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Old 10-18-2004   #1
doppelganger
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Ethical Standards and The Search Engine Marketing Industry

I'd be interested in getting some reactions about this article on establishing ethical guidelines for the search engine marketing industry. This is the first of a series of articles that will offer suggestions for actions that can be taken to get our industry closer to establishing ethical guidelines. The first article focuses on what the search engines can do. The next article will be geared towards what we can do as SEOs.

I'm going to be working responses and new suggestions that come out of this discussion into a summary at the end of the series and would love to hear everyone's feedback and ideas...

Part 1: What the search engines can do

I think one of the ideas I'd love to hear from everyone about is the idea towards the end of the article, about a search engine ombudsman. Is this a viable option?
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Old 10-18-2004   #2
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Quote:
The search engines need to establish clearer guidelines and make them publicly available.
<removes mod hat, steps onto soapbox>

Sorry - lost me at that point - FAILURE TO ENFORCE is the REAL issue.

The published guidelines are actually clear. And available. Enforcement is what is lacking. And, no enforcement = no compliance.

Compliance is easily achieved. Just ask the room full of PHD's.

e.g. Send out bots from new IP addresses, with new user agent strings. Parse the odd suspect CSS file and clobber anyone with negative positioning off the left hand side of the page. Enlist 10 SEO companies globally on a retainer to help you. Act on the mountain of spam reports you already have. Yaddah yaddah.

The list is endless - clean serps are easy achieved. Easy. But where is the revenue model in that process??

The revenue model doesn't require clean serps. So clean serps aren't actually a priority. This is business - its not religion.

Imagine if the local police force stopped issuing speeding tickets as from tomorow. Would you be driving at 35 miles per hour all the way to work next month if you knew there was no enforcement of the speed limit?

No enforcement = no compliance.

Enforcement = compliance.

Pretty simple really. This isn't religious. Search engines need to enforce their own published guidelines. And this isn't a hat colour debate.

Forget ethics for a minute - compliance often requires that some people, who otherwise won't comply - actually need to be beaten with a big stick occassionally. Thats what needs to be happening.

</steps off soapbox, replaces mod hat>
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Old 10-18-2004   #3
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Hmm... whereas the article is well written, and from your personal standpoint, well thought out, i (naturally) have to disagree with almost the enire thing.

Not so much the individual points but rather the 'standpoint' as a whole. There was a lot I could quote and comment on, but rather than bore everyone to tears i'll just pick a couple of the more interesting ones in order to air my own views on the SE vs SEO situation in it's entirety.


Quote:
At this point in time, the search engines are the only party that has a clear set of guidelines for ethical behavior that they can reference. We know they have these guidelines, because they’re banning some sites and letting others stay in their indexes.
Those guidelines have nothing to do with ethics. They are there because the SE's worst nightmare is the SEO. The SE's have a far more mature business attitude than do a significant portion of the SEO/SEM industry. They know it's about making money, and they will make that money in whatever way makes most sense to them.

If people can rank easily, then there is little point for adwords and other such programs.

Shrouding the algo in secrecy makes perfect sense as does keeping the "guidelines" as ambiguous as possible. By planting the seed of "thou shalt not spam" in a large segment of the sometimes naive and gullible infant seo industry they create an environment where the seo/sem industry is in perpetual turmoil. We're all far to busy with "ethics" to be damaging SE revenue streams (ie. getting our sites listed high in the normal SERPS). What happens when the public and the seo industry itself starts to question seo ethics? We/they buy advertising on the se's of course becuase half the industry is so terrified of getting their site banned and they just cant rank without breaking guidlines.

Google in particular do a very good job of enforcing this paranoia - Ever read one of Matt Cutts "please report spam posts"? - Genius.

If anyone doubts the above, just go take a look at the section on seos - If you read that and still cant see it...


Quote:
4.) Open up the lines of communication with the organic search engine marketing community.

The search engines have gotten better at talking to the search engine marketing community in the last few years. We see their representatives at major industry events, and participating in our online discussions. However, most of our lines of communication have been opened in concert with the PPC search engine advertising side of the business. We can get answers about bidding strategies and the like, but the search engine marketer’s organic questions and concerns seem to have no outlet.
I rest my case.


Quote:
In short, we aren’t seeing rewards for ethical behavior.
Then get with the program, it's not a pink fluffy world out there. It's a dirty, scheming money making world, always has been.

The SE's do not love you and they could care less about whether you are "ethical" or not, they care about revenue...


Having said all of that, it really was rather a good read, and should make for an interesting debate, thankyou

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Old 10-18-2004   #4
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"Then get with the program, it's not a pink fluffy world out there. It's a dirty, scheming money making world, always has been."

Someone please give the man some rep please. I can't give him any and he deserves it. Nice post Nick.
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Old 10-18-2004   #5
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Ok

****done****
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Old 10-18-2004   #6
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*****Done as well******

Great post Nick

Wc
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Old 10-18-2004   #7
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Organic results and Adwords

Nick_W - Great points...

I particularly think the idea that the search engines benefit from the secrecy of their algo is a good one. That this secrecy makes the PPC offerings more attractive is something worth exploring more. You're right, it is essentially about revenue and not ethics.

But I'd say that most search engines don't want their organic results mucked up with spam. The integrity of those results is still important to the consumer, so the integrity of those results will also be important to the search engines, no matter how much revenue they're getting.

I'd love to get a point of view from the search engines on this. But like most of us have experienced, we only get access to conversation when it has something to do with their paid products, not organic search.
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Old 10-18-2004   #8
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But I'd say that most search engines don't want their organic results mucked up with spam. The integrity of those results is still important to the consumer, so the integrity of those results will also be important to the search engines, no matter how much revenue they're getting.
Absolutely. This is why we see a shift towards heavy content sites with little commercialism... (at least i do..)

Ideally, they'd like "organic" search results to be purely informational sites and well known established corps like M$ etc (you cant leave everythng out it'd be an even bigger farce than it is now) and the regular ecom sites to be buying add space/ppc..

I dont blame them one little bit either..

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Old 10-18-2004   #9
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I think we'd all agree it's a "dirty, scheming money making world." While it may be on the pessimistic side of things, I think most people would understand the sentiment behind that statement.

But that position doesn't offer up any suggestions on how address the real threats facing our industry right now, such as:

- SEOs are increasingly being seen as shady witchdoctors
- How do companies know their SEO is ethical?
- Reports that 50% of PPC clicks are fraudulent

These are all major ethical issues that need to be addressed. I believe that there are changes that can be made by the search engines, our industry and others that can address these issues. I don't believe that this is just the way it is and we have to deal with it.

So what are some of the other changes that everyone would suggest? Or is everyone here of the opinion that nothing can be done????
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Old 10-18-2004   #10
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Cool Nice name

shady witchdoctors - I like it

Even I could rank for that term.
Results 1 - 10 of about 298 for shady witchdoctors
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Old 10-18-2004   #11
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"SEOs are increasingly being seen as shady witchdoctors"

Because people don't understand it. Then again, if SEO was something anyone could pick up and be hugely successful with, we'd all be out of work.

"How do companies know their SEO is ethical?"

I think the more important question is do they care. I see more complaints about non results when it comes to hiring an SEO than I do that an SEO got someone a top spot by putting 50 keywords in an alt tag. Companies care about results. Thats why 98% of merchants don't care if their affiliates SEO spam. Sure, when it comes to their company site, they may not want to take a big risk - which is probably why some institute affiliate programs in the first place.

And "acceptable" guidelines in this business can change like night and day. What happens when the engines decide a tactic that has been used for years is suddenly unethical? A report goes out to the we're better than the rest seo ethics association who then tells the members, who in turn must go change the clients #1 ranking site simply because the SE decided that the tactic in question is easier made "unethical" than them having to develop a way to combat it? As long as they (the engines) stand to profit from a "code of ethics" there is no way that they should be in charge of creating one.

In addition, creating a code of ethics isn't going to stop spam. It simply is going to give a piece of paper for every fanatical white hat to wave around and finally have "proof" that search engine spammers are the "scum of the earth" they've always proclaimed them to be.

"Reports that 50% of PPC clicks are fraudulent"

Thats a PPC issue, and not an SEO issue.
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Old 10-18-2004   #12
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>> How do companies know their SEO is ethical?

Because they put it there. Unless an unauthorized party changed their pages without their permission, it's ethical. Webmasters determine what goes on their webpages, not search engines.

Here goes again:

Where do we draw the line?

Is it "unethical" to buy advertising on a non-profit nature portal to support them, if you're an enviornmental company that focuses on cleaning the air?

Is it "unethical" to buy a text link if you're a personal injury attorney on a portal that lists injury lawyers?

Is it "unethical" to buy 40 text links across the Yahoo! network if you're a fortune 500 trying to promote a new toy?

Is it "unethical" to buy 100 text links across the MSN network if you're a small business owner with a really cool invention getting a lot of positive press?

Is it "unethical" to buy 1000 text links if you're hawking viagra through an affiliate program?

Where does your "ethical" madness end?

Danny made a comment to me in San Jose, and to be honest, I don't remember the context. We were talking about search engines being more open with users about reasons for bans, etc.

My response was "Sure, the Fortune 500s will be 'ethical'. They won't cloak, buy links, yadda... but you can bet they'll start an affiliate program."

So do you de-list Fortune 500s for promoting spam? Of course not; the majority of people are looking for Fortune 500s!

The ethics argument is really quite stupid. Most people arguing it have no basic understanding of how the search world really works.
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Old 10-18-2004   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisnrae
"SEOs are increasingly being seen as shady witchdoctors"
I've been seriously thinking of getting a white mohecan and covering my eyes with black make-up.

I might even do that before the next roadshow.

Will it make me a SEO, though?

Great post, Chris D - if such methods didn't work, I doubt they would be used anywhere as much. (And you hang on the left, do you? )
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Old 10-18-2004   #14
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I don't see ethics as anything to do with search engine... it's with the consultant to paying client relationship - that it.

But I do like Chris_D's suggestion here...!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_D
Enlist 10 SEO companies globally on a retainer to help you. Act on the mountain of spam reports you already have. Yaddah yaddah.
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Old 10-18-2004   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisnrae
"SEOs are increasingly being seen as shady witchdoctors"

Because people don't understand it.
This is a great point... Education as a solution you to combat the perception of SEOs.

I think chrisnrae is also bringing up a good point about companies caring more about results than tactics, but I have been seeing more and more clients become concerned lately with the ethics of their SEO after having bad experiences. Education is key. Perhaps the client has unreal expectations because as SEOs we haven't done our job educating them properly.

If my client was pushing me to use shady tactics, then they wouldn't be my client anymore.
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Old 10-18-2004   #16
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"Education as a solution"

Education provided by me to my potential clients, sure. But, I'm not out to educate the world as a whole on SEO. If a company doesn't see the benefit of SEM, then it will be their mistake and eventually they'll realize it. If I want a specific client, then its up to me to educate that client on why they need me.

"become concerned lately with the ethics of their SEO after having bad experiences"

As fathom said, an SEO has a responsibility to the client. As such, I think any SEO should explain risk levels to their clients and do what they can to get rankings within the level of risk the client is comfortable with taking. To risk the clients business without their consent is wrong. But, so is taking money from a client and only using "above board and acceptable" tactics and not improving their traffic one iota.
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Old 10-18-2004   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisnrae
To risk the clients business without their consent is wrong. But, so is taking money from a client and only using "above board and acceptable" tactics and not improving their traffic one iota.
I see a problem with this statement. This is the prime argument why ethical guidelines are needed in our industry.

You are saying it's wrong to use only above the board tactics if it's not improving their traffic.... This essentially means that you would knowingly participating in "below the board" and unacceptable tactics in order to get results. This is what I am saying, and many others are saying is wrong with our industry, and why having stronger ethical guidelines is necessary. This is why clients have a hard time determining if their SEO is engaging them in shady practices. This is why many SEOs are being viewed as "witch doctors."

Doesn't anyone else see anything wrong with this attitude?

I'm starting to get the feeling that people are putting more energy into defending bad tactics and blaming the state of things rather than trying to make them better.
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Old 10-18-2004   #18
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I think this conversation is getting somewhere now.

It's not about seo/se ethics, it's about normal everyday ethics, if it feels wrong, it most likely is. - nothing to do with search engines at all.

THey have their thing to do, we site builders have our thing to do. For some site builders/seos there is a third entity, the client, as far as im concerened if you garuntee your client no.1 listing and no penalites "just leave all the details to me" your a bad person, AND a bad seo.

If you explain everything, agree the risk level, and potential consequences of your strategy and it all fails, you've got no 'ethical' issues to worry about have you?

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Old 10-18-2004   #19
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"This essentially means that you would knowingly participating in "below the board" and unacceptable tactics in order to get results"

No, that is not what I said. I would never, ever do something like that on a clients site without first explaining the risks to said client and making sure that they fully and completely understood the potential consequences and were requesting to take that route. Most won't take that type of risk with a merchant site, so, instead, the create an affiliate program and allow affiliates to assume that risk.

Last edited by chrisnrae : 10-18-2004 at 05:53 PM.
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Old 10-18-2004   #20
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There was a guy over at HighRankings on saturday who'd taken $16K and from a client and not even made a little bit of progress over 3mts....

That, is just wrong.

He's now going to take another $16K of theirs and spend it on ppc... that, in my book is the very definition of unethical.. he might be using fluffy WH tactics but he's still a crook by my reckoning...

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