Destructive Effects of Spammy SEO

by: Irina Ponomareva

SEO: The Importance of an Ethical Approach

It is, of course, always preferable to deal with an ethical practitioner, no matter what the business in question is. But SEO, by its nature, is one of the most sensitive industries, and here such issues as ethics or ethical business conduct are discussed, year after year, with a lot of heat and passion.

Why is SEO special?

There are a lot of reasons why SEO has become so sensitive to ethical and moral issues.

First, when it comes to SEO, it becomes extremely hard to define success and harder still to guarantee it. Your SEO consultant may be skilful and smart and do everything the right way but still fail to achieve the results you were expecting, because the search engines' behaviour is often unpredictable or because your expectations were originally based on wrong ideas about a successful SEO campaign. Is it ethical to promise and not deliver?

Second, various spammy SEO techniques developed by crafty optimisers to manipulate the results artificially add another - and very SEO-specific - variable to this equation. Most discussions on the subject of ethical or unethical SEO turn out to be discussions on spam-free or spammy SEO methods.

Is it ethical to deceive search engines and their users for the sake of providing (perhaps) better results for your customer? No! But, on the other hand, is it ethical to place the third parties' interests higher than your customer's? Is the opposition applicable in this case?

The answers

No, it is not ethical to promise and not deliver. So, all goals, possibilities and consequences should be carefully estimated from the start. No promises without a bulletproof guarantee.

Deception is never ethical.

When SEO is done properly, there is no opposition between the customer's interests and the interest of all other involved parties such as search engines, their users or the web.

Explanations - Bulletproof guarantee

What bulletproof guarantee can an ethical SEO practitioner offer to the client? Achieving #1 rankings for a targeted search phrase is a tough task, especially if the term in question is a competitive one. In most cases no such guarantees are possible. #10 or #20 rankings is easier to achieve, and certain guarantees become possible, but, again, up to a point. Search engines are tricky things, sometimes they just do not like certain sites and keep them away from the first 1000, no matter what is done. In many cases it would mean a penalty applied to the site by this particular search engine, but not necessarily.

Anyway, SEO's efforts are never useless. Link building, for instance, will increase the incoming traffic to the site due to direct clicks from directories and other linking sites. Good copywriting and optimised navigation work for conversion, so even if the total number of visitors remains the same, sales will improve. Of course, it will involve serious studies of the target market, competition and target audience's expectations and concerns. Speaking to visitors is, perhaps, the hardest part of the SEO art; saturating the copy with keywords without breaking the readability is, honestly, much easier.

For these reasons, overall increase in traffic and ROI can always be guaranteed, especially when SEO is applied in combination with PPC campaigns and other advertising opportunities.

Deception is never ethical

Quite an obvious statement, isn't it? But not when applied to SEO. Many search engine marketers will argue the point violently, saying that deceiving the search engines is all right because it is the easiest way to achieve good rankings for their own or their client's site, and if so, everything is quite all right. "It is our job to deliver rankings", they say.

Thus, the interests of Internet users are ignored. The quality of search results is not a concern anymore. Search engines are treated as "adversaries" that should be "fought" for rankings, not anymore as a source of quality results and help for Internet users. Such tactics are, in the long run, destructive for the Internet in the whole - as a medium and a part of our cultural life - but nobody cares. At the same time, these very search engine marketers will tell you that they "treat their clients ethically", because they "deliver what they promise" (i.e. rankings) and "warn the client honestly about the risks involved" (i.e. the risk of being banned or penalised by the search engines and being forced to register another domain and start anew).

One remarkable point: these people hate it when they act as searchers (use the search engines to find what they need) and are forced to struggle through someone else's useless spam. They describe their experience with such indignation! But that's the point of being really ethical: "treat others as you want to be treated".

In the last years, the Internet has become very polluted, all due to spammers' efforts. It becomes dangerous to link to other sites, because the risk of running into a bad neighbourhood is as high as it has never been before. In an attempt to avoid bad neighbourhoods, honest people will link less, and the best part of the Net will die of "linklessness", while the spammy part will grow.

Who benefits if the Net dies?

The answer is: nobody. The Net, this effective and popular medium created to provide people from every corner of the civilised world with free and easy access to information, is now turning into a place used by greedy marketers to earn quick and easy money through deception. This is the road to nowhere, since when the amount of useless rubbish exceeds some reasonable limit, the Internet users will get disappointed and start going offline, one by one. Without the users, the Internet will come to its end, and the suicidal tactics of the "black hat" SE marketers will bring them what they deserve. But the price we all will have to pay will be huge. That's why we say "no" to spam techniques today. Tomorrow, it may be too late.

No interest opposition

An ethical SEO will improve the client's site and ensure that in the end, all involved parties will benefit. The client will receive a high quality product and improved business through better visibility and conversions; the search engines will be treated in a friendly way, and their task of determining what the site is really about will be simplified greatly; the visitors will enjoy exploring the site and making use of information and services it provides; the Internet will receive another great, valuable resource.

It's been noticed that when the search engine rankings alone are considered "the client's best interest", and the scope of work is determined with this approach in mind, the end user (site visitors) often becomes neglected. The copy is written with search engines and only search engines in mind (then it will, probably, be cloaked to "hide" the "successful" writings from competitors and prevent stealing by another unethical SEO).

What the visitor will see is treated as the least important part of the process. As a result, good rankings may well be achieved (not for long: banning from the SE indices will happen sooner or later, anyway), but sales remain on the same level (or go down).

Is it in your best interest? Are you sure?

Irina Ponomareva joined Magic Web Solutions ltd. (UK) on March 2003. She has been acting as a web master, a developer, and an SEO specialist ever since.

After practising search engine optimisation for a year, Irina then launched Spider Friendly (http://www.spiderfriendly.co.uk) - the autonomous SEO branch of Magic Web Solutions (UK) offering SEO/SEM services - in co-operation with her colleague Dmitry Antonoff.