Ethical SEO can be defined as using best practices and following a code of ethics to generate organic results. Many websites that violate this code, are usually penalized and might have to sacrifice authority, and expertise, or even lose traffic.
SEO is a critical part of your brand’s digital strategy. Using ethical SEO practices guarantees that clients can find you among thousands of other competing sites. However, ethical SEO practices may take more time to work and create a trustworthy relationship with the crawlers that rank your site.
White Hat vs. Black Hat
Often referred to as white hat, ethical SEO is used to optimize sites using practices such as:
- Creating websites with original keywords and content
- Using relevant and updated keywords
- Creating links from relevant websites
- Optimized image labels
- Natural keyword density
On the other hand, black hat is known as the use of unethical practices to boost ranking on the search engine. This may include unethical SEO practices such as:
- Using words repeatedly
- Plagiarism and not crediting the source
- Hidden words on a background that make it difficult to read
- Keyword stuffing
- Link farming
However, the definition between the two is often not clear-cut. A quick search will show you that SEO practices that were once acceptable, are now considered unethical. Black hat SEO practices may get you higher rankings on the search results page, however, they are considered unethical and violate stipulated guidelines. Where white hat techniques are considered a powerhouse, black hat SEO poses potential risks including fines, shutdown, increased bounce rates, poor user experience, legal battles, and more. While ethical SEO boundaries change frequently, you can still assess the ethics of an SEO firm through its practices.
Ethical and Legal SEO Considerations
Dishonest SEO practices not only lose clients, but they may also have serious legal implications. There is also the concern of monitoring and surveillance, search-engine bias, non-transparency, censorship, and democracy, as well as personal privacy.
Many wonder whether companies have any moral obligations owing to the critical role they play in providing access to information. In 2008, the makers of Airborne were accused of false advertising and paid out $23.3 million in refunds.
In 2011, J.C. Penney was also found in violation of Google webmaster guidelines by engaging in black hat SEO. The site was removed from Google. In both these cases, the companies suffered significant losses as a result of unethical SEO practices. Many SEO firms now follow an ethical framework to guide their practices.
SEO Practitioners Will Not Intentionally Harm a Client
Most SEO practitioners understand that their reputation and livelihood lie in the hands of their clients. However, the same cannot be said for black hat practitioners who are mainly concerned with quick results and evading penalties. Ethical SEO practitioners do not use technology or procedures that can result in the client losing their website.
SEO Practitioners Do Not Intentionally Violate Published SEO Codes and Rules
Ethical SEO rules change from time to time. Google and other search engines publish and enforce their rules, so to be considered ethical, SEO practitioners must follow these principles. This also includes upgrading previous work to ensure it adheres to the changed rules.
SEO Practitioners Shall Not Mislead Consumers
Any SEO firm you hire must ensure that the results displayed are relevant and do not contain offensive content. This also means that they cannot present different versions of the site to different users.
SEO Practitioners Should Not Falsely Present Others’ Work as Their Own
Using optimized content from a competing site and using it as original can result in delisting or serious penalties. This also includes taking parts of the content and verbatim copies without crediting the source or getting prior consent.
SEO Practitioners Should Not Create a Conflict of Interest
Naturally, SEO practitioners work with different clients from the same industry. It is therefore not uncommon to find two companies competing for the same keywords. However, under the SEO code of ethics, conflicts of interest are forbidden. SEO practitioners must also disclose any complications that might arise before taking on a new client and allow them to make an informed decision.
SEO Practitioners Should Not Set Up Clients for Unreasonable Expectations
Ethical SEO practitioners should not lead or allow clients to expect unrealistic results. For instance, an SEO firm with clients competing for similar keywords cannot promise each of them top indexing. This is equivalent to false advertising.
Benefits of Following Ethical and Legal Considerations in SEO
Most SEO practitioners enjoy the satisfaction of transparency and knowing that their clients have received the best services. This ensures that their credibility and reputation are not in doubt. Another major benefit of ethical SEO is that end-users get relevant results for their search. This creates organic traffic through reliable results. It also ensures that client websites do not get penalized or delisted.
Additionally, following Google Webmaster Guidelines or Bing Webmaster Guidelines keeps clients’ websites and their users safe and addresses the concern of social responsibility. Having a transparent SEO strategy also ensures that users do not feel misled. This leads to continued business and brand recognition. Finally, it pays both morally and financially to follow ethical and legal SEO considerations.
Whether SEO practitioners agree to follow the code of ethics voluntarily or as part of mandated requirements, there is no doubt that SEO contributes greatly to the longevity of your site. Ethical SEO practices that are carefully used will shape your content and position your brand as authoritative and trustworthy.
Whether you are an SEO practitioner or a business looking to increase your ranking, ethical and legal SEO considerations are now more critical than ever. Consumers have more power and knowledge about their rights and any violation can result in significant damage to your reputation and business. Ultimately, all businesses, whether big or small, must take ethical SEO more seriously.