I frequent many SEO and Web Marketing forums on a daily basis and every so often there is a debate about the SEO industry and ethics. After being involved in a number of these debates, it has become really obvious that the main problems are the facts that no two SEO companies are alike and there is no unified methodology. Its very hard to make statements about the industry as a whole because its debatable what exactly SEO is. Mix in the fact that most SEO companies keep their methodology and campaign strategies secret and we have a situation where every company is totally different with very different results.
Fact 1 : There is no unified SEO methodology. SEO is actually defined by wikipedia as a process of improving traffic from SERPs to a site. Of course, HOW they do that is the real question and causes the debates.
Fact 2 : The effectiveness of an SEO campaign depends on the site structure, site content, keywords, methodology used, and how popular the site is. A site cannot just rank for any random keyword. SEO is also not voodoo. It is logic, problem solving, and Web marketing mixed together. If your site provides no value to users, it probably wont rank.
Fact 3 : Some SEOs do search engine optimization and some do search engine manipulation. Of course, it is all marketed as SEO. Unethical optimization provides results at any cost and is always short term (usually ends in a banned domain name). Ethical optimization opens up the site to the search engines and provides long term benefits.
Fact 4 : Most SEO companies get paid whether or not your site gets any rankings. Unfortunately, this is the case with the industry. Most SEO companies implement A, B, and C and move on to the next client. Hopefully, the site ranks. If it doesnt, they always have more clients.
Fact 5 : Most SEO companies use both ethical and unethical inbound linking strategies.To maximize profits, it is very common for SEO companies to buy bulk links from India, links on spam/scraper web sites, or sell large directory submission packages. It is also common for SEO companies to place huge amounts of the contract into inbound linking to make up for the poor quality of the site optimization.