Moral Kombat: The Ethical Dilemmas of Outreach

A few weeks ago, the outreach team here at CopyPress came to an ethical dilemma about how to approach our linkbuilding strategies. For months we had been using aliases and pseudonyms to contact blogs and websites for guest posts and link placement opportunities. This was less about being disingenuous about our backgrounds as writers and more about using them as a means to target specific blog categories. For example, some of our aliases are geared towards travel writing, others tech and fashion and so on. In our minds, using aliases allowed us to let our content do all of the talking.

However, as we are company that constantly re-examines ourselves, we took a step back to talk about the ethical concerns that come with using aliases and linkbuilding in general. The following are just a few moral dilemmas that come with the outreach portion of SEO and how I’ve personally come to terms with them.

Dilemma: What is Ethical?

“A man must have a code.” 

Before you can tackle any situation in terms of ethics, you must first look deep within yourself in order to have clearer picture of how you view the world. It’s always good to consider the classical ethical theories and external factors that make-up any moral dilemma you may come across:

  • Consider the ethical principles – Whether you align closer to Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Aristotle’s Golden Mean or Mill’s Principle of Utility, just brushing up on ethical theory can help put your dilemma in a broader perspective.
  • Consider the external factors – Whenever I come across a situation that questions my own personal values, I always stop to think about the consequences of my actions. How will my decision affect those I may or may not know? What are some of the possible positive or negative outcomes of my decision?
  • Listen to your gut – This may sound obvious, but in my personal experience, ethical decision-making is something that usually manifests itself in gut instinct. While you should never discount questioning your morals or taking other perspectives, ultimately what you think is right is the most important thing when facing a dilemma.

 Dilemma: The Guest Blogging Pitch

 I’ve been noticing a growing resentment towards guest bloggers and linkbuilding in general. Let’s face it, bloggers are sick of SEO buzzwords and generic guest blogging pitches that talk more about traffic and social shares than they do about site-specific content. I think that sometimes SEO marketers can get so caught up in their own world that they forget about those on the receiving end of their outreach pitches.

It’s important to stay grounded and write your emails like a human being. Believe it or not, people want to be treated like flesh and blood, and not a number or metric. Bloggers are hip to the game, and are often not gullible enough to provide free backlinks or affiliate links without some sort of genuine interaction. Avoid the seven deadly sins to blogger outreach and above all – just be courteous.

Honesty and transparency can also become an issue when trying to reach out to bloggers. Many sites have liberal guest blogging policies but do not allow affiliate links for free. I’ve noticed many outreach tactics that like to dance around these policies. If a blogger asks you if you work on behalf of a company or plan to use backlinks, do not get cagey about it. Simply tell the truth.

A good and ethical strategy to use in these scenarios is to email a list of the links you’ve used in your content as well as the content itself. This approach will give you credibility as a marketer and is the best way to establish an honest relationship with the blogger. Who knows, if your pitch was good enough and your article is solid, than you still might score a placement. It’s happened before.

Dilemma: Content

As a marketer, your job is to score do-follow backlinks for your client’s affiliate companies. As a writer, your job is create entertaining, informative or interesting content that will appeal to a blog’s core audience. Understandably, an article’s integrity can come into question when an affiliate link is shoehorned under out-of-place anchor text. I’ve read my fair share of content that was hastily put together solely for the purpose of backlinks and not for my reading pleasure.

For this reason it is important to have a deep understanding of your affiliate’s target audience, product category, and the associated blog niches that you will be reaching out to. Your articles should not read like blatant advertisements and your anchor text backlinks need to make sense within the context of the article. For instance, an affiliate link about home insurance would feel out of place in an article about travel destinations. Instead, place that link into an article about how to protect your home from natural disasters. Marrying related affiliate links to content that might actually benefit the target reader in some way is the right way to handle content.

Dilemma: Aliases

For our final dilemma, we return to the issue of using aliases and pseudonyms for the purposes of guest blogging. While I don’t really have a problem with using aliases, I can see how some may view it as dishonest. As I wrote above, aliases allow me to reinvent myself and carve category niches for each personality. My strategy is that people respond better to those more attuned to one or two categories than five or six categories. Nevertheless, I am not using my real name on the content that I send out. I believe that as long as my intent is clear and my content is good, than I don’t see an issue with using an alias.

About the author

Jaime Spector

Jaime Spector is a Production Manager at CopyPress. He studied Mass Communications and advertising at the University of South Tampa.