5 Ways to Be an Ethical SEO Expert

by on 29th June 2010 with 55 Comments


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been a huge buzzword among marketers for years. The reason for this is that search engines can be legitimate sources of mountains of traffic for your site and the higher you rank on them the better.

The problem that arose in the early days of SEO was a blatant abuse of the system. What began as a few innocent tricks to earn more visitors morphed into questions of etiquette and heated debates regarding what should and shouldn’t be allowed. The web design community has come a long way in the past decade but there are plenty of marketers that still follow the tactics of the 90s either through ignorance or defiance.

Today we’ll briefly look at how to engage in SEO in an ethical manner by pointing out five key techniques to avoid.

Don’t Fill Your Meta Tags with Keywords

This is a clear example of how developers and marketers took advantage of the system to the point that any usefulness has been stripped. Years ago, websites began stuffing their meta tags full of every possible keyword and phrase that they could find. It was even a common practice to simply steal the meta tags of competitors.

If the fact that this practice is unethical and annoying doesn’t convince you to cut it out, consider this gem: it doesn’t help your rankings. Despite what your SEO guy might think, most modern search engines have abandoned (or simply never supported) meta tags as a way to rank results.


Google saw so many misconceptions regarding this subject that last year they published an article all about how they do and don’t use meta tags. They do occasionally use the description tag as the preview snippet for the site, they don’t use any meta tags to determine your page ranking.

Don’t Fill Your Footer with Crap and/or Hide Content


Another example of developers trying to boost their rankings through nonsense is by unnecessarily filling the footer with keywords or links. This results in a huge footer that doesn’t increase the usability of the site one bit (it actually reduces it!).

Also avoid hiding keywords on the page. This is one of my biggest pet peeves and really shows a complete lack of general knowledge or concern relating to ethical web development. I’ve seen pages filled with text the same color as the background, items piled on top of others, and other bizarre and desperate attempts to cram as many keywords as possible into the content. If it doesn’t fit with the content, leave it out!

An alternate version of hiding content is “cloaking.” This is a clever trick that makes search engines see one thing and users another. This way you can still have a nice clean website but still use all the dirty little SEO tricks. Cloaking is definitely frowned upon by the good people at Google and should definitely be avoided.

Don’t Duplicate Content Across Multiple Domains


Have you ever searched for something on Google, clicked on a dozen links or so that seemed unique only to realize that half or more ultimately led to the same site or product? Remember how annoying that was?

The key here is to continually put yourself in the mindset of a user. We are all aware that more traffic often equals more money, but duplicating all your content across multiple sites just so you appear multiple times in a search is essentially just spam! You’re not targeting valuable traffic for the sake of conversions, you just want to watch your analytics rise. Never mind the fact that half the people visiting your site are annoyed at the fact that they keep ending up there and will therefore never consider buying whatever it is you’re selling.

Having multiple domains is fine, if that’s what you genuinely need for content purposes. Creating a network of unique but connected sites is a completely legitimate business practice and can lead to a large following of interested users, just make sure you’re not mindlessly copying and pasting content simply to enlarge your snare.

Don’t Sacrifice Quality or Usability

At the real heart of all of these principals is a desire for quality and usability. If your SEO is reducing the ease at which people can use your site, then it’s counterproductive and reduces rather than increases the value of the site. Ask yourself what the fundamental purpose for the existence of the site is. If it’s to be a professional face for your company to the public, then don’t cheapen it for the sake of SEO.

Even good practices can make your site suffer if not implemented properly. For instance, the necessity of inserting keywords into paragraph copy often leads to sentences that are nearly unreadable or at the very least an assault on the English language.

For instance, repeating keywords again and again in different ways can make your site both annoying and confusing. As an example, your site can be made quite annoying and confusing by repeating the same keywords and phrases different ways throughout the paragraph copy. To illustrate, if you want to confuse and annoy your readers, repeat the same keywords again and again throughout the site.

See what I did there? Never imagine that your users are too dumb to notice your incessant attempts to fool search engines into giving you a higher rank. They will both notice and resent you for it.

Strive to make a website that people can use and even enjoy. Use the SEO techniques that you know are respectable and effective, but if you have to choose, give usability a higher level of importance.

Don’t Let Your Clients Believe SEO is Magic


One last thing that really irks me is “SEO Experts” who take advantage of clients that simply don’t know any better. Everyone uses the Internet, but few really understand it to the level that we web developers do. Consequently, it’s really easy for someone who knows the lingo to convince an aspiring business owner that the reason they haven’t achieved fame and fortune on the web is because they need a little SEO.

There are plenty of legitimate SEO experts that can in fact provide a measurable and valuable increase to the number of visitors to a site, but it sure seems like there are a lot more individuals who have learned just enough to rip people off.

Be honest with your clients both about your experience with SEO and how it will and won’t benefit them. If you don’t know anything about it, don’t claim that you do. Read a book or two on the subject before you start bragging about how good you are at it. If you really do know all about SEO, then you should know enough to tell your client how much of a return they can realistically expect from their investment.

How to Get Banned

If you read and discard the information above as the drivel of an overzealous designer, you should definitely reconsider. There’s more to my argument than simply stating that I don’t like it when developers engage in these tactics. The truth is, most of the web community doesn’t like it. So much so that engaging in practices like keyword abuse, cloaking, and duplicating content are excellent ways to get your site banned from Google and other search engines.

It might seem draconian for Google to police the web in search of violators, but you have to remember that the primary goal of a search engine is to provide relevant and useful links to searchers. If your shady actions are inhibiting this goal, don’t be surprised if you get the boot.


Ultimately, remember that good practices are those that don’t feel like you’re getting away with something. Proper use of headings, assigning alt tags to images and creating site maps are all great ways to boost your SEO without selling your soul. Exploiting loopholes and constantly searching for that one golden trick that will bring you the traffic of your dreams is a fool’s errand that ultimately hurts more than it helps.

Leave a comment below and let us know what your SEO pet peeves are. We want to hear horror stories of sites that go way beyond what is acceptable in the name of first page rankings!

Comments & Discussion


  • http://www.andysearles.com Andrew Searles

    Well said my man,

    I always say to my clients that the great thing about SEO is that it’s easy. Most of the time if you do the things that help your viewer, the search engines will reward you for it. You see search engines are about giving the viewer what they are looking for. So, if you make your website about giving the view what they are looking for then the search engines are going to love your site.

  • http://robinrowell.smugmug.com Robin

    This is a great write-up that sums up my feelings. I don’t claim to be an “expert” by any means, but I do tell clients that are looking for experts to be wary.

  • http://www.blueprintgroupe.com Blueprint Marketing

    “Don’t Let Your Clients Believe SEO is Magic”, well said. Clients need to know how much work really needs to go into an SEO campaign and that what might work for one company might not be a good solution for another. It’s not just pushing a magic button or throwing money at the situation.

  • http://www.dynamicwp.net Eko Setiawan

    Thanks…this is very useful for me.

  • http://www.websitereckon.com john

    really its great stuff for SEO guys….

    good job


  • Robert

    Concerning meta tags, the article you link to just talks about the keywords meta teg, not all of them. And while it’s true that the contents of those tags will not affect your ranking, the description tag is used on the search results pages and used by spiders to see what your page is about. Without it they just scan the page and guess what the page is about which can be bad on image/flash heavy pages. Also, since it is used on the search results pages, you aren’t going to get traffic if users don’t know what the page is about.

  • http://www.fantasticode.com Charlie

    Really interesting stuff and well-put. Simple steps to make sure you don’t get banned from Google etc, and use your SEO time effectively. I’m all for a “little and often” approach with SEO, it’s not enough to sit back and wait for the visitors, nor should you make huge changes to your optimazation campaign on a regular basis.

  • http://www.red-team-design.com Red

    This is always good to keep in mind, good article!

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  • http://www.seodivers.com SEO Divers

    Great article and a good read, thanks!

  • http://www.guilhermemoreira.com.br Guilherme Moreira

    Great article, nice stuff for who is starting with SEO, it’s a good start point for the new bloods.

  • http://www.CBSWebDesigns.com Cheryl Smithem

    Good summary of what makes good SEO. Google has a great group of articles that say it very plainly and with examples. While Google is the dominant search engine, don’t forget about Yahoo. It still has a strong presence…although not what Google’s is.

    My pet peeve are all the scammers who call clients and tell them that for $300 a month, the SEO firm can get them on Google page one. I usually send these clients Google’s own SEO white paper and a very good article from Engrepreneur.com. I’ll save yours and share that too.

  • http://www.twitter.com/SmurfGalak Shirley

    Love the article, especially the part about SEO not supposed to be magic.

    Some clients are so hung up about it, it is sometimes impossible to talk to them about other important elements in an article.

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  • http://www.thaifoodscience.com monthon

    Great article
    I done a lot of way to ranking up my PR also publish 190 articles in my site. Whitehat SEO should be gather some income, but i didn’t get anymore.
    i’ll believe and still fight

  • http://www.jeffgswanson.com Jeff Swanson

    My pet peeve is when a company tells their audience that they’ll get them “#1 rankings.” It happens all too often – even got an e-mail from WebProNews today promoting a company that claims this. Of course, those uneducated with SEO don’t realize that they will probably get them to rank #1 for their own brand name, which is a mindless task.

    The reason I enjoy this article is because it helps inform potential clients and hopefully prevents some from getting burned by money-hungry “seo companies.”

    One more pet peeve – weekly submissions to search engines.

    Two pet peeves? Man, I’m getting worked up!

  • http://www.hyaho.ch hyaho.ch

    good reading, thanks!

  • http://www.mcgwebdevelopment.com/ Matthew Ginop

    I like the text in this post’s “header image” better the the actual post’s title. { SEO; How to avoid being a jerk } – classic!

  • http://www.webcreationuk.com/ Web Design

    Great article, strictly related to ethical SEO, but worthless for those that use these techniques. :)

  • http://www.w3commerce.com.au Mark

    I liked this part the best “Don’t Let Your Clients Believe SEO is Magic”…. there is no better way of saying this… SEO’s should first be ethical in the way the approach customers…..

  • http://portfolio.seolar.de SEO-Agentur

    As a SEO these five rules are more important than finding relevant keywords, using high end performance tools for analytics and trackings, working like a magician in ancient eras.
    Working clean, rational and fair is the best way for building really high rated websites.
    Those rules have to be send to every client and every seo. So that no longer any “black sheeps” have a chance.

    Thanks for this high quality article on ethical seo.

  • http://www.austinpickett.com Austin Pickett

    SEO is an art form, well.. more of semantics than not. As algorithms continue to change it’s hard to keep up with what’s hip and to just use the HTML tags as they were designed to:

    Proper alt/title tags
    Proper directory structures
    and proper page naming conventions

  • http://www.hostpipe.co.uk Web Design Gloucestershire

    Our most successful SEO campaigns have been based around well coded websites, with well written content, keeping everything very simple and not trying to cheat the system, very much like what your article says.

    I totally agree with keeping is simple, don’t cheat and don’t entertain black hat SEO.

    Thanks for the article, very informative.



  • Ted Goas

    I’m surprised every comment has been praise. This is sooooo basic.

    Design Shack articles about design are much better than this… disappointed.

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  • http://www.ne-web.com ne-web

    Good article!

    SEO is all about the basics, if you get that right, then you will do OK.

    I usually advise clients to be active on the web: Regularly add useful posts/content to your website, write articles/how-to’s on your specialist area, participate in forums and always Tweet (useful things).

    Stay active on the web, Google will love you and you will get quality links to your site.

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  • http://csssample.com csssample

    Excellent website, i will follow your site

  • http://www.customervideoreviews.co.uk/ Jason – Customer Video Reviews

    The things you described here deal with on-site SEO, but an annoying ongoing issue that relates to off site promotion is blog spam – users who post comments on your articles with the intention to include their site links, but by reading the comments it is clear that they have not really contributed anything to the site or conversation and what makes it worse is that they try to sound sincere or compliment you that your blog is great and helped them a huge amount. Maybe if they took the time to briefly read the article or post and offer something of value to the discussion, then it becomes something of a give-and-take, otherwise it is unduly taking advantage.

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  • http://www.dalmenyonline.com Web Design Tampa

    Agree with all the points you made. However, I know of websites that have been reported to Google for having duplicate websites to target highly sought after keywords and remain at the top of the SERPs. As long as someone is willing to risk losing the bulk of their traffic due to performing shady SEO practices…. why not? New sites have to compete with sites that have aged and gained authority over the years somehow.

  • http://www.searchengineoptimsation247.com Ethical SEO

    I am glad that we aren’t the only copy offering Ethical SEO. The industry needs more SEO Companies to open up to their clients in terms of the truth behing SEO. We are clear and concise with each of our clients and explain fully at each step of the way.

    Well written and informative. Hopefully this will inspire more companies to open up. I will be returning to read more of your articles if they are as informative.

  • http://www.jordanwalker.net Jordan Walker

    Great advice!

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  • http://www.vkamobi.com shirelly

    wow,really a very useful tips for seo job!

  • http://www.markhesketh.co.uk Mark Hesketh

    Nice article covering all the basics and putting to bed some of the myths.

    I’m sick to death of having people ring the companies I work for ‘in-house’ churning out the same old routine of ‘#1 listing’, ‘linkback’ that.

    SEO is a black art, anyone can do it.. you just have to be aware of the pitfalls, and not be too over-zealous.

    Correct structure, sensible naming, regularly updated and not left to rot, and jobs a good ‘un!

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  • http://www.eggywebdesign.com/ alison

    glad I came across this article while researching seo techniques, puts a few essential points across clearly and simply that I otherwise may have had to learn through making mistakes! thanks

  • http://kercommunications.com Ker – Pittsburgh Internet Marketing

    This is an awesome post. I constantly have to struggle to get clients to “unlearn” bad SEO, convince them that SEO is not magic, and I have to do damage control on the crap they have put into their marketing efforts.

  • http://halwits.com Amit

    Thank you for posting such a nice and informative article. An eye opener for those who are involved in unethical ways of promoting their websites.

  • http://www.seo-philippines.net Edward @ SEO Philippines

    Thanks for this post. I had a problem today not being able to configure my wordpress blog, and lamented the fact that I couldn’t snuff my meta tag with my targeted keyword – this article relieves my fears of not being able to exploit this opportunity. Indeed, this has been devalued because of abuse.

    More and more, the terrain of the future seems to be natural link baiting – and the most creative writers will be the generals of the new SEO frontier.




  • http://www.searchoptmedia.com seo company philippines

    I have yet to hear from you too some ETHICAL Link Building practices that work well with this post. =)

  • http://www.mobile-phones.cn/ mobile phones deals

    I am happy to see this article here.It is very of great help to a SEO beginner.

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    This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent article. Also, I’ve shared your website in my social networks!

  • http://timjohnsondesign.com tim johnson

    Content, Content, Content on regular basis is my montra to clients. Everything here in all 101 stuff but it is always nice to review and remind what is cool and not.

  • http://trafficblogcafe.com Jaime

    Great article. I often preach ethical SEO, but then I find myself getting close to the line again. I want to make sure that I practice what I preach so I have been reading a lot of articles like this one and I am learning so much. It is true what Shirley said above, sometimes the people we work with don’t really care how you get results, they just want them and they don’t understand or simply don’t understand the consequences of what may happen…as you stated above…getting black listed by Google.

    Thanks for the positive message in keeping with internet ettiquette!

  • http://perthwebsitebuilders.com.au/ website design perth

    Perfect site! I really needed a link regarding this for the final touch of my project

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    Supurb tips about seo

  • http://www.commit.com.sg CommIT

    Good article. Unfortunately, the practice of keyword abuse is not likely to stop any time soon, simply because search engines like Bing and Yahoo continue to index the meta keywords tag.

  • Monali Pande

    I am new to the SEO and my work is to improve ranking of the keyworks, but I am very disappointed with the work, coz its a spam work. All we do is to insert link at the end of forums and blogs and repeating same contents of pages. I hate it. Wish I manager understands the above things.

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