We Do Need SEO Standards
Over at Search Engine Land, Jill Whalen writes that we don’t need industry standards and just like that my inner pit bull wakes up and starts mouthing the gate. It’s like a tic.
As you might imagine, I disagree with Jill. Taking a look around, I think we are absolutely at the point where it’s Do or Die time for SEO standards. We don’t need the perfect search engine optimization How To guide (though I’m sure Mahalo is working on that), but we do need to outline what SEO is and what it means to optimize a Web site. We need to establish best practices, what the risk is for abandoning them, and what all these different terms that we throw around actually mean.
Jill gave the following four reasons for why they industry does NOT need SEO standards:
- There are too many ways of skinning the SEO cat.
- We can’t even agree on the definition of search engine optimization.
- There are already laws to protect people from SEO scam.
- There’s no such thing as "cheating" in SEO.
That was her reasoning. Now I will destroy it. Muahaha. (Just kidding, Jill!)
Jill is right. There are many ways to do SEO. There are also many ways to cook a pork chop. Just because the same task can be accomplished and approached differently and with different flavors doesn’t mean that guidelines aren’t useful. I’m not saying that SEMPO or another such organization should get together and create the end-all, be-all recipe of how to perform SEO. That would be unrealistic and outdated before it was even finished. I’m saying we need basic guidelines for the search engine optimization process and to document what it is we actually do. It’s something we need for training, for protection and for credibility.
Jill noted that we all know that keywords are important to a search engine optimization campaign even if we can’t agree on how many instances of each term we need in our copy. The fact that keywords are needed to support our subject theme is the SEO rule, the number of instances is the secret sauce that SEOs can experiment and test out on their own. We’re not creating a cheat sheet; we’re creating guidelines.
And as much as I sympathize with Jill’s hesitancy to push for a set of common definitions for SEO, good GOD do we need them. I know the process is going to be majorly not fun and that there will be lots of closed door fighting (bring popcorn!), but without standard definitions we’re all just making this up as we go along and trying to get square spammy techniques to fit inside a round white hat hole. It’s also necessary for newbies just entering the game and for the poor inhouse folks who have to explain and justify things to scary balding men in suits. I don’t need to know the history of cloaking. I just need a basic definition of what it is and examples of it in its most white and most black forms.
Jill’s last two points of contention are that there are already laws in place to protect people from SEO scams and that there’s really no such thing as "cheating" in search optimization to begin with. Back, pit bull, back!
As far as there being "laws" out there to protect people from wheelin’ and dealin’ SEOs, I think that’s up for debate. Yes, there is legislation out there that will make sure contracts are lived up to and that fraud doesn’t occur, but we need to educate people so that they are aware of when they’re being scammed. I suspect most site owners don’t even know that the SEO "professional" who is buying them links and engaging in shady SEO practices is potentially putting them, their site, and their company at risk. And that is scamming them. That is what a SEO standards can help accomplish. It’s about making the entire process transparent, without revealing each firm’s specific secret sauce.
When it comes to the SEO cheating argument, I think Jill needs to understand that the best practices and standards we’d be creating aren’t meant for the black hats. I’m not trying to bring anyone over to the light here. What I’m interested in is helping upcoming search marketers learn the ropes and to give them the tools they need to learn to do things right from the very start. We’re creating standards so the next generations of search marketers get a head start and have more than just SEO blogs and forums to learn from. We’re trying to cut back on the amount of disinformation.
And I think it is up to us to police our industry, just like it’s up to us to be good citizens in the town we live in and speak up when we see something that isn’t right.
Obviously, I don’t think it’s my job to "out" people buying links or those using spammy techniques, but as a member of the search engine optimization industry, and a representative for a company known for doing it "right", I think it’s my responsibility to educate. That is a stance Bruce Clay, Inc. has always taken. It’s why we have our SEO Code of Ethics and started our SEO training and Advanced Certification programs.
For search engine optimization to become a legitimate industry, we need to start treating ourselves as one. Ian McAnerin actually brought up a great point during the Is It Time For Search Marketing Standards panel reminding us that search engine optimization is a form of advertising. It’s not a matter of should it be regulated, advertising MUST be regulated. If we don’t do it, someone else is going to come in and do it for us. I’d rather see us create our own guidebook.
Think of SEO has a baby startup. In the early days, it’s okay when you’re stealing money out of petty cash to pay the rent and maybe not following all those OSHA laws you know you’re responsible for. But as you start increasing your employee count and becoming "legit", those things start to matter more. You start to become responsible for making sure your organization is playing by the rules. It’s the same thing for SEO.
For us to grow, we have to adopt the official standards that are going to give us the credibility and protection that this industry needs.