There is a lot of talk as to whether or not certain of the search engine optimization techniques and methods are ethical. In this series of short articles, I will discuss each of the ‘questionable’ techniques and demonstrate that none of them are intrinsically unethical and, therefore, none of them are intrinsically wrong. Arguments against their useage do not stand up in the face of good, old-fashioned common sense. It doesn’t mean that the techniques cannot be used in unethical and unscrupulous ways; it simply means that they are not intrinsically unethical, they are not spam and it is not wrong to use them.There is a lot of rubbish talked about search engine spam. Some people have even tried to formalize it by laying down definitions as to what is and isn’t spam. Two of the main definitions are:-
- Any modifications that are done to a web page or site, solely because search engines exist, is spam.
- Whatever each search engine says is spam, is spam for that engine.
The first definition means that everyone who is engaged in search engine optimization of any kind is, by definition, a spammer – bar none.
What is meant by ‘search engine spam’?
The same question comes up time and time again – “Is this spam?”. What the question really means is, “Is this wrong or unethical?”, although sometimes the question may mean, “Is this going to get my site penalized?”.The fact is that none of the so-called spam techniques and methods are in any way wrong or unethical. A technique or method only becomes wrong or unethical when it is used unethically; e.g. a page that appears to be about one thing but which automatically redirects people to something quite different.
An example of a search engine optimization method that some consider to be spam/wrong/unethical is hidden text. The idea behind hidden text is to show some optimized text to the search engines but not to people viewing the page in a browser. It is done because the text wouldn’t make much sense to the viewer or it would spoil the design of the page. But there is nothing wrong with this technique. It doesn’t attempt to hide anything from the search engines. The fact that they don’t want it is irrelevant. The text is in plain sight to them and their programs. If they don’t spot it, that’s their problem.
What should be realized about all the so-called search engine spam techniques is that they don’t hurt anyone. In fact they help everybody. Unless they are used unscrupulously, they help a page to be ranked more highly for its actual topic than it otherwise would. Surfers find the page in the search results and go to the page’s site. There they find what they expected to find, having read the page’s search engine listing. The surfer is happy, the search engine should be happy because it sent a surfer to a relevant site, and the page owner is happy because s/he has a site visitor.
The fact that so-called spam techniques were used to get the page high in the search results for its actual topic doesn’t matter. Everyone’s a winner.
Let me be perfectly clear. There is nothing instrinsically wrong, immoral or unethical with any of the so-called search engine spam techniques and methods. Like many other things in life, some of them can be used in unscrupulous ways but, in themselves, they are perfectly good, moral and ethical. Some of them are so good, moral and ethical that the search engines themselves use them when they auto-redirect visitors to a local version of the engine, and they do it by cloaking – providing different pages to different people according to some criteria; in this case it’s the geographical location.
The reason that people use the techniques and methods is to help pages rank highly in the search engine results for their topics. Nobody suggests that there is anything wrong or unethical in trying to do that. Some search engines (including Google) even suggest ways to improve a page’s rankings. So people are not against trying to improve rankings, but some of them are against some of the methods that are used to do it.
We have seen that everyone approves of taking steps to improve a page’s rankings, so let’s look at these search engine optimization techniques and methods that people some find questionable.
Before we do, I need to point out that, even though I will show that these search engine optimization techniques and methods are perfectly harmless, ethical and sensible, some engines don’t want some of them to be used and, if they spot them being used, they may penalize the page or even the whole site. Pages and sites are not often penalized. It depends on the nature of the ‘offense’. Generally speaking, search engines are down an anything that adversely affects their surfers.
I should also say that search engines are very poor at spotting unwanted techniques and rely on people reporting them. Whether or not you choose to use any of the techniques is up to you but, if you do, it would be wise to hide them from people and not talk openly about them unless you can talk anonymously.