Ethical Implications of SEO

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a technique that virtually any employed person working with a website needs to know today. Even if you are an independent blogger, you need to know this. SEO is how people are getting noticed online today and it’s not going to change any time soon. There are millions, or maybe billions, of websites that are all demanding YOUR attention. How will YOUR’S stand out?

Since most people use Google as a search engine, Google has been at the forefront of SEO strategies over the past few years in developing new algorithms. As this Forbes article points out, Google is always changing its algorithms so that companies have to keep coming up with new ways to make sure your eyeballs see their sites.

What’s ironic is that I am trying to increase my own SEO in this very blog post. The link I added a couple of sentences back is an example of link building, a major way sites try to increase their sites position on Google. I’m hoping that you click on that link so that my post get’s more traffic and that maybe Forbes will decide to link to my post. The title of this blog post is popular Google search phrase. I’ve tagged this post with keywords that people would use in a Google search. SEO can best be summed up like this: imagine you are a dog walker and have your own dog-walking business. Imagine that your name is Samantha and you live in Amherst, Massachusetts. And of course you have your own website for this business because you want people to find you.

Now, you may be tempted to create a cute URL like sammiedogwalker.com. But this won’t help you. Think about who your customers are: most likely people in the Amherst area. And then think about where they’re going to go to find a dog walker. That’s right: GOOGLE! Then think about the search term or phrase they’ll use in Google, probably something like “dog walkers in amherst ma.” If your URL instead was amherstdogwalker.com, you have a very good shot at being at the top of the first page of Google results, this is the goal!

And while SEO may seem like a good thing if you know how it works and can get on that first page of Google results, it raises some issues for journalists who also have to play this game. Journalists have to use links in their stories just like everyone else. Journalists are also using certain phrases or search terms in their stories that may not be accurate just so their stories get higher SEO on Google. Is it ethical for journalists to feel pressured to write this way so that their stories get widely read online? Examples of this are the crazy headlines you see from Buzzfeed or Huffpost that are meant to catch eyeballs and get a higher ranking in Google searches.

It’s a tough call to make as to whether or not journalists should continue to cave into the SEO pressure. We want our work to get noticed, right? How can we do that if we’re competing with thousands of other people writing the same stories? Focusing on building a following is one way journalists can rise above the tide in this new digital age. Making people feel compelled to visit your site every day will make SEO less necessary if you are already able to get that xxx number of hits a day from people typing your URL directly into their web browser without going through Google.

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