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.