Search Engine Optimization, SEO, is a tool that helps companies in their advertising by increasing the positioning of websites in search engine results via optimization of keyword density and designing links on the site. This creates more “hits” or user visits, which in turn increases the popularity of the company itself.
Although SEO can certainly help increasing brand awareness, there are some ethical dilemmas that are brought about when using the product. SEO will essentially do anything in its power to enhance the visibility of a site, whether it be by creating junk articles just to create visibility in a Google search, or by using false keywords to help drive users to content, in the case of the “ground zero mosque” dilemma.
The story centers on, “the site of a proposed Islamic center and mosque that is not at ground zero, but two blocks away in a busy commercial area,” yet, some sites are still using “ground zero mosque” as their keyword for better search engine optimization, although the practice is unethical.
“It may be inaccurate, but if that’s what the public is searching for, then using it speaks to what they seek,” Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, explained in an email. “Once they arrive they can be further educated.”
The major problem here is that “having the words in the exact order of the phrase that people are searching for, and putting that in the HTML title tag, is exactly what improves their Google ranking,” Sullivan said.
This creates an ethical dilemma for news organizations. In order to compete with their competitors, they sometimes have to choose between being ethical and finishing last, or being unethical and finishing first. I suppose it’s a question of morals, and what really matters to the company.
In today’s digital age where breaking news is attainable instantaneous virtually no matter where you are at any given time, the competition between news organizations is heightened. This accounts for a greater deal of reporting errors that results from the fear of not being the first one to break a particular story. Pick any major news story over the past two or three years and there is probably at least one significant reporting blunder to go along with it (Gabby Giffords, New Town, or even this past week in the Boston Marathon Bombings).
While new organizations can create ethical guidelines for their reporters to follow, the truth of the matter is that this dilemma simply will not go away. With technology always growing, the instantaneous nature of news reporting will only worsen.