Discussion Picks: Is SEO Ethical?

What is SEO? Is SEO Ethical? Nearly 20 years later and the question remains a hot discussion topic. What is an SEO?

Webmasterworld takes a fun frolick on the ethics, in Is All SEO Unethical?.

My point was that all SEO except the purest WH, is unethical as it deliberately causes harm to other sites. For any SEO to work, the main goal is to knock someone out of their position in the search engine. In other words, the goal is to cause harm to some other site, by definition any SEO of that nature is negative SEO as it intends to unnaturally unseat another site.

SEO and EthicsThe key word is “manipulate”.

In the real world, two gas stations or even four, are placed at an intersection. Each of them wants the same customers. They change their gas prices as the most visible way of competing. When they each sell for the same price, they work on other ways to draw in customers, from gas pumps with TV’s to great cheese steaks. Sometimes one of them will hire a dude in a costume to stand out front dancing around to get attention. Would you call that manipulation? Ethical? I call it friendly competition by using creative ways of promotion.

20 years ago, the work of getting pages into search engines was called “promotion”. To promote a website meant getting it indexed. Optimization was a gentle term that came later but was a badly needed method due to the enormous volume of pages competing for the same audience. Black Hat fought the secret mafia of search marketing because behind every search engine were people taking money for rank, meaning corporations would always win. BH got a bad rep because the methodology pissed off the people getting rich first.

We refer to SEO as “manipulation”. That is how hundreds of thousands do SEO. There are other techniques that fall into the human experience side, such as making websites that work for all people rather than bots. To me, this is experience optimization and an under-valued method of online marketing.

What Is An Seo?

a topic at Cre8asiteforums, appealed to beginners who wanted to show off their knowledge to get post counts. This is never wise, especially when what you know is what everybody already knows, like the guy who defined SERPS for us. The discussion fizzled to loud thump when I asked:

Is it part of the job of an SEO to include the user experience within their methodology? Or is the purpose to rank high with no follow through once a visitor clicks into the website?

One person responded with “no”.  And there was no debate.

For hundreds of thousands, if not a few million SEO’s, their mission in life is to get pages indexed and ranked in the top 10 spots of search engine results pages for specific keywords. There is no need to know anything about the people who visit optimized web pages or why they chose specific search phrases. There is no interest in what resolution searchers use, or device, or if they are someone relying assistive technology that reads web pages to them. Marketing quality web sites is not part of their job.

Which is one reason why SEO has a bad reputation.

No. I Will NOT Respond to Your Disavow Link Paranoia. Bug Off!

Google has created a circus of sad-faced SEO clowns jumping through hoops trying to get rid of “bad” links to their web sites.

This is why I never ever chose to be a slave to search engines and chose the human side of the web experience over the algorithm changing lead-line approach where every site owner is pulled along under the threat of low rank, poor PR scores and penalization.

The first disavow link removal request I got was a “mistake”. They messed with the wrong woman. This one has me stumped.

You have the following links on your website that points to a page or pages on the site and I was wondering if it would be at all possible for you to remove it please.

The page they are referring to, Do SEO’s Bear the Burden of a Company’s Conversions? does not have a link to their site in it. It links to a great article by Jill Whalen and there were many valid, non-spammy comments on my post.

The disavow request goes on to say,

As I am sure you are aware, Google has made a number of algorithm changes this year that target link profiles and so it is necessary to place greater control on where links appear. This is no way a comment on your site; rather it is a necessary task that I must undertake.

It most definitely DOES indicate an issue with my site and this is where I get really miffed. My reputation, both when I was a SEO and later a Usability and SEO design practitioner has been 100% no spam and no stupid SEO tricks. My only mistake was using Text Link Ads software when I owned Cre8asiteforums, which is now owned by Jim Boykin at Internet Marketing Ninjas. The forums was penalized by a drop in PR score for having, if I remember right, one or two text links at the bottom of one page. I allowed those links because of my friendship to the application developers and Google slapped me on the wrist for it.

There are, of course, countless cases where sites need to go back and erase years of bad behavior. All I can do is recall all my warnings to clients who kept buying high priced links or before that practice, believed in link farms, micro-sites and reciprocal links with sites that had no logical relationship.

I didn’t do that stuff because being fake doesn’t impress me in life or the Internet.

Grandma with gun

Bug Off Disavow Hounds!


To those of you who earn money by hounding site owners for crimes against Google we didn’t commit – it’s your Karma. Do your research before sending out your link removal requests.

I linked to articles I LIKED and have no intention of hunting through a database with 11 years worth of posts to remove one of your’s because Google is pointing a gun at your head.

See also Jackassery – Disavow Toolto discuss at Cre8asiteforums.

Aaron Wall at SEO Book posted on the disavow tool and link removal requests and refers to google’s antics as “jackassery.”

SES NY Speaker Deadlines and Pre-Agenda Pricing

Today is the last day for pre-agenda discount pricing for those heading for the New York Search Engine Strategies conference in March. The New York conference is very popular, with education, training and networking opportunities in abundance. This is not one to miss!

Register today for your pre-agenda pricing, plus another 20% discount.
They have also announced speaker deadlines, which are around the corner.

Go to SES New York 2012 Deadlines

  • Proposing a session: Jan 31
  • Speaking submission: Feb 17

Register now for discounts!

UX and SEO Blog and Web Finds

I’m an information junkie with a gigantic range of topics I follow – some of which might surprise you, so I don’t share THAT. Here are some of my recommended reads because they impressed me and taught me something new.

By the way, did you know that if you press on a BlueJay’s blue wing, the color disappears? That’s because they have no pigment in their feathers and the blue is the play of light on their wings.

In no particular order:

LOVED this! It’s a 25 minute video presentation, so sit your butt down and learn what happens when you create user interfaces designed to trick users. See where that gets ya. Dark Patterns: User Interfaces Designed to Trick People

If you’ve ever experienced seeing the word “Spam” or “scam” in Google Instant for searches on your brand, read this SEOMoz piece. It’s well written and loaded with great advice. PS. SEOMoz, ya’all need a “print only” version of your posts. I did not want to print out all the comments, but the article is so good, I HAD to print it out. Our Online Reputation Management Playbook

Buy. This. Book. Social Media Marketing by Li Evans. I was shocked at how much information she got in there. I read it cover to cover and to be honest, I knew she was smart but this book proves it.

Social Media Marketing: Engaging Strategies for Facebook, Twitter & Other Social Media is a business marketing book aimed for any company c-suite, executive & senior level management as well as both accomplished and novice marketers who want to learn the ins and outs of being successful with marketing plans that involve social media.

Hey. It’s 2011. Get your social on.

Speaking of which, the “Facebook is shutting down on March 15 rumor” was a RUMOR for God’s sake. Who spreads crazy stuff like this? Who believes in fake news stories? I tackled the topic in a blog post I wrote for LiBeckim.com, called With Online Marketing, It’s Easy to Fool Internet Users (Is this What We Want?).

Speaking of me. I write once a month for Search Engine Land’s “Just Behave” column. I never know how an article will be received by the search marketing community because I straddle SEO/M and usability/UX. The last two seemed to be accepted pretty well.

How Human Factors May Affect Information Indexing And Retrieval

Search results are skewed by what [search engines] can find and if there is nothing to find, there is no “knowledge” to share. It doesn’t mean that information doesn’t exist. It’s just not on the web. When we approach a search engine for information, what we’re getting back are hundreds of pages with content that may come close to what you want because somebody put it there to be found. The more difficult your query is, the more likely the sites you get back are abstract, mismatched or completely unrelated.

This one was tweeted a lot! How To Avoid Clunky Web Design With Holistic SEO & Usability. I even drew pretty pictures for it.

I’m getting used to the idea that I will be the mother of a United States Marine. I sent this link to my son and put it on my Facebook page. Loved it. To those calling for a civil war, this Marine wants you to stop, and think…

Regardless of your political ideology, you’ve earned the right as US Citizens to say your piece – no matter how wrong it may be. That is your right, and I will give my life to protect it.

But this government of ours is a democracy. We vote for our representatives, and they vote in our interests. Sometimes, the votes don’t go our way. That’s life, better luck next time. Exhaust your legislative options, and then focus on gaining the required votes and/or seats to achieve your desired legislative vote next election time. That’s the way things work.

But the SECOND you start committing acts of violence and vandalism, then you’ve usurped that Constitution. You in a way have assaulted it. And then you and I (I being every servicemember who has sworn to defend said Constitution) will have a MAJOR PROBLEM.

Showing off…Top Women of 2011.

I’m a Dr. Eric Schaffer groupie. Check this out. Impediments to a Mature UX Practice: and how to avoid them (Whitepaper)

10 Interface Design Tips to Improve Your Business Application

Any­one that has ever used a busi­ness appli­ca­tion has likely found them­selves won­der­ing why they have to be so hard to oper­ate. With all of the advances in tech­nol­ogy, you’d think busi­ness apps could be designed for a bet­ter user expe­ri­ence.

And, In the “Nobody Cares Kim” Department

One more week and my daughter returns to college and I can put everything back in the kitchen the way it was before. My son has a girlfriend, whom I adore. We hit it off. We always hug when he brings her over. I think that’s odd. But we have an instant bond. Hubby got me a Pandigital “Novel”, the Barnes and Nobel ebook reader. It’s an extremely affordable alternative to the Ipad and more colorful and jazzy than the Kindle. So now I’m not only a “bookaholic”, but a “NOOKBook” fanatic. Of all the books I sampled and downloaded, not a single one is work related.

I just finished an 8-week Tai Chi class and signed up for more. And I’m taking meditation workshops. Working from home since 2001 has acquainted me with “cabin fever”. So I leave the house to quiet my mind. Wait…what?

Spam Forums at Your Own Risk

With every industry, there is an underground of folks who find more pleasure in wrecking a good thing.  Search engine marketing is no exception.

Somehow, the idea that humans can outwit search engines became a challenge and even a battle.  For myself, as an SEO who brings usability and user experience design to the mix, the key to marketing and web design is understanding what people want.  It’s referred to as user behavior. Search engine computers are programmed to look for signals about what we want and like.

Yet, somewhere along the way, somebody decided to promote the idea that spamming search engines will help their web pages rank better.  To their way of thinking (if you could call it that), spamming is telling search engines their pages are wanted and popular.

As a forums owner since 1998, and moderator for list servs, clubs and groups since 1995, I can tell you that the point of these sites is the conversation and community.  When you join one under the pretense of self promotion, you risk being tossed out on the porch.

Every forum is different. They each have a set of rules. At Cre8asiteforums, we refer to them as “House Rules” and expect the community to act like guests when they are there. They can be themselves, and be goofy, but at all times we hold them to a standard of fairness and we encourage the ability to disagree without bringing out weapons.

I was lax for years and years about letting in just about anyone to Cre8asiteforums and letting them create their existence there.   However, it became clear that the moderators and myself were spending most of our days deleting spam and banning members who spammed the Community.  We’re often assisted by the Community because members hate spam and report spam posts to the staff.

For the past year or so, every new member is screened before they are permitted to join.  Every day, myself and a few other Admins, enter every username, IP and email address into a database that tracks forums spammers.  If they get past that stage and are welcomed into the Community, and then spam us, their right to post is removed and their information is reported to the database, so that other forums will know in advance a spam predator is in the bushes outside their house.

I hate doing it.  But, the practice has been a welcome relief to the moderators who are not paid to be there every day and wish only to mingle and make sure the place is meeting the needs of our guests.  The Community is at peace and enjoying a spam-free environment. Throwing people out for ignoring House Rules is not a fun duty but it’s vital to the health of the forums.

During a talk I gave not long ago on Community building, I mentioned that we look up IP’s to see if they are known spam sources.  This was met with surprise.  If you are on a shared server with a spammer, what do you do?  In my case, I can be contacted and we can work it out.  I can’t speak for other forums.

And this is the true harm that spammers leave behind in their selfish and misguided attempts to get their domain noticed. We all waste time and money on these blinded fools and the whole class is punished by their acts.

SEO is Not “Voodoo”

A guest post by an anonymous writer appeared in TechCrunch, called The Time Has Come To Regulate Search Engine Marketing And SEO.  Anytime I hear about regulating search engine marketing, I go to see the street brawl.

The article focused on how evil Google, as the lKing of search engines, is. The writer makes valid points about how the search engine works and how ill advised it is to worship the Google god, because it can grant you a kingdom one day, and destroy your business just as swiftly the next.

From the article,

It’s now conventional wisdom that search engine optimization, representing the organic result sets on any search query, is more voodoo than science. Through an uncontrolled set of factors search engines determine which listings appear at the top and bottom of any individual query. In addition, consumer behavior dictates the top three results on any search page are all that matter. If you happen to own an online business, unless you exist within those top three, the amount of individual traffic you will obtain from organic listings is very, very low.

smoke
I found it curious that the fault was placed on Google for our search behavior preferences. Somehow Google manages to control what sites we’re permitted to find. In a sense, yes, this is true. All search engines try to locate and present what they consider to be quality sites that meet our search queries. (This is, of course, a pain in the neck for any business that wants to be favored and ranked well.) The writer states that the goal of business is to be found in the top 3 search results. If a marketer can’t achieve this victory for their client, they may as well throw in the towel. I feel that Google didn’t create this situation. Search engines are reacting to us and what we do, not making decisions for us to follow.

In fact, every search engine offers several ways for a site to be presented in SERPS because they understand and study searcher behavior. We are attracted to phrases and web site descriptions more than rank. We want images and video demos. We seek customer product reviews. Bing figured out that we want to know more than what a simple page description can tell us. They realized that we can be persuaded to click when offered other ways to answer our questions. They offer a better preview of a page before you click on it. We are scanning far past the top results, looking for a connection and reason to visit the presented web page. What speaks to us varies from person to person. This is the true challenge for search marketing. How do you appeal to different user queries?

The writer claimed that SEO is “voodoo”. I disagree. SEO and usability/user experience optimization practices, when applied together, offer intelligent, tasked-based, user satisfied search results. We create pages for what searchers and prospective customers want to find, rather than what some contrived, controlled, paid for and manipulated query result may be presented. For web site owners and search engines to know what people want, there is constant research and tracking into how we look for it, what we call it, when we want our information, why we want it, where we want it placed and all the different words we use to locate it on the Internet.

The reason so-called “black hat” search engine marketing works is that consumer behavior can be influenced and manipulated so easily. There’s no voodoo in that either. Rather, there’s a short window of time for some companies to take advantage of the latest buzz. Somebody is paid mucho bucks to know what we want. What we’re thinking. What has just jumped into consumer radar. Like fishnet stockings.

Why We Search What We Search For

Strolling in town with my husband one night, he spots a store window with a headless, shapely mannequin wearing fishnet stockings. He mumbles outloud, “Fish net stockings….”

Me, the wife who is gazing up at the stars and enjoying the gentle breeze, replies, “What?” The man repeats…“fishnet stockings”…and so I ask what the heck he is talking about.

“You should wear some,” he suggests.

I spit or grunt (can’t remember.) He knows I hate dresses on me. I don’t own any, other than the poor piece I wore to a wedding last Fall that shall hang in my closet forever. I figure this is one of those spice up the marriage conversations where I feel pressure to dye my hair blond and call myself, “Tanya”. I push back with a grumpy, “I wore them in 6th grade. I insisted my mom let me shave my legs so I could.”

Husband finds it amazing I wore them when I was 11 years old and feels that I should do it again, for old times sake.

What would I search on to find some to wear? “Fishnet stockings”? “Fish net stockings”? “Are fish net stockings naughty?” or would I check out the fashion and style angle and try, “latest fishnet stocking fashions”, “how to wear fishnet stockings” or “fish net stockings for baby boomers who haven’t worn the damned things in years….?”

To know how we search is the big mystery. This is what search engines are studying and the search results we get are based on our searcher behavior, which just means, how and why we search for stuff. Our search behavior is not created by Google and neither is your businesses fate, if you know what you’re doing.

Search results pages are closely tied to how we search. If we don’t find what we want, we leave. This is something search engines don’t want. This is why they don’t want to put sites in good spots that we may not want. If you build a site people don’t want, but you expect Google to rank it high anyway, no matter what….then you’re talking voodoo.

Related article: Is Most of SEO Just A Boondoggle? by Jill Whalen

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