SEO Ethics

26 Apr

A few years ago, I worked for a small home-contracting company in Chicago, Illinois. Twice a week I would come in to the office, which was the sun-room in the owners condominium. I would spend my hours “link-building” in different creative ways.

  • I would update the company’s blog
  • I would post advertisements on Craigslist.org three to four times a day
  • I would analyze Google AdWords in-depth
  • I would contact other designers and contractors about trading links on our websites

The goal of all this work was to generate traffic to the company’s website. The more traffic, the more business. My title was “S.E.O. Specialist”, I was only money they spent on advertising, and I was 18 years old with absolutely no experience.

In the brave new world of the internet, standard advertising practices are not viewed as the best way to get business. With web-marketing, everything is trial and error. The same can be said of journalism. Without the sale traditional print papers ripe with advertising space, journalists need to re-evaluate their business model.

By doing this, some traditions will have to change. Since the early 1950’s, the AP Stylebook has been every journalist’s hybrid field guide/bible. With annual updates, it has been a state-of-the-art technology for print journalists. These days, people don’t get their papers at newsstands with change, they get it on their iPhones and their tablets while they ride the subway.

With different mediums and formats, the delivery of news and content has to change. The massive growth of web multi-media has complicated a lot of formatting beyond what’s covered in the Stylebook.

That being said, journalists have to be able embrace new methods while still upholding their integrity. Kelly McBride’s Poynter article about the formatting mis-representations of the Mosque built a few blocks away from Ground Zero discusses an important new ethical question: can I tailor my writing to what people are searching for?

As a journalist, high traffic is a reasonable goal. Writing to discuss popular issues and ideas people are talking about is important. However, reporters with integrity need to lift themselves above the rhetoric and influence of the Twittersphere and maintain accuracy and no bias.

Alternative strategies need to be explored, beyond titling your article “The Mosque at Ground Zero”, they clarifying that it’s actually a community center blocks away. McBride suggests that rebuttals that use the same questionable phrasing do not exactly help the cause. The repetition of false wording, regardless of the context, leaves a lasting impression on readers.

Using inaccurate titling is questionably un-ethical. An alternative must be embraced, but I do not see a simple answer to this question. The SEO system is built around how internet traffic works, and web users looking for news are not worried about integrity. It is important, though, to be the level-headed voice in the conversation.

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One Response to “SEO Ethics”

  1. stevejfox May 8, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Well-done….I like your use of bullets!

    Steve

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