Ethical SEO essentially means following search engine guidelines about which techniques and strategies to use to help your content be found in searches.
It’s also about creating trustworthy content that is genuinely helpful to people.
Isn’t all SEO ethical SEO?
While all SEO should be ethical, it’s safe to say that it isn’t.
Search engine companies have a mind-blowing task in front of them when it comes to deciding which listings to include in search results.
As businesses, they want and need to give searchers the best results to meet their search intent, i.e., the reason they made a search in the first place.
This is a job for search engine algorithms.
The problem is that algorithms aren’t moral devices. Yes, humans have programmed them to try to find the most appropriate – and, hopefully, accurate – content to answer a search, but humans have also figured out how to game the algorithms, returning results that don’t serve the user at all, only the people behind the website they land on.
This is when SEO can get murky.
Unscrupulous people use SEO in all sorts of unpleasant ways. This includes tactics such as using structured data to get bigoted views, fake news stories, or dangerous medical advice to appear in the Featured Snippets at the top of Google Searches.
There have also been cases of businesses hiding low-cost solutions from searches so that searchers are led to higher cost services they don’t actually need.
And let’s not forget the many fraudulent websites luring people to phishing schemes, malware attacks and technical support scams, many of which use unethical SEO to get in front of potential victims.
The search engines are constantly trying to find solutions that will make search results more trustworthy, while those with their own agenda use unethical SEO practices to manipulate the algorithms and rank high in search results even though they shouldn’t.
What is black hat SEO?
This practice of manipulating the search algorithms is often referred to as “black hat” SEO. The name derives from the old black and white Western films where the villain always wore a black hat, usually a Stetson, to make them easily distinguishable from the “good guys” who wore white hats. This is why ethical SEO is sometimes known as “white hat SEO”.
Black hat SEO practices can include things like:
- Keyword stuffing
- Hidden text or links on web pages (for example, having white text on a white background)
- Cloaking (e.g., making search engines believe the content they’re indexing is different to what users actually see)
- Doorway pages (i.e., web pages that only exist to rank well for specific keywords but provide little value to the user)
- Link manipulation, such as buying links
- Article spinning (i.e., duplicating existing articles but replacing specific words, phrases or sentences with alternate versions that mean the same thing)
- Duplicate content
Black hat SEO techniques aren’t always used with the intention of hurting people or spreading misinformation. Often, companies employ these techniques because they want to rank higher but as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
The problem is that black hat techniques are almost always temporary.
Yes, twenty years ago practices such as keyword stuffing were common and often the only way to secure high rankings, but it led to an awful user experience.
Today, these tactics can give web pages a quick boost up the rankings, but the fall back down is usually just as rapid. Given a bit of time to understand the whole picture, search engine algorithms can now spot elements that damage the user experience and they’ll take steps to downgrade them in searches.
This is why companies found using unethical SEO tactics can end up being hit with a ranking penalty, disappearing from searches overnight and taking a long-term blow to their reputation.
And black hat SEO doesn’t just alienate Google.
Techniques such as keyword stuffing or article spinning make for appalling content that’s no fun to read. Web users expect better, and they can get it. So, while black hat SEO may bring users to a website for the first time, it’s unlikely to keep them there or bring them back for a second visit.
If you genuinely care about your customers, it’s not worth driving them away with a terrible website that was only created to game the search engines.
Why ethical SEO is better
There’s an argument that all SEO is about manipulating the search engines in some way. After all, we know that elements such as a keyword-rich title, appealing meta descriptions featuring a call to action, alt tags for images, etc., all make a positive difference to rankings.
So, aren’t we all trying to game the search engines?
In the end, the difference between ethical and unethical comes down to intention.
Ethical SEO puts people at the heart of the search experience. It employs search engine guidelines with the intention of helping searchers, not misleading them.
These days, more than half of the people on the planet regularly use the Internet. Every time each of these people makes a search, it’s because they want or need to find something specific, whether it’s information, a product or service, or a connection with other human beings.
Ethical SEO is about making that experience easy.
Beyond that, having a website is a big responsibility. When people find a site in searches, they click through believing it will give them whatever it is they’re looking for because why else would it rank at the top of Google?
Ethical SEO takes that trust seriously.
People are vulnerable to misinformation online. There will always be the darker side of the Internet (as with humanity itself) that seeks to exploit or gain an unfair advantage.
But ethical SEO is the antidote to this.
It’s about doing things the right way, following search engine guidelines and creating content that is meaningful to the people your website can best serve (your ideal customers). Ethical SEO can help you to build your reputation and authority as an expert and someone who can be trusted. It can help you connect with other businesses; support causes you’re passionate about or reach people who you can genuinely help in some way.
Better still, if you take the time to approach SEO ethically (or hire someone to implement ethical SEO on your behalf), you will see long-term benefits, such as:
- Greater visibility in a wider variety of searches
- Higher rankings
- More high-quality website traffic (i.e., people who are likely to buy from you)
- More conversions from website visitors to customers
- Increased opportunities to connect with influencers and other businesses
- Enhanced reputation
- Backlinks to your site that occur naturally because people love your content
- And much, much more….
Start with Google’s guidelines
Each search engine publishes guidelines to help users create websites that perform well in searches and are genuinely helpful to searchers. This is a good place to start if you want to understand more about ethical SEO.
In its guidelines, Google highlights a “few core practices that can have the most impact on your web content’s ranking and appearance on Google search”. These guidelines are that you should:
- Create helpful, reliable, people-first content.
- Use words that people would use to look for your content, and place those words in prominent locations on the page, such as the title and main heading of a page, and other descriptive locations such as alt text and link text.
- Make your links crawlable so that Google can find other pages on your site via the links on your page.
- Tell people about your site. Be active in communities where you can tell like-minded people about your services and products that you mention on your site.
- Enhance how your site appears on Google Search by enabling features that make sense for your site.
- If you have content that shouldn’t be found in search results or you want to opt out entirely, use the appropriate method for controlling how your content appears in Google Search.
The magic ingredient
People often make SEO sound more complicated than it really is. Yes, it’s important to understand the on- and off-page factors that can affect SEO, as well as technical SEO, but the magic ingredient is understanding people and what drives them to search for your products or services.
Once you know that, you can set about meeting them right where they need you and using ethical SEO to signpost the way.
Ethical SEO helps you to make a positive impression from the outset and show that yours is a company that delivers on its promises. This will provide you with the foundation for long-lasting customer relationships and ever-deepening brand loyalty.
A happy bonus is that Google will see you following its guidelines to create a user experience that meets searchers’ needs. In turn, this will increase your rankings and maintain your visibility in searches.
It’s a win-win scenario.
Curious about how ethical SEO could help your website to be more visible in the searches your ideal customers are making? You can find out more about our ethical SEO services here or call Hazel on 01626 270085 to discuss.
Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
Want to follow Hazel on social media? You’ll find her via the icons below.