Want Respect? Be an Ethical SEO Consultant

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Rodney Dangerfield

By Jason Knapfel

Certain professions just have a bad reputation. While there may be an element of truth to some of the criticisms, the vast majority in those fields obviously don’t deserve to be lumped into the small group who stain the industry.

While I’ll leave the aforementioned professions anonymous (I think we all know them anyway), the SEO industry is the proverbial new kid on the block. The fresh face with a foul odor, thanks to a very aggressive underbelly who are not only terrible at what they do, but inundate everyone on the planet with spammy propositions.

But if you’re willing to weather the bad pub and prove to your clients you are different and worth hiring, you need to start by practicing ethical SEO.

Avoid the Love ’em and Leave ’em Approach

“One night I came home. I figured, let my wife come on. I’ll play it cool. Let her make the first move. She went to Florida.” – Rodney Dangerfield

Are you happy just to collect money from a client, even if it means they’ll be leaving you in a few short months? You should always serve your clients’ best interests first… but let’s talk about you for a minute. If you want to be successful, I mean really successful, focus on building long-term relationships with clients.

That’s not what unethical SEO types do. They’re happy to churn and burn ’em. That’s not only bad from a moral perspective, but you’re building an unstable business with a growing bad reputation that will eventually come back to haunt you.

Establish Realistic Expectations

But you also need to set the right level of expectations with your clients. You can start on the right foot by not over-promising. In other words, tell your clients what they need to know not what they want to know. Never “guarantee” #1 rankings in Google, when it clearly doesn’t work that way. Of course, hitting number one in rankings for targeted keywords should be a goal, but remember this is a fluid thing. You may be number one for a while, for certain people, then the next month number three.

Think more like baseball batting averages, where you may not always come to the plate and hit a home run, but if you pound out those singles and doubles, and pepper in the occasional grand slam, you’ll be a major factor in a client’s success and hopefully exceed expectations (the realistic ones that you set!).

Success Isn’t Easy

“It’s tough to stay married. My wife kisses the dog on the lips, yet she won’t drink from my glass!” – Rodney Dangerfield

Even if you have the intention of a long-term relationship with your client, simply declaring it doesn’t make it so. Lasting relationships aren’t easy, because successful web marketing isn’t easy. If it was, companies wouldn’t look to hire us. It’s much more than search engine optimization. Sites need to be designed to convert, a social media strategy needs to be in place, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Web search is increasingly being tailored to individuals based on location, search history and social signals. It takes a comprehensive approach – and time – to achieve success, so don’t sugarcoat it.

Do Outreach With Authenticity

The bad reputation isn’t just with people who hire SEO firms. In fact, it’s probably even worse with other marketers or webmasters who are inundated with guest post submissions, which became the go-to link building tactic once low level directories went out of favor. With no barrier of entry to speak of, everybody and anybody is contacting sites to guest post on, which makes you guilty by association. Understand the nuances of effective outreach, which starts with authentic emails that don’t sound canned.

Google’s periodic algorithm updates are always good for putting the SEO community in panic mode (wouldn’t it be sadistic fun to be behind the curtain and watch the rest of us squirm?). In reality, these updates aren’t periodic at all, but reportedly happen hundreds of times a year.

So, how do you weather the storm? While there may not be anything inherently unethical about some of the increasingly frowned upon SEO tactics, if you treat most of your work like old fashioned marketing, you will be well served. Meaning, think about user experience and building brand awareness before search engines. Find ways to make people want to talk about and interact with your client’s business. If you do it right, the search engines will reward you with, well, respect. 

Google’s end goal has always been the same: optimize their users’ experience by rewarding the most natural SEO signals. Those of us who approach SEO in an ethical manner are saddled with the unfair uphill battle of proving we are “different.” Proving that SEO isn’t inherently underhanded or manipulative.

True SEO professionals understand the impact they can have on their clients’ business, their employees and their families and they perfect their craft and work hard at delivering results. Just think, helping a business thrive can lead to growth that involves hiring new employees. You can have a direct impact on your local economy! Taking pride in what is achieved rather than just cashing an invoice compels you to do it the right way.

The good news is there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Google has gradually tightened a noose around black hat SEOs, so if you “play by the rules” you are more apt to survive… good reputation intact.

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