Let's discuss the definition of Ethical.

One way I clear up confusion with definitions is to ask whether or not your argument or definition would make sense in another language. After all, if it's an English only issue, then you are talking semantics, not logic.

Ethics is a code of social behavior based on a concept of right or wrong, morals is a code of personal behavior based on a concept of right or wrong.

Example, you ask? Ok. Easy. Lawyers have a code of conduct that involves not disclosing the wrongdoing of a client (unless a life is in immediate danger - ie a believable threat to kill or do serious harm). Morally, we would be expected to report someone who has admitted guilt to a serious crime, but ethically, we (lawyers) cannot because by doing so it would undermine the legal system. Doctors run into issues like this on things like abortion and suicide, and priests with confessions, and so forth.

The point is that a Ethics are a social or external set of rules and morals are a personal or internal set. Yes, it's great when the two are the same, but sometimes it doesn't happen, nor should it.

Want an example of that? Morals include religious beliefs. What happens when those morals are imposed on a legal (ethics) system?

Sometimes you get good things like anti-slavery laws, sometimes you get things like the Taliban and the Spanish Inquisition. What happens when you impose ethics on morals? Sometimes good things, like freedom of religion, and sometimes bad things like Nazism and Communism. The point is that the two are different, and failure to recognise this causes a lot of harm in the world.

You can be ethical and not be moral, and you can be moral but not ethical. Just because you follow all the rules doesn't mean you are a "good person", anymore than breaking some rules automatically makes you a "bad person". The world is complicated. Get used to it, it gets worse as you get older.

But Ian, we are talking about SEO here. Ok, when you agree to play a game you agree to play by the rules. Don't like that, fine, but it's not ethical. By playing by the rules I mean "big picture" rules. Regulations don't usually count. Just because Google suggests that SEO's offer a moneyback guarantee doesn't mean you are unethical if you do not.

But the purpose of an effective search engine is to serve searches. That's it. Not maximizing your advertising dollars, not sending people to spammy sites, and not tricking people into thinking your site is more relevant to their search than it is.

This is ethics. If your personal moral code suggests that people should only be sent to sites that have been approved by your local church, synagogue, or special interest group, then that's a moral issue and is different from ethics. You can trick people for what you believe is their own good and still be moral (unless your personal morals prevent it) but you can't call it ethical. And doing it for money or fame is unlikely to even be moral.

If people continue to have problems with this because they were brought up without being taught clearly about morals and ethics, then by all means use different terms like Code of Conduct or Search Engine Approved Business Practices or white/black hat or whatever. Just don't pretend that thay are the same and then base your arguement or justify your behavior on it.

"The ends justify the means" arguments make me cringe.

The problem with this attitude in SEO is an issue of responsibility, not effectiveness. We have already seen what happens if you "trust" webmasters to decide whether their site is relevant or not.

I did a search (on webcrawler) for "disney kids games" a couple of years ago and the top ten sites were . I have small children and made a choice to use Google when it came out because now the same search brings up Disney.

By giving the control to the site owners you remove my ability to choose what kind of results I want, and instead replace it with the sites someone else wants. Googles popularity is not based on how many websites like their results, but rather on how many searchers like the results. Like me.

If I found out Google started allowing sites to push their wares without some sort of controls, I'd go elsewhere, as is my right as a consumer. And you can bet there would be some engine out there who would be willing to serve my needs, and others like me.

The problem is that if you (as a search engine) are asking me to trust you, you are also asking me to trust the owners of those sites. Unfortunately, you can see why I don't. Nothing personal.

Googles rules try as much as possible to eliminate the ability of a site owner to unilaterally decide how important and relevant their own site is. Attempts to subvert this process are unlikely to be popular or effective, since it betrays the trust the searchers have in the results. Betrayal of trust is unethical. For many people it is immoral, as well.

Does it matter that a site that uses these techniques may actually be better focused and relevant that those that would have ordinarily shown up. NO. Setting up "rules" based on "exceptions" is a recipe for failure. Webmasters had their chance. They blew it.

Let me ask this. What would happen if "everyone" did this? What would be the result? Would it be an improvement? Assuming that only "ethical and professional" SEO's and webmasters would do this is laughable.

Final Point: Why are people interested in these tactics on Google? Why not one of the Gator corporations FFA link sites? Or a search engine that doesn't check for this? Why make life hard?

The reason is Google is highly successful and popular because of the results it serves. Therefore it is crazy to try to subvert those results. Doing so would remove the reason you wanted to do it in the first place - ie it's popularity and relevence.

If you don't agree with how Google does things, simply start your own SE that follows your own preferences - if it's a good idea, people will start using it. Hey, it worked for Google! But wanting to play a game because it's rules make it popular and then trying to subvert the rules is cheating and unethical, and it ruins it's popularity, which was the whole idea behind playing that game in the first place.

Wanting the advantages of a set of rules without wanting to take the responsibility for obeying the rules is immature and ineffective. Not personal, just food for thought.

How I Became an SEO (Humor)

Note: Recent post by me in response to a thread about how unsophisicated many SEO's are...

I was jest out on mah back 40 shooten at some grub on the run anna city-feller come over an' tells me my new hoity-toity laptop looked pretty fancy.

So I'm, thinken "jeez! I don't want this feller to think I'm a hick, but I don't even know how to turn dis thing on! I jest won it at bingo last month!"

But then I member'd it was useful for finding that engine block I been look'n for all year. It was all growed over in weeds and I couldn't find it anywhar, so I started tossin the laptop into every bush I could see until, shore 'nuf, I hear'd me a clunk and there it was! My laptop sitting right on toppa mah engine block! Gowllllee! That was neat!

So den I went down to the local farmers market an' started helpin' out alla mah friends and kin. I'm the most famous guy around for finding engines in the weeds.Maybe I could impress the city feller with that story.

So I sez, "Yup! I use dat alla time searching for engines down at the market!"

An' then he got all excited like. He said "you do search engine marketing?!"

An' I said "Yep! I'm the best around, dontcha know!"

Then this feller got all happy and then changed the subject. He started talkin about his webs and stuff. I figure he's got a spider problem. critters. But my missus makes me kill them alla time, so I'm purty good at it. I put out bait an' make them think I'm friendly-like, and den stomp on them when they come out.

So I tells him, "I kin help y'all with that spiderin' issue yew have, if you like. I know how to get dem to like me"Then the feller gets all happy and asks me how much it would cost him for my services every month! Now, I figger they guy is crazy, ya know? Who pays someone to stomp on spiders alla time? Must have a lot of em....

So I go along with joke, an' say "a hunnerd grand a month!" and then get ready to laugh with the guy.

He jest nodded his head, pulled out his fancy suitcase-thing, and wrote a check right there ona spot!

So I packed my mah car, and moved to Bevery....Hills, that is.

And that's how I got into dis business. I figure anyone who can git someone to give them a hunnerd grand just for dealin wit der spiders is pretty sofis.. sofic.. sofistikated.

After all, I got money for it. Means I'm a professional, hey?

An' dats how I became a professional search engine marketer and spider problem fixer.