What do Cowboys and SEO have in common?


 In the old western movies, the good guys wore the white hats – the bad guys had the black hats.   That same terminology has been adopted in the world of Search Engine Optimization(SEO) to denote sites that use integrity in the SEO strategy and those that don’t.  White hat designers follow search engine guidelines to optimize their site.  Black hats use backdoors, cloaking and link farming.   We’ve all experience the black hat strategy of link farming.   You are shopping for a specific item and you Google that item.  Up pops a well known retailer’s name in the search results, so you click on the link only to find out it was a page with lists links of unrelated websites.    JC Penney recently made the news for black hat SEO strategy, “J.C. Penney Black Hat SEO Backfires”.  Executives claimed they had no knowledge that the marketing company they hired was doing black hat strategy.  So what can we do if we want to preserve our reputations for integrity in the marketplace when working with outside vendors?   Here are five simple steps to take to make sure you maintain your reputation for integrity.   

(1)Have clearly defined core values or operating principles that form the foundation of all your decisions.  Make sure every employee knows these values and is held accountable for their delivery.

(2) If you are hiring services in a field you are unfamiliar with, do some research and play “what if?”  What’s being done in that industry that doesn’t meet standards of integrity?  What possible consequences are there for your company if integrity is compromised?  “What if” this hit the front page of the Nashville Business Journal?  

(3)  Check references on any service providers you are considering hiring.  Do the companies have a reputation for integrity?  Ask questions around your core values to determine who is best suited for the work you are contracting.

(4) Clearly communicate your core values to your selected service providers or vendors.  Make it clear upfront in writing what your expectations are around your core values and how they should drive decisions as the vendor does work for you.

(5) Reward and celebrate vendors who uphold integrity in their services.  Write them a recommendation on LinkedIn, a letter of recommendation, or tweet about them.  Recommend them to others.  Do all you can to help the good guys win.*

* Nancy’s Integrity First Column – Nashville Business Journal – 9/9/11

Avoiding Mixed Messages on Integrity


Google recently pulled out of the Chinese market because their servers were being hacked by the Chinese government as part of an effort to censor the free flow of information.  Two recent Wall Street Journal columns commended Google for standing up for their corporate principles.  John Bolton in his column said that Google had sent a message to businesses worldwide about standing for principle.  Google has been on the end of some very positive press as a result of this decision to do “what’s right.”

Interestingly, a column in USA Today took a totally different perspective.  Ted Fishman wrote about how incredibly alike China and Google are because they both “derive their present strength from their skill at appropriating and organizing information according to the rules that suit them.”  He went on to describe how Google was force to apologize to 8000 Chinese authors for scanning and releasing their books without permission.  In his opinion, when Google pulled out of China, the company was simply protecting trade secrets from hackers and principles had little to do with their decision.

Why two diametrically opposed opinions of Google’s choice?  It’s a matter of observation and perspective.  To those who value human rights, the choice by Google to pull out could be celebrated as a company which took a stand for what’s right and which others can model.  To those who have seen Google trample on authors’ rights, they concluded that the company simply made a choice to protect its company secrets.

That’s the debate at the heart of issues about integrity.  When we define integrity as aligning our actions with our values and doing what’s right, defining right is key.  It is critical for leaders to make sure core operating principles of a business are clearly defined in terms of what those principles look like in action.  If we don’t, we send mixed messages about who we are and how we do business – like Google.  What do you think?