ethical than simply following the rules of the search engines. SEO did not get its reputation for being the “Used Car Salesmen” of the Internet by just abusing these guidelines.
Many of my clients have horror stories of past experiences with some of these unethical SEO companies, ranging from the “false promise” of a top three position in Google in three days, to having their SEO company disappear with their money. The scam's are too numerous to list.
How many good companies have had regrettable experiences with unethical SEO companies and are not willing to take another chance? How many reputable SEO companies have been given a “black eye” by the unethical practices of others? If the answer is only one, it is one too many.
Purchasing a membership to obtain a seal to display on a site stating only “Ethical SEO” will be practiced does not make a company ethical. The entrepreneurs that sell these memberships cannot police every member, nor should it be necessary. I understand the concept and in theory it is a great idea. But, do I really need to have someone tell me it is unethical to take money from a client and not deliver a product or a service?
The SEO profession is not the only profession that has this “ethical” debate. Whenever there is competition for business there will be controversy around the techniques used by competitors.
By definition, the term Professional is characterized by “conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.” Ethical is defined as “conforming to accepted standards of conduct.”
In my opinion, Ethical Search Engine Optimization is conforming to the accepted rules and standards that search engine themselves have set. And Professional Search Engine Optimization is the practice of ethically staying within the boundaries set by the search engines while meeting the goals of their clients and keeping the client's best interest as the first priority.
Ethics are a personal and professional choice. Not only do you know in your heart if you are doing right or wrong, but the very definitions of ethical and professional are very clear. Unfortunately, it is not always an easy choice for some. Making the right choice will increase your rewards both personally and professionally, and in the end make future decisions easier.