Search Engines, SEO and Ethics: The Need For Disclosure – Part 5

1.3bn internet users

The Players in SEO

Many studies on internet users have determined that the majority of internet users cannot differentiate between paid/altered search and pure search results. Most users have little understanding of how search engines retrieve web pages or how they rank or prioritize links on a results page. The truth is that the majority of users never click beyond the first page of search results. They trusted search engines to present the best, most accurate and, unbiased results on the first page.

There are four main players who are affected by the impact SEO has on search engine practices: SEO firms, search engines, internet users, and website owners. SEO firms are affected by the actions of other SEO practitioners who by acting ethically, or unethically, may affect the reputation and the business practices of the industry. Search engines are affected because SEO firms interfere with their ability to provide the most relevant information to users.

Internet users, who are probably most at risk because they are most closed off from the process of search engines ranking, can be easily misled or misinformed. Users often assume the information they are retrieving is legitimate, correct, and the most up to date. Finally, website owners who employ SEO’s run the risk of being black listed and having their website removed from search engine rankings if their employed SEO firm is using unethical techniques that violate search engines guidelines (i.e. keyword stuffing, cloaking, etc.).

With the context of SEO each of the following players has a number roles and responsibilities.

Roles and Responsibilities of Searchers

  • Locate and use search engines with results that best match their requirements and personalities (demographic and psychographic profiles)
  • Use search modifiers and tools in order to tailor search results to their exact requirements
  • Have a basic awareness of technical issues
  • Be able to recognize clearly labeled advertising in search results
  • Obey terms of service of the search engines they use and the sites they visit

Roles and Responsibilities of Search Engines

  • Crawl and index the Web
  • Represent Web sites fairly in search results
  • Obey and further develop robots standards
  • Obtain a market of searchers
  • Determine relevance of resources to queries made by those searchers
  • Provide good quality, trustworthy search results with clearly labeled advertising (if any)

Roles and Responsibilities of Site Owners

  • Provide a good quality Web site designed to appeal to particular target markets
  • Correct any fundamental problems with architecture, accessibility, usability
  • Write or rewrite the content to ensure suitability for the target markets
  • Market the site using links designed for people to see and follow
  • Obey the terms of service of the search engines and directories the site is submitted to.

This sort of information can lead to a greater awareness of the technological impact of search engines and SEO by making technology and its functioning transparent to users. Many within the internet industry urge search engines to inform users about how search engines work make users aware of commercial content, and to protect users from poor content. Search engines and SEO have created what Brey (2000) would call black boxes of information that are not evident, obvious, transparent or open to inspection. These technologies (search engines and SEO) are “rather obscure, subsumed and black boxed in ways that only makes it ‘surface’ available for inspection. Imbedded in the software and hardware codes of these systems are complex rules of logic and categorization that may have material consequences for those using it, or for the production of social order more generally” (Introna and Nissenbaum 2000)

In order for the players in this situation to fully understand, Search engines and SEO need to make their technology sufficiently transparent so users can ensure they are getting the information they searched for.

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One Response to Search Engines, SEO and Ethics: The Need For Disclosure – Part 5

  1. Workouts says:

    Awesome post! I will keep an on eye on your blog.

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