Is Local Internet Marketing Ethical?

13 Jul 2010 | written by Dan Garfield for the local internet marketing section(s)

Is Local Internet Marketing Ethical?

I read an interesting blog post recently that said that all local SEO was blackhat because it was done for the wrong reasons. I’m afraid I have to strongly disagree. For any local business trying to market themselves with their website, SEO (search engine optimization) is both essential and completely ethical.

Intention is good, but results are better

Some have said that the changes SEO makes to a website are misguided because they are geared towards pleasing search engines instead of pleasing the user. It is absolutely true that your website should strive in every way to be user friendly, but there are a lot of SEO considerations that don’t really affect users. They argue that since the intent is to make a website more friendly to search engines, nothing good can come of it.

We’ve all heard the expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” so it might be said that the “road to good user interaction is paved with greed.” If you’re a business, having a user friendly website isn’t really about making the world a better place through better usability–it’s about interacting better with clients and therefore making more money. This isn’t a bad thing!

This same concept can be extended to SEO. Does web compliance make the world a better place? I think so, I’m a nerd but web standards are important to me and to the progress of the Internet as a whole. But why should a business care about it? Well, standards compliance is good SEO so now we have websites striving for compliance because if they don’t the Google bot might smack them.

What about heading tags? Using an H1 for your blog post title is good SEO, but does it help the user? Not usually–CSS can make an H1 indistinguishable from just another div or span tag. But it’s good markup! It’s good SEO when websites follow standards like this, but it’s also good for the web in general. Who cares if the intention is to better highlight your content on Google as long as it’s good for everyone else?

90% of my time in SEO is fixing dumb mistakes

I can’t tell you how many clients’ websites I’ve gone onto where the majority of their content was text stuck inside of images. This is really bad for both SEO and users in general. Is there anything unethical about pulling their content out of images and putting it into text? Of course not. For the sake of standards, I would argue it’s unethical to leave the text in images.

This is something I would fix just for SEO value, but it has quite a few other benefits to usability. Taking text out of an image can make it searchable on the page if the user is looking for something quick. If they want to quote your website, they can copy and paste. If they have images disabled or are using a text-based browser (both unlikely, but it does happen), then the content will show up much better. Blind people using screen readers will also do much better because their software can read plain text.

A few years ago Target was sued for not using ALT tags. When I add alt tags (a descriptor for images) to someone’s website, I’m not usually thinking about helping the blind. Instead I’m thinking about making sure that these images can be accurately found by a search engine and that the content on the page is properly highlighted. The byproduct of SEO is that all of a sudden, blind people can use the web easier! Is it bad that my intention was just to market better? I don’t think so.

If I donate thousands of dollars to a  homeless shelter just to look good, is that bad? Maybe my motives aren’t great, but the end result is that fewer people will go hungry. So why shouldn’t we encourage it?

Bad local marketing does exist

Lest I be accused of being one sided, it is important to note that there are bad results from bad marketing. If I do everything to get a page to rank for something that it has no business ranking for, that’s bad. If I hack someone’s website to get links, that’s bad! If I spam a bunch of blogs with useless comments ,that’s bad! If I want to help a local business rank and spam all the other local websites, that will hurt their image. This is especially true in a local market. When Joe the attorney is spamming your family blog, then you’re going to dislike Joe. That’s bad marketing!

Why I do local internet marketing

I do local internet marketing to help local businesses. But I also do it to make a living! I want to make my house payment, and it so happens that helping local businesses for profit is a good way to do that. When we do local internet marketing, it’s good for everyone. It’s good for our workers, and  it’s good for our clients. We strive to do a good job for people because we know it will be good for us in the long run. Zappos has great customer service because they know it will make their business great and profitable. Amazon doesn’t have the best selection of books in the world just because they like books (though I think they do, just like I like local businesses). They have the best selection of books because it makes them money, and that’s awesome.

We love local businesses here, but we also enjoy being able to eat. These interests are not mutually exclusive. They actually go together very well–just like our marketing efforts should be good for both our clients and the world in general.

Dan Garfield
From the world of startups, Dan Garfield is the Senior Brand Manager at OrangeSoda, and author of The 5 Stages of Online Marketing. P.S. He's beat Super Mario Bros 3 without using a warp whistle.
7 Comments

7 Comments

  • AJ Wilcox |   Jul 13th, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    I totally agree with you, Dan. I read that blog post that you mentioned, and I have a bone to pick with the author on keyword usage in H1s (headings). We include keywords in headings to help the user. When we target a certain page with a certain keyword, we expect to gain traffic through that keyword. If someone searches for your page by using the keyword you are targeting, if they don’t see it fast, they’re going to hit the back button. Keyword usage on the page is definitely good for searchers. Just don’t keyword stuff and look unnatural.

  • Chethan Kashyap |   Jul 13th, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Even-though I am a webmaster too, I was not aware of this point “Blind people using screen readers will also do much better because their software can read plain text.” People speak a lot on making websites user friendly. But, they forget to concentrate on small things like keeping the text as text instead of making an image out of it. This is very good information. Dan, thank you so much.

    Yes, I do agree with the author completely regarding bad marketing in local search. I personally have experienced this. One of our client’s website/business from UK was the victim of this bad marketing. People had reported the Google LBC listing of the business as spam, just to defuse the competition. The outcome of it was the listing got deactivated from the local search results of Google and they removed the listing from their search results as well. If anyone wants to compete with their competition, there should be a healthy competition, not bad marketing.

  • TrafficColeman |   Jul 14th, 2010 at 8:33 am

    HI..Dan

    I do a lot of local marketing in my area, and its been a big boost to the companies here. Even though I do internet marketing for online businesses, I see helping the offline companies are more enjoyable for some reason or another.

    But regardless of your avenue of helping people, its always good to take pride in what you do..and give your best work.

    TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  • Preston Smith |   Jul 29th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Nice article Dan. It is interesting to me that there are actually people out there that believe it is bad to optimize for local search results when a huge majority of websites rely 99% on local search results… because they are based locally.

  • alexandra |   Oct 26th, 2010 at 2:40 am

    well, there are many ways where people go with and implement to have good traffic and page ranks of their websites. i am stuck now a days with my on page activities, reviewing them, and trying to avoid more flashing over there.. so i cant have these things ignored,

  • kelli |   Aug 1st, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Let’s just do our thing driving traffic to our website, no matter how we do it as long as it’s legal.

  • Kyoko Moeckel |   Feb 14th, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Extremely useful information particularly the last part :) I care for such information a lot. I was looking for this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

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