SEO, Ethics and Business

Lets be honest, SEO as an industry has a pretty bad name. Its probably a function of the fact that the industry is unregulated, there are no cohesive and professional industry bodies that guide its members around ethics and there are no tertiary level education requirements to enter the industry. Given the amount of demand for our services too, there is plenty of work for everyone so it does attract people with different standards of professionalism.

Over the last 3 years though, I have seen some absolute shockers. So I thought I’d write a post with some guidelines around what I see as ethical behaviors, behaviors which should be common place in our industry. I know, I know, it seems pretty common sense. Its disappointing though when we see simple things being missed – or deliberately omitted – causing degradation of reputation for the whole industry. I’d love to hear your thoughts. this is my opinion only based on recent experiences I’ve seen.

Always Try Your Best and Add Value

As part of your business you should have a clear vision about the value you personally, and your business is adding to your clients. Always try hard to add honest value to your clients. Your retainer is payment for that value. However the value of your services to your client should exceed what you get paid. That’s the only thing stopping them from employing someone internally to do your job.

The simple fact in our industry is that if you add value and communicate effectively, you’ll never lose a client.

Be Honest

Be honest in all your dealings, be honest about how you represent yourself (IE. don’t claim roles in other people’s companies and experiences that never happened) and be honest in how the industry operates.

Don’t try and blind your clients with confusions and jargon. Don’t try and cover up things with a web of lies. Don’t try and win sales through bullying, deception or misdirection.

Take Responsibility For Your Mistakes

Business isn’t perfect. We don’t get out of bed thinking today we will deliberately make a mess of something. Sometimes things don’t go our way though and we make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes happen out of our control. Other times we missed an opportunity to prevent a controllable mistake and accidentally messed things up. It happens to everyone.

The mistake isn’t the point. The point is how you deal with it. It has always worked well for me to front up with those impacted, be honest about the what and why of the mistake and present a plan to rectify it. There is actually a word that covers all this. Its “guarantee”.

The worst thing you can do in the face of a mistake is try and cover it up.

Don’t Set Up In Competition With Your Clients

If you see one of your clients has a good business, add value to them by supporting them with your SEO services. If you do a good job, you’ll find it pays back into your business with a client you never lose and through referrals and recommendations. This is how every one wins.

Don’t be tempted to replicate their business model for your own benefit though. Its stupid and dishonest. It will tarnish your reputation and create a massive distraction to both your businesses. And YES – setting up in your girlfriends name, or behind another family member is the same thing. This is something that just shouldn’t happen. If you can’t see this as the huge breach of trust it is, you shouldn’t be in any kind of business.

Don’t Defraud Your Clients – Give Them What They Paid For

If your clients are paying for a 20 keyword package, this is what they should be serviced with. Reducing their packages to maintenance or a 5 keywords package, even for a couple of months is actually fraud. Sure – it may save you some costs in the short term, but its a recipe for a jail term. It also leaves a footprint and is easily uncovered by the next SEO company pitching to your clients.

Like the previous point though – this should be a no brainer. If you believe its acceptable to reduce clients’ services while charging them for full service, maybe you’d be better in paid employment where you don’t have the discretion to make these types of decisions.

Don’t Try and Claim Other People’s Value As Your Own

If you are responsible for mentoring people and they start doing well – whether it is due to you or in spite of you, the correct thing is to bask in the glory of a job well done. Don’t try and claim the rewards of their efforts as your own. You’ll lose friends and all credibility in your working circle.

Learn Everything You Can About What You Are Doing

Our industry is very fast moving. There are lots of things outside of our control, like for example, the major platforms on which we base our services and the way in which they evolve their businesses. Even though these things are outside our control, it doesn’t make us powerless. Learn all you can about strategies today, the direction of the powerbrokers, likely shifts in strategies and ideas for tomorrow.

This will make you an expert, one who can add real value to your clients. This will also enhance your reputation – as you are the guy people will start saying “knows stuff”. So they come to you for advice – then give you their business.

If You Collect Money In Trust – Don’t Use It For Other Things

If you collect money “in trust” from your clients, remember it is not yours. The only thing it should ever be used for is the purpose the client intended.

The easiest example in our industry is collecting AdWords or FaceBook advertising budget on behalf of a client and paying Google or Facebook direct as part of your services. If you do this, this money should be put aside 100% for this advertising. It should never be used to cashflow other parts of your business (no, not even unplanned for legal proceedings) even if your intention is to “pay it back”.

Money collected in trust for clients should never be touched, other than for the purpose it was collected for.

So they are my key points. As I said, it all looks pretty common sense. It is in failing simple ethical standards like these though that our whole industry is tarnished. And that is even before we look at the skills and execution side of things.

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