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A Kindly Worded Letter to the SEO “Industry”
Written by Terry Van Horne
Monday, 20 June 2011 13:03

Ed note; This post is written by Webmaster T (Terry Van Horne) and Dojo Gal whom Terry is mentoring. You can expect more posts to come from T and Dojo gal in the future

“There’s more politics in SEO than there’s ever been in government.” ~ DojoGal

 

Dear Optimizing Brethren,

Yes, I’m talking to you, Link Acquisition Specialist. And you, On-page Aficionado. And you – yes, you in the back with your nose buried in search patents. I see you. This letter is for everyone who claims to be a part of the SEO industry, whatever hat they wear… and really is.

Wake. The Hell. Up. Understand that the SEO industry isn’t an industry at all. As it stands right now, we’re a bunch of nerds tinkering on the Web.

Let’s look at the facts, shall we?

Time for SEO standards?

SEO outings have become quite the rage.

Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing is a moot point (and I’ve heard strong arguments from both sides). If you’re going to throw what you consider “bad tactics” under the bus, fine, but at least take the friggin’ time to add what you would consider “good tactics” to the mix.

If your conscience says SEO outing is the right thing to do, cool. Go on with your bad self. If you just stop there, though, without adding that there are good, ethical, honest (pick your metaphor) optimizers, you’re just a dink with penis envy as far as I’m concerned. Somebody has a bigger one than you and you can’t stand it.

Don’t tout that crap about ethics. Don’t give me a line of bull as long as my arm about how it helps the SEO industry. It doesn’t help the industry; if you’re not giving other options at the same time, it further perpetuates the idea that SEO is nothing but snake oil.

Webmaster T Responds to Dojo gal:

I have dealt with consumers of SEO services for around 10 years with SeoPros and have been monitoring techniques for almost as long as there has been SEO. I can tell you categorically there are some who, when allowed to continue providing SEO services, are very bad for the industry image.

I think the “fight club” mentality of the past was also bad for the image of SEO’s. Somewhere in the middle ground is the place to take the industry so that the reputation of all isn’t adversely affected by the few. One way to illustrate our concern is to show some effort in providing guidance to consumers wishing to contract an SEO.

One of my concerns about the attitude of the industry is this feeling that consumers should have to do more due diligence to hire a “competent” SEO than to hire a lawyer or doctor. The simple answer is to set some sort of “best practices” for business and technique that sets some level of competence to be viewed as a Professional technical SEO or Search Engine Marketing Strategist.

Dojo Gal goes on adding:

Industry support is seriously lacking.

By support, I don’t mean a little invite-only, VIP social club passing a select few links around the Web. That’s cool and all, but it’s all hidden under the rug. That’s what you do when you aren’t proud of your connections. It reminds me of high school, when you didn’t want your cool friends to know you had uncool friends.

SNC is a perfect example. You know who RT’s, comments or otherwise contributes to supporting Search News Central? The same handful of people have supported SNC with engagement. SNC gets lots of traffic, but few comments or shares.

What – you’re so busy that you can’t take three minutes out of your time to comment on an article you enjoyed? Maybe you haven’t seen any articles you liked. If not, take a few minutes to let SNC know what you’d like to read about.

Another example: optimizers who like to write articles about how “today’s SEOs” don’t live up to the writer’s standards. These articles get many comments, but they’re all of similar tone – agreeing that, yes, there are stupid SEOs out there.

Let’s give both sides of the story, people. As with the SEO outings, share some of the positives as well. Look – I can forgive mainstream news for throwing more dirt on the industry; hell, it’s sensationalism and it sells. What I can’t forgive is when an optimizer throws dirt on the industry without planting a flower in the dirt.

There’s a dark and a bright side to every industry; I’m sick and tired of hearing all the negative without some positive sunshine to go with it.

Webmaster T Responds to Dojo Gal:

I agree that support by SEOs for the industry outside of their own organization has been poor to abysmal. Many cling to the old ways and attitudes like infants clutching their security blankets for comfort.

One other thing that I would hope some will consider is this. Instead of sending people on their way with little guidance when they are no longer accepting new clients, send them to SeoPros or another Organization like SEOconsultants where there is a bar set for competence. SEMPO could be another but there are no vetted members

Also let people know that beyond these “vetted” organizations some organizations give recommendations as “best SEO in…” or “Best Link Builder in…” for cash and most certifications require nothing more than participation to qualify. In other words, crush the myth that these are anything but legitimate or having the consumer’s best interest in mind when they recommend and endorse these services.

Dojo Gal goes on adding:

Anybody can be an SEO.

Or, at least, anybody can say they’re an SEO; they don’t have to know shite about it, either. So, some dinkwad who knows nothing but what they’ve read hangs up an “I’m an SEO” shingle, screws some clients over because, duh, they aren’t really an SEO, and more snake oil hits the Internet. It makes the industry look bad, people.

Yet, whenever anyone raises the topic of industry regulation (Judith Lewis just wrote a good pro-regulation article), many optimizers get outraged. “Like, dude, regulation is the man, dude. It’s all, like, rules n’ stuff.

A few places have tried to create organizations that outline what a legitimate optimizer is. I’m not talking paid review sites, either; I mean real attempts. What happens? SEOs spend so much time criticizing that they miss the validity of the attempt. Yet, if we don’t figure out something soon, there’s not much hope of us ever stepping away from being nerds tinkering on the Web.

Can we fix the SEO insudstry reputation?

How can we regulate the industry? Who does the regulation? I don’t know. Somebody brighter than I am will have to figure it out. What I do know is as long as we’re bickering over whether regulation is even needed, we won’t be moving forward.

Now, this isn’t a “why can’t we all just get along” speech. We come from all walks of life, and a unified agreement is a pipe dream. This is more like an impassioned plea. Support our industry - openly. Share the bad and the good. Tell both sides of the story. – Because, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be part of an industry than just a nerd with a computer.

Webmaster T Responds to Dojo Gal:

First and foremost, a lot of the negativity towards standards/regulation is a lack of understanding what is meant by standards and regulation. Well that, in and of itself, has a lot of baggage, so I can never see regulation meeting with any sort of success.

For many SEO’s the negativity stems from their confidence that their work would with stand the scrutiny standards imply. There are so many contentious issues in SEO techniques that this is a legitimate concern. There is a feeling by many SEOs that much of what we do is very hard to pin down with standards.

IMO, “best practices” are more of a reasonable tract to take. However, some aspects of Technical SEO are rooted in protocols and how Search Engines use them. These absolutely can be tested and there is consensus among the industry for their usage.

Terry Van Horne -

Terry is an old school SEO/IM geek that works out of International Website Builders and the founder of SEOPros.org - You can also hook up with him on Twitter. It seems he's become a regular here on the Trail... so I wanted to, once more, give a great big THANKs to T for hanging out and sharing his experiences.

You can also hook up via

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Last Updated on Monday, 20 June 2011 13:12
 

Comments  

 
0 #1 Eldad Sotnick-Yogev 2011-06-20 13:41
Very nicely put by the two of you. The industry is filled with us "nerd" and definitely many of us are/were attracted to it b/c there is no real governing body. However, it is time that the industry and ALL of us in it wake up and stop trying to make us seem like the Wizard of Oz. While we may think we are all powerful we have to reveal more of what's behind the curtain so people can not only have a greater respect for the work AND results we do, but for what it is involved in achieving real business results.

Here's to the two of you and the movement to clean up from hidden art & science to a tangible respected industry
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+1 #2 Mel Nelson 2011-06-20 13:50
Ah the Hydra raises its head again! I like your idea about best practices Terry, but who is going to determine what is the current state of best practices? And who will enforce it and how?

I recall a tiff with the founder of one of the organizations you mentioned who blacklisted me because I advocated actively soliciting links for your site rather than waiting for them to happen.

The idea is great but who is going to step up to the plate, determine and keep up to date best practices, and then administer such a system fairly and without favor?
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0 #3 Bharati Ahuja 2011-06-20 14:54
The SEO industry can get a positive image if the SEOs, clients and the search engines have a positive approach towards the whole process and there is a consensus on what to expect out of an SEO project.

SEO is the sum of the efforts put in for on-page, Off-page (link building) and now social signals too (as they help build and reflect the trust and authority) if there is a touch of genuineness in the messages sent across via these 3 paths the search engines can have the quality results for the searches made and the clients can get the targeted quality web presence and high rankings.

And of course not to forget all the algoquakes by Google for which the SEO has to again tweak and tune the website to adapt itself with the new algos.

As SEO is an ongoing process and not a one time job the reputation and understanding of the industry is of great value and importance to the SEOs, clients and the search engines.

All this is possible with cooperation rather than competition. In this era of social media the sharing of knowledge and information can only help any industry grow.

My blogpost on the following link discusses this topic further...

http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/the-question-about-the-reputation-of-the-seo-industry-12060
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0 #4 Terry Van Horne 2011-06-20 15:20
@Eldad a governing body... that will never happen(rightly so) as most SEO's see that as telling them how to do biz and their job.

I believe there should be some kind of free organization to determine what is testable and useful in determining a "minimum level of competency".

Before you can do that... you have to determine what it is that belongs to technical SEO (definitely testable), what part of it is marketing, link marketing (thanks Debra!), Public Relations (mainly Release distribution and optimization of copy for web), Social Media (Social Graph) and how much time is spent on each.

As to cleaning up the industry... it would take an industrial sized can of woop a$$E.

I would say not so much cleaning up the mess and more about avoiding the mess by speaking up on behalf of consumers and offering real guidance rather than the current concensus of buyers being "responsible" for educating themselves to what I believe is an unacceptable level.

I can't tell you how many times I have got a call at SeoPros from someone who has poor rankings that have nothing to do with SEO but more to do with the PHP/ASP sessionID set on entering the site usually on some crappy OS/CMS platform.

Often they have talked to several people and none of them have pointed that out... what they did do was try to sell them a re-development. Often they are asking someone who just put down a substancial amount of money to get to where they are to start the the process again... IMO, not cool and shows a complete lack of professionalism .


@Mel... well I know what you are saying not the first time I have heard that complaint. IMO, that is a major contributor to the feeling of being told how to do things by an ORg is a big negative... especially since it seems based on a very narrow view of SEO.

As to the stepping up to the plate... only works if as many as possible are included in the proceess... why it can't be a revenue generator for some org. As soon as you pay a nickel... it's tainted!
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0 #5 Rafael Montilla 2011-06-20 15:36
Thank you for say it all out!!!
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0 #6 Chris Boggs 2011-06-20 15:40
Terry this is a great article and thank you for mentioning SEMPO! It was a pleasure meeting you last week in Toronto and I hope our organizations can work together to help promote the industry in a positive light.

I look forward to our next discussion, and your next blog post with the DojoGal. :)
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0 #7 Gabriella Sannino 2011-06-20 16:32
How could I not respond to this post!! I couldn't agree with you more, Mr. T. Let me be clear, though - this is not about brown nosing or agreeing, either. You know I speak my mind so, seriously, when does the "building" start? No one has been able to unite the SEO community because I don't think there is one. Like any community out there, it's not an easy thing to do.

Personally, I love what you have done with SEOpro.org, and we both know you can do a lot more. From my experience within the SEO community, there isn't even a "standard" on how many years you've been working in SEO. Something as basic as that hasn't even been established.

You and I worked in the restaurant industry, and we both know something as simple as a 5 year minimum requirement, with at least 5 verifiable SEO clients, would be a start. I see people that barely knew how to pronounce SEO put up their sign after reading a few articles.

People are trying to scratch out a living online, and SEO seems "simple enough". lol - So how about we agree that people or companies that want to have an SEO shingle have at least 5 years of optimization experience, with 5 verifiable businesses they can show via either screen shots or live SERPs? Then, another thing could be that they belong to at least ONE verifiable SEO community?

Oh, I realize people will chuckle at these basics, but, at the very least, it shows SOME commitment to the industry while giving the SEO wanna be's something to strive for. ~ Meh maybe not...
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0 #8 Dori Cerulo 2011-06-20 17:55
Great post.

I think the best way to regulate the industry is easy access to education regarding the differences between white and black hat SEO. Today this seems a daunting task, but as web savvy generations grow older, and SEO becomes a part of mainstream marketing, it's going to get easier.

As someone who has lost business to shady SEO 'experts' (and as someone who spent a TON of time learning SEO before offering my services to others) my business provides potential clients access to basic articles about SEO geared towards non-tech savvy business owners (specifically, how to choose a white hat SEO.)

This has had some success- people realize that I'm not just trying to take the money and run but really want them to understand SEO, and it starts a dialogue between us and them. More often than not they turn into clients. It's not much, but it's a start.
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+1 #9 Charlie 2011-06-21 00:07
I´ve been doing SEO since 2000 - don’t consider myself an expert or SEO ninja guru - and what I think is that people needs to have more information about the SEO work.

Once the market gets cultured, the REAL SEO´s can keep alive and getting more business.

I´ve join SEMPO and attend SES & SMX events. But still thinking this “industry” can´t be regulated by any institution because it´s changing daily. The International Organization for Standardization doesn’t apply right here ;)

I never forget about the power of the Word of Mouth: If you´re showing not just good results but some REAL honest interest to the industry itself, you would be able to keep breathing on this “SEO jungle”… where others SEO are producing a negative image for the all industry.
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+1 #10 Anthony Verre 2011-06-21 13:38
Dojo Gal and Terry,

I see both sides of the argument here. Regulation is tricky, doing this for six years (not an old timer, not bright-eyed and bushy either) I have to lean with Terry on a "Best Practices" standardization . As in, this is how you should be performing optimization on websites. You test on these best practices, you pass, you get a certification. And, there are no "grandfathering" in; whether it's been 20 years or 1 year, everyone has to buy in. And, of course, there will be those that won't, but past track records and authority in the the industry will carry them through.

On the other half of the coin, regulation and standards mean, inherently, governing bodies. And, call me paranoid, call me "Tin Foil", but one power is given, and asserted, it leads to corruption. No matter if it is an intra-industry body or governmental (see the Webmaster Radio chat). Me, personally, has a very difficult time being submissive to that.

My Two Cents,

Tony
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0 #11 Chris Boggs 2011-06-21 13:57
I also wanted to add that I agree with the premise of what is needed, still. "Standards" is a strong word and often elicits discussion. In fact in 2008 I advocated that we as an industry should:

1. Define commonly used search marketing tactics; 2. Rate the tactics by risk level; and 3. Educate webmasters on the ratings. (Obviously the marketers too)

This increases the chances a more informed implementation decision is made by an organization. This topic is passionate, and we are fortunate to still have the opportunity to work towards commonly accepted guidelines and training/certifications. There are plenty of organizations out there that can help make this happen, if we partner and promote simple transparency.

(see the post here: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2064370/Standards-for-SEO-and-SEM-The-Time-is-Now

and the more heated follow up here:
http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2067639/SEO-Standards-Signal-the-Maturing-of-Our-Industry
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+1 #12 Doc Sheldon 2011-06-21 18:30
Like Tony, I see validity in both arguments. Unfortunately, I see a great deal of difficulty in achieving any success in establishing a "recognized" standard. I think the only hope is for an informal standard, which I realize is a step you're targeting with SEOPros.org, Terry.
The fact that it seems to be difficult, of course, doesn't warrant pushing it aside without making the effort. I think we had better undertake it, or prepare to see our industry (and its clients) continue to suffer poor service.
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0 #13 Terry Van Horne 2011-06-22 01:49
@Gabs... verifying clients is tough we went that route for a while... then some of us realized we were asking for something some of us wouldn't up... so it becomes a barrier to entry... IMO, any barrier to entry makes the legitimacy a harder sell for the ORG. It is perceived as a club/clique.

@Dori sorry I disagree the hat stuff here is just not viable... it carries with it the risk of making some techniques needed by clients ie if you are in porn industry... the white/black hat stuff is nonsense or you are wearing blinders to the real facts as to what is acceptable... Look at the results and you soon learn.. ya do whateva.... or you are shot down like a dog wearing a white hat.

That's why Chris' risk association with techniques suggestion is a solution IMO, that works for all... not just the SEs

@Chris it was really nice to spend some time around SES Toronto with you and talk about these things.

I'm pretty sure if there was ever a time SEMPO aligns with other Orgs to look at these issues it will be under your leadership. Your attitude was refreshing to say the least!

If the links look edited... well dumb me tried to make the links live... ;-)

What you propose as far as techniques and associating risk is a good idea as it helps with educating SEO's and helps consumer get real info on the risk of different techniques.

Of course the little minds will march out their "Search Algos are always evolving" argument another little mantra I'd like to squash like a bug!

Anyone around long enough knows there have been maybe 6 changes spread out over years that actually made much of difference. So IMO, that's a strawman argument that again SEO's cling to because it protects the status quo!

@Charlie
"I´ve join SEMPO and attend SES & SMX events. But still thinking this “industry” can´t be regulated by any institution because it´s changing daily"

15 years in the business and the way I do things has changed very little. Some of the techniques aren't as effective and some are just as, or, more effective.

There are only so many techniques that affect or can be effected by algos and they are at best a handful of general methods.

Then too... I never saw paid links as a long term solution, or article marketing as anything more then dropping big turds in the Interwebs content stream... unless the quality was higher than you see on most/all article marketing sites.

I do content placement and what would be called old school website promotion and PR as in Public Relations... most other linking techniques have extraordinarily short shelf life. Again not what I like to invest time in before all my other bases are covered

@Tony... I've seen no corruption at the W3c nary a wimper when The big Three try and steal the semantic web with Schemin' Schema.org.

SEO roots are in that W3C group and I believe with the right people leading the way we can at the very least have a body similar to that.

Power corrupts... money corrupts absolutely as it monetizes the corruption. Take the money out of it and there is no fuse for corruption.

@Doc... I agree personally I've given up on the whole industry doing it at once... most will be dragged into it kickin' and screamin' cuz it has become good for biz it won't be because they see the need... only the benefit.
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0 #14 Josh Wilson 2011-06-22 04:39
Terry,

I'm no SEO, just a fan, but why don't you collect $200 dues from the most trustworthy 20 or 50 SEO's elect yourselves a board, and let them come up with some standards.

You could even have a list of peeps that were certified for 'trustworthy' by the official board. Seems like that solves a lot of the problems mentioned above.

Sure, it's a huge pain in the ass for those on the board the first year, but others will step up when their year term is over, etc.

Accountants, lawyers, doctors, everyone has a board that sets standards, and the first one to create it in this industry wins, right?
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0 #15 Joe Rozsa 2011-06-23 02:35
Terrific article, Terry. I agree completely. One of my biggest nails on a chalkboard pet peeves is the term "SEO industry". It's only an "industry" for those that want to belong to something more legitimate than the "nerds tinkering on the web" persona that you described. Most of the people that would belong to this "industry" wouldn't even want in.

Heck, some of the best people in this space don't do SEO at all. Rather, they just simply run their business properly. When I first started doing SEO, 15 years ago, it wasn't called SEO. It was called "damn, if I'm going to have a website, I better figure out a way to get people to visit it". The result of those good business practices was eventually dubbed 'SEO' of course. I still hate the term "internet marketing" too, for the record, because that causes a lot of marketing people to incorrectly think they can be successful at it. But I digress.

Part of the problem with the "industry" concept is that there is really no barrier to entry to this industry. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can spend one night reading SEOmoz, reading the Search Engine Ranking Factors and call themselves an expert (full disclaimer: I was one of the contributors to that compilation this year). Imagine if you could read an article or two online and call yourself an attorney, or spend an hour on WebMD and become a doctor. That would be absurd. Yet that is possible in the SEO 'industry'. Is there a solution or an answer on the horizon? No, I really don't think so. I personally think people will need to do (and know) a whole lot more than just SEO in order to stand out and to be successful. It's like specializing in punctuation while working for a newspaper. It's a great skill to have, certainly, but if someone can come along and do that as well as something else, they'll get the job. You'll see lots of people that know SEO well, while also doing their main job, whatever that is. Mostly working to make the site successful. And that's just good business.
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0 #16 Terry Van Horne 2011-06-23 03:42
@Joe well that was Dojo gal who called SEOs "nerds tinkering on the web".... I will say that isn't my position... which was the joy in doing this with her.

The reason there is no bar to entry is we as a group have for the most part chosen that route... the years of "fight Club" mentality put us there.

The problem is there is no bar so any one can call themselves an SEO. What have we done to make it easier for consumers to have a bar beyond... ya' better do due diligence... really and to do that takes some Background in SEO...to even know what to look for due diligence wise takes knowledge of SEO..likely more than it takes to implement it.
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0 #17 Joe Rozsa 2011-06-23 04:10
Sorry for the mis-quote on the 'nerds' comment. You are absolutely correct about the fight club mentality. It's a unique field where everyone self-proclaims their own talents as if there are good metrics in existence to even measure that. Heck, I'm just as guilty of doing that in the past myself, basing it on SERP rankings I was responsible for, speaking roles/engagements, high profile projects, etc. I see now that it was to try and create self-importance for my skills and to stand out from the snakes in the field. But I've sort of gotten burnt out by them, and now I really don't care as much I guess. But as long as there is that competition, and fight club mentality, you're right.
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0 #18 Dejan SEO 2011-06-24 12:57
It's great to be passionate but all this writing energy went into what exactly...?

I hope your next post will be less about politics and frustration and more about useful tangible ideas, tests, ideas and actionable tips.
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0 #19 DojoGal 2011-06-24 16:58
I bet, if we gathered all the ideas put out in comments from the articles talking about regulation, we'd actually have a full guideline. lol

@everyone Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. "Being supportive" can be this simple. Awesome response, people. :D

@Joe "One of my biggest nails on a chalkboard pet peeves is the term "SEO industry". It's only an "industry" for those that want to belong to something more legitimate than the "nerds tinkering on the web" persona..."

Exactly m'point. For most people, "industry" implies a lot of things (such as standards) that just aren't there in the SEO world.

@Dejan SEO - As the first collaborative post between Terry (who's a pleasure to work with) and me, we think it went over rather well. And, I personally think it's important to get all the "frustration and politics" out of the way, so we all know where we stand. 8)

Are we beating a dead dog? I don't think so, and I feel the comments above back me up. Of course, we're all welcome to our opinions. ;)

In response to the comment about the next post, well.. guess you'll just have to keep an eye out. It's in the works.

I promise, and I know Terry will back me up, most of our future posts will be more about "ideas, tests and actionable tips". - But.. I still reserve the right to rant every now and then. :P
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0 #20 Laura 2011-06-24 20:17
@Dejan SEO - I was going to ask for a 2 line summary of the objective of the post, but you basically did that already.

@DojoGirl Rant away, but perhaps something new to rant about? This conversation has been going on for years... and simply rehashing all the old 'bad-vs-good' hysteria is not actually helping anyone except to show and non-search marketers (heaven forbid I use the word 'industry' apparently) who are unfortunate enough to stumble on yet another confused post that we don't know who we are and we need to 'wake the hell up' - which to my somewhat limited mind is less than confidence inspiring. Then again it may simply be yet another forum for new SEOs to give their view point - all well and good, but minor note: it's all been said before and some folks have actually made inroads into highlighting and consistently providing effective search marketing advice and solutions that efficiently impact target KPIs. That is not a statement to be taken as a genralization ofcourse, but then again there are very few practices/discplines/industries/what-ever-you-want-to-call-it where everyone is equally capable, talented, able, experienced or willing to work to any reasonable standard of ethical or productive expectation.

An entirely unproductive comment I realise, but that seems to fit with the general flow of things :)
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