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February 26, 2008

Is It Time For Search Marketing Standards?

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Yes. The end.

Oh, fine I’ll blog it. I can go play after this one though, right? Yey!

Rounding out day 1 we have Jeffrey K. Rohrs (ExactTarget) is moderating speakers Chris Boggs (eMergent Marketing), Paul Bruemmer (Red Door Interactive), Brian Combs (Apogee Search) and Ian McAnerin (McAnerin International Inc.). Dana Todd will be taking care of the Q&A moderating duties.

All of the panelists are thanking Danny for inviting them to speak. Suck ups!

Up first is Paul Bruemmer. He’s talking about fire standards and how we have fire exits and occupancy limits. Or maybe I’m dreaming all of this. I wonder if Danny would mind if I took a sip of his Diet Coke. He’s sitting next to me and it’s within arms reach. I bet I could take it and he wouldn’t even noticed. Hmm…

Back to the session. Paul throws out some examples of SEM standards:

  1. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft – SiteMaps
  2. Google, Ask and Microsoft – anonymize log data
  3. (Bruce Clay created its own standard with our SEO Code of Ethics.)

  4. November 2007 FTC: Public forum on Behavioral Advertising privacy concerns

The industry really started maturing in 2006. We had more than 62 percent growth. It’s slowing in 2008 due to us approaching our saturation point. Maturity is bearing itself upon us. The signs of maturity are that there’s a growing number of training programs. We all need training, no matter how long we’ve been in an industry.

SEMPO has a task force called the Metrics and Standards Task Force to start developing some sort of guidelines for search marketing. They’re not a policing organization. They’re very specific about not wanting to get into the standards business. The IAB came into the game in 2008 and is supported by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Paul says search marketers should start to demand standards. Contact SEMPO. If they won’t take up the task, then support the IAB and the DMA. He says that standards will provide the industry with sustained growth and establish authority in a new era of marketing that starts online. All hail standards!

Next up is Chris Boggs.

Chris thinks we need to take a step towards standards. We need to create some "Tactical Risk Considerations" Guidelines related to Search Marketing. We need an end document that clearly defines Search Marketing (SEO and SEM) tactics and provides a risk rating based on adherence to search engine established guidelines. SEMPO would ultimately own the document.

To do this you have to define the tactics and then rate them. What is search engine optimization really? What is cloaking? Is it all bad? What’s the level of risk associated with certain tactics? Is there no risk, little risk, moderate risk, high risk or is it totally not advisable? These things have to be defined in certain terms. Once the community gives its feedback you have to do a final scrub. It’s not going to happen over night and there’s going to be a heated discussion.

Proposed Process:

Define: "Standards of behavior" requires definition of tactics. Create a Definitions Committee. Acknowledge missing tactics, likely numerous.

Adoptions of Definitions: "Beta" release of definitions for community feedback. It will likely be a heated discussion, where some POVs are essentially ignored.

Establish Rating System: Propose ratings system: Another heated discussion would likely occur. System should be based on degree of danger of tactics in relation to SE guidelines. Examine other industries’ tactical risk indices? Skip community feedback to save 6 months

Publishing & Promoting: Domain or established industry platform? Wiki format? Promote heavily. Monitor "reputation". No "set and forget". Become useful tool for non-search-savvy marketers to better understand many tactics

We’re also going to have to clearly establish that not all tactics are included within the glossary, due to search marketers not wanting to give away the recipe to search engines or to competitors. It should provide a clear statement along the lines of, "If a tactic not clearly defined is presented as a part of the project plan, a marketing manager should pause to seriously question why." Promote using all available networks and major marketing associations.

Chris says industry standards must be committee-driven, rather than a community-driven effort, in order to ever get it done

Brian Combs is next up.

SEM is known for its holy wars. He talks about recent conference titles like Are Paid Links Evil and Is Bid Management Dead.

Brian asks how we find consensus on things like purchasing or rented links, linkbaiting techniques, etc.

He says that anything beyond the creation of quality content for you site is an unethical attempt to manipulate the search engines. That being said, some behavior is clearly unethical: Misleading clients, engaging in risky practices without disclosure, selling traffic delivery as a search engine optimization, managing campaigns with untrained staff members, performing search engine optimization for uncompetitive, yet impressive sounding keywords.

Ian McAnerin is up next.

Is it time for marketing standards but what kind of standards are we going to have?

  • Morals: Personal, code of conduct for the self
  • Ethics: Social. Code of conduct related to interaction with others
  • Standards: Documented agreement on specifications, rules and norms
  • Guidelines: Documented agreement on general principles and processes, usually to clarity or provide context for Standards.

Why do we need search engine standards? For guidance, for credibility and for protection. It gives us a hint as to what direction we should be going in or what training we need to do a job properly. It gives the industry credibility as a whole.

Potential Issues and Pitfalls to be Avoided (Why We Shouldn’t Have Standards)

  • Restraint of innovation: Standards need to a living document and must evolve over time. New criteria and tech will emerge and change, things like social media, temporal data, etc.
  • Loss of control or unfair concentration of power: Power corrupts. A search engine is also a business. Lack of power corrupts. If nothing will change, why bother trying? Is it unethical or a competitive advantage? Business owners should be able to take calculated risks in order to innocent. Mistakes WILL be made – concentrated power means concentrated results
  • Blurring Morals, Ethics, Standards, Guidelines: Google won’t let you bid on beer but you can bid on wine. That’s a moral decision that Google made.
  • Too broad or narrow application: There is a difference between an SEO and an SEO Consultant. The industry defines the industry, not search engines or any other group. Business ethics have almost universal support unlike other areas such as specific search engine guidelines.
  • Enforcement & Authority: Who are you and what gives you the right? Lack of legislative authority means it has to be opt in. Must been seen to be neutral -not a "money maker" or publicity scheme. Public and industry awareness and acceptance critical.

Clients love testing, most SEOs do not. Testing and teaching should be separate. As long as the student can pass the test, it should not matter how they learned. Employers typically are interested in the least common denominator but like to see tiers – basic and advanced.

A code of ethics should be general enough to apply to both practitioners and researchers, while being clear to the public. It should promote the welfare of all stakeholders and should protect the reputation of the industry. Professional standards should be more specific than ethics and provide specific and measurable means.

Question & Answer

Can you distinguish between "best practices", "protocol" and "policy"?

Ian:
Best Practice is very close to guidelines. It’s how you do things. It’s generally accepted best practices.
Protocol: A process for doing things. It’s measurable.
Policy: A statement of direction.

Chris: They’re all standards. They all leave a little bit of wiggle room. There are governments that have policies that they don’t always strictly adhere to.

Brian: Policy leaves the least amount of wiggle room. Best Practices tend to be things that are shared between two companies.

Do you envision standards to be primarily industry backed or regulated and legally required?

Brian: I hope they’re industry backed.

Chris: How could they be industry regulated?

Ian: They’re advertising-backed. If we don’t regulate it, eventually someone will step in and do it for us.

What is the bigger issue: Standards for SEO techniques vs Standards for SEO performance?

Brian: If you want standards on performance you should be doing paid search, not organic search engine optimization. The search engines aren’t revealing anything that words, so trying to maintain standards for performance become difficult to maintain.

Paul: He thinks the Web Analytics Association is going to be writing standards for search based on performance if we don’t start writing some ourselves.

Chris: Standards on performance require full disclosure. Standards for performance and standards for technique blend together.

Ian: There are two ways of doing search engine optimization – as a service or as a consultant. SEO as a service can be something like I’m going to build you 300 links that are all PR4. It’s all very measurable. You can’t always blame the SEO for whether or not someone shows up and pays at the end. That stuff can be defined up front.

When you’re a consultant you’re expected to act in your client’s best interest. That’s when ethics and tactics really comes into play. You have to say what you’re going to do and how you’re going to establish it.

Should there be standards around job descriptions?

Chris: Certification already exists at SEMPO, check it out. (And Bruce Clay!)

Paul: It would be great to have a Senior SEO Search Analysts that you could hire to come in and do some standard SEO practice.

Ian: Employers sure want that.





One response to “Is It Time For Search Marketing Standards?”

  1. chris boggs writes:

    Thanks Lisa excellent coverage! I wanted to make it clear that I did in fact mention the BC Certification…since you put it in parentheses above, that is a bit ambiguous. Don’t want Bruce hating on me during our first BOD meeting. :)



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