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Old 05-08-2007   #1
rjflannigan
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Ethical Dilemma, Need Opinions

I have been doing some work lately for a company that used to have someone in-house working on their site.

The person who was doing this work before me is now making a name for themself as an SEO blogger, using their blog to attract new clients.

I have found several cases of hidden text keyword stuffing done by this "seo professional". That's not what bothers me.

What bothers me is that so far I have found two separate instances of this person attempting to put hidden links to their own sites in this client's site's code. The sites/industries are not even remotely related, and using archive.org and whois information, it's easy to see who owns the sites being linked to.

So what should I do? Continue to let this person, who is getting linked to as a trusted authority from some of the larger industry blogs continue to do this to others, un-outed? Publish the mountain of screenshots that I have of the hidden link codes, whois info, etc? This is not the first instance of hidden text that I've found on this client's site and I have no doubt that its presence had an impact on their organic rankings. This person used their trust to get access to their site files so he could drive traffic to his own affiliate links and/or other clients.

Any opinions? My desire here isn't for revenge, that's not what I'm getting paid for.
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Old 05-08-2007   #2
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The client is the only one you should -- and really are obligated to -- tell. It would be bad form to out the other guy on blogs or forums, keep it in house.
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Old 05-09-2007   #3
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I agree with Jimbeetle, you should tell your client and maybe confront the SEO in question about it in private. Doing it publicly would definitely be bad form.
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Old 05-09-2007   #4
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1 - confront the SEO with evidence of what is happening - ask for an explanation
2 - if your company doesn't already have a performance policy in place - rules that govern expected behavior of employees - get one in place
3 - if such a policy exists, follow the policy - write them up, drop a record of discussion on their file, etc.
4 - remove the links asap from the client's site(s)
5 - keep detailed records of this incident including screen shots of the links in place and the page after they've been removed
6 - speaking to the client is your call - I'd personally avoid it and handle everything in-house - deal with the employee, get internal policies sorted, etc. If the client noticed it and mentions it, fess up at that point and explain what happened, and what you did to rectify the situation, how they were or were not affected, etc.
7 - if the actions of your employee have done anything, however small, to harm the client in any way, then you're going to have to fess up right out of the gate, IMO. No harm, no fowl, we live, we learn, etc., etc. Even the smallest degree of this causing issues for the client, however, and everything should be brought out to them - in the end, to keep the client, you may need to dismiss the employee

If this were my employee, they'd be fired for this - it's unacceptable and inexcusable. It shows a remarkable lack of judgment and respect, and quite frankly, if they figured they could get away with this, they're the sort of person who'll try other things - the type of employee a reputable company doesn't need - skills be damned.
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Old 05-09-2007   #5
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The client has been informed, had no idea the links were there, and did not ask for or approve their presence (especially since they were intended to boost traffic of the SEO's own sites, one of them TOTALLY unrelated to the client's industry).

Again, I have no desire to publicly embarrass this person, and I'm sure that if they haven't read this thread yet, they will now that Barry blogged it. Hopefully they'll realize that they've been caught (and come damn close to being outed) and not violate any other site owners trust in this way. The next person who catches you doing this may not bother to collect opinions before blogging the 15 or so screenshots proving what you did.

Looking forward to more opinions and my thanks to those who have already weighed in. This is a sobering reminder that, on the internet, anyone can be anyone and just because they make a name for themself as a blogger and bill themself as a consultant doesn't necessarily make them worth $xxx/hr.

Last edited by rjflannigan : 05-09-2007 at 10:31 AM.
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Old 05-09-2007   #6
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sportsguy--

Thanks for the well thought-out response. The employee has not been with the company for some time now, so unfortunately, firing or disciplinary action is a moot point.
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Old 05-09-2007   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rjflannigan
I have been doing some work lately for a company that used to have someone in-house working on their site.

The person who was doing this work before me is now making a name for themself as an SEO blogger, using their blog to attract new clients.

I have found several cases of hidden text keyword stuffing done by this "seo professional". That's not what bothers me.

What bothers me is that so far I have found two separate instances of this person attempting to put hidden links to their own sites in this client's site's code. The sites/industries are not even remotely related, and using archive.org and whois information, it's easy to see who owns the sites being linked to.

So what should I do? Continue to let this person, who is getting linked to as a trusted authority from some of the larger industry blogs continue to do this to others, un-outed? Publish the mountain of screenshots that I have of the hidden link codes, whois info, etc? This is not the first instance of hidden text that I've found on this client's site and I have no doubt that its presence had an impact on their organic rankings. This person used their trust to get access to their site files so he could drive traffic to his own affiliate links and/or other clients.

Any opinions? My desire here isn't for revenge, that's not what I'm getting paid for.
I wouldn't say a word to anyone but would report SPAM to Google!
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Old 05-09-2007   #8
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I wouldn't say a word to anyone but would report SPAM to Google!
For a client's site?!?
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Old 05-09-2007   #9
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Originally Posted by jimbeetle
For a client's site?!?
Sorry my bad, I would totally tell them! You are their SEO and that is your job.
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Old 05-10-2007   #10
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Please let us know what you decide and how it works out.
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Old 05-10-2007   #11
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It's funny, the people commenting on SER seem to want this person exposed, and the people in the forum don't think it's a good idea. The client, of course, has nothing to gain from this person being exposed. And that is my only reason to not publicly tar and feather this person. Of course I'll hang on to my screenshots and all in case I should find another of his clients' sites that this person did this too. Then I will most definitely out them.

But a word to those who might outsource some SEO:

If the "seo consultant" you're thinking of hiring puts a friggin' YPN ad in the middle of their own service and pricing outline/proposal, take the hint. There's an easter egg hunt for ya.
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Old 05-10-2007   #12
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YPN ad in the middle of their own service and pricing outline/proposal
ROFL! Now, that's funny!

The problem with ethical dilemmas is that they are dilemmas. If the answer was easy or obvious, then you would not have to ask anyone for advice, and if you did, all the advice would be the same...

Ethics tend to boil down to: "To who or what do you have a duty (self-imposed or not) to protect, and to what degree?"

Generally, an ethical dilemma stems from more than one duty, and those being in conflict. An example would be a lawyer who has a duty to his/her client. but also to the operation of justice and to society in general. For lawyers, the duty to the client and to justice/society are often in conflict. This is one reason why would-be lawyers (I was one, once) are required to take legal ethics courses and have ethics committees to turn to. And it's still not easy.

In SEO/SEM, although the stakes are usually a lot lower then in law, there is a corresponding lack of general consensus and guidance on exactly what an SEO's duties would be.

I can't answer your question, but I can give you some questions to ask yourself - hopefully they will be helpful.

1. What is your duty under the law of your jurisdiction?

In western countries, this one usually trumps your other duties (especially work related ones), but can be trumped by a duty to truth, your family or to the human race (ie in cases where the regime you are living under passes laws that are racist or whatever).

2. What is your duty to your client?

If you are a simple service provider, then the duty is little more than to do what what you agree to do, to the best of your ability, unless it conflicts with the law.

If you are a consultant, then your duty is much stronger and wide-ranging, and you are expected to advise your client against certain actions if you feel they are not in their best interests. You also have a duty to keep them informed of all relevant information related to your work so they can make informed decisions.

This is one reason you can't sue a discount broker because you bought a bad stock through them, but could sue a full service broker for recommending it to you. It's also why full service brokers charge more and are legally required to know their clients.

If you market yourself as a consultant, then your duty to inform and protect your client can be quite high. But you can charge more.

3. What is your duty to your profession?

This is where there becomes a conflict in the industry. You will often hear marketers say they feel no duty at all, and will do anything to achieve their goals that they can.

Others take the position that if you should not act in such a way that it brings your profession into disrepute, if only because it could affect your own business later on.

I suppose the answer here is whether or not you actually feel you are in SEO for the long term or not, or whether you even feel it's an industry that you belong to at all. Not everyone who does SEO is part of the industry, any more than my building a deck for myself makes me a member of the carpentry industry.

In general, if you are being paid by strangers to do the job, and offer yourself as such, you are in the industry.

In general, here are common duties for members of an industry (any industry):

a. To maintain current knowledge of current best practices and other industry information.
b. To follow or exceed the standards set by generally accepted guidelines and best practices.
c. To follow ethical business practices and to avoid actions likely to bring the industry into disrepute with the public.
d. On a related note, to maintain and protect the environment that the industry is based on or around (ie don't pee in your own well water).
e. To act towards and work with other members of your industry in a professional manner.

* What is your duty to yourself?

I've put a star on this one, rather then a number, because duties that you have voluntarily taken upon yourself can vary widely in importance, ranging from New Years Eve resolutions to religious or family obligations to a sense of personal honor.

My recommendation here is only to gut-check what you are thinking of doing, and to rank your personal duties that are related to the issue at hand in relation to their relative importance to you.

Sometimes, they are of overriding importance, and sometimes they are more of a low-key preference. It's your call, and will vary depending on the situation and the specific duties involved.

-------------------------

So, putting all this together, I think you have the following duties in this instance (in order of importance):

1. A duty to protect and inform your client

2. A duty to the public - is letting this go going to adversely affect the public (and it's perception of our industry) to a significant degree? Probably not, since it's slimy but specific. It's more of a case of unjust enrichment than actual harm. But you can make that call. I can see both sides on it.

3. A duty to the profession - I think you have a duty to the profession to not let things like this slide. For a duty to other members of the profession, I think it would be better to confront and educate the SEO in question if possible, since turning someone around is better for the profession (and member) than ostracizing, usually. If they do it again, then of course stronger (and more public) measures are in order, if only to protect all of us.

It's a tough call. Personally, I would try to correct the behaviour quietly, and if that seems to fail (or is ignored or rejected) then make it public so that other clients and SEO's know what to look for - I would say your duty to them is stronger than your duty to the SEO in question at that point (which was low to begin with, under the circumstances).

I'm interested in what others think.

Ian
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Old 05-15-2007   #13
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You have to tell the client for no reason other than to protect your own name. What if the client discovers it later? Sure it points to the other person but it might hurt their trust in you. I would also have no problem with you posting the guys name, etc all over the internet! Somebody needs to protect the newbies! oh well, thats my $0.02.

Chris
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Old 05-18-2007   #14
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The client was informed.

And as I alreayd said, I'm not going to say who did this.

The hidden links were to a blog located at http://bandolino.modblog.com. The blog and the profile of the user name who created it are gone now, but still viewable in archive.org. And a google search for "bandolino.modblog.com" turns up a member profile of some sort.

Webmasters who are concerned this may have happened to them should scan their own code for <noscript> tags hiding links to the above blog or any other site.

Last edited by rjflannigan : 05-18-2007 at 02:05 PM.
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