Sunday, July 22, 2007

SEO - An Ethical Debate

SEO practices have come under a lot of scrutiny by those who strive to keep the internet a user-friendly and safe resource. There are methods of making your website more search-engine friendly, and there is almost no control over how you employ these. Some of them are considered ethical, and others are not. What are these distinctions, and why should webmasters not exploit every loophole they can to get more traffic?

Traffic means money, and many webmasters will do anything to secure more traffic. The Google Information for Webmasters lays down some criteria for the ethical optimization of pages, which I encourage everyone to read, even if you don't own a website. If you write SEO articles for a living, you might like to know exactly what your work is doing to the internet.

Recently I did some articles for certain multi-level marketing sites. These guys essentially sell software that sets up and maintains an affiliate network. When you give them money, they give you the software and tell you how to sucker in other saps and show them how to sucker in yet more saps. They used to call this a "pyramid scheme", but somehow this one has managed to slip through the cracks.

In my opinion these sites should not be drawing any traffic. One look at their keyword META tags tells you that these guys will do anything to get traffic. Just about any search for anything to do with money, business, marketing etc brings up one of this network's sites, all of which are almost identical.

But now, the honest people on the net face a problem. Either they can jump in and use 'bastard' SEO techniques to compete, or they can stick with being honest, keeping their keywords to a minimum and providing good, relevant content. So why should they do this?

Google's corporate motto is "Don't be evil", and evil is exactly what they strive to weed out. They continually update their algorithms to ensure that sites using underhand SEO techniques do not get traffic. Their stated goal is to create a search environment that rewards webmasters who devote their time to giving their users a valuable experience, rather than looking for loopholes. Eventually, this will happen.

As SEO writers, we generally do not have control over who our client websites are. However, I have refused projects for unethical websites in the past and I urge you to do the same. There is nothing wrong with trying to sell a product, and trying to get a competitive edge. On the other hand, if you have the best products, the best prices and the best value and you get your name out there, your business will succeed.

This is especially true on the internet. As I wrote in my eZine Article one person telling his friends about your site will bring in some traffic, but all of these people want to see your site. This is preferable to a thousand visitors who found your site when they were looking for something else that is more relevant. These users will simply see that your site does not have what they are looking for, and will leave.

This is basically one approach to SEO, and one that I hope will gain greater ground. You can check out my eZine article on the subject here. It's easy to read and it gets into some more interesting stuff, like John Nash's Game Theory (the guy from A Beautiful Mind). Go check it out!