In my opoinion, and it is not even a humble opinion, the use of the word ethical in regard to writing web site code is a gross misuse of the language and unsupportable.
I don't agree with your not-so-humble opinion.
I suppose, since I don't agree that the use of the word "ethical" is unsupportable, I'd better try to support it.
Take a look at these ethical frameworks search results
. Read some of the documents listed.
IMO, whichever framework you select, that ethical framework provides a means for evaluating your choices as an SEO.
From one of the search results, "Thinking Ethically: A Framework for Moral Decision Making
These five approaches suggest that once we have ascertained the facts, we should ask ourselves five questions when trying to resolve a moral issue:
What benefits and what harms will each course of action produce, and which alternative will lead to the best overall consequences?
What moral rights do the affected parties have, and which course of action best respects those rights?
Which course of action treats everyone the same, except where there is a morally justifiable reason not to, and does not show favoritism or discrimination?
Which course of action advances the common good?
Which course of action develops moral virtues?
This method, of course, does not provide an automatic solution to moral problems. It is not meant to. The method is merely meant to help identify most of the important ethical considerations. In the end, we must deliberate on moral issues for ourselves, keeping a careful eye on both the facts and on the ethical considerations involved.
As I said, ethical SEO is based on a decision-making framework that produces the best net outcome for searchers, search engines and site owners, respecting the rights and roles of each of those parties. Such a decision-making framework can be said to be ethical.
But cloaking pages of your own web site has nothing to do with morals or ethics, it is non compliant with the SEs guidelines
Two reasons cloaking is not the most ethical approach are:
- It fails, actively, to respect the rights and role of the search engine to deliver search results based on what searchers will actually see - one of the main components of the search algorithm (the set of on-the-page criteria)
- It fails to recognise, and therefore correct, the fundamental problem with the page (usually one of accessibility), meaning that lower quality pages can flourish; rather than fixing the fundamental problem and thereby making a better Web site.
I can imagine a situation where being compliant would be unethical and even immoral - for example, in the case of a search engine run by spammers who reward self-serving trickery. Within the boundries of THAT one engine, it would be ethical to observe these expected codes of behavior - and doing so would be "compliant" as well.
IMO, the ethical thing to do in that instance would be to try as hard as possible not to be listed in that engine. Engines have to be allowed to stew in their own juices, IMO. If they can't come up with a good relevancy algorithm, let them lose out to a different engine that can. The net outcome is that good engines survive and bad engines don't - which is the best outcome.
In most cases in this forum, we are talking about compliant SEO, since we are dealing with things like metatags and flash and landing pages and so forth.
IMO, the difference between compliant and ethical SEO is as follows:
- Compliant SEO is SEO in line with the currently published guidelines.
- Ethical SEO is SEO based on an ethical decision-making process (including respect for the rights and roles of the search engine) which, assuming the search engine guidelines are ethical too , will always be compliant
One problem with compliant SEO is that it is possible to be compliant with one search engine, but not another (because their algorithms are different). Or compliant one day, but not the next (when the published guidelines change). Ethical SEO does not suffer this problem.