The Internet Advertising Bureau UK recently developed a set of good practice principles for online promotions, to ensure companies that collect and use data for behavioural advertising do so ethically.

Firms that have signed up to date include Google, AOL, Microsoft Advertising and the not-at-all-controversial Phorm.

The principles, which signatories have agreed to abide by after September this year, are fairly obvious.

They all relate to notifying people of data collection, offering them a choice about whether or not they want to participate and educating the online community as to the benefits and purpose of behavioural advertising.

So, does the search engine optimisation (SEO) industry need to worry about principles?

There is a wealth of best practice advice out there, from blogs casually addressing elements of SEO, to informative guides like this Econsultancy report.

What are the key principles of what we do? There is extensive debate about this and the old 'white hat versus black hat' argument has been done to death.

As far as I can see, search engines improve their algorithms constantly and what is unethical but safe today could see your client plunging down the results pages tomorrow. Risk it, risk destroying their online business.

Google lists four key principles for our sector. These are:

Number one: create pages for users and not search engines. Do not attempt to present different content to either group.

Number two: Avoid 'tricks' and question whether or not the action you are taking will add value to users and if you would bother doing it if search engines did not exist.

Number three: Do not take part in link schemes and avoid linking to web spammers and "bad neighbourhoods".

Number four: Do not use unauthorised computer programs to submit pages and evaluate rankings. These consume computing resources, in violation of the search giant's terms of service.

Yahoo! explains it wants to rank pages that offer: original content with genuine value; pages designed for humans rather than search engines; links that help people find interesting and related content; accurate and descriptive metadata; and good web design.

Live Search has a similar set of human-focused criteria; it warns webmasters from keyword stuffing, from using hidden texts or links and from using link farms to increase the number of inbound links to a page.

So, three leading search engines, three very similar sets of principles. Is it possible to narrow these down or summarise the thinking behind them?

I think there is and it is simply: make sure that every effort you make serves to enhance the experience of a human visitor to your site.

Search engines only want to deliver useful content to searchers and the quicker the SEO industry focuses on prioritising that sort of work, the greater ranking longevity we will win for our clients.

Okay, rant over. If you agree or disagree, your comments are most welcome.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 27 April, 2009 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is CEO at SEO and content marketing agency BlueGlass, he can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)



In regards to Phorm, it would appear that BT have not signed up to the new IAB guidelines. This is important since it will be BT who will be illegally intercepting traffic on Phorm's behalf.

Another interesting note: articles I've seen have quotes from Phorm about 'systems managed by Phorm' when referring to the legality of what they want to do. Very convenient since it completely ignores what BT are doing since these systems would not be under Phorms direct control.

about 9 years ago


David King

I think Googles 4 principals are bang on, and (quite smugly) I'm happy to say I abide in them all!

Although with that said, I do so not out of understanding like they have, but from an ethos that I came up with and stick to quite vigourously, although I've never written them down... ad-lib time!

  • All my web activities should be genuine, I will only write about things that interest me
  • Let my HTML be for content and my CSS for design
  • Always comment on the articles I read with a genuine response
  • Be myself

Rather than trying to figure out "The SEO System" I am happy with the knowledge that the SEO giants are constantly trying to index their data in better, more natural ways, doing things in an unnatural way only means you'll be obsolete in a short period of time, whereas my methods will only get stronger!

about 9 years ago



These guidelines are encouraging; for once it sounds as if the search engines are trying to keep up with me, rather than the other way around. 

As a small business I decided early on that trying to please search engines was a game I would lose. I don't have the resources.  My site design and SEO are far from perfect but I have stayed with delivering information to my customers, rather than to Google. 

Don't yet have much evidence that Google has rewarded me for this approach - I guess they are just trying to catch up.


about 9 years ago


Gerry White

If it wasn't for search engines, we wouldn't be creating xml sitemaps and robots.txt, attaching nofollows when describing pages that are maybe bad or just generally not reccomended by us - and yet this is all for the search engines. I could write a long list of the day to day 'good practices' we recommend to clients, most of which is aimed not at users but at search engines.  Of course I could list practices others recommend that we think are just plain wrong (and yet still work), it is a hard thing to say to your own client don't do that, (but he is beating you to the number 1 spot by doing it ...).

If you Google "how to increase pagerank" you will see how bad practice can get you at least into the first 5!

about 9 years ago


Stewart Turton

I just googled "how to increase pagerank" and came across which ranks no 1. Very amusing, but also sad as some people will read that and believe it!

about 9 years ago

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