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August 22, 2007

The SEO Reputation Problem

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Hang in there, folks! Jeffrey K. Rohrs is moderating the last session of Day 3 with speakers Shari Thurow (Omni Marketing Interactive), Kristopher B. Jones (Pepperjam), Jennifer Laycock (Search Engine Guide), Jonathan Hochman (Hochman Consultatns) and Kathleen Fealy, (SEMPO).

[Kristopher Jones originally introduces himself as Jason Calacanis and then as Dave Pasternack. SEOs are funny.]

Shari Thurow is up first.

Shari tells a personal story about the time she was named an MSN Search Champ and someone mentioned her in a blog post and basically called her a spammer. To make things even worse, the blogger in question then wouldn’t let her post on her blog, forcing Shari to explore other avenues to educate people.

Shari says that in the academic community, search engine optimization professionals are often treated as if they have the plague. As a grad student, Shari has read a few SEO articles that contain incorrect info. There is a tremendous need for information professionals, especially librarians, to teach school children how to search well and how to discern from good search results from bad search results.

Shari is excited for the Q&A later.

Kristopher Jones is up next. He doesn’t have a PowerPoint present. All hail, Kristopher. [My hero! --Susan]

Kris says he doesn’t have a PowerPoint because he thinks the crux of this debate lies in question and answers. This is an important issue. There are some really bad actors that are ruining it for those of us that are good. Unfortunately, search engine optimization professionals have a portion of the profession that seems to define the rest. And that fundamental attribution cause illogical conclusions and put business professionals in the position of having to explain themselves. The reality is that Kristopher is a CEO of a full service marketing agency. When a client approaches them about improving their business he recommends an integrated approach to find out where opportunities exist. Be care of that small percentage of SEO professionals who will try and sell you guarantees.

The idea that you’ll get cold-called or that you’ll receive an email that guarantees top placement for the keywords of your choice is ludicrous. There is a global consensus that this is something you should stay away from.

He admits that he’s not in the business of trying to highlight other people’s practices, but he pulls up a query for [guaranteed search engine placement] to look at the companies using these terms anyway.

The most important conversation you have to have with a client as an SEO is one about expectations. If that discussion doesn’t take place, the client will come in with expectations that are unreasonable and that just propagates the idea that SEOs are unreasonable.

Jonathan Hochman is up.

Jonathan goes to eBay and shows people selling Wikipedia home page placement and links. There’s a name for people who sell things that aren’t theirs to sell, they’re called frauds.

Search engine optimization contests = a public nuisance. This hurts the public perception of the optimization industry. Jonathan says that Wikipedia implemented its nofollow policy because of all the search engine optimization contests that were taking place. Then they took away the link juice and the SEO bloggers began crying that they deserve their links. He points to Andy Beal’s post about reducing Wikipedia’s PageRank to zero by nofollow’ing all of their links.

The Internet is a shared resource. There used to be this thing called "netiquette". We don’t have that anymore. Show good faith by calling out spammers. Get involved with online communities. Walk a mile or two in their boots.

Kathleen Fealy is next.

She comments that she’s seeing a lot of request coming from small business asking for services under $5,000. Small and medium sized businesses do have legs, but they also have concerns.

How do people know if they’re hiring someone qualified? If you’re going to a doctor, you can see the diploma on the wall. Most SEOs got in the business and learned from the ground up. There still aren’t any meaningful degrees or certificates. The Internet is changing so much and so quickly, how do I know if the SEO company I’m hiring keeps up? If I do hire a company, how do I know if they did what they were supposed to do?

How should they fix my site? What do I ask?

Small businesses are victims of malicious intent and scams because they fall for "too good to be true" offers. There’s no such thing as a "free lunch" but businesses often don’t know any better.

A little knowledge can be dangerous. Web designers don’t know how to design for the search engines. Traditional print/PR firms add the service because their clients asked for it and they have experts in Photoshop on staff. Marketing professionals figure how hard can it be – it’s just an extension of their current work, right?

Wrong.

The SEO reputation problem lies in the fact that perceptions = reality.

SEOs need to become evangelists. Explain what needs to be done and why it needs to be done. Write articles. Speak to organizations. Join professional organizations. Continue learning. Don’t forget about ethics. Educate businesses.

Jennifer Laycock is up.

Social Media from the user perspective: It connects people of similar interests and allows them to form a community.

From the marketing perspective, people look at social media as the one stop marketing extravaganza. Marketers have seen the power of social media but they’ve neglected the social. We’ve become the insurance agent at the class reunion. We don’t care about people; we just want to sell them something.

Jennifer talks about her connection with Bento Yum. Jennifer is a fan of the product and launched a blog as a sort of hobby blog. She partnered with SAHM, and created a lot of great informational content. She engaged without trying to sell.

A competitor spotted the series and "outed" her as a marketer and said it was just a scam. It didn’t matter what she had done, that she was providing information, etc., because someone who was already part of the space, pained this picture of Jennifer as a spammer, that was the perception so people believed it.

How do we stop this? Let’s hear your ideas in the comments.

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3 responses to “The SEO Reputation Problem”

  1. Dudibob writes:

    The easy(er) way to get around this is with qualifications, but then the problem arises is who sorts out the qualifications? can they keep up with the pace?

    It really is THE can of worms in the industry :(

  2. identity writes:

    Sounds like this would have been a very interesting discussion to sit in on. The question and concern that does seem to be on every SEO’s mind.

    As this panel touched on, even this topic can head different directions, part personal reputation management, part education and expectation management.

    Unfortunately, on the rep management, I’m not sure there is much anyone can do, other than follow the same best practices that we would instruct our clients to do for reputation management in the ever-evolving web space.

    This does seem to be a growing and popular topic as I’ve seen more and more of it lately and just wrote part one of an article for a local business mag myself. I think this will just become part of everyone’s ongoing operations, personally and professionally. And in some cases, there are just others out there who will always choose to pursue reputation slandering as their means of marketing.

    On the other note though, setting expectations and even the education of clients is something that I think, as an industry, we must continue to drive forward. The reality is, much of this is still extremely new to the vast majority of people, so if we don’t help to bring them along, it will just take even longer before we start to see changes.

    In the meantime, there are plenty who will prey on their lack of knowledge and understanding. Personally, helping to educate clients has been a great sales tool… they want to make a smart decision, we all do–usually–so taking the time to show them that you know what you are talking about and to help them understand, it sets you apart from everyone else.

    And given a little straight forward education, instructing them why no one in the industry would guarantee a number 1 listing in the SERPs because it simply isn’t within their control… a lot of clients are intelligent enough to “get that,” which also helps them to cross off much of your competition as soon as they make those guarantees to the client.

  3. rob nicholson writes:

    I think the IAB’s search marketing guidelines may be a step in the right direction – if you have to get a few training courses/qualifications then so be it – SEMPO as well, even if the technical side of it isnt that hard for seasoned SEO’s it’d help regulate the industry.



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