The term ‘ethical SEO’ has been bandied around for a while, and yes, it does have a specific definition that is applicable to your digital marketing strategies, but it should be given more emphasis than that. Ethics should also be embedded in everything you do.
For the average Australian small business owner, navigating digital marketing and SEO can be a bit of a headache. Why? Well, firstly, because it constantly changes. Frankly, if you’re using strategies you were using a couple of years ago and haven’t kept up with the times, then it’s highly likely that you’re not doing it right!
Secondly, SEO is full of buzzwords and jargon, most of which are confusing to the average small business owner.
One of the phrases doing the rounds of the industry is ‘Ethical SEO’. And I bet you’re wondering if it’s all just hype…
What does ‘Ethical SEO’ mean, and how does it impact your online presence?
To explain, let’s go back to basics for a minute. The point of SEO, ultimately, is to have your business come up on Google (or any search engine) when your customers search your company name, or other relevant words and phrases related to your products and services, or brands they’re looking for, that you may stock.
I’ve been doing SEO long enough to recall how easy it was to achieve good visibility at the search engines. It may have just been a matter of ensuring your target keywords were contained within the meta keywords tag (remember that one) and ensuring certain keyword density within your content.
Over time, the search engines, led by Google, have made it increasingly more difficult to achieve a page one ranking, with good reason. As the internet has ‘grown up’ and we better understand the ways in which people interact with it via laptops and mobile devices, the search engines have made their back-end algorithms increasingly sophisticated, so that they (the search engines themselves) become known for delivering useful quality results to users, every single time.
There are a number of specific criteria in this regard, which change and are updated regularly. Ultimately, your SEO partner should know these criteria and how it relates to your business.
Basically, anyone who tries to talk you into ‘quick fixes’ or ‘shortcuts’ is not practicing ‘Ethical SEO’ and can do your online presence more harm than good.
In a nutshell, Ethical SEO is defined as search engine marketing that uses only the techniques and strategies that search engines themselves consider to be acceptable.
But here’s where it becomes a bit more complex. Different search engines have different rules. This means that your website needs to traverse the different terrain while adhering to the specific guidelines.
This comes down to more than just sprinkling in some keywords into your copy; it relates to a number of important things, including but not limited to: the structure of your site, how easy it is to navigate, the clarity of the content, the technical optimisation of your site, live and active (not broken) links — including links you may have to external sites, or content on external sites, which normally you have no control over.
A good SEO partner will take into consideration each of these aspects — and more — in your SEO strategy to ensure that you have the very best chance of meeting multiple search engine criteria to reach the top end of the search results.
Embed ethics in everything you do, and every decision you make
With all of that said, I would argue that ‘ethics’ should touch upon more than simply your SEO strategy, meaning that you should place an ‘ethical’ lens over all that you do. For example
how you collect user data, how you protect that data, and how you use it. This includes your “cookies” policy, your social media posts, and also any email marketing you do. Also consider any online partners you have to ensure that they too have solid, sound, reliable, and ethical digital practices and that your business values and principles align.
We’ve seen in recent times big global tech companies like Google and Facebook / Instagram being questioned by governments and law enforcement agencies in various jurisdictions about their oversight mechanisms to protect user data and online safety. Currently, it’s still a grey area because in many ways the law is still catching up with all aspects of technology, which continues to expand and grow at exceptional rates.
What is clear, is that both companies (and as the dominant players they are likely to set the benchmark for others) are increasingly putting the onus on the individual website and social media page ‘owners’ and ‘administrators’ to be responsible for the content they publish and encourage users to engage with.
From my point of view, this means you shouldn’t dismiss ”ethics” as just another buzzword.
Instead, begin to embed it in everything you do. Not just because it is a responsible business practice, but also because your customers will benefit, and in the long term, you’ll foster customer loyalty.