The internet is no longer a Wild West for marketers. You can no longer say anything, do anything or share everything without consequence. Here are three ethical challenges the world of online marketing is facing. We also address a few solutions to each of these challenges, though if your business is at risk of legal problems, you should consult with a legal professional.
Privacy and Data Collection
A common marketing practice is exchanging email marketing lists. However, a customer may have specifically stated on signing up for your marketing list that they only accept value added marketing from you and did not authorize marketing messaging from anyone else. This is an increasingly illegal practice that can result in civil fines from various government agencies. Don’t make people sign up for an account with a blanket permission to be marketed to as a condition of buying your product – an increasing number of people will abandon the shopping cart instead.
Data collection practices can result in civil and criminal penalties, such as if you set up a user forum and start collecting information on children under the age of 13. The solution to this is to prohibit children from using your site or only allow it with parental permission.
Another way you could get into trouble is if you publish private email correspondence online. You can try to avoid this problem by putting a disclaimer that any correspondence someone sends you becomes the property of your company. This allows you to post their glowing testimonials from a thank you email.
Search Engine Optimisation
Search engine optimisation, SEO, is the practice of tailoring content to rank well in response to various queries. Applying good SEO to product pages dramatically increases sales rates. Applying SEO to your websites can increase the odds the content is found and converts visitors to customers. However, bad SEO practices can hurt your business in many ways. When JC Penny had all of its pages optimised for dresses and women’s clothes and engaged in illegal backlinking, the company’s ecommerce page was essentially delisted from the internet. Engage in deceptive SEO like putting your rival’s brand and products as the main key search terms in your content, and they can sue you for stealing their customers. Use totally unrelated but highly searched terms in your text, and Google itself may bury your website for deceptive practices.
You should take care of the issues with intellectual property for several reasons. First, if you use someone else’s images or text without permission, even with attribution, you could be sued. The more common outcome is search engines penalising your site as plagiarised even if the real owner doesn’t have the page essentially taken down by a DCMA notice. Don’t post business secrets online, and take care not to accidentally release them by doing behind the scenes videos for marketing purposes.
A solution to this is only using your own intellectual property. For example, if you need videos for your site, contact a company like Spiel Studios to make them for you. Take your own pictures of your products or services so that there is no issue with you using them.
Respect the privacy of your customers, and be careful of the growing legislation that limits data collection and its use. Use ethical SEO tactics, because the punishment from Google and business directories will ruin your customers’ ability to find you online even if it doesn’t result in legal action. Understand the rules and restrictions on using intellectual property, and take steps now to ensure that you only use IPs with permission while protecting your own.