Displaying Your SEO Ethics

It’s been interesting to see the recent chatter about SEO ethics over the last couple of days. Twitter was all aflutter during the weekend and then Harith brought the conversation to Sphinn asking, “should a SEO company declare its ‘SEO Code of Ethics’. It’s a topic worth discussing.

I’ll start off by saying that while I don’t think it’s necessary for an SEO company to declare on its Web site what rules they adhere to, I do think it can be an important differentiator for those visiting your site. You have to see the value in letting potential clients know from the very first interaction what they can expect from your company. What better way to start building trust with a client than to lay it all on the table from the very beginning and let them know what the type of search engine optimization and tactics you’ll use to improve their Web site?

That has always been the thinking behind our SEO Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct. It’s never been about policing the search community or trying to impose rules. It’s our way of letting clients and other SEOs know from the start what we believe in. It’s also our small way of helping to spread ethical search engine optimization, since we allow likeminded SEOs to take the crest and put it on their own Web site.

Our Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct also helps to set our reputation as an ethical SEO company who puts clients first.

If you were at SES San Jose last week you probably met a search engine jackass or two. Someone who clearly was out to promote themselves. Someone who made claims we all know they can’t back up. Someone who acted like a royal jerk in the middle of sessions and whose main agenda seemed to be causing a scene. That’s not the kind of behavior we engage in and we want clients to know that from the beginning. We may not be able to promise you a number one Google ranking for every keyword on the planet, but we can promise you ethical SEO and a professional demeanor.

Search-Mojo had a post last week that really resonated with me called Reputation Is Not Absolute – You Must Learn It. In that post, author Catherine Pots writes:

“Is it really worth it to damage what could be a great reputation for playing the game fairly or are you OK with having that crowd of doubters who think (and maybe know) that you cheated to get where you are? I’m not. So I keep it white hat. Mind your reputation, it WILL follow you and if respect is a word that means something in your life, you need to be cautious.”


Love it. The entire bit of it. That’s why we do the type of search engine optimization that we do. Our reputation means a lot to us. We’re not going to jeopardize the kind of work we do because a client wants quick rankings. If you want an SEO vendor that’s going to dabble in black hat, there are plenty out there that will. We’re going to protect our reputations and the reputations of our clients by playing inbounds and doing things the right way.

And that’s what our Code of Ethic really means to us. Catherine really hit the nail on the head when she said it’s about not risking your reputation. We adhere to the Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct we set out because we think it helps show people what we’re about – white hat search engine optimization that puts the client first. That’s the reputation and the promise we’ve created for ourselves and it’s something we stick to.

So while I don’t think it’s necessary for every SEO to put a Code of Ethics on our Web site, I’d encourage you to have a page that shows your clients who you are as a company. For us, that’s how our Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct is. If you’ve never taken the time to read it over, you may be interested in it. And if you agree with what you find there, feel free to sport that crest on your own site. You’d be in good company.

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (7)
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7 Replies to “Displaying Your SEO Ethics”

Hi Heather,

I really wasn’t referring to any one person. I was referring to the handful of people who are present at every conference that do their best to take attention away from the show in order to promote themselves and cause a scene. SES San Jose was not special in that regard.

I’ve also never “whined” here on the blog, so if you came across something you didn’t like it was probably on one of my social media accounts. Feel free to unfollow or unsubscribe. I can assure you that you’re not going to find anything SEO-related there.


“If you were at SES San Jose last week you probably met a search engine jackass or two. Someone who clearly was out to promote themselves. Someone who made claims we all know they can’t back up. Someone who acted like a royal jerk in the middle of sessions and whose main agenda seemed to be causing a scene.”
We all know who you’re referring to. While everyone agrees that he acted like an ass, why is it okay for you to say this when you spend days whining after someone says far less harsh things about you?

When someone mentions ethics and seo in a sentence, I am reminded of a passage in Catch 22, where you can only eat after you salute the flag.

Why is that?

While I like this code of ethics on the BC site, and I’d go much further with them, I’m not sure it makes that great a difference with no policing whatsoever. Lisa stated to feel free to display the seal on your site. That’s nice, but what exactly does that do? Not a thing but make visitors to that firm’s website think they are ethical. Who says?
Unless or until this industry gets a backbone; it makes no difference who puts what on their sites. For me; it’s the equivalent of displaying a silly SEMPO seal on your site. So the hell what? lol

I think the issue is not that every company post your code of ethics, (or their own).. but that it may provide a solution.. of sorts to the certification issue… if i remember correctly, there was a bruce clay certificaiton program at the end of the 90’s.. this was back when it was like Bruce Clay tyhe person.. not the company he has successfully grown things to. I could be wrong…

Kinda the same way Bruce’s charts were an innovation on how indexes and directories shared information over a decade ago.. maybe something you have used as a tool to assist clients in understanding how SEO should be performed in a business environment could also be used as a warning for the unaware.

I’m really glad to see some rumblings from ‘the community’ regarding ethics and SEO.
Many small businesses that *want* to get into SEO, either outsourcing the work or working with consultants, read much of the info found online and, decidedly, give up. (1)The cost of a visibility expert with a good reputation is out of the budget for most small companies; and (2)There’s so much contrary information around SEO that potential clients get overwhelmed and simply walk away.
I like the idea of how transparency can not only assure current clients, but piques potential clients’ sincere interest.
Hmm, too funny: “Transparent Ethics” It sounds like an insult, but could be one of the greatest compliments around.
Great Post!

Great post.

Speaking as a former customer of Bruce Clay, Inc., I can tell you that having that policy in place and upfront was a consideration in the vendor selection process, which eventually awarded BCI a contract in the company I worked for. It’s not that we were worried about BCI’s reputation, we were actually worried about our company’s reputation. We wanted to deal with firms that took our reputation and Brand seriously, and whom we could trust to not tarnish that reputation by doing something that would come back to hurt us. A strong Brand is a trusted Brand, and trust is so hard to gain, and so easy to lose that it was important for us to feel we could trust the vendor to do the right thing at all times.

I believe the Enrons of the world are a very slim minority, and that the vast majority of companies want and strive to do the right thing by their customers, employees and community. Having a code of ethics on your web site (and abiding by that code) may not by and of itself gain you any business, but it certainly won’t lose you any business either.


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