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What It Means To Be A Search Engine Marketing Prof
Posted 27 July 2003 - 06:18 PM
There's a lot of stuff posted on search engine forums and newsletters around the world about how companies who spam the search engines are unethical, and that it's important to hire only "ethical SEO consultants" or "ethical search engine marketers."
But, if you think about it, ethics is not something that's quantifiable. What makes any given SEO technique ethical or unethical? Isn't ethics more of a way of life than a method for doing something? Is trying to trick the search engines really unethical? Sure, it's stupid, in my opinion, but is it really unethical? I don't believe that those who practice what I sometimes refer to as "shady SEO techniques" can necessarily be classified as unethical. Just as everyone who follows every search engine rule can't automatically be assumed to be ethical.
What we should instead be discussing is which companies are *professional* and which are just out for a buck. This is true in every industry, not just SEO. If the people in our industry can remember this when trying to create a professional organization of SEOs (and there are many factions trying to do this), it will go a lot smoother. It's really quite simple. My friend Alan Perkins, who is a champion of "professional SEO," pointed out a page to me recently. It says in part:
What defines a professional?
"A professional is a person who, by education, training, and experience, performs work, analyzes and solves problems, makes decisions, and promotes ethics associated with a particular field of study." - A. Carol Rusaw, Learning by Association, HRD Quarterly, Summer 1995.
They go on to list some criteria for defining a professional. The one that really jumped out at me was this:
"[The] Professional assumed to know what is good for the client better than the client."
That really hits the nail on the head. It would be easy for any of us to say, "Sure, why not, I'll take your money and just tweak your Meta tags" when asked to do so by a client. Of course it would be easy money. But would it be right if you knew that doing so probably wouldn't really help their site be found in the search engines? Not in my opinion; nor would it be professional.
So what about when a potential client comes to you saying "we know exactly what we need" because they read somewhere how SEO should be done. They ask you for a proposal to create 10 zebra (doorway) pages for their site. They don't want you to touch the actual pages of their site, they just want pages that live on the "fringes" of the site. You know, the kind that only the search engines will find (because you added a link way down low on the home page to a sitemap of all the zebra pages). Once the user arrives at one of the pages from the search engines, they're basically forced to click an extra time to finally arrive at the *real* site that they wanted to begin with.
Should you give the client a quote for this even though you know in your heart that it's not necessarily the best way to optimize their site? Certainly, creating those pages that way couldn't really be considered unethical or anything. But what if you see that their current site already has tons of great content pages? They really don't need to add zebra pages, they just need to tweak their current content a bit to make sure they're using words that real people use when searching.
Or perhaps they just need to make sure the search engines can easily spider through the site and find all that great content, e.g., turn dynamic URLs into static URLs.
What do you do if when you explain this to the client, they're still set on using those zebra pages? They refuse to make changes to their actual pages (cuz someone told them they shouldn't have to!), and even though the site will be much improved by making these changes, no amount of cajoling will convince them of this. So what do you do then? Do you do things the way they want you to? Do they really know better than you, the SEO professional?
If I were in this situation, and I couldn't persuade them how wrong, unnecessary and shortsighted their preferred technique was, I'd have to turn down the job altogether. Yeah, it's hard to turn down some decent money that a job like that could bring. I mean, you could probably even create those zebra pages using WPG's Page Generator, and give them some fancy new name. They're really not zebra pages...these ones would be giraffe pages! It could be good money for little work. And after all...it IS what the client wants, right?
There are plenty of ways you can justify it to yourself. But the bottom line is that it's your job as a professional to do what you know in your heart is right. If it means you don't get that particular job, then so be it. There will be other jobs. And there will be other clients that appreciate your looking out for their site's long-term well-being. You can bank on that. Seriously. The money you lose from declining that type of work will be made up in so many different ways. Trust me.
Posted 27 July 2003 - 09:38 PM
That is a good definition of a professional. I hope the SEO industry will adopt it.
Posted 27 July 2003 - 10:32 PM
Which is why I said in the article:
But, if you think about it, ethics is not something that's quantifiable. What makes any given SEO technique ethical or unethical? Isn't ethics more of a way of life than a method for doing something?
Posted 28 July 2003 - 09:01 AM
I would caution anyone from making personal judgements about people just because of their methods of SEO.
Posted 28 July 2003 - 09:51 AM
Posted 28 July 2003 - 09:24 PM
It is VERY hard to separate people's private selves from their public and professional ones, as has been painfully discovered in many a forum where an attack on someone's methods quickly seems to degenerate into an attack on that person (though much of that is in the eye of the one being attacked, understandably). It's very hard. One can argue that it's a moot point because people who are ruthless in the boardroom are probably ruthless in the living room too-- but they're different things. I like to think that my boss is actually a decent husband and a good father despite what a twit I think he is as a boss. I don't believe it, but I might as well give him the benefit of the doubt.
And it's also important to remember that many people don't see SEO as something for which ethics are even relevant-- it's not legislated, that's for sure. So doing "whatever works" even if it's dirty tricks isn't really breaking any laws. It's better than running over small puppies or defacing your neighbor's house or mooning old ladies. So the filthiest spammer might well actually be a very nice person who helps old ladies cross the street and volunteers down at the church or whatever it is that your ideal nice person does.
It's *very* hard to remember that when you lose a potential client to them and you just *know* they're spamming, though. Then it's voodoo doll time...
Posted 28 July 2003 - 09:34 PM
I'm not too sure about that - mooning old ladies has it's merits, IMO.
It's better than running over small puppies or defacing your neighbor's house or mooning old ladies.
Posted 28 July 2003 - 10:28 PM
Yes Jill, I'm dropping the subject. I've said my piece.
P.S. I was looking for a smilie that zippered the mouth closed. I used the closest one I could find.
Posted 28 July 2003 - 10:37 PM
Posted 28 July 2003 - 10:40 PM
Posted 28 July 2003 - 11:25 PM
Without having seen the AMA protocols before, they have created the "laws" that I was referring to. While I may think they are "righteous", and I do, they are a subjective viewpoint. Only those that agree to that viewpoint and their laws will adhere to them, partially or totally. Subjective applies to a group as well as an individual. My point is that what we think, in the moment is right, can often change exponentially in the next. That, to me, is what these forums are all about. Don't drop the subject; your "piece" has just begun.
Posted 29 July 2003 - 12:29 AM
I'm not sure if calling it a code of ethics, is necessarily the most accurate way to describe it, but it would do. Perhaps just something like Search Engine Marketers Professional Responsibilities would be just about right!
For those that didn't click through to the link, here's just some of what they say:
Responsibilities of the Marketer
Marketers must accept responsibility for the consequences of their activities and make every effort to ensure that their decisions, recommendations and actions function to identify, serve and satisfy all relevant publics: customers, organizations and society.
Marketers' Professional Conduct must be guided by:
The basic rule of professional ethics: not knowingly to do harm;
The adherence to all applicable laws and regulations;
The accurate representation of their education, training and experience; and
The active support, practice and promotion of this Code of Ethics.
Honesty and Fairness
Marketers shall uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of the marketing profession by:
Being honest in serving consumers, clients, employees, suppliers, distributors, and the public;
Not knowingly participating in conflict of interest without prior notice to all parties involved; and
Establishing equitable fee schedules including the payment or receipt of usual, customary and/or legal compensation for marketing exchanges.
Posted 29 July 2003 - 04:35 AM
Ethics does come into being a professional (taking the meaning of the word to be other than purely "paid"). Ethics is (partly at least) about showing mutual respect and understanding.
In the case of a Search Engine Marketing professional, I think that means showing mutual respect and understanding for the other parties in Search Engine Marketing: namely, your clients, your competitors and their clients, search engines, and searchers.
All too often respect is not shown for one of those parties. For example, very often (it seems to me) respect is not shown to search engines - instead, they are deceived in order to obtain their searchers. "Obtaining visitors by deception" is not "ethical", IMO.
Regarding legality, I think a case could be made to show that search engine spam was illegal in many instances. Deceptive advertising is illegal. Check Section 5 of the FTC Act in the US, for example.