My argument against some forms of SEO is simple:
- Users have a reasonable expectation that Search Engine Result Pages will list sites in order of their relevance.
- Some SEO techniques make changes to/around a site that are designed to improve the site’s ranking (i.e. its perceived relevance to search engines)—but not its true relevance to users.
- Conclusion: Any such techniques deceive search engines and, in turn, their users—who end up with results that aren’t ranked by true relevance—and are therefore immoral.
It’s important to remember that SEO is not like other forms of advertising in one key respect: users understand that advertisements are paid for by the advertiser and are designed to be persuasive, so they view them skeptically; they don’t know this about SERPs though, and that’s where the deception comes in.
Many SEO techniques work by improving the site’s value to the user, and I don’t think this kind of SEO is immoral. Furthermore, some techniques (like better markup) simply aid a search engine in determining a site’s relevance; these techniques are fine because they don’t aim to deceive (and may even produce some positive consequences, e.g. in business gains or by providing the user a better search experience).
Finally, I’m not naive enough to expect that a moral argument will put even a tiny dent in the amount of bad SEO that’s performed. That will take business reasoning. Nonetheless, I think it’s a sound argument, and it gave me the chance to make a syllogism :D.
- An interesting question: if you sincerely believe that Google is under-ranking your site, is it ok to decieve Google in order to ultimately provide the end user with what you think are better results?
- Premise 1 strikes me as the argument’s weakest link, but I think it’s defensible. If you have any attacks against it, I’d love to hear them.