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Is SEO a Moral Minefield?

Tara West

by Tara West on 19th January 2012

SEOMorals: The ability to make decisions and behave based on a subjective sense of what is ethically ‘right’.

Morals affect most people in every aspect of life, and business is something where we are often faced with decisions that can put pressure on even the strongest sense of morality. The prospect of high personal or financial gain weighed against the duty to behave morally can be a tricky balance to find.

I think the SEO industry in particular can pose quite a few moral dilemmas (beyond black vs white hat), and this post looks at some of these situations.

Managing and Fulfilling Client Expectations

Have you heard of the SEO button? Neither had I. But there are so many clients who seem to think that we have a magic button that we can press on their website that will  instantly see them ranking at number one for everything. The misconception that SEO is an instant fix and can achieve magical results for everyone is something that can call your morals into action. When you are trying to sell SEO to clients it can be tempting to leave this belief unaddressed in order to close the deal. Later down the line you will probably end up with a disgruntled client. The moral dilemma is whether you ensure the client is aware that SEO is a long term solution that takes time to work.

The SEO Community

The SEO industry must be one of the very few industries where there is such a great community vibe. This is one of the most important reasons I love being an SEO. We are always openly asking questions, seeking advice, and keen to hear the opinions of others. I’m not sure where else you get this kind of attitude?!

As the industry continues to grow and more and more people get involved often with a purely money-making agenda, there might come a time when this community vibe is the cause of a moral dilemma. I’ve not experienced this personally, but I can’t help but think there are people out there who might use this openness and kindness for their own benefit or to sabotage others. Please don’t let this happen!


Outsourcing is one area that might cause a little twinge in your moral foundations. There is nothing wrong with outsourcing in many situations. It often makes good business sense for both the agency and the client. For example it might not be worth a client paying an agencies hourly rate for standard directory submissions and the agency may not want to use skilled resources on this kind of task, so it makes sense that it is outsourced. The question of morality comes in when the agency determines how much to charge clients for outsourced work. There is often the opportunity to charge a lot more than it has cost to outsource the work, and every business needs to make money, but this might also need to be balanced with the level of quality of the work.

In addition to this, deciding whether to tell clients that parts of their project have been outsourced can also be a situation where your morals might not prevail.

The decision of who to outsource to can also be a bit of a moral minefield.  Many companies who offer their services to agencies who need to outsource, run their business very close to the line and so their employees might not be receiving fair treatment. It would be great if there was a way to ensure this was accurately regulated and for businesses to make their outsourcing decisions based on this.


I am always shocked when I ask a client what their previous experiences are with SEO and they can’t tell me because their last agency never sent them a report of their progress or outlined the work they had conducted.

The moral issue here is about the level of transparency given to clients. We shouldn’t have to tell them the tricks of the trade, but do they have some right to be regularly updated with the progress of their project and the work that has been conducted?

The other moral dilemma in reporting is the use of data. Firstly you need to pick which metrics to measure progress against. You could pick the ones that make your work look best. Or you could pick the ones that are important to the client. In addition to this, if the data doesn’t paint your work in the best light, there is nearly always a way to manipulate it so that it does. What would you do in this situation?


With the huge variety of businesses online, you might be asked to work with a business that is an industry you might disagree with morally. This is subjective to your personal morals of course, but some examples which might make you think twice are gambling sites or those containing adult material.

Black Hat

Any ‘morals in SEO’ post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning black hat. I’m not saying its right or wrong but it might be an area where your morals make you question your techniques.

But then if we’re going into that there is the age old debate of whether SEO in itself is ethical at all. But that’s for another day.

So, what do you think? Is SEO a moral minefield? Or is it no different to any other industry? I’d love to hear your opinions on the situations above, or any other situations. Put your opinion in the comments section below or find me on Twitter @Koozai_Tara.

Image Source

SEO Words via BigStock

Tara West

Tara West

Tara West is an experienced SEO and PPC specialist at Koozai, with particular expertise within AdWords PPC and Remarketing. She has worked on a wide variety of verticals, from plumbing and travel to fashion and beauty.


  • Mike Essex

    Mike 19th January 2012

    Great “SEO button” analogy Tara. It was quite refreshing to see that our sales team are really honest with clients before they come on board. That makes our job so much easier, especially when you compare this to some SEO scams who promise rankings.

    Totally agree with the SEO community comment. It’s one of my eight things we need to fight for – http://www.koozai.com/blog/search-engine-optimisation-seo/what-every-seo-has-to-fight-for-in-2012/

    Reply to this comment

    • Tara West

      Tara 19th January 2012

      Yeah we are very lucky to have a great sales team here to manage client expectations. We should definitely fight to keep our great SEO community alive! It’s probably the best part of being in this industry.

      Reply to this comment

  • Dan 19th January 2012

    Totally agree with setting the expectations of a client from the start is one of the most important things. Too often I field calls from potential clients (we dont have a sales team) and they are straight into horror stories of the way they have been treated by other companies in the past.

    Understanding what the client expects from their campaign (rankings, ROI, conversion) should help map the way you service them.

    Too often I hear “I have £100 to spend, how quickly can you get me to number 1″

    Getting it right (including being honest and open) from the start is so important regardless of how the campaign pans out.

    Reply to this comment

    • Tara West

      Tara 19th January 2012

      Thanks for the comment Dan. I know what you mean, it can be really tough getting a client to trust you if they’ve been mislead by another SEO company previously but being honest about what’s achievable with their site is one of the best ways to do it.

      Reply to this comment

  • Cathy Dean 20th January 2012

    Nice post, I have met many people whose expectations have been set to high or have been promised the earth. One of the things I love about the internet is you can measure everything, no excuse for not providing reports/stats etc! Worse case from memory I have come across is a client was spending £150 per month for the monthly Google analytics reports which are of course free! There was no analysis of these results or how to improve things, nothing just the email, unbelievable

    Reply to this comment

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