0 Code of Ethics

As you know from the section of the course that discussed the history of search engines and optimization, there was a time when the optimization process was simple and involved little more that tweaking meta tags and repeating keywords within the content of a page. As such, there were a limited number of SEO companies.

Today the industry is highly competitive. Worldwide, there are now thousands of search engine optimization companies. There is also an ever increasing number of websites and many of them are already well optimized, making the competition much worse. In the past, when an SEO company optimized a client's site, most other sites in direct competition were poorly optimized or not optimized at all; the game was easier. But now, almost every competitor of yours is using the services of some SEO to optimize their site.

As you can guess, this makes the game really tough. Also, this leads up to half of the SEO / SEM companies into considering unethical and illegal strategies in order to get their customers to the top of search engine result pages.

Nevertheless, this rarely gives these companies any competitive advantage as most solid and respectable companies seeking SEO services now recognize that guarantees of top-10 rankings sound, at the very least, suspicious.

Let's imagine a company called FakeCompany LTD has a website that offers some products. Except product advertising, this site does not contain any valuable information for visitors so the search engines do not rank it high. So, FakeCompany hires SEO expert Mr. Doe to help them with rankings because Mr. Doe claims he can get any site into the Top-10.

What this SEO expert does is stuff the company pages with irrelevant keywords, creating a link system with thousands of hidden links and then implements some advanced spamming techniques like dynamic page generation and cloaking.

As a result, the rankings of the page are initially boosted. FakeCompany is happy and pays the fee to Mr. Doe.

Still, visitors coming to the site see even more of a mess than before the "optimization" and they are still unable to find any valuable content. Since they find the FakeCompany's site for the irrelevant keywords, that is, not for those they are primarily seeking, the conversion of visitors into customers is very low.

As a result, customers are unsatisfied and FakeCompany receives huge bills for traffic which hasn't been converted and hasn't brought any real profit.

The search engine which allowed for the spammer's site on top of its listings is also unsatisfied since it's losing its popularity among Web surfers because they are serving irrelevant pages. So it invests money into developing a more advanced spider that finally cracks Mr. Doe's tricks and the positions of FakeCompany fall down. Eventually, FakeCompany is excluded from the search engine index entirely because an unsatisfied visitor or a competitor reported to the search engine that FakeCompany is using spam methods.

Of course, FakeCompany is unsatisfied with this situation and sues Mr. Doe to get their money refunded. Mr. Doe is unwilling to cooperate or perhaps even managed to escape before all this mess started. The best case scenario is that FakeCompany gets its money back but is never able to restore its rankings and has to invest in a new website.

Nobody is satisfied in this story, however such things do happen now and again, even in today's more sophisticated SEO environment.

Unfortunately, there's no solution for such cases except abandoning spam techniques entirely and following a Code of Ethics for all Search Engine Optimizers which maintains their good reputation and withstand crowds of unethical SEO companies that wave the banner of illegal yet "effective" promotion strategies.

Adhering to a Code of Ethics (or Code of Conduct), if presented properly, may serve as an effective competitive advantage.

As we believe that such Codes should be unified across the Web, we will not invent our own. Instead, we support the one maintained by a well-known industry expert Bruce Clay and his company. This perfect collection of rules can be found at www.bruceclay.com and we provide a copy here for your reference.

Code of Ethics

Whereas all parties are working towards presenting relevant and high quality information in an easy to use format to information seekers and, whereas SEO practitioners are being contracted to assist clients in obtaining higher rankings for client pages, we (and those linking to this page) are voluntarily adhering to the below SEO Code of Ethics:

No SEO practitioner will intentionally do harm to a client. This involves the continued use of any technology or procedure (without appropriate care) that is known to result in having the client site removed from search engine indexes or directories or rendered inoperative. Questionable adherence to standards must be addressed via the Robots Exclusion Standard.

No SEO practitioner will intentionally violate any specifically published and enforced rules of search engines or directories. Should rules and guidelines change (as they often do), the SEO practitioner will promptly take action to comply with the changes as they apply to all clients. Where rules and guidelines are unclear, the SEO practitioner will seek clarification and await approval from the appropriate search engine before continuing to utilize potentially harmful technology or procedures.

No SEO practitioner will intentionally mislead, harm or offend a consumer. All individuals utilizing a search engine to visit a site will not be misled by the information presented to or by the search engine or harmed or offended upon arrival at the client site. This includes techniques like "bait and switch" where the client page does not substantially contain and is not clearly associated with the optimized phrase or may be reasonably offensive to targeted visitors.

No SEO practitioner will intentionally violate any laws.
This involves the deliberate and continued violation of copyright, trademark, servicemark or laws related to spamming as they may exist at the state, federal or international level.

No SEO practitioner will falsely represent the content of the client site. This includes the practice of presenting different versions of Web pages to different users except where that information is altered solely to meet browser specifications and needs, sensitivity to regional factors such as language or product specific needs. In general, ALL requests for a specific URL should be served identical HTML by the Web server.

No SEO practitioner will falsely represent others work as their own. This includes the taking of work from others in whole or in part and representing this work as their own. The SEO practitioner may not make verbatim copies of the work of others (instead of authoring original work) without the prior consent of the other party.

No SEO practitioner will misrepresent their own abilities, education, training, standards of performance, certifications, trade group affiliations, technical inventory or experiences to others. This includes quantifiable statements related to project timetables, performance history, company resources (staff, equipment and proprietary products) and client lists. Guarantees will be restricted to items over which the SEO practitioner has significant and reasonable control.

No SEO practitioner will participate in a conflict of interest without prior notice to all parties involved.
This includes the practice of choosing to emphasize one client over another in competing keywords because there is more personal gain for the practitioner. All clients are treated equally and all will receive equal best effort in their Search Engine Optimization.

No SEO practitioner will set unreasonable client expectations.
This includes the practice of accepting more than a reasonable number of clients competing for the same keywords and implying that all will be in the top positions in the search engines. This also includes the implication that results can be obtained in an unreasonable amount of time given the known condition of the search engines, client site and competition.

All SEO practitioners will offer their clients both internal and external dispute resolution procedures.
This includes the publishing of address and phone numbers on primary Web pages, the inclusion of third-party dispute resolution links prominently placed within the practitioner’s website and contracts that include sections discussing dispute resolution.

All SEO practitioners will protect the confidentiality and anonymity of their clients with regards to privileged information and items implying testimonial support for the SEO practitioner. All staff of SEO practitioner shall be bound to protect information that is not generally known as it may harm the client. The SEO practitioner will not include the publishing of testimonials and proprietary logos of client lists, press releases and other collateral discussing the client without explicit approvals.”

We try to keep our sites and services compliant with this code and advise that you do the same; however, if you don't wish to use this code, you are welcome to make any custom modifications or invent your own Code, as long as it remains legal, transparent and ethical.

0 What is Gray-Hat SEO ?

Search engine guidelines clearly define Black-Hat techniques as spamming techniques. You can recognize and avoid them in your SEO campaigns. However, there are so called Gray-Hat techniques, which are temporarily unknown or not restricted by search engines.
Gray-Hats are different because they try to do things they believe are ill-defined by Google, without first asking permission.
Let's look at SearchSecurity.com's description of this notion: "Gray-Hat describes a cracker (or, if you prefer, hacker) who exploits a security weakness in a computer system or product in order to bring the weakness to the attention of the owners. Unlike a Black-Hat, a Gray-Hat acts without malicious intent. The goal of a Gray-Hat is to improve system and network security. However, by publicizing vulnerability, the Gray-Hat may give other crackers the opportunity to exploit it. This differs from the White-Hat who alerts system owners and vendors of vulnerability without actually exploiting it in public".
Google has clearly defined Gray-Hat SEO as a risky, ill-advised method. Here is the indirect spam definition of Gray-Hat techniques from the top search engine: "It's not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn't included on this page, Google approves of it.
Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit… If you believe that another site is abusing Google's quality guidelines, please report that site… spam reports we receive are used to create scalable algorithms that recognize and block future spam attempts."
Now, having a sufficient number of Gray-Hat definitions, you should clearly understand the danger of any spam or spam-like technique. Gray-Hat techniques should not be used. Never deceive anyone, and avoid such methods at any cost.
Here we'd like to show some examples of Gray-Hat techniques:

Outdated Gray-Hat Techniques

Mild keyword stuffing
The keyword stuffing technique has a deceptive meaning by its origin. Search Engines recommend that site owners write qualitative and relevant contents for visitors but not the ranking mechanism of the engines. The main criterion for using keywords in your copy should be the question: will you apply this technique (add numerous, repetitive keywords) to human visitors only? Gray-Hats prefer to violate this guideline in a mild way. The number of keywords they use in the meaningful areas of the Web pages is close to the limit allowed.
Irrelevant keywords in image ALT tags
This technique means using Alt Tags stuffed by keywords unrelated to the specific image. The only purpose of this fraudulent technique is to attract more traffic to the pages. As you know, any type of keyword stuffing is offensive and violates the search engine's guidelines. They can track the keywords you have chosen and correlate them with the keyword profile of the Web page and the whole site.

Advanced Gray-Hat Techniques

Search engines strictly forbid cloaking for the purpose of optimization. "Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines. Serving up different results based on user agent may cause your site to be perceived as deceptive and removed from the Google index" – state Google Webmaster guidelines.
A legitimate example of cloaking is to serve different areas of your site for the search engine to see but not the users. A ‘member's only' section can help in this case. Gray-Hat cloaking is mainly unintentional or borders on the harmful usage of different pages.
Unintentional cloaking may occur when you serve different content to dedicated audiences or some other groups. Such techniques are very risky and we recommend you contact each search engine, present your reasoning, and allow them the opportunity to approve.
Black-Hat shadow cloaking starts when site owners manipulate this method intentionally to influence a search engine's ranking algorithm.
Publishing duplicate content We have spent a lot of time teaching people how to write proper, keyword-targeted and valuable texts. Starting from the keyword research stage up to fresh content writing, these works demand special skills or additional costs if you hire a professional copy writer.
Instead of relevant, interesting, and unique contents, hackers manipulate duplicate content using the same few hundred words on every page or copying some one else's.
The Black-Hat technique copies the whole volume of the original text while Gray-Hats prefer to mix and dilute the parts.
Gray-Hats play around with margins to trick the search engines. There is no doubt that fresh, unique content is king, and duplicate content is very, very bad.
There are cases where duplicate content is not only legitimate, but is to be expected. To learn more about legitimate types of duplicate content and how to deal with multiple versions of the same content, refer to the "Duplicate Content Issues" lesson of this training course.
Content mashup Content mashup may be relative to the activity depicted above. Although we deal with the subject of content stealing here, we should mention that content is mashed in a more sophisticated fashion this time. Gray-Hat sites using the content mashup method generate non-unique content from other Web pages.
Irrelevant links As you can guess from the name of this technique, irrelevant links may not correspond to the topic of the website. Search engines regard these kinds of links as legal but won't give you much weight for them. That's why they go grey and don't hurt your reputation so much.
An example of mild spamming is asking links from every one of your clients or offering some other form of collaboration.
Off-topic link exchange If you exchange links with a site other than one that deals with your topic, you'll be bordering on the Black-Hat technique. Whether it is a Gray or Black-Hat exchange will depend on the number of off-topic links involved. Spammers know that several off-topic links may be devalued but not penalized.
Mild artificial link schemes Link schemes have already been defined in the previous Lesson devoted to the Black-Hat SEO techniques. However some kinds of artificial link schemes can be untraceable if mixed with other variety of generating backlinks. For example, links created within a narrow thematic niche may overlap or create Web rings, even without the initial purpose of manipulating search algorithms, so it may be hard for the search engines to discover the real intentions of website owners.
Remember that link schemes created for the sole purpose of manipulating SE algorithms may be considered Gray-Hat or even Black-Hat SEO. Thus, reputation-conscious website owners should think twice before getting engaged in unnatural link building - especially when websites hosted on the same server, or websites linking to bad neighborhoods take part in a link exchange game.
Paid links
Not all paid links violate search engine guidelines. "Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results." - as Google states in their Webmasters/Site owners Help (http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66736).
Link buying is actually a site owner's responsibility, which is the border technique between the law and punishment, advertising, and manipulative spamming actions. Generally, link buying is a loophole in the search engine's defense.
To follow the White-Hat SEO, purchased links should be closed from the crawlers by using a robots.txt file or adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the <a> tag. Other methods will be punished the day the truth is known. If you ignore this guideline, you'll fall into Gray-Hat and this could play a dramatic role in your PageRank and SE rankings.
Remember to follow the white SEO line in your optimization works. Ranks should be earned honestly, and search engines will give you the opportunity to keep them with your relevant website.
Domain buying
Domain buying is another Gray-Hat technique used to get a quick ranking boost. The main idea here is simple: you buy an active domain name and get the PageRank (or "link juice") that comes with that website as a bonus to it!
Google is aware of this practice as well, and checks the domains for a long time. If your new domain name is really better for the spelling options or brand awareness, you are safe and sound.
However, the search engines can nullify the links of the domain you bought. You should know that if you act legitimately, you will be out of the SE radar. When you start illegal behavior, the search engines will regard you with suspicion.
Illegal Link Baiting
Link baiting is a marketing technique Social Media Marketing entrepreneurs encourage and use widely to promote a site, business, or brand through different social media channels. This idea has diffused and became another promotion option, which helps a business become engaged and interact with existing or potential consumers.
The concept of link baiting is creating content and tools that people want to link their websites to, or creating article content people actually want to publish.
Illegal link baiting starts when promotion becomes deceptive or irrelevant, and links or social bookmarking votes are spread via the group of gaming members using payment as well.
Gray-Hat methods include irrelevant widgets / tools of a viral nature spammers offer as links to off-topic sites. Because Gray-Hat SEO is a risky and ill-advised method, we strongly recommend you avoid any deceptive spam techniques at any cost. Always bear in mind future competitors' spam reports and the search engines' penalties for abusing their guidelines, penalties which can really hurt your rankings and the whole website.
If you still are doubtful about the color of your SEO techniques, read how search engines can adapt to the webmaster's behavior. According to SEOMoz, (http://www.seomoz.org/article/analysis-of-link-spam-alliances-paper) SEs can apply the following methods to track and prevent spam:
  1. "The use of visitor click-through rates and time spent on websites to determine quality.
  2. Advanced text analysis to determine legitimacy and quality of content.
  3. Vision-based analysis of Web page layouts to find commonalities in spam vs. non-spam pages.
  4. Editorial reviews of suspicious sites.
  5. Deflation in rankings of sites with suspected artificial link structures.
  6. Monitoring of rates of change in the speed of link acquisition and loss.
  7. Spam reports by users (and competitors)".
To sum everything up, Gray-Hat methods border Black-Hat techniques and may result in your website being banned. Moreover, these methods constantly lose their effectiveness as the search engines evolve and regularly update their indexing and ranking algorithms.

What you need to remember:

  1. Don’t use Gray-Hat techniques - they are risky and ill-advised SEO methods.
  2. If you go Gray, you will risk being reported to search engines by your competitors.

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