Everyone likes to think of themselves as ethical. Very few people will boast to their SEO clients on which crooked means they used to boost search engine rankings. But Ethical is a standard.
It is a standard which requires transparency and honesty – even in the land of search engine optimization.
Definition: What is Ethical SEO?
An Ethical SEO Service is one which:
- Applies Moral and Legal Standards to Website Marketing
- Is Transparent in its Dealings with Clients
- Abides by the Guidelines of the Search Engine it is optimizing for
- Is Willing to Disclose its Work
- Provides clear Contracts and Service Descriptions
Ethical SEO Services. Can they really exist?
Here are a few things to ask, and a few things to look out for when choosing an Ethical SEO Agency.
What Kind of SEO are they actually Offering?
You want to know exactly what an SEO consultant is going to do to your site before you give him the keys. It’s not enough to simply say, “We will optimise your site”. That’s nice. But how? This was something that was lacking when I started my first online e-commerce store.
The SEO companies I spoke to promised results but they were reluctant to tell me how. At least, they were reluctant to tell me how in plain English. This was important to me and it’s one of the reasons I provide a service which first gives you a blue print of the work that needs to be done before I do it.
It’s also one of the reasons that I always want to talk online, face to face or over the phone first. You get to meet me, see me, and ask me to be crystal clear about how I am going to get you a good result for your website or search engines ranking.
If the only language they know is garbled SEO clichés, if they start promising to optimise your vertical, co-citate your content and ablute your visuals, ask them what they mean. If they don’t know what they mean, then you may need to look elsewhere.
I used to work in the dairy industry. It’s one of the few industries I know where if a farmer comes up with some new way of milking a cow, preventing a disease or improving a pasture, he goes and tells the other farmers. Now, I understand that this level of transparency can’t exist in every industry, but it should always exist between a client and an SEO consultant.
Remember, this is your business. Trust is the thing. If the painter can’t tell you what kind of paint he is using, it probably isn’t very good paint. If the SEO has secrets he simply cannot share, they probably are not reliable secrets.
Are they Prepared to Tell you where they have Placed the Backlinks to your Site?
I am not sure why an SEO company feels the need to hide this information from it’s clients. An SEO client, with very little digging could simply use a backlink search tool and find out.
Perhaps some SEO companies are worried if they give away their secret stash of backlinks, that the links will be swamped by copy cats and so lose their value.
This is true. But, most clients, if they want their backlinks to remain in place and pushing traffic and link juice will not likely go and share the links with others.
That would undermine their own goals. Perhaps a more realistic reason for an SEO consultant to hide their source of links is that the links are just plain dodgy. This is certainly true of some SEO companies I have come across.
If you don’t want to be ripped by a Google penalty, know where your backlinks are and know how they got there.
So, here is the tip. Ask your SEO company if they will give you a complete list of all the backlinks they placed for your site on the web.
If they are not willing to give you such a list, I recommend you go looking for another SEO company. I realise this sentiment will irritate most SEO services, but hey, I am far more interested in pleasing and protecting my client that pleasing my fellow SEO specialists in this regard.
Are they Promising First Page of Google?
Speaking of ethical, this is simply not an honest promise. Unless they own Google, they cannot make such a promise, period.
They can promise to improve your sites chances by guaranteeing that the work they do is in accord with Google’s Terms and Conditions but they cannot guarantee where Google will place your site.
This applies to those who promise overnight results. Good rankings (and by good I mean, honest, earned, rankings that stick) take time.
Good results in Google depend on a lot of things. Good link structures, good content, informative, good design and page speed. An Ethical SEO Service can promise these things, but he cannot promise page one. if he did, he lied.
I include in this category those who promise first page of Google and then add a disclaimer down the bottom in a microscopic font.
If they are already disclaiming their promises then perhaps they should just not bother making them. What you want for your site is an SEO service that offers clear commitments and honest promises.
Will they Report on The Work they Have Done?
It’s your site. Your business and your money. You want to know, and assess, and identify, every bit of work they do on your site.
Are they going to provide a report on the work they did? I started work on a clients website last week and found no less than three hidden links, all placed by that clients previous SEO company. They did not ask if they could put them there and every one of the links was on every page and was a dofollow link. Bad Crack. Not ethical.
If the SEO Service is ethical, they will ask, and you will know because they will report on all activity they undertook on your site.
SEO companies who secretly put links to other sites – especially theirs – without your permission are not doing you any favours and are not acting honestly. Ditch ’em and let them know why.
As above, ask them if they plan to provide a clear final report which you can use to view and measure their work.
Ask them this before you hire them. To be fair, an SEO company will ordinarily go above and beyond the call of duty because your success is their success. So, we don’t want a constant air of suspicion over everything your SEO company does.
We just want to know what they are doing and that they are doing it in an honest and transparent way.
Are they Providing Ethical Pricing and Contracts?
This is a bit harder to determine without some research.
You want to research two things. First, you want to compare their prices with other services. Second, you need to compare the size and scope of the services. how big is your site?
How many keywords are you wanting to optimize for? Are you paying for services that would suite a multi million dollar site for your six page site?
Are they a small business specialist in SEO or are they just charging you for a cheap and nasty backlink service.
The other issue to take in to account is contract length. On the whole, I think ( and so I practice) short term contracts are better. You may decide to partner long term with an SEO service, as this certainly has some benefits for continuity and efficiency, but, the beauty of one SEO company providing short term projects is:
- Your not stuck with a monthly bill and a lot of questions about their activities
- You can measure your return on investment easier with short, clear, focused reporting
- You can work on one specific SEO goal at a time
- You can move to other SEO services without a hassle.
Of course, once you have established a good relationship with your SEO services and are happy that they are ethical, you may decide to offer a retainer and get them to do some repetitious tasks on a monthly basis. This also has some really good advantages
Long Contracts are for long term Services where trust has been already built. Short term contracts for specific SEO work is are far better option for most websites in the initial stages. Beware of long contracts, poor communication and poor reporting
But, beware of the SEO company that offers a one-size-fits-all.
The motto is not true of shoes and it isn’t true of SEO. Your site needs an SEO plan tailored to your needs, your market and your budget.
My experience is that that the one-for-all service is usually lacking a little integrity and will also be lacking in the results department.
Conclusion.. Beyond White Hat
You may have heard the expressions, “White Hat”, or “Black Hat”. These terms do not really refer to what it means to be ethical.
These days, the terms more often refer to what you can get away with regarding Googles Guidelines without getting in to trouble.
Check out These two resources in order to learn exactly what Google recommends.
White hat is good. But I encourage people to think beyond White Hat. It’s essential if you want to last.
An SEO may be totally White Hat regarding the service they provide but entirely unethical in how they provide it and at what cost.
An Ethical SEO Service is one that is willing to:
- Tell you what they are going to do – in detail
- Tell you when they have done it, and where
- Provide flexibility in the SEO plan
- Will not make ridiculous Promises that the can’t keep
As a final note, I would not recommend an SEO service as ethical if they were not easily contactable. They may very well be ethical, but if they can’t disclose their location and they don’t seem to be easily contactable, it’s not worth the risk. Move on.