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Webmaster Optimization and Ethics
Where is the gray area in your business ethics?
paynt




msg:778545
 6:29 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

There's some discussion going on at [webmasterworld.com...] about "Search Engine Positioning Poll, what is your strategy?"
This is a great discussion and opportunity for us to share, in a poll format, where we stand. #4 of the poll offers "Super ethical, no "gray area" approach". I commented that I feel this is subjective. In other words, what is the gray area? How would you define this?
Some of the questions about ethics involve cloaking but I'm sure there are more areas that bring to mind questions of ethics. What might those be for you and how do you work around them?
I'll be very interested to see where this discussion evolves but caution restraint in flames please. That wouldn't be ethical to the board or it's members.

 

agerhart




msg:778546
 6:45 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

I think that besides the obvious things that are unethical to do in the way of SEO, that you can not classify something like cloaking as unethical, because it can be used in a good way and in a bad way. So, in this matter it would depend on the person who employs the practice of cloaking.

Is the person going to fool the user or the search engine?

Are they going to use it for the mere fact of protecting their code so that it is not stolen, like we have seen many times before.

If you want to talk about being totally ethical, then whoever wishes to do so should probably not be in the SEO business, as in a way you are going to be unethical towards the SE's.

Ethics have always been a gray area, and I think that always will be a gray area. It is one thing to resubmit your competitors site (back when this would get them banned) over and over, and it is another thing entirely to look at what they are doing in comparison to what you are doing and try to build off of that. Some may call this stealing ideas......hence, the gray area of ethics.

satanclaus




msg:778547
 7:06 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

>>Is the person going to fool the user or the search engine?

By Clocking; Everytime. Even if you are using a cloak to protect your code you are always showing the visitor one page and then presenting them with another. It doesn't matter if its a better version of what they searched for; its not what they searched for. To me this is unethical b/c it is intentional deception.(not saying I wouldn't do it)

As an SEO I suppose I'm not ethical. I'll cloak, steal pages, reverse engineer, get my competition banned or whatever. Business is business and I have quotas to meet.

legster




msg:778548
 7:30 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

Ethics was recently discussed in a post I made here:
[webmasterworld.com...]

That's an issue I am still dealing with unfortunately.

As far as cloaking goes I don't like it. It does have one good purpose in the fact it prevents theft but it leaves too much room for deception. I think that people who use it wrongly will end up having SEs ban people who use it because of the minority who use it improperly.

I take ethics seriously and make it a big part of my work. There are lots of things we could do (spam) to drive traffic but they are not right so I won't do them. I don't see anything at all unethical about what I do so I am not sure where your coming from agerhart.

Travoli




msg:778549
 7:57 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

Thanks for starting this paynt.

Well, if I had to sum it up, I would say ethics depends on perspective.

My opinions/thoughts:
From SE perspective, SEO is unethical 90% of the time. Only things they recommend is to use relevant words in the content on your site. The algorithm should take care of the rest.

From SEP specialist's perspective, all strategies are ethical, provided that they target only the keyword combinations that are relevant to the content of the site. (This excludes stealing code, submitting competitor's sites, and other general sabotage.) If it is what your site is about, and you have a site that is worthy of a SEO campaign, why not have that site rank decently? Only thing I see being a problem here is how MUCH content you have... ex. HugeWidgetSite.com would have more information than SmallWidgetSite.com. But the SE's take care of that for us :)

I also believe that there are unethical approaches, like the afore-mentioned sabotage, stealing, and all forms of spam that trick users or direct them to sites other than those that provide the information they are looking for.

Shoot, think about if there were no spammers, and all SEO's just "fought clean" on relevant keywords only. Can you imagine how relevant the search results would be, and how much we would be HELPING the search engines? wow!

dwedeking




msg:778550
 8:30 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

Your job as a SEO is to send targeted traffic to your clients site. A search for "free sex" is not targeted traffic for selling grinding wheels. So as stated before if you target keywords that fit into the content of your site then you are fulfilling your duty to the client (being ethical). Reverse engineering to obtain rankings is no different than any other industry where they see the competition doing something and mimic it. Watch fast food chains for a period of time. While they will not copy exactly what other chains do, if one comes out with a style of sandwich that sells well, you can be guaranteed that the others will follow suit rapidly. For example the "kids meals" packaging, each promotion is different, but the base idea of packaging advertising toys as part of a childs menu is identical.

In the US damaging the competitions chances to compete on a semi-level playing field is illegal and considered unethical by the general business world. I should not attack (spam competitor listings for the purpose of getting them banned, masquerading as a competitor to discredit them, etc) the competitor but rather broadcast loudly why my (or my clients) services/products are better. This is why Microsoft is in court. More so because they hampered the competition than because they packaged the products together.

agerhart




msg:778551
 9:11 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

>>>>I don't see anything at all unethical about what I do so I am not sure where your coming from agerhart.>>>>>

What I was trying to imply is that ethics is such a gray area that someone with a different view on ethics could see what you do as unethical.

Like I said before, when you get a new site, and you figure out what then target keywords are for the site, do you go and look at your competitors sites and what keywords they are using? I know I do.

Do you sometimes get ideas off of your competitors? I know from time to time that I do, and I do not consider this to be unethical......but some people do.

I would have to say that Travoli worded it the best when he stated that ethics is based on perspective. It is all point of view, and it changes from person to person.

Satanclaus said that he would do all of things that are generally perceived as the most unethical, but maybe to him this is not the case.....again, this changes from person to person.

But I think that there are certain things that should stay unethical no matter what. For example stealing someone else's coding or website, getting your competition banned, and reverse engineering. When you do these things not onyl are you hurting your client, but you are hurting the industry by making the SE's crack down on these sort of things.

Cloaking could be a very good thing, but there are some people that are only using for very unethical purposes, and the rest of the people who are using it legitimately are in danger of being banned by SE's like Google who claim to be cracking down.

Doofus




msg:778552
 9:13 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

The discussion of what behavior is ethical is complicated by the unique situation between SEOs and SEs.

1) The failure to exclude a SE with a robots.txt does not imply contractual consent to be spidered. The SE didn't ask; it just comes, whenever it wants. If it likes images, it grabs them. If it likes CGI, it grabs them. Sometimes it grabs them so fast (as in the case of a large CGI database), that months of tuning and programming is required on the part of the SEO to keep the site working well.

With the traffic one gets from spiders these days, compared to what one would get if all spiders were excluded, the SEO does not have the option of excluding major spiders if he wants to keep his site viable. The engine has the option of banning a site; the SEO does not often have the realistic option of excluding a major engine that brings referrals to his site.

2) Without any sort of rules operating between SE and SEO, it's difficult to argue that whatever the SEO does is unethical. The engine operators hold all the cards; they're the ones that ought to be held more accountable.

3) Both engine operators and SEOs use secret algorithms. An example of the latter might be one's particular system of optimizing a CGI system for spider tolerance. There is an entire spectrum between "no cloaking" and outright cloaking in a complex CGI site. Something as simple as making dynamic pages look like static pages might be considered a mild form of cloaking.

At the same time, the engine operators keep changing their algorithms and they also keep them secret, or even mislead SEOs about what they're doing. This could be considered "cloaking" by the engine.

If you want to talk about ethics, you have address both ends of the question -- ethics on the part of the SEOs as well as ethics on the part of the engine operators. One without the other doesn't work well.

agerhart




msg:778553
 9:17 pm on Jul 10, 2001 (gmt 0)

Doofus,

That was a very good point that I hadn't really thought about at all. Good post.

>>>>>At the same time, the engine operators keep changing their algorithms and they also keep them secret>>>>

Absolutely true!

john316




msg:778554
 1:56 am on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

What is the fruit of bad ethics?

Excite
Fast
INK
AV

These engines tolerate bad ethics and it shows in their results. If I take any hits from any of them I assume it is just a competitor checking the competition. They are not used by serious surfers and they do not deliver quality traffic.

Are the SE's hurt? yep.
Are those who live for clicks hurt? yep.

Bad ethics bears fruit. Since I doubt that anyone really thinks they are unethical when it comes to SEO, we are kinda just taking potshots here. The engines that will remain strong will also write the rules for ethical behaviour, it won't be a subjective thing.

I doubt that any of them will find "good" reasons for cloaking or "punctuation links" and a myriad of other "stupid link tricks" (hey is that a Letterman thing or what?). It's all just loop holes for now, but won't be for long.

skibum




msg:778555
 2:26 am on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

If the issue that makes cloaking unethical, is showing the engine and the spider different things, then cloaking would fall in the unethical classification all the time. I can't see a point to cloaking if the two audiences aren't going to see different pages, no matter the reason, "code protection" or anything else.

Maybe a site has to serve up a cookie because content is only supposed to be viewable in a particular county, or people of a certain age. Is there another example of cloaking where the actual page content would be the same for all audiences?

When working on a site, the ethical approach is to do whatever it takes to succeed, so long as it is visible, and it is not outright theft of the work (content) of someone else. If you find a killer page structure, perfect KW density, an optimal link structure, use it. There are sooooo many things that come into play in SEO, the person who merely copies others work is probably not going to last very long in the top spots, or in SEO. The person who can understand what another site has done to rank well, and improve upon the method is the one who will be around long term.

Not being technically savvy with cloaking myself, how is it pitched to clients - in terms of ethics, and longevity of the solution? Do companies want quick traffic, and not want to listen to the particulars, or ask what happens if the contract is not renewed? If I understand corrctly the traffic delivered froma cloaking campaign will begin to quickly vanish as soon as maintenance is stopped and the SE index is refreshed?

dwedeking




msg:778556
 2:33 am on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

"There are sooooo many things that come into play in SEO, the person who merely copies others work is probably not going to last very long in the top spots, or in SEO. The person who can understand what another site has done to rank well, and improve upon the method is the one who will be around long term."

This is so true. We do work with clients who are competitors to each other. We rank both clients well though not exactly the same. Due to the wording on the sites and slightly different business focuses one will rank better for a certain keyword than another. But by using techniques that we feel work we've gotten good rankings. It is not the specific tags or the exact same phrasing that is at work here but solid (boring? :) ) work habits and study of search engines that get these results.

physics




msg:778557
 6:03 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

If cloaking is unethical, then PPC is even worse. Why? When a user goes to search on an engine that lists GOTO results such as NBCi and searches for congress [goto.com], do you think they *wanted* to 'compare movie prices and shop online' (this was the #1 spot when I checked out this SERP) Also, it's *easier* to be #1 for a non-relevant phrase using PPC than it is using cloaking (do you see a non-relevant site listed at #1 for congress at Google?). So all of the people out there who use PPC but said cloaking is unethical - how do you justify it?

BTW, I think both are ethical when relevancy for the user is kept in mind

Mike_Mackin




msg:778558
 6:35 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

a "case number" has been entered for the word "congress".
Any good PPC will take relevancy very seriously.

Travoli




msg:778559
 6:49 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

I agree with Mike, self-respecting PPC's try to keep results relevant. I know GOTO has denied some pretty relevant keywords (in my mind) because the reviewer said they believed my site would not be perfectly relevant to a person surfing the keyword phrase. I think this is strange (it was pretty closely related), but in another way it is very good business. They are apparently trying hard to keep results relevant, and willing to turn down money to do so!

As far as PPC being worse, I disagree. At least they are totally straightforward that someone paid for the listings. And the price is in plain view for every result. Not trying to hide ANYTHING!

physics




msg:778560
 7:39 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

>As far as PPC being worse, I disagree. At least they are totally straightforward that someone paid for the listings. And the price is in plain view for every result. Not trying to hide ANYTHING!

Really? Do you see the price paid for the ad listed at NBCi or in the AltaVista featured listings and so on?

>"case number"
What do you mean by this?

physics




msg:778561
 7:42 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

By the way, I pulled the word congress totally out of thin air ... that's the first word I checked and look how un-relevant it is (it's amusing to note that although #1 is totally un-related, the lower listings are)

angiolo




msg:778562
 7:42 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

> Any good PPC will take relevancy very seriously

I am agree!
Self-respecting PPC's consider "conversion to sales", and do not exceed a maximum convenient bid.

It is rare to see non relevant phrase bid.

physics




msg:778563
 10:04 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

Well, actually *all* PPC results are by definition $ based and many of the searches done everyday are people looking for free information. Thus PPC falls under the same 'evil' category as cloaking since someone said in the mother post to this one that even targeted cloaking is bad because $ based pages will be returned when someone wanted a free information page.

>> Any good PPC will take relevancy very seriously
>I am agree!
>Self-respecting PPC's consider "conversion to sales", and do not exceed a >maximum convenient bid.

Well, is GOTO a good PPC then?

Another point:
>>Is the person going to fool the user or the search engine?
By Clocking; Everytime. Even if you are using a cloak to protect your code you are always showing the visitor one page and then presenting them with another. It doesn't matter if its a better version of what they searched for; its not what they searched for. To me this is unethical b/c it is intentional deception.(not saying I wouldn't do it)

With PPC, you're fooling the user every time as well in the same way.

-----

OK, maybe the best thing would be to have a poll.

What do you think?


  1. Cloaking is unethical but PPC is OK.
  2. PPC is unethical but Cloaking is OK.
  3. Both are good when the end user benefits (i.e. gets relevant results)
  4. Both are unethical no matta what.

rcjordan




msg:778564
 10:21 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

3 Both are good when the end user benefits (i.e. gets relevant results)
~BUT~
While both can be easily abused, I think PPC has a better chance at being self-correcting. Particularly in the current ad/affiliate market, it's the rare site that could convert the traffic that rode in on a deception well enough to cover the cost of the click. If we were back in the days of $15 CPM, this ploy would be rampant.
littleman




msg:778565
 10:37 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

It is all about cause and effect, risk and reward, and ability. Do what will serve you best. Do you think any of the corporations care about what is morally right?

Mike_Mackin




msg:778566
 10:50 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

3) Both are good when the end user benefits (i.e. gets relevant results)

On the other hand if the end user gets what he/she was looking for and then does not BUY [convert] then 5 would have to apply.

5) Exit Consoles: NextCards and Cameras and VIAGRA and you name it until the this tire kicker runs out of memory and CRASHES.

Would that be ethical? :)

(edited by: Mike_Mackin at 10:51 pm (gmt) on July 11, 2001)

tyggerstripes




msg:778567
 10:51 pm on Jul 11, 2001 (gmt 0)

#3. Some engines fail to read database driven pages that are very relevant to some search terms. If cloaking is used for this reason, I would deem it ethical - but for no other reason than to cope with se lack of abilities. PPC is ok as long as it's relevant but I disagree with the fact that the Goto.com's price agreements are not posted on partner sites. PPC should always notify the surfer that the position has been 'bought' in order to be ethical in my opinion.

What's weird is that as an SEO, when I search the internet 'for fun', I always wonder how much the top 5 sites paid to have that placement and without a doubt I look through their pages to determine how much I think they spent if anything - then I compare their rankings on other search engines. I never can seem to get away from work. :)

This thread has interesting reading. It seems I've been way under priced for a long time. I need to do something about that. :)

grnidone




msg:778568
 12:07 am on Jul 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

As an SEO I suppose I'm not ethical. I'll cloak, steal pages, reverse engineer, get my competition banned or whatever. Business is business and I have quotas to meet.

I feel stupid. I didn't know that 'reverse engineering' was considered unethical. Isn't that how you learn? By looking at someone else's work and figuring out how they did it?

-G

nell




msg:778569
 1:33 am on Jul 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

I develop pages to rank along with my competitors proprietary product and service names as well as their company and domain names.
I want a grab at their existing customer base who use these search terms to locate them. I sweeten my descriptions for these specific terms to intice them into clicking on my clients listing.

Is this considered ethical?

ettore




msg:778570
 2:32 am on Jul 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

#3 definitely

The key here is *end user*.

We are not working to sell anything to SEs, we are working to sell to end users. The more you get to satisfy them with relevant results the more they will be willing to buy what you are offering, the more you will be satisfied by the results of your action.

SEs are just the hard, narrow passage you have to go through to reach your target. No matter how you reach them, if you please them what you are doing is ethical - if you don't, you are doing something unethical no matter how ethical you tried to be.

More. Imagine living in a Society where the rules are... that you are not allowed to know which are exactly the rules. You can only *guess*. If your guess is right, you get your daily meal, if it's wrong, you starve. Trying to guess at your best (and therefore tweak your behaviour) is not unethical, the rules itself are.

Since I'm neither allowed to know which are the rules with SEs, nor to discuss them, the most ethical approach I can think of is doing anything I can do for both satisfying the end user and getting my daily meal as a result.

skibum




msg:778571
 2:39 am on Jul 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

PPC and cloaking are definately not the same. A keyword buy on the GoTo site is what it claims to be. A cloaked page is never exactly what is claims to be. When we get into the PPC "featured listings", unethical? something like that. Very deceptive to say the least. there is another recent thread hashing out that situation.

tedster




msg:778572
 2:57 am on Jul 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

It's interesting to me that many of these issues seem to enter into the realm of ethics only because the major SEs set the rules.

When you maintain a site search, it is common and good practice to have a keyword field that is essentially text that is not on the visible page, but that is still highly relevant. This gives the end user a better chance at finding the information they want.

However, when huge scale of the entire web comes into play, the rule is supposed to become "only the content actually visible to the end user matters".

That's not in the area of ethics at all, that's just the search engine's version of being pragmatic. If I can rank high for a word that's not visible on the page, but is still highly relevant, I will do it -- with no ethical concerns whatsoever.

Bentler




msg:778573
 3:12 am on Jul 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

I remember way back reading Aristotle's Ethics, which views ethical behavior on a subjective sliding scale, as I recall, from slimey weasel on one end to magnanimous benefactor on the other for a given topic. I think there are also a variety of subjects that oppose each other, making it difficult in many cases (like duty to a client, or cloaking to better serve customers) to decide what's slimey and what's magnanimous. Made sense to me.

The gray area of any subject is located between the two extremes of the scale, where most of SEO lands. Based on Aristotle's model I would think the best way to approach SEO ethics would be to look at the extremes-- what techniques would an extremely magnanimous optimizer use, and what would a slimey one use?

I would think a magnanimous SEO would let better sites win, or would improve their sites until it was the best it could be, focusing on beating lower quality ones. This would be perfect fairness in a perfect world, but not exactly SEO either.

On the slimey end of the scale, I would think using cloaking to grossly misrepresent the content of a page would fit...so would repeatedly submitting a competitor's site until it annoyed SE staff to the point of getting banned. Also misrepresenting identity, opinions, and referrals on discussion boards. I can't think of anything else that's really slimey though.

Duty to client and service to customers should superpose on the SEO ethics scale between the extremes, IMO. They're magnanimous ethics to consider too.

For what it's worth.

angiolo




msg:778574
 11:48 am on Jul 12, 2001 (gmt 0)

# 3 is the answer!

I do not use cloaking, but I am thinking about it.

There is a consideration in favour of cloacking: ranking fine in a search engine is not a simple recipe. Usually you need time to refine your code or discover something about the SE Algo: a lot of daily work.
You do a lot of work to have a site that is nice for SEs and for your searchers.

Suddenly it can happen that a competitors "clone" you good job and that is! You share your good job with one of your competitors!
Maybe you know that your competitors do not offer your same quality: for a searcher (client) it is not so easy to judge the quality of the company itself; he/she judges what he/she sees.

This happens out of the web too, and there is a solution that is difficult to adopt on the web: "certification".

Think about ISO, or any Association that guarantees the quality of the members.

It would be necessary, but it is not the web philosophy.

This 40 message thread spans 2 pages: 40 ( [1] 2 > >
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