Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of setting up your website and online presence in a way that captures the attention of your ideal customers.
You want folks to find your website when they do searches about your industry, and to be engaged by the content on your website and blog. This will help educate leads about your offerings and build their trust in you, so they ultimately become customers.
However, there are right and wrong ways to go about SEO. It’s important any agency you work with adheres to an SEO code of ethics so you can trust that your website will be boosted by Google rather than penalized.
What is ethical SEO? Let’s take a look!
What Colour is Your Hat?
You may have seen high-quality SEO companies, such as Local SEO Search, talk about implementing only “white hat” tactics. What does that mean?
The different “hats” refer to how an agency approaches SEO.
Black hat SEO is about boosting your ranking by any means necessary. The agency will break the rules Google sets if it gets you better results. However, over time Google catches up with black hat techniques and manually penalizes websites that use them, so your success will be short-lived.
White hat SEO is ethical search engine optimization. These agencies play within the rules of Google and will focus on bringing you additional traffic ethically so that your results last and you don’t face manual penalties.
Grey hat SEO is in the middle. They don’t outright break the rules, but they skirt the edges of what’s ethical. What they do isn’t technically against the guidelines, but it often violates the spirit of what Google is trying to accomplish. If you use grey hat SEO, eventually the strategies will be ruled out and your website will have to be revamped to catch up.
As you can see, white hat SEO is the best strategy. While grey hat or black hat tactics may get you a quick boost, eventually your website will be penalized and you’ll end up worse than you started out.
Choosing an Ethical SEO Agency
You can ask agencies how they approach SEO, which isn’t a bad way of finding out if they are ethical. However, few agencies will outright admit to using black hat or grey hat SEO strategies. Many times those things are done behind the scenes.
The best way to ensure you get ethical SEO is to look for SEO firms that follow an SEO Code of Ethics. While there’s no official documentation of this SEO code, there are specific approaches and techniques that you can look for.
They Should Never Intentionally Harm Any Client
You might be amazed that any SEO company would consider harming a client, but unfortunately, it can be part of how people retain customers. In other words, they might threaten to actively hurt your SEO if you stop working with them.
Black hat SEO can sometimes harm you as well if the marketing company is willing to link to your site from spammy or inappropriate websites in order to boost your backlinks.
No ethical SEO firm will ever do this — instead, all work will be focused on enhancing your reputation, creating useful information, and giving Google a good reason to rank you more highly in search results.
The Marketing Firm Should Remain Up-to-Date on SEO Rules
Many things that were considered perfectly fine SEO strategies 15 years ago are now black hat techniques because SEO rules and guidelines are always evolving.
That’s one of the reasons doing SEO for yourself as a small business owner doesn’t make sense — it’s too hard to keep up with best practices when you have a business to run!
Google updates their algorithm in large and small ways hundreds of times each year. A good SEO firm will stay on top of these changes and update your website optimization to keep up. Even matching a small change lowers your risk of losing ranking to competitors.
A Good Firm Doesn’t Mislead Internet Users
If you’re on social media for any time at all, you’ll quickly become familiar with “clickbait”. These are articles with tantalizing headlines that are written just for clicks. When you go to the website, the article may be completely useless, or it may not match the headline at all.
These misleading headlines are great for traffic but they are terrible for your business. After all, you don’t want just any traffic, you want the right traffic — people who are ready to buy and are truly interested in what you offer.
Someone who comes to your website looking for a quiz on which hot dog topping they are may be “traffic”, but they’ll never be a customer. Misleading internet users to get clicks isn’t just unethical, it’s bad business.
Don’t work with a marketing firm that misleads people to drive traffic or win illegitimate sales. It’s not a way to build your company.
Choose a Company That Creates Original Content
The internet is full of copied, stolen, and misused work. Whether it’s an image, a video, or a blog post, there are unethical people ready to steal it and claim it as their own.
When you hire a marketing firm to create content for your website, you should expect them to create unique content specifically for you. They should never steal another person’s or business’s words, images, or videos and place them on your website. It’s plagiarism, and it will get your company in trouble.
Creating high-quality content takes time and talent. If the marketing firm you’re working with doesn’t have the ability to create unique content just for you, or if you’re not paying enough to get an ethical content creator, it’s time to make a change.
Your Marketing Firm Should Serve All Clients Equally and Ethically
Marketing firms are likely to have other clients in the same industry as you. For instance, if you’re a plumber, the marketing firm may serve other plumbing companies as well.
The key is to expect — and demand — that the marketing firm serve you just as well as any other client. The strategies that work for another company like yours should be applied to your company as well. And a marketing firm should never, ever play businesses against each other — using one to damage another’s reputation.
All proprietary information should be guarded carefully and you should feel as though you’re the only client in that industry. The level of care and service you receive shouldn’t be affected by other clients. If it is, you’re with the wrong marketing firm.
Why Ethical SEO Matters
If you get the top rankings you want, why does it matter how it’s done? Doesn’t everyone “cheat a little”? And if they’re getting an advantage, shouldn’t you?
The truth is that it matters how things are done. Here are some reasons to choose ethical SEO over other approaches.
Unethical SEO is Eventually Penalized
Google’s purpose is to serve high-quality content to users, matching their needs and intent. To do that, Google needs to weed out low-quality and spammy websites and focus on only good content.
If your SEO firm uses black hat or grey hat strategies, it may work today but your website may plummet tomorrow. Google can manually penalize your website for a variety of reasons, and it’s very hard to recover.
If you want your website to rank highly and bring in ideal leads and sales over the long term, you need ethical SEO.
Not All Traffic is Good Traffic
Sometimes an SEO company makes a claim that sounds too good to be true. They say they’ll bring you a specific level of traffic in only a few weeks. You think it through and you’re sure business will explode.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. If you don’t use an ethical SEO firm, “traffic” can mean anything, from confused people who thought they were clicking on something else to bots. If the “hits” that you’re getting on your website aren’t the right people, you won’t see any boost in sales at all.
The right SEO will bring in ideal leads who are ready to buy and willing to become your customers. It takes time to do it the right way, but you’ll actually see your business grow if you use proper strategies.
You Want to Build a Trustworthy Brand
When people find your website, it’s as if they walked into your physical store. If what they see is clutter, disorganization, and mess, they’re going to walk right back out. They’ll also tell everyone they know to avoid your store.
That’s what it’s like when a user lands on a spammy, low-quality website. They realize immediately that although you might be a top search result, you don’t have what they’re looking for. The user will leave your website immediately and tell others to avoid it.
It can get even worse if people who use your site find their data and information compromised by illicit websites that link to you. Your website could have viruses or malware that actually hurt the people you’re trying to serve.
When you use ethical SEO, your high ranking will be earned. You’ll have the secure, well-organized website leads are looking for, and it will be filled with useful information. This is the type of SEO that builds your brand instead of damaging it.
The Bottom Line is the Bottom Line
In the end, the reason you invest in SEO is to build your business and get more sales online. If your marketing firm uses unethical SEO, you won’t be getting high-quality leads and customers. Instead, you’ll get frustrated users who were tricked into going to your website, or customers that had no idea what they were buying and demand a refund.
On the other hand, white hat SEO builds your reputation the right way, so that your website attracts ready-to-buy leads that quickly become long-term customers.
Are You Ready to Work With an Ethical SEO Firm?
If you’re ready to get high-quality SEO from a marketing firm that only practices white hat strategies, consider connecting with us at Local SEO Search.
Our in-house team of experts all have at least five years of experience in their specialty, and the founders have decades of experience helping small businesses succeed. We’re deeply passionate about helping you grow your business and make a difference in your community.
Contact us for a free consultation today!