Immoral SEO

My argument against some forms of SEO is simple:

  1. Users have a reasonable expectation that Search Engine Result Pages will list sites in order of their relevance.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.[1]

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).

The only forms of SEO I’m arguing against art those which disjoin true relevance to the searcher with relevance as determined by Google.[1] Like this technique.

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,[2] and it gave me the chance to make a syllogism :D.


  1. 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?
  2. 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.