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“Search Congress” Should Look to Legal Profession for Search Engine Marketing Code Of Ethics

I’m a licensed attorney (not practicing) and the founder of two search marketing agencies. So, with SEMPO’s call for a Search Marketing Code of Ethics, I figured I’d offer a few words of advice for the framers:

Look to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Rules of Professional Concuct.

While not all of the rules will have applicability to search marketers, I suggest that many will. Here are just a quick handful adapted from the ABA Rules:

Client-Marketer Relationship

Rule 1.1
A search marketer shall provide competent services to a client. Competent services requires the knowledge, skill and thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the services.

Rule 1.2
(a) Subject to paragraph (b), a search marketer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of services and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A search marketer may take such action on the behalf of the client as is implicitly authorized to carry out the services.

(b) A search marketer shall not assist client in engaging in conduct that the search marketer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a search marketer may discuss the consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, effectiveness or risks of the proposed course of conduct.

Rule 1.3
A search marketer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.

Rule 1.4
(a) A search marketer shall:

(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent is required.

(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objective are to be accomplished;

(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the services;

(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and

(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on on the search marketer’s conduct when the search marketer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Search Marketing Code of Ethics.

(b) A search marketer shall explain a course of action to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding their services.

I suspect that many search marketers won’t like this approach. It doesn’t speak to many of the “search ethics” issues that have been regularly debated since time out of mind (aka the ’90s). For example, this approach may not speak to violations of search engine guidelines, which is contrary to other SEO Codes of Ethics.

But assuming a “Search Congress” is able to hammer-out a workable framework that many search marketers could agree upon, does the industry really want to subject itself to such a code?

After all, in order for this to actually “work” it has to have teeth. Which means that the “Search Congress” would need a governing body able to respond and adjudicate grievances and violations.

I welcome the idea of making the search marketing industry self-governing. There is little question that it would benefit clients. It will be very interesting to see what the “Search Congress” comes up with and even more interesting to see how the industry responds.

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