Perhaps you’ve already had this conversation before. Maybe you’ve had this conversation a million times. But the reason that revisiting SEO ethics is so interesting and so important is that what’s considered responsible and what’s considered shady are continuously evolving.
Whether it’s blatant and unnatural keyword stuffing, producing fake 5 star reviews for products or services, or conducting a vicious negative SEO campaign against your competitors, there’s no dearth of unethical ways to get ahead online. And this is true even in the world of small online publishing. But where do we draw the line?
Here are a few talking points to consider next time the conversation about SEO ethics comes up:
Is it worth it for small publishers to engage in unethical SEO strategies?
Google has made huge strides in the past few years to make the Internet more user-friendly. Especially with the recent Panda and Penguin updates, Internet marketers of all stripes have a much greater incentive to actually produce and spread more quality content that actually serves the consumer well.
But Google isn’t perfect. If Google doesn’t necessarily reward responsible SEO, then how far will you go to abide by squeaky clean SEO standards, even if it’s not necessarily in your company’s best interests regarding the bottom line?
For small publishers, whose focus often is on quality over quantity, you should be aware that the Panda and Penguin updates have reworked search engines such that consistent quality sites and user experiences will be rewarded. This is essentially the future trajectory of all algorithm updates.
When you are going about your SEO strategy, always do so with the user’s ultimate needs in mind. This isn’t just about being ethical; it’s about forming a sound business strategy.
What are the risks of opting to embrace SEO tactics that fall into an ethical gray area?
Again, after Panda and Penguin, what was once considered “gray hat” is now considered closer to “black hat.” In an informative article posted by WebProNews, writer Chris Crum explains the Penguin update in greater detail. He notes how many sites were destroyed by Google after having practiced what’s not necessarily been considered traditional black hat tactics, like buying and selling links, or excessively exchanging links.
Of course, these methods can be used for unethical purposes, but before Penguin, they were considered pretty standard in the industry. As such, it’s important to distance yourself as much as possible from any SEO tactic that can be associated with search rank manipulation, if only to stay ahead of the curve in the future.
For small publishers, who may not be completely privy to the latest in SEO, it’s important to stay informed, so you’ll know as soon as a particular marketing method is no longer considered kosher. Some great sites to read about such updates include Moz and Search Engine Journal, which explain SEO developments in an easy-to-read, jargon-free format.
What would you do if your employer or client asked you to engage in SEO that you consider unethical?
In all likelihood, this may already have happened to you. While I can’t say I’ve had much experience in this realm, I will say that it’s definitely a tough situation.
Consider the following story, published on Search Engine Journal, in which a man launched a negative SEO campaign for which he was rewarded:
“A month later, Johan was called in to his superior’s office for an impromptu meeting. Johan’s mind was racing, there was no doubt that the website they had targeted was now aware of the negative SEO campaign, and there was no doubt they were upset by it. His boss however, was ecstatic. For over two weeks there had been no sight of the competition on SERP’s for any of their top keywords. Johan was once again being given a raise. He had worked the system in a negative way, and was being lauded as a successful professional who just launched an innovative marketing campaign aimed at erasing a competitor from existence.”
As a small publisher, you may not have had an experience like the one described above. But something similar can always happen to you. For example, what if a client of yours begins promoting his product, one that you helped create and promote, in unsavory ways? What if your client associates closely with you, and your brand in turn becomes associated with unethical SEO? Here’s where you have to make important decisions, where you’ll have to take a stand against negative SEO, not just because it’s bad business, but because it can taint your brand name in the future.
Of course, this post is mostly filled with questions. But these are questions we must continue asking ourselves if SEO is to benefit both businesses and users such that we can feel good about ourselves when we wake up every morning. The most important thing is to stay informed, to stay ahead of the curve, and to stop unethical SEO in its tracks before it threatens to destroy the user-friendliness of the Internet as we know it.