SEO Karma: What Goes Around Comes Around

Karma is a concept in some religions that emphasizes the relationship between cause and effect, where every action or deed plays a part in shaping the past, present, and future. I, myself, am a firm believer in karma. Google also believes in karma; it will gladly serve you what you deserve if you’re practicing harmful SEO tactics.

Does that mean Google is God? Some may argue that. But one thing is for sure: You do want to please it as much as possible through good SEO. The kind of SEO that’s developed through best practices and White Hat techniques, or else you might get what’s coming to you.

karma chameleon

Let’s take two recent examples of poor SEO that felt the well-deserved wrath of Google. You may remember the dude who admittedly reported to the New York Times that he was using bad reviews as a means of ranking.

Long story short: Google tweaked its algorithm to ensure that businesses like that would not succeed online and the DecorMyEyes owner was arrested.

In a maybe less-familiar story, last week Search Engine Roundtable exposed a comment thread in the Google Webmaster Help forum that revealed a shady SEO firm. Someone jumped in on the thread defending the SEO agency but denying that he was involved with it in any way.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, did a little digging and found official state records that pretty much proved the person was the owner of the business. He not only called him out, making him look like a real tool, but also advised members in the forum to stay away from the business.

SEO Code of Ethics

Can I make a religious/evolutionary comparison without everyone getting all up in arms? To me, the search marketing world is kinda like humanity in its infancy.

Let me explain. As a species (of the human or SEM kind), we understand that procreation and survival of the fittest is how we progress. Humans in our earliest years, I believe, needed some form of governance to ensure survival.

Which is where some of the religious doctrines became very handy; for example, don’t kill other people.

Since the SEM industry is developing from its infancy, it’s important for the people who are a part of it to create and adapt guidelines that will help ensure its continued progression.

These rules also help to ensure survival of the fittest for SEO companies that create value.

So I guess that makes Bruce, along with Google, God (Is that stretching it a bit?). All jokes aside, the SEO Code of Ethics was created for a reason.

Through SEM best practice and keeping in mind the best interests of your clients, the search engines and the users, you, too, can obtain SEO Zen.

So like a great many principles that came before us, the SEO Code of Ethics includes:

  • No SEO practitioner will intentionally do harm to a client.
  • No SEO practitioner will intentionally violate any specifically published and enforced rules of search engines or directories.
  • No SEO practitioner will intentionally mislead, harm, or offend a consumer.
  • No SEO practitioner will intentionally violate any laws.
  • No SEO practitioner will falsely represent the content of the client site.
  • No SEO practitioner will falsely represent others work as their own.
  • No SEO practitioner will misrepresent their own abilities, education, training, standards of performance, certifications, trade group affiliations, technical inventory, or experiences to others.
  • No SEO practitioner will participate in a conflict of interest without prior notice to all parties involved.
  • No SEO practitioner will set unreasonable client expectations.
  • All SEO practitioners will offer their clients both internal and external dispute resolution procedures.
  • Yoga Bear.
  • All SEO practitioners will protect the confidentiality and anonymity of their clients with regards to privileged information and items implying testimonial support for the SEO practitioner.
  • All SEO practitioners will work to their best ability to increase or retain the rankings of client sites.

In SEO, just as in life, do unto others as you would want done unto you. Nothing good can come from shady business practices. You may be able to find short-term success through Black Hat techniques, but long-term value comes from good SEO.

So, take a deep breath, perform your mantra, and go out there and make a positive impact on the search community!

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

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

Comments (16)
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16 Replies to “SEO Karma: What Goes Around Comes Around”

Thanks for stepping out the box a bit with this post Jessica. SEO is evolving into an overtly serious practice, usually clung onto fastidiously by the materialistically inclined amongst us. So your Karmic analogy is highly welcomed, hopefully people will begin to realize the true implication of their actions, in life as well as in SEO. However their will always be those pulling and pushing against the ethical flow of responsible action. Just as Karma can be sown in the light as well as the dark, so can ethical/unethical SEO practice. We need to accept that these people exist and that they will continue to push the boundaries of fair practice. All we can really do is learn from them, allowing those that adopt unethical process, not to corrode our consolidated stance, but rather to cement our goodwill and consideration towards others. Okay that’s my preaching for the day (well it is Sunday).

Thanks for your comment, Stevo! I was just thinking about what you said — that there will always be people who push the boundaries of ethical practices. That’s true across the board.

But I was thinking that the “good guys” will almost always win in business, because many companies want to adhere to business practices that are considered ethical.

That said, I think it’s hard for some people to wrap their head around “ethical SEO,” since it’s still such an emerging service.

Because spammers have been able to make money and show “results,” it can be tempting. And what’s considered spammy practices here in the U.S. isn’t necessarily looked down upon elsewhere.

I think the industry is quickly developing globally though, and it’s definitely only a matter of time before we have solid, industry-wide guidelines for this profession.

One question,

“So don’t for one second think that Google is your friend. It’s not. Google hates SEOs. No matter how affable Matt Cutts is – and he seems like a genuinely nice and smart guy – he is not your friend. His role within Google is to make you obsolete.”

Why does Matt Cutts walk thousands of webmasters through site reviews?

Why do they even bother at all to provide webmaster resources, search query reports, and more insights that help us improve the quality/rankings than any other search engine has in the past?

ps. good dialogue!

Just in case it’s still not clear: I do NOT use “spammy tactics”. I’m a firm believer in the importance of integrating SEO with information architecture. But if Google doesn’t want people to manipulate rankings they should make better algorithms…

Thanks for your replies, Jessica and Brent, but I’ve actually been doing SEO for 4 years, so I know a little bit about it. I don’t understand why people assume that if others have a different opinion it’s because they’re somehow ignorant. Now that’s insulting to me.

The “evil spammers” is not what I think, it’s what I presumed you’re trying to avoid being labeled as by Google, as they clearly associate SEO with spam… which is not sans raison (great explanation here: I do my share of making the web a better place, thank you very much. I just don’t think that as an SEO specialist I should humbly obey whatever Google says, because that may not always be in the best interest of my website or my users.

That’s all I had to say. Sorry I took so long to respond, I didn’t get a notification of replies being posted.

Hello! Glad to hear back from you. I understand your perspective, there are many people that share your opinion. But thanks for clarifying your thoughts so we know where you’re headed. I’m interested in hearing more — what’s an example of Google guidelines that may not be in the best interest of your website or users?


The main word to focus on is manipulate. Google doesn’t want you to manipulate rankings. If you get to the top by blasting out links, then sure, you are right. But you certainly must have not ever witnessed good SEO.

As the industry evolves, it has become much more than traditional organic rankings too. Google doesn’t hate SEO. In fact, they don’t even penalize many greyhat/blackhat techniques at the moment.

Google knows you can increase links & link quality by producing high quality content & link bait. Isn’t that SEO too?

But, hey! You’re definitely entitled to your own opinion, even though it is a bit insulting to me.

We build quality sites by processing massive amounts of data, we create linkable properties all over the web, we harvest many relationships within the industry, we optimize for conversions by testing, testing, and more testing, and we always clean up our messes. I know for a fact that WE are making the web a better place. Heck, just between Adwords, Adsense, Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Organic Search, Places, and Website Optimizer.. you get the point!

Um… you should know a “commandment” such as “No SEO practitioner will intentionally violate any specifically published and enforced rules of search engines or directories” would not really work. Because last time I checked, SEO specialists were Google’s enemy. Any deliberate attempt to increase a site’s rankings in Google is against this search engine’s guidelines. So, by your logic, an ethical SEO practitioner should not actually practice SEO. Interesting perspective. I guess that code is for showing big G you’re not evil spammers, I hope it helps…

Evil spammers? Really? This is where there is a fundamental problem.

You should know there are very different ways of performing SEO; those tactics that are looked upon as “spammy” by Google and those tactics that are within certain guidelines.

Google is all about serving up the most relevant results. If you have a website that is most relevant to the user’s query, but the website is not setup in a way that works in conjunction with a search engine like Google (so it can be crawled, indexed and understood by the spiders), that website is buried amongst the millions of results.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team acts as sort-of a liaison to the SEO/SEM industry. We are well aware of the practices that Google does not like, and work hard to uphold the SEO practices that work with Google, not against it.

I appreciate you coming by to share your opinion. Please let us know if you have any additional thoughts.

Fantastic post Jessica! Pretty sweet of Matt Cutts calling out that SEO firm. What do you think it would take to get a universal code of ethics for the SEO industry

So glad you liked it, David! I know that the idea of SEO ethics is growing because people are pledging to it. And also because Google is cracking down hard. But there will always be spammers. The difference is providing long-term value, you know?

I think it starts with education. Doctors have a Hippocratic Oath, and although there will always be people who stray, it’s taught from the beginning that it’s how medicine should be practiced — ethically.

I’m not sure those 2 examples really showed examples of “don’t be black hat or bad things will happen to you” so much as “don’t be black hat and brag publicly about it or bad things will happen to you.”

Lord knows that there for everybody that gets caught and made an example out of, there are 100 other firms/sites do shady things and getting away with it (for now at least).

Hi, there! Agreed. This is just two examples of people who were a little less discreet. Not everyone gets caught, but make no mistake: Google will catch up with those sites sooner or later, in one form or another. Don’t you think?

In some cases – absolutely! However, I’ve seen way too many last for way to long. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the Google algorithm to catch these perpetrators – I still think Cutts & Co. rely on competitor spam reports more than anything else to bring these sites to their attention. That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it opens up a different set of problems as well.

Interesting point, EW. BTW, I appreciate you coming back to discuss this. Looking into the future, where do you see “black hat” SEO tactics fitting into the big picture — do you think it’s sustainable?

I don’t know that any single tactic is sustainable (although some oldies still seem to work) – but I think the cheaters will always be one step ahead of the “authorities”.

However, I did an experiment last month where I ran through the anchor text in what were clearly automated spam posts to my blog and found that the perpetrators were doing surprisingly well for a lot of those terms. This is a blackhat technique that has been talked about for as long as there has been SEO and it’s extremely disappointing to find that it is still being effective.

I do feel that, as an industry, we are coming together more than ever before to stay ethical. And that’s a start.


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