Ethical SEO

I mentioned not too long ago what my definition of ethical SEO, and particularly ethics in online business. Apparently there are those who disagree.

Ethics is defined as a set of moral principles– a line that we won’t cross whether it’s for making money or damaging the competition or our own personal life.

Defining ethics doesn’t seem all that difficult. Creating an environment online whereby those ethics are a part of what we do and how to operate our business seems to be much more difficult. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that more than fifty percent of the online business that we use today are practicing questionable ethics and chalking it up as trivial and unimportant.

As writer and site developer I see a lot. At times I’ve turned down jobs in order to adhere to my own–apparently foolish–set of principles and personal codes. For example the man who wanted to hire me to write him 100 high quality SEO testimonials for his business, or the company who built a site named just slightly differently than the writing site they used to use and then sent out invitations to that company’s writers to entice them onto the writing team. Bear in mind this is a large company with a big following–and they didn’t perceive it as anything more than trivial to behave in this way.

It has been a source of amazement to me that companies hire people to increase their star count, to improve their like count, to promote their content and to write false testimonials from customers that never existed. Entire companies are being built on this premise. Fake testimonials, artificial counts, spamming and gaming and theft of workers and customers. It’s not surprising I suppose that some people are going to misuse business ethics for their own purposes.

What’s amazing to me is that they honestly don’t “get” why it’s perceived as poor business ethics.

Everyone has plucked a strawberry or two in the strawberry patch and eaten it as they picked to make sure that they tasted good before we bought them. Some of us have padded our content a bit heavily with keywords we want to rank. Where’s the line– or is there a line that we need to draw? A line that we don’t cross over in order to ensure that our customers get what they came for and that they receive the kind of service that they deserve from us?

Is padding your testimonial count any different than adding a school you didn’t attend to your resume? Is it any different than adding a company for which you have not worked to that resume? Not really. You’re telling the world that you are more experienced than you really are and you’re implying that your approval rate is much higher than it actually is.

The online world –Wikipedia and the various Open Source development projects–was built with an implied trust in the goodwill and good works of others.

It’s an attitude that seems to have changed and one that I personally miss a great deal.

The internet as a whole was built on co-creation and working as a unit and helping others to find a way to a profitable business. When did that change, or has it changed? Are the people who are misusing the anonymity of the internet simply people who would be unethical in every other way and the internet just gives them more latitude to be so?

Ethics in online business is no different than ethics in any other portion of your life.

Companies and sites which have been caught using bad ethics, horrific seo, paying reviewers and so on, are of course vastly unhappy that someone outed them in the overall scheme of things.

Where does profit making end and personal or business ethics begin? What should our priorities be in online business? Do we justify damaging an entire group, such as open source software, or bloggers as a whole in order to create a high short term profit for ourselves or our company?

What it boils down to is that there is no difference between the business who steals employees or pretends to have worked for someone or who adds a much cheaper steel beam to the apartment building and the online company who adds fake testimonials, steals employees or violates business ethics by creating a lookalike business online.

It’s up to the internet users to demand good online business ethics and to out those who don’t use them so that others are not taken in.

Sound harsh? Maybe, but if someone knew that you had a faulty furnace in your new condo or a bad beam in your office building, I bet you’d be pleased if they told you so. Likewise people are going to be pleased that you helped them to avoid an unethical business.

What kind of online business behavior do you consider unethical and where have you found it? Is the online world just a “buyer beware” scenario, or are there actually businesses out there online who believe in ethics.

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