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 definition of professional 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. You can bank on it!