I have yet to see Meryl Streep’s movie The Iron Lady, but I noticed a poster as I was walking Lucy (Level343’s official mascot!) this morning. “Never Compromise” jumped out of the poster at me. Isn’t that the truth; it’s something I’ve been struggling with for the past year as I continue to run and grow my business.

I can honestly say I enjoy working with people who stand by their convictions. I enjoy working with people who never compromise their business or personal ethics – no, not even for money. Some may find it hard to believe there are still people like that, but there are.

How can you run a business without walking a fine line of compromise? Especially when that business is online in B2B services and you’re aiming for long term clients?

Case in point: look at what’s happening with search. In April alone, there were 52 highlights to Google’s latest algorithm changes. That in itself has given way to a plethora of news feeds regarding all the compromises businesses have made in order to rank for their keywords.

We have warnings to tighten the reins on questionable SEO methods going out in light of the latest updates, such as this one from Search Engine Land, written by Kerry Dean of PMG:

“If you are managing SEO and link building for a big brand, I recommend ceasing all paid link building campaigns. I’m sure I’ll take some heat for that recommendation, but I just can’t recommend paid link building to big brands right now. It’s just too risky at this point in time.”

Businesses have to be warned to pull it in? Maybe it’s not exactly “bad business practices” so much as it is “bad ranking practices”, but why does there need to be a warning at all?

How Much Are You Willing to Bend for Success?

Level343 is kind of a strange cat when it comes to our industry peers. Our new headquarters are in San Francisco. We have a satellite office in Kansas City. We have less than ten full time employees, one full time doggy mascot and have yet to find an actual office in San Fran. Though small, we’re an international marketing company; I speak five languages fluently, and have partners in every corner of the world.

We could be bigger.

We could have more people on staff.

We could have satellite offices in other parts of the world instead of business partners.

We could be a lot of things we’re not.

But –

I’m not willing to bend. I’m not willing to cut corners. Although I’ve sometimes walked the line, I don’t believe I’ve ever crossed it. My team feels the same way.

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It’s cost us some potential clients. We’ve had potentials come to us who wanted us to do (choose your questionable technique here). We turned them down with a “We’re sorry. We don’t do that, here. We can (insert other technique), however, and here’s why.” Sometimes, offering a viable replacement keeps them with us. Sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s cost us some potentially excellent team members. We’ve been accused of “doing too much” or “giving too much” by previous partners on jobs. We’ve been accused of being too fussy with the work we provide our clients. We’ve been laughed at for tweaking our reporting because 1) Jahnelle’s a data freak and loves Excel sheets and 2) we want to give actionable reports. We want the client to see, in one report (and preferably one page), what’s happening with their web presence.

These things are important to us, because our clients’ online successes often depend on them.

Square Peg in a Round Hole? Maybe…

Sometimes I feel like a square peg in a round hole. It’s not like staying on the “up and up” comes natural. CYA is born into everyone. But see, that’s what makes us different from the animals – the fact that we have a choice to do, or not.

It’s hard sticking to our guns sometimes, especially when money is tight and a potential walks up with a questionable 10k/month project. On the rare occasion that we aren’t quite as meticulous with our accounts receivables as we should be and a client decides they don’t have to pay for delivered work  – well, it’s hard not to go hacker ninja on them and drop their site into the shredders. Maybe 301 some porn wheels their way and other not-quite-proper actions to “help” them rank for triple X terms.

Point is, even though our actions may not be the gut reaction variety – even though the ethical thought is the second thought -, we haven’t compromised.

Pandas, Penguins… Poodles…?

I may regret saying this, but – we’ve watched the Google updates pass, and rode them out with little difficulty. We’ve babysat our clients’ sites and patted their URLs as the traffic meandered in much like it did before the updates. Although the updates have brought us new clients looking for help to fix their crashing traffic, they’ve yet to lose us a client to someone else.

The Rise Of The Penguins

I think – and feel free to chime in on this – we’ve ridden these things out because we’ve never compromised. We’ve never compromised on our link building practices, choosing viral and organic above paid linking strategies. We’ve never compromised on content development, choosing high quality articles over spun or $1 per 2,000 word articles. We’ve never compromised where it comes to proudly displaying our clients’ brands, choosing to make sure everything we do in their name provides a positive example.

Have You Compromised?

Many business owners are staring at their analytics and traffic data right now. Many are watching their rank drop and wondering what to do. Some of the less informed may actually be wondering what happened. What may have happened is too much compromise.

Because, let’s face facts: when Google’s Penguin update creates mass unemployment in India because people have been paying for cheap labor and cheaper tactics rather than actually doing the work necessary for long lasting results….

Then a lot of businesses have compromised…