Knee-deep in $150 textbooks and drinking way too much caffeine-concentrated Starbucks coffee at graduate school, I learned a basic (or what I thought was a basic) concept: the "consistent value proposition."
On the surface, the theory was simple: When involved in providing a service or selling a product, every aspect of the customer experience must be consistent within the mindset of the prospect—from pricing to packaging, from customer support and billing to email and even company letterhead. If all these variables of the business equation remain consistent, you will be on the road to satisfying the psychological need of consistency.
Notice that I didn't say that customer acquisition was a foregone conclusion. Rather, by satisfying the need for psychological consistency, you will have prepped the potential client to continue along the occasionally bumpy road toward a possible online action.
What exactly does the consistent value proposition have to do with ethical search engine optimization?
There are two main schools within the search engine optimization (SEO) world. The first is to work against the search engines (and your clients) with trickery, smoke and mirrors, unrealistic expectations, and short-term thinking.
The second is to work in tandem with the search engines and your clients who have reasonable expectations, by following the rules the search engines put forth to create a quality, user friendly, relevant, unique, valuable, engaging, sticky, thought-provoking, fresh, and intuitive website.
In SEO, or search engine marketing in general, working against the search engines in an unethical manner may commonly consist of the following:
- Building doorway or cloaking pages
- Creating link farms
- Multiple domains with identical content
- Purchasing links
- Invisible text
- Irrelevant/misleading content
- Automated software used to submit or trick the search engines
- Automated software that creates huge numbers of similar pages with little or no unique content
- Automated software used to barrage other websites, search engine dialogue boxes, or online forms
- Automated software that triggers clicks for PPC ads
Working with the search engines means abiding by the rules that they set forth in their terms of service, at these addresses:
- Google: https://www.google.com/terms_of_service.html
- Yahoo: https://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
- MSN: https://tou.live.com/en-us/default.aspx
- AOL: https://about.aol.com/aolnetwork/aolcom_terms
- Ask: https://sp.ask.com/en/docs/about/terms_of_service.shtml
Working with the search engines is a long-term and time-intensive approach to improving your business—no quick fixes here—and everything must be consistent with the terms of service of Google and the other search engines.
Working with the search engines may take longer and more work than the alternative, which is to (try to) pull the wool over the search engines' eyes. So why wouldn't someone want results that come faster and easier by bamboozling search engines?
Well, for one, Google measures the importance of every Web site by a system it calls PageRank, which is one of the ways Google parses sites that are relevant and legitimate from illegitimate, spammy or otherwise worthless. Tricking the search engines may cause a site to be blacklisted or even "Google-sacked"; that is, Google would not assign any PageRank for your site—essentially rendering your search engine listings non-existent for the deepest pool of potential customers.
We are now getting to the center-cut portion of what ethical search engine optimization really is. It can be defined as the philosophy of improving a Web site's organic search engine listings by working within the bounds set forth by each of the search engines terms of service.
An emphasis is placed on the long-term creation of relevant content, a user friendly design, and a delivery system of fresh and valuable information. This long-term approach to business success is a logical extension of the consistent value proposition I was introduced to as an MBA student.
Every aspect of the client experience must also be consistent with the standards set forth by a given search engine optimization company. Whether an SEO company is optimizing a website or hiring an employee or intern, SEO specialists must take care in considering the totality and long-term implications of the consistency of their decisions.
Ask yourself: Are my SEO's actions setting me up for now or the future?
Taking on a particular client, with specific needs as well as expectations, also falls under the ethical search engine optimization umbrella. Are you as a client aware that white hat SEO methods will undoubtedly take longer to realize higher rankings? Were you provided with enough education to understand this throughout the sales cycle, or was this sprung on your after your John Hancock on the dotted line?
Business ethics dictate that it's your SEO's responsibility to do so, and common sense tells us that your joint long-term results as a team are really at stake. You should be aware and lend an active ear to judge the overall candor and approach of your potential SEO partner.
And remember, consistency and ethics go hand in hand.
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