Last week I pointed out a thread at the HighRankings forum discussing the ethics of an SEO taking on multiple clients in the same industry. It turned into a rather insightful conversation despite a few rather personal jabs at yours truly. But this got me thinking about how people often confuse ordinary business decisions as being ethical ones. Ethical decisions must be made by business owners and employers every day, but even matters of personal ethics can not be broadly distributed or mandated as the de facto ethics for all.
If you read through the thread, the initial question, “should SEOs work for multiple clients within the same industry?” was posed as an ethical issue. Some jumped on the ethical bandwagon while others didn’t see it as a matter of ethics at all. I came down on the latter site and explained my reasoning there, but will provide additional insights here.
I think decisions of ethics come down to deception. If your intent is to deceive, regardless of how legally binding a contract might be, then you are acting in an unethical manner. Any attempt to give one impression while doing the opposite is, in my opinion, unethical. I often find that those who are so willing to use ethics as a measure to judge other people or businesses are often those that suffer from ethical lapses of their own. Therefore they overcompensate in one area they believe strongly in by painting all who disagree as unethical.
But believing strongly in something, as a business decision, does not make that part of the ethical equation; it’s just simply your preferred business practice. In the thread, those making the “ethical” argument bring very good points to the table when it comes to whether or not having multiple clients in the same industry is a good business practice or not. Those points should be considered very thoughtfully by all in the industry so an informed decision can be made.
While personal ethics play a great role in one’s business practices, some ethical viewpoints are simply personal. For example, my personal ethics prevent me from taking on clients in the porn industry. Do I think it’s unethical for any SEOs to promote porn sites? Not at all, since it is legal to do so. Now, I might take my personal ethics and make a political fight out of it should I choose to do so, but that’s another issue altogether.
The point is that I can hold a very strong belief, use that to make very good business decisions, one way or the other, but at the same time not hold that business decision as the de facto standard of ethics for all other business.