Search engine optimization is big business these days, and for good reason, since it’s a key part of any PR strategy that involves online communication. And don’t they all?
SEO helps our clients cut through the clutter of cyberspace and create the ever-important “Google Juice” that drives Web denizens to our sites. At Kent State, we include several lessons on SEO in the “Public Relations Online Tactics” class. And we’re happy to have our own SEO expert from the PR office demonstrate her magic.
For the uninitiated, SEO is “the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. Usually, the earlier a site is presented in the search results, or the higher it “ranks”, (sic) the more searchers will visit that site.” (Wikipedia)
Though SEO is a critical part of most online strategies, it’s also inherently manipulative — even potentially evil. Using SEO, we design our sites and distribute related communication with the intent of boosting our position/ranking with the search engines. On one hand, we’re helping the public find our information, and that’s a good thing. On the other hand, we’re manipulating the search process — messing with nature, if you will — and telling no one we’re doing it.
See the potential for unethical behavior here?
Why are PR professionals not raising ethical concerns over SEO? I’m not sure — or perhaps I missed a heated debate while I was tanning in the islands. Or maybe that debate happened before my Web 2.0 enlightenment.
SEO is good business, and a service our clients have come to expect. But SEO, in the hands of zealots can quickly degenerate into spam campaigns that every blogger is subjected to these days. As I write this, I count 446 junk comments in the Askimet file of this blog, and that number will double by tomorrow.
All around us, search engines are manipulated by the phony traffic and counterfeit links created by spammers. It’s all perfectly legal, and the charlatans who used these tools are pushing your clients’ listings further down the search list.
Because the average Joe neither knows nor cares about the ethics of SEO, he is easily duped. But aren’t we all? I click the first site that turns up on a search. Don’t you?
I’m certain that most of my 57 readers are ethical practitioners who would never resort to unscrupulous spam to build Google Juice. But the lure of landing atop the search engine charts is a powerful one, driven by corporate greed — the very same greed that drives our clients to do “whatever it takes” to win the game.
No matter how you slice it, SEO — even responsible SEO — is a clandestine enterprise. And when our website slips to page 6 of the search, I worry that some of us will do “whatever it takes” to rescue it. Seems to be the way of the Web these days.
A tip of the cap. I didn’t think much about SEO ethics until I read Andrew Keen‘s “The Cult of the Amateur.” Thank you, Amanda, for insisting I do that. Anyone who uses social media will benefit from Keen’s perspectives. And we can all benefit from Amanda Chapel’s biting criticism and smart-ass wit. If you read her carefully, you’ll see that Amanda really loves this business and fears for its future. And isn’t she hot?