The Ethical Web Philosophy

I believe in the concept of an ‘ethical web’ – a philosophy that looks to a better experience for all internet users, both individuals and organisations. The ethical web philosophy lays the foundations for how organisations should conduct their activities on line. By applying some basic rules, organisations can gain an instant advantage over their competition in the online marketplace.

“The gentleman understands what is right; the lesser man understands profit.” – Confucious

The ‘Rules’

Before committing to a particular course of action as part of their internet strategy, organisations should ask themselves if they break the following rules;


  1. Never compromise the user experience.
  2. Never mis-use the enabling technologies of the World Wide Web.
  3. Never take action purely aimed at improving search engine rankings.
  4. Always treat search engines as you would ‘real’ visitors.
  5. Never lose sight of the business objectives.


Let’s look at each in detail and explain why they should be followed.

Never compromise the user experience

Whatever your industry, whatever the type of organisation, your site should cater for your visitors at all times. Anything else and the site simply isn’t doing its job. If it was an employee, you’d be walking it out the door.

So, by sticking to the first rule you’re almost guaranteed to always have a site that serves its visitors just the way it should. Of course, almost is the operative word here. You always need to actively improve the usability of your site to cater for your visitors needs.

Never mis-use the enabling technologies of the World Wide Web

Firstly, let’s explain what the enabling technologies are. These are everything that makes the web as we know it ‘tick’ – HTTP, HTML, CSS, Javascript and so on. There are widely acknowledged standards associated with these technologies but simply conforming to those standards does not cut it if we’re being ethical – there’s ‘sticking to the rules’ and there’s ‘doing what’s right’ – which is what the ethical web is all about.

For example, most of you will have seen the “404 – Page Not Found” error, but did you know that in many cases what you should have seen was “401 – Gone”? And having pages that conform to the XHTML v1.1 specification is all very well, but is it semantically correct? Be warned, also, that such considerations often pass by even the most seemingly experienced and qualified of web designers and developers.

Never take action purely aimed at improving search engine rankings

It’s all too easy to fall into the search engine optimisation trap where your whole online activity is shadowed by the question “how will it affect rankings?” Plenty of us have been there and many still are. The problem is that the consideration for rankings far too easily takes prominence over that of the user experience. Pages can become confusing to read or navigated because of attempts to ‘improve‘ keyword density or internal linking structure, leaving the visitors disorientated and unimpressed – a recipe for abandonment.

Search engines matter, of course they do, but search engines are becoming more sophisticated by the day and strive to present the best sites in their results. Only by being the best site can you obtain real lasting performance in search results.

Always treat search engines as you would ‘real’ visitors

Look at your site from a search engine’s point of view. The search engine wants to ensure that the searcher gets the most relevant result possible. However, if your site has served up different content to the search engine than that shown to the visitor the search engine cannot possibly know if that is indeed the most relevant result. The likely response will be some kind of penalty which knocks the site down a peg or two in the rankings.

Far too many online marketers appear to treat search engines as the enemy, as if they’re in some kind of battle for rankings against the search engine. The simple fact is the search engines want the best results. If you want the top spot, make sure you have the best site – don’t try to play games with a hugely complex algorithm you will never even begin to understand.

Never lose sight of the business objectives

If you’ve got £250 and a spare five minutes it won’t take long to get in to bed with a company promising guaranteed top 10 rankings within a month – and you can even choose the search phrases yourself. Brilliant! Until you realise very few people are even using those search phrases and those that are simple aren’t in your target market.

Just like any other marketing venture, in the online arena you need to profile your target customer and find out where to attract them and how. Only then can you decide which search phrases are your priorities according to how best they help you accomplish your overall business objectives.

Breaking the Rules?

It’s not funny, and it’s not clever – especially if you want to succeed online. If you’re not sure, pick up the phone and I’ll be happy to help you find out; call 0844 884 5419.


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