SEO & Linkbait: When Is It Unethical?
Kelvin Newman asks When Is It Ethical To Criticize Other Companies For Linkbait?
Hmm, it’s a good question and one that’s constantly being brought thanks to bloggers who decide to launch into personal attacks for apparently no reason other than links. We see it happen all the time, but is it right?
Last March I wrote a post entitled Calling It Linkbait Doesn’t Make You Less of a Jerk and I stand by that post. Doing something that you wouldn’t do offline or partaking in behavior that you’d criticize someone else for doesn’t suddenly become ethical because you’re in the quest for links. It doesn’t give you the right to be "that guy".
In this post last week, Kevin argued that it’s okay to use linkbait to criticize your competitors when:
- You think they wouldn’t respond without the fuss.
- They’ve called out people in the past.
- The public needs to know.
- You’ve exhausted other options.
To me, that sounds like a cop out.
Kelvin uses the whole Danny Sullivan/John Andrews melee to start the conversation about what happens when a company publicly criticizes another to attract links. However, that really wasn’t the best example. You have to consider the intent. Danny Sullivan definitely did not write that now infamous Search Engine Land post as a linkbait attempt. He was trying to highlight an error on Wired’s part, not start a flame war. There’s no way he could have predicted what would happen as a result of that blog post and he certainly didn’t want (or deserve) it..
If you ask me, if you’re trying to sell yourself as a legitimate business, I don’t think you should ever openly criticize your competition in hopes of getting links. Personal pettiness and vendettas simply have no place in business. Keep them out of your search engine optimization campaign, and if you can, out of your life. At some point linkbait has to mature in something much more than flame wars and top ten lists. It’s time we start demanding that it does.
However, there are plenty of people who subscribe to the line of thought that any press is good press. They’ve made a good living and whole bunch of money by calling people out publicly and getting everyone all worked up. That’s really not something I care to participate in. Not because I think I’m above it, but because I just don’t have the stomach for it.
You have to identity your own line of conduct. You have to know what you’re willing to do and not willing to do in order to be successful. Most know on a basic level where their line should be. They know that the ugly pang they just felt in the pit of their stomach is a sign that they’re about to step too far. You’re about to publish or say something that you shouldn’t. However, we often ignore it for possible fame, love, money, or even more importantly, links!
The best part of the whole thing is that there’s really no need for you to be calling out your competition. If they’re really doing something stupid, there will always be someone else to do the flaming for you, so why go soiling up your own pristine reputation? This is especially true if what you’re about to criticize your competition for is their flaming of you. Let your customers and supporters fight that battle for you. You’ll win much more praise and respect for taking the high road.
You have to ask yourself: Is it going to make you look good to your target audience for them to see you engaging in school yard bullying and name calling? If your audience has the smallest bit of integrity, then no, it’s really not. If you have a problem with one of your competitors, go to them directly. If it doesn’t work, keep trying. If that doesn’t work, perhaps a post about how companies can’t just stick their head in the sand is in order (email them the URL). Eventually they’ll get the message.
There’s only one time when it’s somewhat ethical to call out or publicly criticize a competitor-when the concern is genuine. There’s a difference between pointing out an issue that people should be aware of and engaging in a flame war because your PR dropped another point. There’s a difference when someone takes a stance over actual emotional or concern and when they’re doing it just to get links. And your audience can tell the difference. They’re not stupid. People don’t want to do business with vapid, petty people who don’t have anything better to do than nitpick and name call. Keep that in mind before you write your next blog post.