Recently, someone I met at a local event called to refer a client to us. What I found refreshing was that a reason we were contacted was because of how we manage client relationships and build SEM programs. The individual was impressed with the honesty conveyed in our initial discussions.
Are There Ethics in Search Engine Marketing?
Interestingly enough, this communication coincided with the news that a particular search engine marketing tactic was sparking intense debate within our industry.
There was a tremendous amount of discussion between Jill Whalen, Lyndon Antcliff and various other members of the search community with regard to a recent article which fooled mainstream media in believing it to be factual, generating a wave of traffic and links for the site discussed. The hoax article was placed on a client site, submitted and became popular on the social media news site, Digg and then was picked up by various news sources, including The Daily Telegraph and Fox News among others.
There are a myriad of ways to gain links through creative content:
For the search engine marketing industry to maintain a level of integrity, we simply cannot condone the dissemination of false news in the hopes of achieving positive results in search engines.
The Integrity of Linkbait
Over the past few years, search engine marketers have coined the term “linkbait” to describe the strategy of acquiring links through the creation of compelling content. Links of course, are an important component for achieving keyword rankings in search.
My personal belief had always been that linkbait simply meant content strategies designed for “catching” potential links. However, the word “bait” may also have a more subjective definition, including “that which allures or provides temptation” or “to provoke or harass“. For that reason alone, it’s easy to understand why the term is not look upon favorably on a universal level.
What is troubling is that the justification of false news as a linkbait strategy has since been made by others in the industry as a result of this event.
Linkbait at any cost; It is what it is, right? Wrong.
Rather than repeat the discussions already presented, I would strongly recommend those interested to read Jonathan Crossfield’s excellent article on the linkbait fallout, which examines and refutes the merits of each position which supports such a strategy.
The bottom-line is that while we all need to make a living, there are simply lines that cannot be crossed and common sense dictates why that is so. This holds true in the business ethics of every client relationship, and must hold true in our industry as well.
Where Does The SEO Industry Stand?
Ignoring this discussion does not make it go away. The fact that online resources with a wider audience like Mashable and Google Blogscoped make it more important for search marketers to address the issue proactively rather than ignore it.
When I began writing this post, I initially published one version but then took it down, because I didn’t take a position on the topic. As a few colleagues pointed out, not taking a position may infer more than you think.
At the least, history has proven that the pursuit of revenue and profit without self-regulation or social responsibility ultimately leads to other long-term implications. Industries that simply ignore or overlook issues of malfeasance are often forced to become reactive through regulatory compliance or suffer financially as a result of pending intervention.
Is that where we want the industry to go? I for one would hope that that is not the case.
The good thing is that the same tools that can be used to spread something sensationally false can also be used for the dissemination of accurate information as well. Isn’t that one of the fundamental reasons search engines and social media became popular in the first place?