At WordCampUK over the weekend I found myself increasingly thinking about the moral questions that relate to how we behave on the internet. Not the same questions about whether we’re nice to each other, or lie or steal, that’s just a virtual version of the real world — more just how far you’re willing to push your idea/content/site on other people.

I’ve already decided that, to me, crossposting is a moral dilemma, it’s up to you to decide how much you’re willing to “shout” — if you’re willing to send links your blog posts out via twitter, jakiu, Facebook status update etc. then they’d better be really good, or people will start to get annoyed. I like to give the choice about which stuff I produce that they see, so as well as keeping different subject areas separate, I don’t push anything automatically at people. There are RSS feeds avaliable, they’re clearly labled, you can chose to subscribe (or come to the sites) or not — it’s up to you.

During an interesting talk on WordPress and SEO, I found my mind wandering from the subject of how to optimise your WordPress installation so people can find your content by searching for it (a good thing of course) to whether the “deliberate” search engine optimisation being explained is something I’m comfortable with at all.

While I’m all for tagging, indexing correctly, logical naming, and easily navigable structure, (I’ll call that Semantic SEO, making your meaning clear with formats and data) anything else seems to be gaming the system — cheating.

The talk covered subjects such as paying for content to be written and put on the web that used links to you with your selected ‘keywords’ as anchor text — “journalists are cheap” we were told — playing ‘link-builders’ to get links to your site around the web.

If “journalists are cheap” then they’ll write cheap words, useless words, words that will drive the quality of the web down. If links are bought then they aren’t the “peer review” links that Google based their original algorithm on (the concept that people would link to stuff that was good, the best stuff gets the most links).

If you prize traffic that is coerced into arriving at your site, that has to be your decision. I’d much rather an honest web where the best content, the best services rose to the top. This is why I am being driven from conventional search to more social search options. I’ll often only Google now for a company or product name after checking out the advice of people I trust on twitter. Search engines are being conned, and until they stamp out the link-buying, the splogging, they’re going to lose traffic — and utimately if your sites are doing the conning you will too.

I know that the practices are tempting, I know the argument goes that “our competitiors are doing it, we have to to keep up”. I don’t buy it. Do the best you can, create the best content, host the best discussions, link the best links, provide the best service people will recommend you, with links and by social-web-word of mouth.

Don’t put anything on the net that you don’t think increases its value.