This is another subject I have been meaning to discuss that I haven’t seen debated a huge amount openly even though everyone in the industry is aware of it.

Simply checking the UK agencies ranking for ‘SEO’ (as an example) it’s very easy to spot that some of them are using their own clients as a link network to rank for that very term. I am not going to call anyone out or make examples of anyone, they know who they are.

Presumably by doing it they think its fine, so perhaps I can give examples.

Historically web design and development agencies have always left a signature in the form of a hyperlink on client’s sites often in the footer to show who produced the site. This for me is not a problem at all, but is it right for search marketing agencies often acting merely as consultants to do the same?

Do any other types of consultant do this? No. What benefit is this to the client? None. Does it do them any harm? Mmm.

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Is It Ethical?

While I am sure most clients are aware of the ‘SEO’ hyperlinks, I know for a fact that some clients are either not aware, or do not fully understand the implications of having the link.

I have also seen cases where the links are hidden extremely well, or hidden completely in a few cases which obviously makes this a little darker as it goes against the search engines guidelines.

Perhaps these clients have been given code to insert on their site as part of their SEO service (a scrolling text box…) with the keyword rich anchor & hyperlink included, perhaps it’s a requirement of the contract or even incentivised as an option for reduced fees, or they have been told that linking out to reputable sources will ‘help them rank’.

I also know some of these agencies hard sell their SEO services off the back of their ranking for the said term to justify to potential clients why they should work with them over the competition. Obviously ranking for ‘SEO’ by using their clients as a link network does not say anything about their actual skills as an SEO agency, but they often pass it off that it does.

There are definitely varying levels of ethicality in this, I believe some agencies are very open about it while some are less so and I am not pointing fingers at anyone in particular. But it does make you think, if some are willing to use their own clients as a link network for no benefit to the client, what does it say about them?

In an industry that is so often criticised for lacking credibility & transparency, does this not simply support these assumptions?

Perhaps some view this as simply a form of advertising similar to web design agency signatures, a clever technique to outrank the competition that is no more than any other type of ‘partner’ (if reciprocal) or supplier link or the incentivised links at least could be seen as no more than a form of paid links you see everyday.

Perhaps some would argue that despite all the criticisms above and questionable ethical nature, if it helps them rank for their desired term it’s clearly worth it in the long-term regardless.

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My personal opinion is that everyone involved owe it to their own industry to keep standards as high as possible and in particular for their own clients.

Using your own clients as a link network for your own benefit no matter how you pass it off, to me, is taking advantage of your position. It is of no benefit to the client and it sends out the wrong message about our industry. I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone work with an agency that uses this technique regardless of how good they might actually be in reality.