Internet Ethics Part 3: Black Hat SEO and Regulation

By March 12, 2011The D-Blog

In recent weeks there has been much discussion in the search industry about the use of questionable link building techniques industry insiders refer to as black hat SEO. This most recent buzz was generated around a well-documented New York Times editorial about J.C. Penney. The short story is that J.C. Penney hired a firm willing to cross to the “Dark Side” to boost its client’s natural search rankings when it really counted: over the lucrative holiday season. But then got punished for it by having its position slip to “Search Purgatory”, well beyond page on of results.

Photo: Black Hat SEO - Confluence Digital Blog

So what is black hat SEO?

So-called black hat SEO of tactics aim to outsmart the algorithms search engines use to provide their users with the most relevant content. The problem with black hat tactics (other than the ethical issue) is that while they may seem attractive in the short run, they do not represent a sustainable SEO solution. They may work to achieve fast results but will bury you just as fast – and often permanently – after the search engine finds out you broke their rules. In some cases trying to game the system may get your site banned from being listed at all, and that is tantamount to being erased from existence in today’s search-reliant world. Integrity and honesty are important foundations in building long-lasting relationships with people and this seems to also hold true in the search world. While “Kosher” SEO takes longer, it’s the better policy in the long run. Slow and steady wins the race in the end.

Self-regulate or have it done to you.

In all fairness, the online marketing industry has done a rather poor job of explaining cookies and other online tracking and behavioral data recording tools to the general public. The “Little ‘i’” initiative, a self-regulatory effort on the part of the advertising industry that was proposed last year, came too late to ward off regulators.

As a result, in the United States, we’re looking at a new privacy bill in Congress and a separate Federal Trade Commission proposal.
Experts say 2011 might just be the year where digital privacy will come to the forefront in Washington. For example, the Boucher-Stearns bill, drafted by Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia, and Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida, would require all websites to inform users how they collect and use personally identifiable information, like phone numbers or addresses. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission proposed “Do Not Track” technology that would be added to websites in order to allow users to “opt out,” making their actions on the site unrecorded.

And this comes on the heels of the Federal Communications Commission’s new rules on Net Neutrality that according to numerous critics included loopholes and concessions to the big boys including Google and AT&T.

The Web Analytics Association Code of Ethics

Image: WAA Code of Ethics Badge - Confluence Digital Blog

The average Internet user doesn’t know good from bad as far as how their data is being collected, and because of this they have been increasingly turning against online and behavioral analytics.  Working toward re-gaining the trust of consumers and educating them about the benefits of analytics when use in their best interest, the Web Analytics Association (WAA) has recently written a Code of Ethics that aims to establish fundamental principles on how to collect and manage consumer data responsibly based on privacy, transparency, consumer control, education, and accountability.  Here at Confluence all our team members have already pledged to follow the Code of Ethics and we look forward to supporting the spread of those standards in our industry.

For more on the topic of Internet ethics, check out these related posts:

Internet Ethics Part 1: Cookies, Privacy and the Value of Content
Internet Ethics Part 2: Online Privacy and Safety
Internet Ethics Part 3: Black Hat SEO and Regulation

Eric Layland

Author Eric Layland

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