SEO and ethics might seem like too lofty a subject matter, and/or sound like I’m trying to be more profound than I actually am. The latter is definitely true, although I do not think there is anything wrong with considering what SEO might mean for a business’s reputation, for that is sort of the whole point to begin with, essentially.
For instance, what if the SERP of your brand is littered with, well, unfriendly opinions about you; and you, of course, want to do whatever you can to diminish those opinions; that is, hide them in some way or get them removed completely. I would like to think that these options respectively correspond to a low path and a high path in dealing with negative feedback. Fortunately, it is possible to have the two converge into a practical, ethical middle.
So your SEO efforts have you nice and optimized for your set of keywords, right? You come up proudly on the first page of search engines whose bots adore your website’s layout as well as the quality of its backlinks. To deal with the unfortunate tales of dissatisfaction that take up space in your rightful place on the SERP, let’s say you decide to step up your SEO efforts big time and push those freaking whiners (I’m looking at it from your perspective, which is an angry one for this example, ok?) into the darkness from whence they came. “Their plight be damned!” you say to yourself and, maybe, your employees, “Just get their accursed footprints off our sacred first page-most people don’t search past it anyway!”
Fair enough, but not really. If you manage to work hard enough and also push harder than your
unhappy customers (at least for a time), this strategy will likely buy you a few precious moments ‘in the light’. Still, your main problem is not fully dealt with: people are pissed, they are very likely talking about how much they are pissed to others who feel the same, are probably continuing to do so as we speak; and they will not go away because people kind of like to search for what is going on in the streams of social media, which means your name might be seen with all kinds of uncool associations. It’s a bit like high school: things can really suck if you’re unpopular.
It’s good to try and purge your precious SERP of all unfriendly links through increased SEO, but it just will not do in the long run; those links can and probably will resurface if problems remain unheard.
You cannot avoid your destiny; you must face your customers.
SEO is necessary but not entirely sufficient for the improvement/maintenance of a business’s reputation, particularly one that is receiving significant doses of obloquy from angry people. Getting a human voice for your organization is imperative in this day and age-a day and age in which many of the standard marketing ploys face stiff resistance from a population that has long since been hardened to them. No matter how painstaking it may be, deal with the criticism head on and do your best to make things right through an outreach in social media. You will be surprised at how much nicer people are when they know someone is actually hearing them. The darkness from whence they came has not left them devoid of reason or sympathy, and you must understand this if you’re going to understand them, and thus take care of their difficulties.
And while you’re engaged in the social world, of course be ruthless yet ethical with your SEO (no need for the problems to remain if they’re being handled, right?). This is the middle path, albeit not the one spoken of by Buddhists and people of like mind. Please the search engines to no end with excellent keywords, links, and site design, but be sure to do just as much for the people who uphold your élan vital in the first place through an endeavor in social media.
And may the force be with you! (Aren’t you inspired now?)