The 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
Ethics 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
When 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.