Client Talk - Handling Questionable Practices

Client Talk is our weekly advice column about the trial and tribulations of working with difficult clients. If interested in submitting a topic or question for this column, then do so through the link above.

I'm working with a client that, in my opinion, is practicing SEO (search engine optimization) techniques that borderline ethical. They aren't black hat techniques, but they certainly are practices that don't favor the reader (this client is an online publication). I'm uncomfortable implementing these techniques into my work. What should I do?

Hmm. This one is tough to answer since we don't know the specific practices. On the one hand, if the client is purposely trying to hurt the reader experience, or know that it hurts the reader expereince and want to do it anyway, then I would say to disassociate yourself from the client right away. You don't want to be tangled with a client that doesn't put its customers', or in this case, readers' interests first, as it could mean a horrible association for your, or no more client if they are caught.

On the other hand, since these practices are described as "borderline", it's possible the client doesn't realize that what they are doing hurts the reader experience. If this is the case, then explain to the client what's going on and offer a solution that not only accomplishes their goals but also improves the reader experience. Perhaps the explanation will get them to change, or at least allow you to do something different when you do your work.

However, if you're uncomfortable, perhaps it's best to cut ties no matter the client's intention. If you aren't comfortable doing the work that you are doing for whatever reason, you can't possibly do your best work and then you are doing both yourself and the client a disservice. This doesn't have to be your problem if you don't want it to be.

What do you think of this response? What would you do in this situation?