As you begin your SEO journey, it is important to consider the ethics of SEO. Optimizing your site in an ethical manner is important because it helps maintain consistency with your business’s identity and authenticity. Unethical, often called black hat, optimization may actually have legal implications for your business and send your website plummeting down, not up, the results page.
SEO Code of Ethics
Many of the firms that do SEO, such as Bruce Clay Inc or Fuel Web Media, have an SEO Code of Ethics that they promise to follow. Using Bruce Clay’s code of ethics as an example. This code has a couple of points that deal more with the firm’s relationship with their client, but there are a few important points that apply even to small businesses too.
- No SEO practitioner will intentionally violate any laws
Working to stay within legal boundaries is important in any business context, SEO is no exception. Be sure that anything you do to improve your search engine results are within laws of the state and err on the side of caution.
- No SEO practitioner will falsely represent the content of the client site
- No SEO practitioner will misrepresent their own abilities, education, training, standards of performance, certifications, trade group affiliations, technical inventory, or experiences to others
These two points are closely tied together. Ensure that all visitors to your website are receiving the same content. Don’t false advertise. Do not overstate your abilities or claim to sell certain products/services just for the sake of improving your search rankings.
- No SEO practitioner will falsely represent others work as their own
Be careful to properly credit any work you use on your site that it is not your own. Provide links back to the original source of information, not just where you found it, and ask permission. Not only is this a more ethical practice, but it could help make a new contact as well.
Looking at this code of ethics can help set a tone for your brand. Add some clauses of your own to maintain a consistent, ethical stream of content for your business.
Black Hat SEO Techniques and How to Find Them
Black hat techniques are just about as sketchy as they sound. They are aimed at tricking the search engine algorithm into ranking the page higher. They can range from relatively harmless, such as adding random, unconnected keywords on your website, to more nefarious methods, such as link websites to a lot of low-quality or unrelated pages. Designhammer’s list of 17 Black Hat SEO Techniques to Avoid has great examples of not only different black hat techniques and what they look like, but also better white hat counters.
Black hat SEO techniques may increase your search results in the short term, but it is entirely based on trying to outsmart a computer algorithm that is, let’s face it, much, much smarter than you. The algorithms will figure out what is going on and sort out both your links and your entire website. Using black hat methods will cause your website to be entirely left out from all search engine listings. The graphic below, from Axandra gives a great visualization of the effects of black hat, called spammy SEO methods on the chart, and white hat, called ethical SEO.
As you can see, the spammy SEO method sees a sharp uptick in position for a short period of time, but has an immediate drop off a short time later, as the site is banned and left off of search engines. Without a listing on search engines, any growth is almost impossible. Bruce Clay offers a SEO Penalty Assessment Service that helps companies repair their standings and undo the damage caused by black hat SEO. The ethical search results have a slower growth rate, but the growth is consistent and the page is never punished in the rankings. As a result, using white hat methods will allow your page to reach a much higher level.
Ultimately, following an ethically sound system of search engine optimization is the best way to improve search results in both the short and long term due to punishments imposed by search engine algorithms from unethical, black hat methods.
For more possible dangers in your SEO journey read our post of 5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Beginning Your SEO.