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#Otable #ethics #linkbuilding

Why I don't "do" SEO

I have to say that I've always been unattracted to link planting for a variety of reasons, and it is one of the reasons that I refuse to use SEO expertise in any of my self descriptive offerings when I consult. I definitely do all kinds of page SEO, and research competitors, all the things that make PPC run, but the link building aspect of it is really core to SEO proper, and I have had almost zero interest in these petitioning, (seemingly) often deceptive processes. I never really thought about it a lot, I just educated myself on as much SEO as I could so I can help clients in a peripheral - you really should look at this - way, but steered clear of that kind of work. It was AdWords and Social Media strategy for me, with SEO bleedover.

The non-existent Son

+Kat Caverly linked an article on ethics, false personae and link building on the #Otable today http://twitter.com/#!/KatCaverly/statuses/116553801497972736 - here is the article: http://outspokenmedia.com/online-marketing/personae-ethics/ - one that outlines (with a star rating system!) the link building strategies which involve degrees of deception. I never realized until reading it how fully this probably is core to my resistance to the whole game. The relationship that link weighting is supposed to measure is almost never developed to the degree that the link has weight. Not my cup of social business tea. Something about it seems boiler room. At most I just build links through Social Media strategy, blog to blog connections, etc. If people want to hire an SEO guy, they can.

But the best part is that these real ethical and human issues are dug into in an article by +Jill Whalen (referenced in the first article) wherein Jill wrestles with the "white lie" of an fictitious son used in strategy of one person on behalf of a client: http://www.highrankings.com/deceptive-marketing-314

Ethics in the Age of the Algorithm

I recommend reading both articles, but they are deep reads. The former is full of rich advice, the latter long on tracing the ethical and ethical boundaries. I quote Jill's conclusion below for convenience. I'm not sure why she says it isn't about ethics, because she seems to be talking about ethics the entire time. But I for one believe that one of the gifts of Social Media marketing is the movement of business into an Ethical age, one where ethical action (largely) leads to more money, greater success. Business is heading back to the small town effect, where standing for what you are produces long term market trust.[+Becky McCray ]

In the parallel Age of the Algorithm though, this is a complex issue. The Algorithm has been trying to map the social as much as it can because it is the only way to cut through the spam noise of sites that aren't answering your query. Getting the right answers in the top two SERPs can really only be done via the social. So there is a curious tug of war between "real" social and "faux" social as the math keeps trying to separate out the one from the other. In between this all, of course, is the mythical son a marketer creates, or the pervasive Hallmark effect on Twitter, or the semi-automated pseudo-tribes like Triberr, and best foot forward branding on Facebook fan pages, etc.

Jill's conclusion, the false son

This is not a "black hat vs. white hat" issue.

It has nothing to do with hats. When it comes to search marketing, I don't care what techniques you use or what methods you use to gain more targeted search engine visitors. I don't believe that there are techniques that are more or less ethical than others. I don't care what Google puts in their Webmaster Guidelines, because there's no reason to need to know. If you fundamentally understand that all Google cares about is that your website isn't being deceptive in some manner, then you can't run afoul of them. They have to know that they can trust the information contained on your site and the information that you provide to Google. Nothing more, nothing less.

So many ethical conundrums come down to one simple question:

Is it deceptive or not?

I worry about search marketers who believe that deception is a necessary part of their job if they are going to get results. It's not only incorrect, but a sad commentary on our industry and perhaps our world.


+Christopher Porter +Marcy Massura +Allison Aldridge-Saur +Rabab Khan +Angelique Creatively +Karen Sharp +Yola Blake +Santiago Robledo +Jeannette Baer +Ric Dragon
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Nick LeRoy's profile photoSteve Birkett's profile photoJill Whalen's profile photoJames Cordeiro's profile photo
41 comments
 
I am interested in what +James Cordeiro has to say on this. From everything I have read that he has put out, he does amazing SEO, and does it highly ethnically!

I have yet to read the articles, will do that later today, but I am on the edge of my seat with this discussion. It hits on the core of what I am about, and how I want to help clients. I think +Jill Whalen hits the nail on the head (before I have even read her post, just from this snippet) I sense she understands what is happening and what is at stake.

Thanks for this topic starter Kevin. Can't wait to dive into this more.
 
I was really thinking of you a lot Chris +Christopher Porter because you are digging into SEO now, and I know you have a very strong ethical drive to yourself, the two of us being in agreement on a lot of things. Look forward to your thoughts. They are long, but very good reads.
 
I am the SEO that used the fake son in addition to the persona. As I have echoed about 10 trillion times by now, not everyone gets to cherry pick their clients. Not every client takes an active interest in their campaign yet they expect results for their $$$. The good SEOs will think outside of the box and do what it takes to build quality links back to their website. As you will see from my article (The one that started this huge debate) http://nickleroy.com/broken-link-building-in-action-real-email-examples-inside I was able to acquire an extremely valuable link for my client with a little white lie and outside of the box link techniques.

Once again - if I have to chose between keeping my job (delivering results) or staying "Ethical" I guess I have to chose the first. Being "ETHICAL" in this instance doesn't feed my family.
 
Nick, I didn't read your original article, probably because I didn't want to get pulled emotionally into a "huge debate" (I know what those are like!) where there often is more heat than light - but thanks for linking it here for it certainly is important to the evolution of the topic. Mostly I was interested in the abstract ideas implied, what the quandary is for all of us in the industry/industries, and the way that the social and the algorithmic are intertwined. For me there is something very hard about SEO link building that touches right on very edge of some important things going on. It touches right on where Social and the Math meet. I applaud you for fighting your way forward in this unique ground. It is not something I think I could do.
+Nick LeRoy
 
Hey Mike! Great seeing you. Looking forward to what you think. I believe this goes far beyond SEO link strategies. It is everything we are doing on Social and on the web.
+Michael Trow
 
I promise I will jump into this discussion soon, not much time at the moment but looking forward to a good read and discussion here. :)!
 
I completely disagree with the end of +Nick LeRoy's comment "Being "ETHICAL" in this instance doesn't feed my family."...

Have you heard the proverb "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime"?... the non-ethical SEO feeds the family for a day. The ethical for a lifetime! So, you may need to adjust your "views" for this discussion because when I come back to this, I'm going to say something you do not read in any SEO book or any SEO article. You Do Not Need To Link Build!, your visitors will do this for you. Anyways, I can not wait to jump into this discussion.
 
James - the entire write good content and natural links will come is great in theory. Try that with a brand new website and see how long it takes you to get noticed. My point is not that its ok to be unethical but more so that every link builder has to have a stance on what they believe is 'OK' and stand by it. Would you call your wife fat because she asked you if it were true? If you say no because you want to spare her feelings is that any different then a small white lie i told to acquire a link that hurt nobody? +James Cordeiro
 
Since I have yet to read your article, I may be jumping ahead in this argument. But, what you are referring to by "white lie" to get links is called "link baiting" which only makes your consumer frown on your website and possibly choose not to come back. Similar to why when I see a techcrunch.com article title I now think whether to click or not - they link bait often with small white lies to get links and readers.Who does it hurt in the long run though? It hurts the users, and the business overall in the long term. I focus on the future - if you are running a website to get money now instead of long term results then by all means, linkbait.

I will come back later when I can read the article and give my most honest opinion using some examples. :)
 
+James Cordeiro I really look forward to what you want to say here. I very much would love to have link building (or it's non-need) rehabilitated. For the moment, until you present more, I can't see how there would not be a lot of real world instances where leveraging the Algorithm is a necessity, or even a requirement for site SEM.

If we want to be extreme about it, even researching your SERP competitors and looking at their (successful) page keyword densities and using them for yourself is "dishonest" to some degree in that you are just telling Google what it wants to hear, instead of just expressing your content in a more "truthful" or at least less sculpted way. There is always a certain degree of "presentation" in marketing - and I say this as someone who believes pretty fervently in the "Ethical is Good Business" model, especially in this SoMe time.
 
sorry, got into rant mode and wrote a novel, but have yet to answer the initial post, however, still worth a read since it connected to comment above, and initial post although I have yet to read the article, lol

"you are just telling Google what it wants to hear, instead of just expressing your content in a more "truthful" or at least less sculpted way." :)! Well said... I say well said because, my very "ethical" approach ensures I am not doing the sculpted, instead, quantity and quality content ( seoblog.yougomedia.com/2011/search-engine-optimization/quality-content-is-king ). I stick very heavily to one of Google's own philosophies which is "focus on the user and all else will follow". It is one of my all time favorite quotes. I do not and never have optimized an entire website, only the main areas which grab traffic and draw attention. The rest of the site is made to let the users control it's outcome and II use craftful call to actions to help control the funnel of information the user leaves behind. The power, is the users - not the search engines. You can have more success from one visitor than you can from 100 - focus on the user, even if it is just one and the rest will naturally flow. If your optimization is not working, focus on impressing social media visitors. Any traffic is good traffic, not all content is good content. Sorry, just felt compelled to respond to +Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu's comment above.

Example of "focus on the users" - I'm going to use +Christopher Porter as an example. Let's say this post was optimized. It does not matter how optimized this post is for google+ search - yes, it is content I am interested in , it is content I search. (yes you can optimize posts now, sad isn't it). Anyways, because Christopher has been following me for a while now, he's come to trust the "content,information" I provide. The same for a website is the case - if you have viewers who trust, and enjoy - they will do the same as Christopher did which is share, tell others, or include your content. The one person of 100 that drove me to view this post, more traffic, more eyes, more followers, more engagement - keyword, more. It is the user who controls the power - I can search all I want and maybe come across this post - but how likely would I be to engage if the word of mouth, and user (visitor) was not involved? According to world wide average conversion rate, only 1%-2% converting rate. (means 1% of viewers turn into a sale or a person who performs a requested action such as subscribe). This is where SoMe is taking us, and this is what webmasters for years have been failing to pay attention to. Pay attention to the user! You can find conversion rate statistics on the Fireclick Index ( index.fireclick.com/ ).

A local city florist in which I manage their web presence has little optimization, local optimization only, less than 100 visitors per day with a web to call rate of 20 calls per day, average 2-3 online orders per day & 3-10 emails. This means, every day they are converting 30%+ of their visitors. The website is strictly set to convert the visitor, focus on the user, provide them exactly what they want and ensure they leave happy. One main search term which is quite normal for florists "{city} florist, {city} florist*s*" ex. Toronto Florist. Now, the main point behind this is that if you convert one visitor, that one visitor should remain, so now it is up to you to keep the visitor coming back. That is outside of SEO, no search optimization can keep that visitor. Instead, you are now into UO (User Optimization) :)!... When I define SEO to a client, it is simple.

Search = "Get website traffic from search, any search, FB, Google, Yahoo, Bing, phones, maps, etc."
Engine = "any engine that is capable of performing a query to bring traffic"
Optimization = "optimize the site to receive traffic in search engines, optimize the site to retain traffic, optimize the site to convert visitors, optimize the site to be "shareable" and trustworthy.

Optimization = Make the best or most effective use of your website to ensure it is a business asset.

A recent small debate on one of my posts, which I've abandoned all together tbh, was about someone saying Google must optimize their blog. Well, if you focus on the user and all else will follow means the users control the outcome. Does Google have to optimize Google+? not at all, the users control the outcome, and there are millions of tech users who know about the blog without having to search. Webmaster tools, analytics, online ads, tons of traffic areas - no need to optimize for search. So as long as the majority of users are happy, 1 Million happy customers outweigh the 100,000 bad. Focus on the user, and all else will follow.

^ went slightly off topic, apologize. Will be back, as mentioned lol. I still really want to read the article and voice my opinion. Damn good thing I can type quickly.

As for the link building discussion, I have much to say about it due to almost every project of mine, since the beginning of my "successful" seo has not used link building campaigns, some with 0 links. Many sites well above 1 million organic search engine visitors per month. One link is all you need, it is enough to get crawled just one time (one time puts in index and will be crawled again, now, good structure, navigation and "clean" development will ensure proper indexing). The rest, is up to Google. A quality content quality product website with great information, clearly understand, easily crawled, and tailored to the user will always win in the end. Sure, link build to grab instant gratification which only lasts a small while until you have to link build again, and again and again until you have an extremely poor un-natural linksin directory which is causing only negative effects on your SEO. Sure, links will work, but for how long before you have to work on more? ;)

if someone thinks "content farming" from anything I have said, let me define content farming. Content farm is when you have so much content, but, the content is of no "specific" focus. Going to another Google philosophy - do one thing really, really well. Focus on one topic, not 100 - you can have one thousand pages on one topic or one thousand on several topics. Which one do you think will do better? This is why blogs have a hard time in search engines, except the one topic focused blogs. People blog about "everything" and quite often the one topic blogs somehow include and link to completely un-related information such as a friends blog which talks about cats but your talking about search engines.

o.k must go before I write you guys a novel. (I think I did, sorry)
 
btw, to explain optimizing Google+ posts, I've been doing it from day one since I knew the outcome of G+. Hence why every post has a title, which is bolded, and usually separate from the description. my is gold a bubble post is an example. https://plus.google.com/s/Is%20Gold%20A%20Bubble%3F same with many others which fit to my posts.
 
It is interesting +kevin von duuglas-ittu. My experience with SEO is limited, I have been involved and subjected to much persona creation.

In other marketing efforts I was with a company who felt it best to create a persona for email campaigns. This was to protect the sales staff and to try to encourage unbiased or influenced decisions. Truth be told, it worked to an extent. Ethics didn't come into it too much. No one felt aggrieved they couldn't speak to this persona direct.

In another scenario I witnessed pre sales and market researchers use false personas all the time to capture information. In ny mind its breaching the same as this post. Whenever I have conducted market research or lead gen for clients I've never seen the need to create an identity. In addition I think it is ethical to be true and fair. If you conduct business right, professionally and ask the right questions you will get what you need, no strings attached. Ultimately, not in a Devine way, you will get what you deserve in business by conducting activity unethically. Losing credibility and towing privacy laws is dangerous and expensive to "undo"

It's one persons decision ultimately. I would have to think very hard before recommending a client, or other, to conduct the activity like this. 
 
+James Cordeiro You did write a novel Sheesh! But it is good insights about how you work, and the mindset you have.

I got around to reading both articles +Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu , and they were fantastic. I Just had a client move from a typical SEO company, to hiring us to help her have better copy on her website, fill out yelp and other local index sites, and generally do as much SEO as I currently know how to do. When talking to her in the discovery process, the thing she wanted most was to know what was actually going on behind the scenes. Sure she wanted to see her ranking go up for the keywords they had all agreed upon to "optimize", but all the rest was smoke and mirrors. The thing I love about this 69 year old Veterinarian, is that she wanted to learn what she could do to help. She wants to understand it.

I was transparent with her, that I am just further along on the same learning curve, and that I am new to SEO. But, I knew I could help her in ways the SEO company she had hired could not, or would not. As I learn things, read good articles, I just send em on over to her, and she reads and learns right along with me (and asks questions about what she does not understand). I am not expecting nor do I want this with every client, but I really am learning as I do it, and she actually likes knowing where I am at, and the honesty I have shown her in what I do and don't know.

I think that goes back to one of your points James. If you cater to the actual people that want to visit the site. If you make it a comfortable digital living room, and are welcoming the right people in to come and read what you have laid out on your digital coffee table, they will come back again and again, and tell their friends about the great resource they have found, catered exactly to their needs. There are aspects I still need to learn, like what kind of couch is best, the type of lighting that is best for afternoon visitors (I am talking here about title text, bold text, meta tags, all sorts of technical aspects I have yet to learn how to effectively use).

I think I am on the right track, but thankful I get to "listen in" on these types of conversations and glean knowledge from people much more knowledgeable than myself. Thanks for putting yourselves out there for the rest of us to learn from.
 
Anyone in this post who has not seen my most recent posts, you may definitely want to take a look. It involves G+ search optimization.
 
Hey Kevin, great analysis of both posts. I think it's interesting to see where different people fall on the persona spectrum. Full disclosure that I work with Sabre, but I find it deceptive to being using personae to help us build links for clients. In most cases where we're creating a "fake person", we're creating a company representative. Someone who can speak intelligently on behalf of the brand, without tying it to the CEO or some other employee who may not be comfortable doing the legwork. I'd argue it's no different than hiring a PR company to reach out to others on your company's behalf. We're not attempting to be deceptive, we're attempting to get results for our client without outing the fact that they've hired someone to help them reach out, either because they don't have the expertise, the time or the interest.

Those are just my thoughts. But thanks for creating a great discussion here. Hope you don't mind, but I included a link to this convo in the comments of the post so people can get your insights, as well. :)
 
+Michael Trow I'm not quite sure that I follow the first example of the successful false persona you were using in email. What were you doing?

I do agree Mike with the sense that unethical or pseudo-ethical practices can definitely have a consequences that just are not foreseeable. Much of it seems to be that industries develop practices along certain guidelines, and Sale has a kind of history of being allowed to twist the ethical line - ie people know that salesmen are going to be lying at some level, the "used car salesman" syndrome. I find this to be so interesting though because this runs up against the last trends towards transparency in SoMe.
 
+Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu The false persona for email campaigns was a name to send the emails from. Any replies also went to this false persona, these were monitored by management.
Although the company email address was used, the false persona was seen as a good way of encouraging responses and those that could be monitored (before marketing automation).

Thinking about it, that companies CEO also created a false person as a VP Sales when speaking with people. He didnt want to give the impression of being a small company nor that they were actually dealing with the CEO.
 
Lisa, thanks for your thoughts. I particularly liked this:

"In most cases where we're creating a "fake person", we're creating a company representative. Someone who can speak intelligently on behalf of the brand, without tying it to the CEO or some other employee who may not be comfortable doing the legwork. I'd argue it's no different than hiring a PR company to reach out to others on your company's behalf."

This is what I find interesting. There is a "fake persona" involved in any virtual communication. The diction we pick, our avatar, our techniques of communication, etc. The ethical dimension comes in on how mappable that persona is to an actual person. Is a real, living human being responsible for what that virtual person is doing or saying. In your case it sounds like it is a company is responsible. These layers of representation that are natural in business (f2f) are more complicated perhaps in virtual environments where representation is even more easily manipulated. Through in the SoMe transparency issue, and it is a whole new business/ethical landscape.
+Lisa Barone
 
Interesting Mike. What advantages of "encouraged responses" did you see? Was this from email personae having more all-American names? Or through gender? As to the non-existent VP of Sales, I'm sure that this kind of thing is very prevalent as well. It just shows how slippery the virtual business slope is. +Michael Trow
 
+James Cordeiro I'm not sure I actually have followed your point/s. You have shown (for instance) that G+ posts can be manipulated for rank, but then claim that this is not necessary. If it can be done, then it (could be seen as) "necessary".

Let's all grant that...

1. Content (+ engagement) drives SEO rank.
but...
2. Rank can also be manuplated.
why would we not (reasonably) conclude that the best combination is:
3. Content + engagement+ manipulation.
 
It's unethical and easy manipulation for spammers which is why the post was forwarded to the Google team. Why allow such things to take place in a world we all wish were a better place? Ethics is required to make a better world, lack of ethics is hurting our world. Honest business requires 0 manipulation. My profile "slogan" says - "How Do You Improve The World With Google+?" :)... the post which explains how to do the manipulation says in the last sentence. Google fix this!

It is not "necessary" to manipulate - great content, gets great results. Focus on the user and all else will follow (shares, +1's, comments, etc...) - if someone tries to respond to this saying "i don't have enough followers". Again, focus on the user - but the ones not connected to you. Go out and engage and you will get engagement (+1's, comments, shares, etc.). Turn your content into content on other posts outside of your circles, but keep it to your "target" audience, which is the whole point of marketing.

if($ethics == "great"){
......$trustbuilding = true;
......$traffic = true;
......$ethics = true;
} else {
......echo "Please choose to either rebuild ethics or your stuck linkbuilding. Please note, linkbuilding will return to this choice in 7 days.";

......$trustbuilding = false;
......$traffic = false;
......$ethics = false;
}

in response to Kevin's post above
 
So +James Cordeiro your argument seems to be:

1. great content + engagement + manipulation = best (objective, rank) result
but
2. great content + engagement (no manipulation) = a very, very good result

So in order to make it a better world we should do 2.

I'm not countering your point, I'm trying to tease out exactly what you are stating.
 
1. is a short term result sure to be squashed in the future
2. lasts forever

I want a better world ethics wise, if it means my ethics loses to someone else's in-ethical use for a short period of time - so be it, but they won't stay ahead forever. The future comes sooner then we all want, which I am sure we are all aware of. Sooner or later, the ethics always wins. Take the Panda update Google put out as an example (slowly needing another update)... the Panda update made 0 negative impacts on any site I have or manage. but, It sure made positive impacts - heck it even made good impact on many content heavy sites :)!. But wait, content heavy was what the Panda update attacked (content farms) which then goes into the content farms discussion [here] lol.

Content farm = content heavy with no "specific" topic.
Good content = content heavy with one topic. Following the Google philosophy of "do one thing really, really well.".
 
+Kat Caverly - I'm all with you on the ethical is best road. But what I'm thinking about is this. There is a degree - yes, a degree - of inherent falseness in any kind of representation. The representation simply is NOT the thing, though it is often taken to be the thing. We see this of course in branding where a company's life force is "presented" to its audience in an ideal way. It is something that just is part of the mechanism of market. In virtual environments this dimension seems emphasized. The representations multiply. Every platform has a different feel, and brands or companies communicate themselves differently in all their channels (hopefully, if they are doing it right). My point is that there is no room for absoluteness here. We are already representing, we are already pre-senting.

Instead it seems that as a community we have to feel our way forward (through just this kind of conversation) with people taking different kinds of stances, and giving different sorts of reasons "why". And develop the custom of what is expected.

The convo has been a little all over the place. From specific SEO practices (link building, baiting) to email strategy, all the way up to branding now. Maybe it is just the nature of the subject. For me, as someone focused on the SoMe aspect of marketing, I'm trying to find out how powerful transparency can be. And I'm also very interested (in the abstract) how the Algorithm is attempting to capture social realities, in order to provide the best results, creating a built in struggle between social ethics and the math.
 
+James Cordeiro

So James let's take your "lasts forever" point. Let's compare it to building a fire.

Hardwood burns a long time in a nice hot fire.
Kindling burns very, very fast, doesn't last long at all!

If this analogy holds, it would be silly to say that there is no purpose for kindling because it doesn't last. The reasonable solution would be use kindling to start a fire, perhaps some fast burning sticks when the fire slows a little. No?
 
Now your trolling, lol. That's not focusing on your user ;) .. I must run for now, most discussion later. :)! Have a great day.

Simply stated. Using un-ethical methods breaks the ethical and trust building. It is simply a fast burning stick by itself without kindling. And once you use the fast burning sticks as you say, there is no hope for the kindling. It's broken! lol - burned away, it's ashes. No kindling will light those ashes.

Even more simple: Ethical + Great Content = engagement + results... no un-ethical requirements necessary. The fast-burning stick who has a bigger flame than you will burn. :) Good analogy +Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu.

Have a great day. :)!
 
+Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said above: "...can't see how there would not be a lot of real world instances where leveraging the Algorithm is a necessity, or even a requirement for site SEM."

It is in fact, quite a requirement for SEM as Google has made it be. See my post on how Google Loves Anchor Text Spam for reference: http://www.highrankings.com/anchor-text-link-spam-299 and also how even after their major Panda update, they STILL love anchor text spam: http://www.highrankings.com/google-spam-still-works-305

Until Google stops rewarding people being deceptive in order to gain footing in their search results, we'll continue to have marketers using deceptive practices to get those links. And by that I mean a lot or worse things than pretending to have a son.
 
+Christopher Porter Back to the original thoughts on SEO. My wariness of explicitly providing SEO services is that the word "SEO" has acquired a kind of magical quality for people who don't understand it at all. And expectations are without context. It is very true that I've come to sites that have been given to a so called SEO expert first and found lots of elementary things that were not even addressed - I go about fixing them and wondering just what is passing for SEO in this Wild, Wild West marketplace (which isn't to say that all or even most SEO ppl are frauds). It seems in a lot of ways some SEO ppl hide behind a certain opacity of what they are doing. The client simply can not measure what is happening. The same thing happens behind the word "Social Media" for business too. And then there is the other the other factor. Armed with a toolbar and a few keyword tools suddenly anyone can become an SEO expert, which means simply knowing more than the client knows. There feels to be a very unsteady ground beneath the term SEO in the marketplace.
 
Been out for a few days, so just catching up. I agree, as you knew I would, with your comment about coming back around to the small town ethic. Reputation is forever in small towns and online.
 
+Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu you have just touched upon my pet peeve of the SEO industry (of which I'm a pioneer). I've spent more than the past decade trying to make people aware of the Wild West atmosphere of the industry. There are, unfortunately, a good portion of those who call themselves SEOs who don't really know professional SEO at all (I call them incompetent SEOs).

I do have lots of articles on this topic as well, but I'll spare you more links here.
 
+Jill Whalen In in a strange way SEM and Social Media marketing have become twins. Small to medium sized businesses simply have nowhere to turn (which is to say, everywhere to turn). Other than dumping money at the problem, or getting lucky with word of mouth, it is almost a crap shoot. They know then need SEO and Social Media, but what is passing for each is nearly random.
 
+Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu yes, agree. I think more smbs need to think about having their own in-house people doing many aspects of both SEO and Social Media Marketing. Perhaps with an outside consultant to provide some strategy and evaluation.
 
+Jill Whalen that is exactly the approach I think is smart (given all things being equal). SEO training and SoMe should become a priority. This is kind of how I've worked in the past. Who is sending out this message? I feel that there is a huge market place for this kind of approach. Businesses want to know the what and the how, I believe.
 
+Becky Robinson I want to get to know more about your small town ethics approach. Is there a core blog post, video, etc. I can read? I feel like I would have great sympathy towards it.
 
As Google is often held up as the example for ethical new media behaviour, it's interesting to me - especially in light of the short vs long term gain argument raised above - how people view early steps that Brin and Page took to bring their search engine to life: stealing computers, breaking and entering, for starters. They were driven enough by their long term vision to overcome individual ethical dilemmas, the end very much justifying the means.

In Nick's example, if we assume the final link built was in fact quality and added value, then the end of an improved site for the webmaster and the obvious benefit to his client, with no practical down side, the same logic could be applied.

In terms of the wider SEO discussion, I think it remains for the end recipient to take responsibility for those they employ and ensure that their practices align with one's own ethical standpoint. Asking the right questions is key of any client/service relationship, as Chris shows in his current project. With such a wealth of resources available to us all with one click of a search engine (assuming the SERPs haven't been gamed ;-), we owe it to ourselves to understand the basics and have a base level of confidence in those we employ.

+Nick LeRoy +Christopher Porter
 
Kevin - I believe this quote of yours nails the true value and power of social media technology:

"But I for one believe that one of the gifts of Social Media marketing is the movement of business into an Ethical age, one where ethical action (largely) leads to more money, greater success."

Well said sir!
 
Thanks Kevin. I firmly believe this and it is a big part of my social media marketing enthusiasm. It is hard to put oneself fully into something that does not at least reflect a very large portion of your values. One of the great things about social media work is that a great deal of it is doing good things, making people more expressive, more recognized, more able to connect to others and the things they love. And part of this seems to also seriously entail businesses themselves becoming more connected to the customers they traditionally have valued, and honoring the brand they have built.

My thoughts.
+Kevin Stirtz
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