SEO Code of Conduct
Everyone in this industry has a personal Code of Conduct whether written or not. In our version we believe that “do not deceive” is at the top and applies to everyone: search engines, clients, and site visitors alike. As such, the basic theme of our personal Code of Conduct is to avoid deceptive practices at all costs.
As taught in our courses, it is not the job of SEO to make pigs fly; it is the job of SEO to genetically re-engineer the site so that it is an eagle. If you strive to make pigs fly, it is deceptive. If you put real subject matter in an expert format and place the key words in the places that clearly identify that subject then you are enhancing the user experience and make the site actually more relevant. The Code of Conduct should encourage SEOs to work in ways that do not disguise pigs or make pigs fly. The Code should promote content improvement and clarity.
The generally accepted measurements of optimization success is [ranking / traffic / conversion / return], and hence our industry is dependant upon the continued good will of the search engines. By acting to identify and speak out against attempts to falsify the content of a web site through deception, the search engine relevancy will improve and the industry will earn the support of the search engines. Understand that if you deceive a search engine you also deceive the consumer, and we consider that form of false advertising to be unacceptable. Today, far too many SEO practitioners are part of the problem and not a part of the solution. Sure, there will always be a few SEO practitioners that lag behind and protest loudly and who will continue to deceive because the revenue opportunity by using deception sometimes exceeds the penalty if caught (or because they simply do not know any better) but over time accountability will prevail.
We cannot presume to set a standard for an industry. We are not the law, and we are not trying to be. We do not want to stifle creativity or dictate web design. We are people that have lived from a time where ranking for the sake of the paying client prevailed. However, today we are rigid about avoiding search engine spam. Even when asked by a client to do something that could be considered spam, we refuse. Others in the industry have the exact opposite approach — spam until caught, then get a new domain and try a new trick. Some clients themselves do not care as long as they get traffic now; it does not matter if next month they are faced with extinction. We disagree with the “if you cannot win fairly then cheat” mentality. We cannot presume to speak for people that practice this (or condemn them) other than to indicate that we think this short-sighted view hurts our industry and is unnecessary, and we will not do it. And in our opinion, the search engines should take decisive action to identify and discourage it.
What we can do is set our own personal standards of behavior. We control our own behavior, and nobody else’s.
But we can also encourage others to follow our lead. We have published the following Code of Conduct as a broad set of policies along with a formal certification ONLY for our own proprietary tools and methodologies, not for an entire industry. We support this certification with regular and spot audits of the voluntary participants, frequent training and re-training, and an online registration directory of who is trained and adhering to our Code of Conduct. If you do not agree with our certification policies then that is fine — you do not need to participate in our certification programs. Really, if you don’t like the idea then don’t participate. If you think the items in the Code are too strong or weak, fine – we will listen, but they are our Codes. In other words, we are extending our personal Code of Conduct to a private, voluntary participation, product specific Certification program.
All certifications require a training class followed by a test, plus a commitment to adhere to the Code of Conduct. We need (out of fairness) to offer SEOs a consistent level of education if we expect consistent and reasonable understanding and implementation of the Code. Each certified analyst is registered with a unique serial number, and clients can inspect the rating of each certified member online, report a spamming practice, or request a practice review. As this is our criterion, we will initially determine if that member is violating the Code of Conduct, and then allow for correction. This is a double-elimination system with arbitration. Second offenses are usually fatal, although even here there is an opportunity for appeal. We are not certifying anyone as being anything more than trained on the use of our own tools and following our Code of Conduct. This is not an industry certification any more than getting a Microsoft training certification makes you a UNIX programmer. As certified members prove to be leaders in this campaign they may be asked to assist in the audits, as the plan is to have a panel of at least 3 auditors such that no one person is all powerful, and even then there is liberal opportunity for appeal.
We truly believe that search engine spammers can “see the light” and become converts. Sometimes they go back to their old ways, but like anyone in Spammers Anonymous, when supported with a structure, guidelines, regular meetings, training on how to beat spammers, and colleagues and friends that share the same values, then they can remain converted. We are sure that everyone that has been in the industry from the beginning has converted in some way; many used to do doorways but now do not, they tried cloaking but found it distasteful, and they are now different people. We do not want to penalize spammers if we can help them convert. Think of it as a second chance. We hope that everyone will join us in this approach because lasting success would be wonderful.
Most clients who currently use spammers do it because they do not know the difference. So it is clearly in the best interests of spammers to discourage both standards and client education. We think that in a vacuum, the SEOToolSet® Certified Analyst program will prove to be a point of light among what we suspect will soon be many. (As always, copycat firms that watch us will mimic this approach within the next month or so). And we hope that regardless of source that clients will be attracted to the light and start to insist that their SEO practitioners follow the Code. It is the client community, not the SEOs or even the search engines that will cause evolution to kick in.
Remember, without the search engines, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) would not exist. Therefore, search engine optimization and marketing professionals have a vested interest in preserving the integrity of the search engines and the experience of search engine users. At SEOToolSet®, we see the search engines as business partners. In this spirit we have created the SEOToolSet® SEO Code of Conduct.
This Code of Conduct is designed to partner with the established SEO Code of Ethics by Bruce Clay, Inc. Imagine these two documents as two guards standing back to back: while the SEO Code of Ethics covers your responsibility to preserve your client’s well-being, the SEO Code of Conduct covers your responsibility to preserving the well-being of the search engines and search engine users.
Along with the SEO Code of Ethics and the search engine anti-spam rules, the SEOToolSet® Code of Conduct will be used to conduct random anti-spam audits on all SEOToolSet® Certified Analysts, Organizations, Instructors and Partners.
It is very difficult to accurately define, describe, or even characterize ethical SEO techniques, especially since what is allowed and acceptable by the search engines themselves is under constant review and refinement. Although a few practices are obviously spam, other techniques can both be used for legitimate purpose, as well as abused for the purpose of unduly influencing or deceiving the search engines. Most SEO practitioners understand the differences between spam and non-spam techniques, yet not all practitioners adhere to non-spam, too often taking the short-term path which may lead to lower rankings – or even being banned – in the future. We have created this Code to encourage SEO practitioners to do better.
Whereas all parties are working towards presenting relevant and high quality information in an easy to use format to information seekers, and whereas SEO practitioners are being contracted to assist clients in obtaining higher rankings for client pages, we voluntarily adhere to the below SEOToolSet® Code of Conduct as it relates to Search Engine Optimization:
No SEO practitioner will intentionally utilize practices that serve one set of content to the search engines, and a visually different set of content to other visitors. Ideally, ALL requests sent to a specific URL should be served identical content by the web server. Cloaking is not inherently evil, but using it to deceive a search engine is not acceptable. ALL text within the BODY section of an HTML page should be visible, uncovered and easily readable by all visitors to the page. Since the search engines determine the relevancy of a page for a keyword based in part on “visible content”, the search engine user deserves to see the same “visible” content when they click through to that page. Anything less than a substantial match between the content that the search engine spider sees and the content that the user sees is deception. The use of any technology with the intent to hide content or the importance of certain content from the user in any way is unacceptable. This includes using on-page techniques, bait-and-switch techniques, server controls and any other techniques developed to deceive either the search engines or search engine users. Simply put, certainly there are a great many ways to “hide” content, and all of them are deception and are not acceptable.
No SEO practitioner will intentionally use redirection in such a manner that search engines see one set of content, and non-search engine visitors are forwarded to and view a different set of content. Ideally, ALL requests sent to a specific URL should land on and remain on that URL. It is not acceptable to rapidly switch users to a page containing content other than the indexed content, commonly using redirects or event-driven processes.
No SEO practitioner will intentionally produce multiple pages with identical or nearly identical content for the purpose of influencing the search engines. Ideally, all site pages should be unique and contain content of value to a researcher seeking information. Obviously several sites can reprint articles, process news feeds, and sell the same products, but expert information is only expert if it is unique. It is not enriching to the user experience to have all of the top results containing rehashed versions of the same content.
No SEO practitioner will utilize software to automatically generate pages of no or limited value. Automatically-generated pages commonly have “gibberish” and usually make no grammatical or logical sense, hence they harm the user experience. It is generally understood that the generation of hundreds or thousands of indexable pages in an attempt to have them ranked is unacceptable. However, data base driven pages are also automatically created as are the search engine results themselves, so not all automatic pages are evil.
No SEO practitioner will intentionally participate in a Link Farm. No site can control who links to them. However your site does not need to participate in a program where unrelated sites will link to each other for the purpose of artificially inflating rankings. If the link is valid, then that is fine. If it is to deceive the search engines then it is not acceptable.
All SEO practitioners will work to their best ability to maintain the integrity of the search experience. We must all consider the effects of our optimization efforts on both the client’s rankings and the quality of the search engine results overall. If any optimization technique detracts from a search engine user’s experience, it is not worth using. After all, the goal of search engine optimization is not to simply achieve rankings, but it is to make expert information more accessible to users through search engine queries. Do not make pigs fly.
All SEO practitioners will work to their best ability to maintain the integrity of the SEO industry. All SEO practitioners must be committed to upholding ethical and professional conduct in practicing search engine optimization. This steadfast commitment will improve the SEO practitioner’s reputation as an honest, hard-working SEO professional. Plus, it will help the practitioner maintain honest, healthy relationships with their clients, the search engines, and other SEO professionals. This in turn will help improve the reputation of the SEO industry as a whole.
We recognize that “guns don’t kill — people do” and that some technologies and practices can be legitimate. We have no issues in these cases. But if it is clearly deceptive as implementated then it is a violation of this Code of Conduct. Our advice is to choose wisely and only play in the middle of the sandbox.
We expect that the vocal minority will attack this Code of Conduct. Again, we challenge them to do better.