Ethics of Directing Consumers to Search

by Matthew Diehl on February 8, 2010

ethics in new seo technique


When evaluating the ethics of search engine optimization techniques the most commonly known terminology to identify tactics is to see if they fall into one of three buckets: White, Gray or Black hat tactics (and in some cases a potential 4th comes into play asshat).

An emerging trend (backed by Rand Fishkin here and opposed by Jennifer Laycock here) is to direct consumers to the search engines to perform a search you rank highly for and to have then click it to enter your site.

A simple example of this might be: visit www.google.com and search for “Coke” (from Jennifer’s post above). This simple form could easily be incorporated into offline media where you have only a short span of time to impress on the consumer what you would like them to do.

However, they can also be incorporated into online media (such as email marketing) where you can have a longer term of engagement. An example that could be used in an email could be: search “spacely sprockets t-shirt” in Google and click our companies website to find a hidden code to receive an additional 10% off your order or even provide the link to the search results http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=spacely+sprockets+t-shirt with the instructions following the link (just to cut out a step).

Now, as Search Engine Marketing Professionals we are very much aware of the changes to Personalized search that Google has recently made where tracking all searches and clicks are no longer limited to logged in users but applied to all users (unless you opt-out). A majority of search engines users are completely unaware of these changes and do not understand that what they click on now can dictate what they see later.

So, by directly telling potential consumers to search a specific keyphrase and click a website, it sets cookies for that consumer that the search results in Google should lean favorably to that site in the future. And as I said, a majority of search engine users have no idea this is happening.

Rand Fishkin views this as opportunity.

Jennifer Laycock views this as an unnecessary step in the process of getting consumers to your website.

Neither is wrong in their views but what I would like to offer up is: Is this ethical or not?

When looking at it, should this technique be promoted as a common best practice to help favorably promote a site in the search results on a personal level? Or, should it be frowned upon as too manipulative of the algorithm for taking advantage of the search engine users that just don’t understand how their search results are compiled?

My Stand
This is a technique that I just cannot endorse as a best or even good practice within SEO techniques. It is a backdoor, manipulative approach of undermining how personalized search is supposed to work at improving the results on an individual level by choice. The use of directions telling consumers exactly how to interact with the SERPs eliminates that choice. I do not think this is how the SEO industry should be portrayed. We already receive enough flack from idiots who just don’t understand and shady companies that drag our industry through the mud.

Where do you stand on this?

Which Hat is the "Directing Consumer to Search" Tactic?

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Thanks for your input.

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