Why Do Internet Business Ethics Matter?

Why Do Internet Business Ethics Matter?

After posting last week on some past unethical business decisions I made, I got into an email chat with a reader who posed the question – “Why does being ethical in your internet business actually matter?”

And I believe that that’s an extremely valid point to consider, as it can be wayyyy easier to go out and set up scammy business models than to invest the time in building a legitimate internet marketing business. Plus, it’s not like there’s a boss looking over your shoulder making sure you’re doing good work. Unless you get big enough that the FTC takes an interest in your business, you probably won’t ever have to own up to anybody else about whether you’re actually following ethical business practices or not.

So what’s the intrinsic value of behaving ethically? And why does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

A couple of thoughts here…

First of all, there’s no arguing that an ethical business model will be more sustainable in the long run. It’s not hard to find websites that will teach you black hat internet marketing methods, but one thing you’ll notice is that the people on these sites are constantly scrambling to find the next workaround. The shelf-life of your average black hat technique isn’t long, which means that these marketers have to invest loads of time into finding new techniques as soon as their old ones get shut down.

Case in point – It’s crazy to think about it, but we aren’t really that far out from the days when keyword stuffing the backgrounds of your website pages with text shaded the same color as the background qualified as effective SEO. Not that keyword stuffing was ever that ethical, but it worked – until the search engines got wind of the practice and devalued it.

This meant that every website owner that used this unethical technique now had to not only go back and delete all of the offending keywords, but also come up with a new technique to “game the system” and get ahead.

Maybe it’s naïve of me, but wouldn’t it have just made more sense to invest in building an ethical business from Day One?


There’s also the argument made against ethical businesses that because they can be more labor intensive, they’re also inherently less profitable – and that’s absolutely not the case!

Now, it’s true that you can make a lot of money exploiting loopholes and taking advantage of black hat techniques as an unethical marketer. No one’s disputing that. But I don’t believe this is an “either / or” scenario – as there are tons of examples of ethical business owners making some serious bank as well.

Don’t think for a second that many of these “black hat junkies” wouldn’t jump at the chance to trade financial shoes with ethical marketers like Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse or Pat Flynn….

The value of an ethical business comes from a couple of different places:

When you provide valuable content, readers refer their friends to you – expanding the size of your community…

When you sell quality products, people become repeat customers – increasing the size of your bank account…

And once you’ve formed this community of repeat buyers, your advertising expenses go down – skyrocketing your bottom line…

Sounds a bit nicer than hustling every day to exploit the latest loophole the black hat crew discovered, right? 🙂


Now, the last reason in favor of ethical business that I’m going to mention here is one you may or may not agree with – and that’s karma. I’m not a religious person, so my desire to pursue ethical business isn’t couched in the desire to go to heaven or the fear of going to hell. But I absolutely believe that there’s some merit to the idea that if you put goodness out into the world, at least some of that comes back to you.

Again, I know that sounds goofy, and I won’t be offended if you completely disagree with me. Personally, I believe that the first two reasons to run a sustainable business – longevity and profitability – are more than enough to justify sticking to the straight and narrow instead of pursuing black hat strategies.

But I also know that I’m not the only one out there who feels compelled to do the right thing out of a sense of benefitting the greater good, so I think it’s valid to discuss here as well.

What do you think? Why do you choose to pursue (or not to pursue) ethical business strategies in a marketplace that favors the quick dollar? Can you think of any other reasons to stay ethical that I haven’t discussed here? Share them below in the comments!

Image: inlinguaManchester

6 Responses to Why Do Internet Business Ethics Matter?

  1. Adrienne says:

    Great subject today Sarah!

    I can’t speak for those that take the other route but I know a little something about greed! I think that some people believe that they want to make money quick so they will take that road that will do that for them and we all know that’s by doing things the “black hat” way.

    Like you, I believe that it will all catch up to them someday should they choose to go that route. Let’s face it, it’s much easier these days to find out who is behind a site and once your name is ruined, it’s kind of hard to get out of that mud. But again, I can’t speak for others because I’ve only taken the high road. And it’s the only one I would ever chose.


    • Sarah says:

      Adrienne – Well said 🙂

      You’re right that the increased transparency online today means that it’s easier to uncover scammers – I’d say it’s more important than ever to consider what kind of things your name and business persona are attached to.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great post, Sarah! Your second point reminded me of a quote from Warren Buffett, to the effect that there is so much money to be made legally, why would you want to do something illegal?

    I think another key point is self respect. Sometimes when making choices, I ask myself the question, “Do I want to live in a world where people think doing X is acceptable?” X could be leaving litter on the ground, cutting corners on safety – and deceiving others for money. Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where those things are acceptable. So, I do my small part to improve the world by choosing a different option and, if needed, not accepting X from others – especially those who should know better.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Sarah says:

      Barry – Well said 🙂

      What I like about your description is that there’s room for everyone to set their boundaries. I never want this site to get to a place where I’m dictating my ethical values to others. So I like that you’ve got it in the context of “is this acceptable to me, based on my own personal standards?”

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Jon says:


    Think long term -that’s the key. Swap all the time and energy spent being shady and crafty with ethical, sustainable planning and you’ll do well.

    It may not be the fast track or glamorous but you’ll be among trusted company.

    I like how you pointed out you don’t want to dictate ethics to others in a comment here. Decisions and ethical boundaries are rooted in personal experience and values.



    • Sarah says:

      Jon – You’re right, thinking long term is the key here. I’d never want to build my business on the shaky ground of black hat techniques that could disappear tomorrow. Slow and steady wins the race 🙂

Leave a Reply