The Good, the Bad and the Rankings: A Straight Shootin’ Discussion About Ethics in Digital Marketing

Ethics in Digital Marketing - Eminent SEOThe modern internet is very much akin to the Wild West. For every honorable, upstanding SEO expert, there are at least twice as many “outlaws.” In other words, there are unscrupulous practitioners that will stop at nothing to claim high search engine rankings and rustle up as many user views as possible.

Reflecting this rise of desperado digital marketing in the early 2010s, Sheriff Google started deploying deputies to clean up the streets. Since then, enforcers like Penguin and Panda have become incredibly sophisticated at sniffing out unethical digital marketing techniques and penalizing the offenders.

But what about these bad “dotcombres” is so offensive that the Sheriff Google feels it necessary to ding their search rankings? Some of the most common penalties assigned to websites that have violated Google’s webmaster guidelines are in response to:

  • Sparse, poorly written content
  • Numerous deceptive backlinks
  • Heavily spammed queries
  • Multiple doorway or interstitial pages

Organizations risk more than the ire of Sheriff Google (and subsequently penalized search rankings) when they opt to use questionable techniques. Unethical SEO and digital marketing tactics can also cost an organization thousands of potential customers or leads.

Whether an organization is managing its own online presence or handing those duties off to an SEO professional, it’s vital that decision makers understand the signs and cost of unethical digital marketing.

Defining Ethical SEO

SEO Practices Not OK Corral - Eminent SEOEthics can be difficult to define, especially in an ever-evolving environment like the Wild Web. However, most webmasters and users can agree that an upstanding website is transparent, helpful and honest. Advertisements, if any, should be straightforward rather than duplicitous. Content should be accurate, helpful and relevant.

That’s why organizations performing their own digital marketing should develop a list of ethical SEO best practices. Likewise, discussing the topic with potential digital marketing professionals should provide insights into that company’s position when it comes to ethical SEO.

The following are a few rules of thumb that outline the general principles of ethical digital marketing:

  • SEO professionals must always honor the webmaster guidelines of each search engine.
  • SEO professionals must commit to creating a positive, functional user experience.
  • SEO professionals must present user content accurately and without embellishment.
  • SEO professionals must always properly cite content generated by a separate party.
  • SEO professionals must communicate realistic expectations to their clients about search engine rankings.

Questionable vs. Ethical SEO Strategies

Wanted Bad Dotcombre Crimes Against SEO - Eminent SEOWhen it comes to Western movies, deciding who is ethical is a breeze. Good guys wear white hats. Villains wear black hats. Nobody else wears hats. Simple, right?

Thankfully, distinguishing between ethical and unethical SEO techniques isn’t very complicated either. As a rule, ethical (or “white hat”) SEO strategies will prioritize user experience, follow search engine guidelines and produce consistent, long-term results.

On the other side of the spectrum, unethical (or “black hat”) SEO strategies are only concerned with short-term gains. They tend to focus on taking advantage of search engine algorithms rather than serving the needs of potential visitors.

Examples of ethical SEO techniques include:

  • SEO site optimization
  • High-quality content production
  • Guest blogging
  • Internal linking

Conversely, examples of unethical SEO techniques include:

  • Stuffing keywords
  • Spammy blog post creation
  • Hidden text placement
  • Paying for links

The Consequences of Unethical SEO Techniques

Organizations that implement spam-heavy or manipulative SEO strategies risk heavy penalties from Google and other search engines if their unethical strategies are discovered. The subsequent search rankings loss could considerably damage a company’s long-term success in attracting new customers.

That’s why it is so important for SEO practitioners to hold themselves to extremely high ethical standards. The wrong move could cripple an entire marketing strategy. That being said, organizations in need of digital marketing services must search for a partner that can deliver on their promises.

What to Expect from Ethical SEO

New SEO experts are constantly riding into town. How do you tell a straight shooter from a dang varmint? A public commitment to ethical digital marketing is certainly a good place to start. Thankfully, there are multiple angles that organizations can explore to evaluate the ethics of a particular SEO practitioner.

Here are just a few things to look for when trying to figure out if an SEO company is committed to ethical practices:

  • Communicates realistic expectations – SEO optimization is a long-term strategy. In some cases, it can take weeks or months for a website to reach its desired search ranking. An ethical SEO practitioner will communicate a realistic time frame for the results the client has asked for. Organizations should remain wary of SEO professionals who promise overnight results.
  • Uses solely sustainable techniques – Search engine algorithms, especially those developed by Google, are constant changing. As a result, some techniques that may have worked well in the past are no longer effective, and may even lead to penalties if used. Ethical SEO practitioners keep a close eye on the industry and never knowingly recommend an outdated SEO strategy to clients.
  • Prioritizes user experience – Keyword stuffing is, or should be, a thing of the past. These days, search engine algorithms are far more concerned with the presence of accurate, high-quality content rather than keyword density. An ethical SEO practitioner will take the same approach as they recommend solutions for a client’s website.

Understanding Ethical SEO Will Help You Know Whom to Trust

Organizations that understand the importance of ethical SEO can make smarter decisions about whom to trust with their online presence. Doing so also protects their long-term digital marketing strategy from the hawk-like gaze of Sheriff Google.

As commerce becomes increasingly digitized, the importance of ethical SEO is only going to increase. Be sure to bookmark or subscribe to our blog for more helpful updates on SEO best practices and other relevant digital marketing topics.

Remy Albillar

As a content writer at Eminent SEO, I specialize in producing high-quality copy for a long list of digital mediums, including websites, emails, blogs and social media. I got my career started right out of college producing SEO-driven content for a marketing agency based in Tucson, AZ. I’ve since worked as a copywriter within numerous industries. I’ve written the first half of a personal memoir and earned my master’s in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston, MA.

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23 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad and the Rankings: A Straight Shootin’ Discussion About Ethics in Digital Marketing

  1. Madhushalini

    Some great points in the article. I’m new to the SEO game but isn’t email outreach the best way to kickstart a SEO campaign? I mean your idea of guest blogging sounds great but i have tried it and it is super time consuming. Much easier said than done getting guest blogs on established websites when you’re a newbie.

    1. Remy Albillar Post author

      Thanks so much for the feedback!

      I agree, guest blogging might not be the most effective means of kicking off an SEO campaign. It’s a pretty complex endeavor overall.

      This article wasn’t necessarily supposed to offer recommendations for debuting a new SEO campaign, though we would certainly stress that other professionals stick to white-hat SEO techniques when they are getting a campaign off the ground.

      This piece is more focused on differentiating techniques that focus on customer engagement from those that aim to bait and manipulate search engine algorithms. I was less interested in recommending which order to deploy these strategies. Thankfully, you can find more information about that topic on our blog and on our website!

  2. Phillip Staddler

    Understanding the in and outs of ethical SEO for me was a major learning point. The three key points you mentioned to highlight wether an SEO company is using ethical methods was very helpful. I know what to look for and what it means to improve SEO ethically!

    1. Remy Albillar Post author


      Thanks for the feedback! We want everyone to have a satisfying and productive interaction with the digital marketing industry. Helping people to understand the difference between ethical and less-than-ethical services is an important part of that effort.

      Check out my next blog near the end of the month that will talk about how black hat tactics have made their way to social media.

  3. Alice Trellakis

    Great article! Digital marketing is a grey area when it comes to ethics and I’m glad theres sources like this to provide more clarity/

    1. Remy Albillar Post author


      Happy to help. We agree that the more information about ethical, client-focused digital marketing services out there the better. A clean, functional Internet is a happy Internet, after all.

  4. Rachel

    This is great! SEO is huge these days and there’s definitely a fine line between what is and what isn’t ethical. The user experience always comes first and companies should acknowledge that honestly.

    1. Remy Albillar Post author


      We feel the same way! The more transparency and honesty the better. It’s easier for clients to make informed decisions when they understand everything that’s going on behind the industry’s curtains.

  5. Nadya Korytnikova

    But how do you know what the primary keywords are? Is there a software that helps to determine the most important keywords?

  6. Md zubyer

    Some great points in the article. Understanding the in and outs of ethical SEO for me was a major learning point. I know what to look for and what it means to improve SEO ethically!

    1. Remy Albillar Post author

      That’s awesome! I’m really glad you were able to get some good info from the blog post. I’ll be posting an Instagram-focused follow-up to this post in July. Please visit our blog again for more tips.

  7. lauren

    I like how you said be wary of those who promise overnight results. Getting a large website following is a long process, and I like the idea of giving a realistic time frame, and being honest with your clients.

    1. Remy Albillar Post author


      We like that idea too. After all, how can you provide truly satisfying customer service if you can’t be straightforward from the jump?

  8. Jachai DeJesus

    I really enjoyed reading this article; it was a great simplification of the do’s and don’ts of SEO practices. I wish this post was available back when I started my business marketing class last fall.

    1. Remy Albillar Post author


      Hopefully my next blog post will be helpful for another one of your classes. It’s nice to hear that this information was presented in an approachable, memorable way.

  9. Emmerey Rose

    Hi Remy! Great article you have here!
    I was wondering, how does Google know when you pay for links?

    1. Remy Albillar Post author


      Thanks so much for the feedback. Happy to know you found the article interesting or helpful.

      To answer your question, Google is actually pretty smart! They rely on several complex algorithms, a sprinkle of artificial intelligence and employees who actively review search results to figure out who is following the rules and who ins’t. They also monitor your comments on blog posts. 😉

  10. Adrienne McGuire

    Today it just isn’t possible nor is it good business practice to put any of the unethical marketing strategies to use. It may seem like a good idea at first, but ultimately businesses who use SEO shortcuts will end up in trouble.

    1. Remy Albillar Post author


      Great to hear from you again! Thanks for checking back in with our again blog, too. I really appreciate the feedback and engagement.

      It’s unfortunate that some digital marketers are still deploying these short-sighted strategies. The ones who are really going to end up in trouble are their clients!

      1. Adrienne

        No kidding! I’ve actually seen it happen already to several SEOers. Gotta take the time and put in the effort for due diligence.

        1. Chris Weatherall

          Totally agree with you there. Too bad so many SEOers can’t tell how obvious it is when you don’ take that extra step!!!!!!


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