Ethical digital marketing tips for businesses

Ethical Digital Marketing—How to Do it Responsibly

The online world has opened up many new opportunities for digital marketers, but not all businesses use it honestly or ethically. When it comes to marketing your business, doing it ethically and responsibly can earn you the respect of your customers and prospects and has the potential to earn you more clients and increased revenue.

Unethical digital marketing is deceptive and can send the wrong message to your customers. This can result in ruined reputations and loss of customers and revenue. 

Keep reading to learn how to plan and execute an ethical digital marketing strategy.

What is ethical digital marketing?

Ethical digital marketing includes marketing strategy and execution that is honest and abides by your business values. At its core, it’s about being authentic and truthful in your marketing activities without being intentionally deceitful or pretending to be something you’re not or having specific values you don’t have.

Your ethical digital marketing strategy is hinged on five core pillars:

  • Honesty: Be honest and truthful in communicating to and with your customers. 
  • Transparency: Be transparent about your offerings’ quality, pricing, suppliers and supply chains, and customer reviews.
  • Legality: Be compliant with legal requirements and compliance as appropriate for your industry.
  • Health and safety: Protect the safety and privacy of your customers, staff, and partners. 
  • Behaviour: Respect the rights of your customers, staff, and partners. 

Why is ethical digital marketing important for businesses?

Ethical digital marketing is essential for businesses that value sustainability and business growth. The key benefits of an ethical digital marketing strategy for businesses include the following: 

  • Boosts a positive brand image: Brands that practise ethical marketing promote a more positive brand image compared to competitors who may not be as honest in their marketing. A positive brand image will earn your customers’ respect and loyalty. 
  • Increases customer loyalty: Consumers are loyal to those that treat them fairly. Ensuring your inbound marketing to current clients is ethical drives you one step towards earning longer-term customer loyalty.
  • Increases customer retention: Strong customer loyalty usually also boosts customer retention rates. In turn, increased customer retention leads to more sales, more repeat customers, and an increase in customer referrals from these satisfied customers. 
  • Attracts like-valued customers and partners: You want to do business with others who share your values. As your customers expect you to be ethical, you expect them to be ethical in return. When you’re promoting and executing honest and transparent marketing strategies, you’ll begin attracting customers with the same values. 
  • Promotes customer and employee well-being: Transparency and honesty keep your staff and customers safe. For example, you’re keeping your customers safe by being transparent about the risks or safety precautions of using your products. By treating your employees fairly, you’re keeping them happy so they work harder for your business.

Ethical digital marketing considerations

Looking at your ethical marketing strategies from a broad perspective, you’ll want to consider your brand’s value and ethics around the following high-level categories:


Protecting the privacy of your customers and staff is a requirement (often a legal requirement) for today’s businesses. You are ethically obligated to protect your customers’ private information and data in every region you do business in. Privacy ethics may include:

  • Website cookies, tracking, and retargeting: Be transparent so customers know you use website tracking cookies in your website to provide a better user experience (and provide a way for them to opt out if they prefer)
  • Data collection and storage: Be transparent in what data you collect from your customers, how/where it’s stored, and how it’s used. 
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR):  In the EU, these privacy and human rights laws protect your customers through data collection, storage, and security guidelines. 
  • Privacy Laws: You also have an ethical obligation to do everything you can to protect your customer’s information from security breaches. Individual jurisdictions may have different requirements for how you should protect this sensitive data. 

Your business also has an ethical obligation to use copywriter materials and the intellectual property of others responsibly. This may include:


A core component of ethical marketing is ensuring your content is accessible to all. There are many accessibility guidelines you can follow to support this:

  • ADA Compliance: These guidelines outline best practices to make your website more accessible and easy to use. 
  • Accessibility in design: You have an ethical obligation to design your website and any digital platforms or experiences so they’re accessible.
  • Accessibility in language: You may have an ethical responsibility to provide your content in multiple languages (such as creating a multilingual website) or be written in language that is easy for your target audience to understand. 

Resource: Get your ADA Compliance website checklist

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is also an ethical consideration for your marketing strategies. For example, if you’re a clothing retailer, this may include creating products suitable for all body types. For example, creating an online ad means being conscious of using models of different ages, ethnicities, sizes, and genders where possible. If soliciting for a feedback survey, this means not excluding responses from specific demographics (unless it’s core to what you’re trying to learn).


Ethics in digital marketing also refers to the environmental ethics of your business practices. For your business, this could include:

  • Being aware of your carbon footprint (even of your digital activities)
  • Purposefully sourcing packaging and marketing materials from recyclable or sustainably made materials. 
  • Eliminating unnecessary or potentially wasteful marketing “swag” when you attend conferences

Ethical digital marketing activities

Your digital marketing strategy likely includes many tactics and mediums. Here are some common ones and how ethics plays into each one:

Ethical Social Media

If your business is on social media, there are many ethical best practices you should include as part of your ethical digital marketing strategy. These include:

  • Being truthful and honest: Don’t bend the truth to make your brand look better
  • Cite your sources: Give credit where credit is due
  • Be transparent: Show your followers a peak behind the curtain to show your authenticity
  • Don’t exploit emotions: Don’t take advantage of your customer’s emotions to make a sale. 
  • Protect privacy: Never trick followers into giving up private information over social media. 
  • Spread the truth, not misinformation: Don’t fall into the “fake news” trap.
  • Be inclusive: Use diverse and inclusive imagery and language
  • Don’t use fear-mongering: Positive posts are often more effective than those promoting fear. 
  • Don’t spam: Post only as much as you need to communicate your message.

Learn more about these and other ethical social media marketing tips. 

Ethical SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can help prospective customers, and clients find you online. However, SEO tactics should be done ethically and responsibly. 

Ethical SEO (also known as White Hat SEO) is about using honest practices to rank for your chosen keywords. It’s also about incorporating your SEO keywords authentically into your content without looking spammy. 

Unethical SEO (also known as Black Hat SEO) is when you use inauthentic or deceptive tactics to get a quick ROI or with the intent to trick or deceive. It usually includes optimising your content for keywords unrelated to your niche or incorporating them in a spammy way that negatively compromises the user experience. 

Learn more about how to ensure you’re using ethical SEO practices on your website. 

Ethical Paid Ads

Using paid ads initially seems daunting, but if done correctly and ethically, they can lead to a big return on your investment. In ethical digital marketing practices, you should only bid on keywords directly related to your business. For example, you wouldn’t design an ad for the keywords “sustainably made shirts” if your landing page is about shirts made from non-renewable materials and made by workers paid below market rates.

Similarly, it’s unethical to create an ad in an attempt to rank for a competitor’s business name or branded keywords. This is considered deceptive and unethical. Instead, use your own business name and generic keywords to attract more of the right type of clicks. It’s like setting up a pop-up shop for your business in the parking lot of your competitors. 

Check out this helpful article on Search Engine Land that details the ethics of bidding on competitor keywords

If creating display ads, ensure that any websites your ad appears on is in alignment with your values. It would be unethical (and likely have a low ROI) if you had an ad for your vegan ice cream brand on a website that promotes lion-hunting tours in Africa.  

Ethical Email marketing

Email marketing is a great digital marketing tactic because it puts your brand and messaging directly in the inboxes of your potential and current customers. However, if not done right, it can have devastating consequences for your brand reputation and bottom line. 

Here are ethical considerations for email marketing:

  • Don’t buy lists: Collect email addresses honestly through events, lead magnets, and customer opt-ins
  • Ensure they opt-in: Ensure everyone on your list has given you express written permission. This is the law in some regions like Canada (with Canada’s anti-spam legislation) and the US (with the CAN-SPAM Act).
  • Provide an easy unsubscribe: Always provide a clear unsubscribe option at the bottom of every email newsletter or digital communication. A one-click unsubscribe option is the most ethical.
  • Clearly indicate sponsored or affiliate content: If you include sponsored content, ads, or affiliate marketing in your communications, you should ethically disclose this to the recipient.  

Ethical Affiliate Marketing

Many businesses are diversifying their income streams by joining affiliate marketing programs. While this is an acceptable business practice, it could harm your brand if done unethically. 

If you join any affiliate programs, disclose this information to your customers. This may include a sentence like, “We are an affiliate partner of [company name]. If you purchase it from our links, we may receive, at no extra cost to you, a referral fee or compensation reward.”

How to get started in ethical digital marketing

To grow your business honestly, you should have a detailed ethical digital marketing plan. This plan should clearly state your ethical values and the ethical rules your team must follow as they execute marketing campaigns and outreach. 

With a clear plan in place, you can begin executing your strategy. Always keep these things in mind:

  • Be honest
  • Be transparent
  • Don’t deceive or trick
  • Be inclusive

To help you get started with implementing ethical digital marketing, talk to the Out-Smarts Digital Marketing team. We can design a custom digital marketing plan without compromising your ethics and values. We know this will give you a better ROI over the long term rather than giving you small, quick wins through unethical marketing practices that are not sustainable long term. 

Book a Discovery Call with us today to learn how to incorporate ethical digital marketing into your business strategy.