c1Nearly 20 percent of the graduating class have signed “The M.B.A. Oath,” a voluntary student-led pledge that the goal of a business manager is to “serve the greater good. – From the New York Times article A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality
This article made us snicker. Nearly 20%? Wow, that’s almost 1 in 5 Harvard Business School students who promise to be ethical. Of course, when it comes to SEO, I’ll bet a lot fewer would commit to playing by the rules.
New Game, New Rules
Because the business of SEO is so new, it’s hard to have a great set of rules for doing ethical business online. We know it’s not ethical to fake-out search engines with bogus copy, or to spam a forum with garbage, but how do we feel about Facebook advertising? Or selling out on your Twitter stream?
Google’s team summed it up well when they coined the phrase “Don’t Be Evil.”

Often you have to trust your gut and go with your instincts. To do this, you have to develop a good ethical compass. If you find something online that feels sleazy or even a bit dishonest, file that away in your mind for future reference. Collect enough of those examples and you’ll start to build good judgment.
Spam is the Enemy
c2Every year Gallup does a poll to rank the greatest to least ethical professions. Nurses and Teachers score pretty high on the ethics meter, and Insurance Salesmen and HMO Managers battle for bottom ranks. Imagine if there were a category for Professional Spammer. Even the Car Salesmen couldn’t compete with that. In fact, Professional Spammers are so hated, that almost no one would ever describe themselves that way.
If you’re doing anything online that feels like spam, you’re sliding down a slippery slope that leads to a big muddy pool full of congressmen and telemarketers. And online, your reputation is pretty permanent, so think twice before you derail someone’s forum post with your web address.
Be a Useful Part of the Conversation
c3The opposite of spam is being useful to the conversation. If it’s a forum about building a better pumpkin catapult, write an article that shows off some of that physics you took. If someone has a Facebook group dedicated to entrepreneurship, share some of your hard-won wisdom.
You solve a lot of the online ethical dilemmas with this phrase:
“If you’re contributing to the conversation, it’s not spam.”
Here are some examples:
• Spam: Twittering an advertisement for your product
• Not Spam: Twittering about a useful article you wrote on marketing
• Spam: Trying to game Digg.com by creating multiple accounts or writing scripts
• Not Spam: Sharing your stories on Digg.com with friends and followers
• Spam: Hijacking someone’s forum post with garbage
• Not Spam: Taking time to thoughtfully answer someone’s post (hint, your contact information is in your profile)
• Spam: Sending unsolicited emails to a mailing list (I don’t care how many accidently opted in)
• Not Spam: Emailing people who’ve given you an email address or signed up because they enjoy your content
You’re reputation online is valuable. Make the right decisions, and you’ll be greatly rewarded.