Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil”; Google wants its search engine to help people. On the other side of the battle are those working in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Knowledge itself is morally neutral. But as is the case with almost everything in this world, people’s intentions determine the social constructs of good and evil. In the SEO world, we have white hat SEOs and black hat SEOs. In short, the difference is that black hat SEOs take advantage of what they know about how Google’s search algorithm works in order to influence results for specific search queries no matter how accurate or relevant it is for users.
Now, despite what you may read on the Internet, Search Engine Optimization is a valued skill and a viable profession (just ask the folks over at SEOmoz). SEO is a service in which the majority of digitally savvy companies will invest money because they can see the long-term value of what will eventually pay for itself as “free traffic.”
I’m not going to jump to the conclusion that money is the root of all evil… at least not yet. But let’s put it this way: if Google had its way, anytime anyone searched for anything, its algorithm would provide the perfect result in the first position of the first page. Still with me so far? Good. Now let’s say there’s a small mom and pop store that sells toy trains online (and is a legitimate, well-intentioned business). Within Google’s search engine results page (SERP), that store’s website would have to compete with big box stores like Walmart, Target, etc. that may not have as good of a selection as a small store dedicated to the product. Now, is that the best thing for users?
Matt Cutts and the Google team would probably respond to this notion that SEO tactics and best practices are widely known and made public, so they are technically fully accessible by all. But let’s face it- for a lot of people, SEO is not all that intuitive and pragmatic. So to realistically level the playing field, the small mom and pop toy train shop needs to spend as much as Target to achieve the same level of optimization expertise. The logical extreme is that the more money you have, the more optimized your site will be (ceteris paribus).
Based on this simple assumption, is SEO evil? I’ll let you all mull over that for a bit. My answer to this question is forthcoming.