Ethics: Where do they come into play in SEO?

By Catherine Potts | Jun 12, 2008
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It’s the age old discussion (kind of) of what is appropriate and what isn’t when it comes to SEO. Ultimately, I guess, it’s the search engines (specifically Google) that will decide what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Or is it one’s peers?

I’m talking about what happenened with Lyndon and the hooker story at money.co.uk. Yes, I know, this is potentially the billionth story on this situation. Frank Watson over at Search Engine Watch notes the differences between SEOs who think this type of link baiting is OK and those who do not. Btw, in case you didn’t know, Matt Cutts does not think it’s OK.

The link bait story goes that a 13-year-old boy used his father’s credit card to buy the services of a hooker. Well, it’s not a true story. It was thought to be true for a very short time before the author and money.co.uk admitted it wasn’t. So goes that the link bait Lyndon Antcliff put out there exploded a controversy over what is appropriate content for link bait and what is not. So who gets to be the judge? You? Me? Google? All of us? Last time I checked he doesn’t really care, as long as he’s attracting customers. That’s his right.

So was it a good move for Lyndon to do this type of link bait? One could surmise that it was a good move because I tell ya what… more people than not in SEO know who he is now. Soon after, he also instituted a targeted service teaching link baiting skills. So should he beat up for it or praised?

Lord knows that the actresses in Hollywood have used similar tactics to become more well known (exposed nether regions while exiting a car spark any reminder?) and then what they’ve done is so shocking that it gets everyone talking. What’s that old saying in Hollywood? You’re nobody unless people are talking about you (is that it?). There are a lot of businesses where notarity is everything.

There are also a lot of businesses where notaritity for good (whether you consider good and ethical the same) business practices matter as well. In this industry the judge and the jury could be considered as one in the same. Perhaps the judge could be Google and the jury is the rest of us. It’s ones peers who either stand up (or don’t) for things they agree or disagree with and perhaps shape the decisions we make in the future.

William Flaiz of Search Engine Watch wrote in April:

Ethical and educative issues should be addressed through the agency-client relationship, not via outside arbitration. And risk ratings should be assigned to tactics on a per client basis… The goal of SEO is to increase the search rankings of a client for specific terms. No matter how you rationalize it, whether you think you’re increasing a pages relevancy, optimizing a site to search engine standards, or “building connections,” we’re manipulating search results. The point of a search engine is to provide the most algorithmically relevant pages to a user. When we dictate to a search engine what is relevant, the engine begins to lose its efficacy.

I can only guess that, minus those who were put off, there are some SEOs that are bummed because they didn’t think of it first.

I’ll restate the quote from Watson’s article by Matt Cutts:

My takeaway from this brouhaha: There are plenty of ways to market a site creatively without deceiving anyone. Don’t burn your credibility by using fake stories. It’s a short-term tactic and makes people trust you less in the future.

Now that is from one of the main guys in the industry. It’s probably a good idea to be somewhat aligned with him, but then again if you don’t try new and controversial tactics, how will you break out? There is a balance, for sure, and there are also many many stories of those who took a chance and made it work. So where do you stand? Was this a strategic business move or merely bad judgment?

Granted, all SEOs don’t have to succumb to the peer pressure of the industry. However if you choose to go the way of Lyndon, you have to be ready if there is a backlash. Whether you care or not what others think, everything you do affects your reputation. Since the feedback was both good and bad, who can say for sure if his reputation took a hit? I think he’s just like the rest of us, trying to make a living in an industry that changes with every passing day. It appears Lyndon dealt with it well and has managed to get some business out of it. So, then, was he wrong?

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