One of the most memorable scenes of the movie, Billy Madison, is when Adam Sandler’s character competes against the movie’s villain (who’s trying to take over the Madison family business) in a business game show in a school auditorium. In this particular scene, the villain, Eric Gordon, is asked to explain business ethics. To make a long story short, he doesn’t grasp the concept and fails to provide a definition. Sometimes I feel that it may be difficult in the internet marketing world to define what is permissible and what isn’t. After all, it’s very new industry. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that most internet marketing professionals decide to do the right thing.
Interestingly, there is one important facet of internet marketing (and more specifically SEO) that encourages professionals to do the right thing. That is online reputation management (ORM). ORM is a key component of SEO that pertains to what other people have to say about you on the Internet; i.e. positive and negative feedback.
A few weeks ago I came across a very interesting example, which illustrated the importance of ORM within SEO and the consequences of doing the wrong thing. Mike Halvorsen, a Search Engine Optimizer in Columbus, Ohio, found himself in a email battle with Joe Rozsa, another SEO in the same city over the keyword, SEO Columbus (which was his exact business name). Rozsa’s case was that Halvorsen’s SEO efforts for his own business were having a negative impact on Rozsa’s. Consequently he asked that Halvorsen stopped whatever it was that he was doing. Halvorsen felt that he was well within his rights, so he turned to the SEO community as a whole for support. Most people sided with Halvorsen, which generated a lot of negative content directed at Rozsa.
Whether Joe Rozsa was right or wrong in contacting Mike Halvorsen is really a matter of personal judgment. His actions did eventually cost him a good reputation under the name, SEO Columbus as well as a high ranking on Google SERPs. He will likely have to rebrand his business under a different name. Joe missed the significance of ORM. The important concept to note is that ORM is a critical part of SEO.
Similarly, another example of the importance of doing the right thing in Internet marketing dealt with a lawsuit Cleveland Golf filed against Christopher Prince and Bright Builders. Prince owned a site for which Bright Builders provided SEO services. The site sold counterfeit Cleveland Golf clubs. The judge determined that Bright Builders had contributed to the copyright infringement with its SEO services and ordered them to pay almost $800,000 in damages.
The case showed that SEO firms can be held accountable for how the work they do for a client is used. Therefore SEO firms need to be aware of the ethical impact of their services as well as its legality. If SEO work is being leveraged to deceive customers like those in this case, it probably will get a firm into trouble at some point.
Ultimately, the best strategy for SEOs to conduct business in an ethical manner is to care about their online reputation and to focus on doing the right thing. Clearly, keyword rankings aren’t the only thing at stake when it comes to decision making in Internet marketing. Be aware of the impact of your actions, do the right thing, and happy optimizing. And remember, don’t trade your snack pack for a banana.
Steve is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.