Every so often the subject of SEO standards makes the rounds through the community. Are standards necessary? Would they help or hurt the industry? One of the sessions at SMX West last month led to a recent post by Jill Whalen arguing against the need for standards which is raising the issue again. Two posts after Jill’s in favor of standards are also generating discussion. I’ve written in the past that I don’t think SEO should be regulated, but there’s more to the debate and I wanted to mention a few points here and ask a few questions of everyone.
Before offering my take let’s get to the posts. Jill’s is first in the list below followed by posts by Lisa Barone and Ian McAnerin.
The first two posts above are also generating some good comments and debate at Sphinn
I’d encourage you to read both the posts and the discussions above. I also want to ask your opinion. Most of the debate that I’ve seen has been done by the SEO community. I know a good deal of you reading here wouldn’t define yourselves as SEOs and I’m interested in hearing the thoughts of people outside the community.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
The 4 Points
Jill offered four reasons for why she doesn’t believe SEO standards are necessary
- 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
Her post offers more details on each and both Lisa and Ian use these four points in their arguments in favor of standards. Again I encourage you to read the posts and subsequent discussion.
Standards for Regulation or Education?
Reading through the Sphinn comments I’m seeing two very different views of what standards are and the way people think of them. Some see standards as leading to regulation over the industry and some are seeing standards as a set of guidelines that can be used to educate SEO and non SEO alike.
Most of those arguing against standards, including myself, hear the term and think regulation. Most arguing in favor of standards hear the term and think education. Before any decision or progress could be made on enacting standards this question of regulation or education would first need to be addressed.
Who would these standards be for? And what would they hope to achieve?
Standards as Regulation
My post Should SEO Be Regulated? from a few months back argues against a regulating body over the industry. I won’t rehash that post, but I will say that my reasons against are mostly because I don’t think regulations wouldn’t be effective.
There’s really no way you could require someone to follow them. If I don’t like your regulations I just won’t call myself an SEO. Anything you do for the purpose of SEO you could argue is being done for some other reason. I simply don’t see how you could reasonably regulate the industry. I also don’t see how any group of people could define what should and should not be allowed in regards to search engine optimization.
I’m going to market sites based on what I think works and what falls within my own moral compass. If I’m working on client sites I’ll work within their moral compass too. You can set up any regulating body you want and that won’t change. I would imagine the same would be true for most people.
Standards as Education
I’m much more open to the idea of a set of standards as best practices or guidelines for those in and out of the industry to follow. Still I don’t think they’d be necessary or as helpful as some would think.
SEO changes quickly. Standards don’t. SEO basics are fairly simple to explain. Beyond the basics very few will agree on exactly what does and doesn’t work. How could a standards body offer more beyond the rudimentary principles? And since those principles can be put together in short series of posts is it really necessary to put together a standards board to teach them?
Aren’t there already hundreds of best practices and guidelines available now?
Some of the thoughts in favor of educational standards are that they would be for prospective clients. Sounds good, but how many of those clients are going to take the time to read the standards. The medical and legal professions both have standards. Outside of what I’ve seen on popular tv series I have no idea what they are. I don’t expect that I would take the time to learn them before going to a doctor or lawyer either.
Would clients spend the time reading the standards prior to hiring an SEO? Do you know the standards and best practices for being a plumber? For being an accountant? For being an electrician? I suspect not and I suspect that SEO clients wouldn’t spend the time to learn SEO standards either. That’s kind of why they want to hire you in the first place.
We all know there are plenty of snake oil peddlers in the industry. They’re in every industry. They exist because there will always be a portion of the world that wants something for nothing. Sure, some people have been burned by bad SEO practices, but those people were burned because they wanted to believe in something that shouldn’t have taken more than a few seconds to realize wasn’t true. Would SEO standards change that?
Maybe the only standard that’s necessary to protect clients is this this one. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
What Do You Think?
I don’t think regulation could ever be effective and I don’t see a standards body being necessary to further the education of SEOs and clients. The market will regulate and there are already many sources of education available. There’s nothing preventing further education either. An educational standards would simply be one place to go to learn. I don’t think it could ever hope to be the only word.
Still my thoughts come from the perspective of someone who practices SEO. All the arguments I’ve seen for and against are from practicing SEOs. I’d be greatly interested in hearing the opinion of people not in the industry. While I’d argue against the need for standards I’m open to being convinced otherwise.
What do you think? Do you think SEO standards would help or hurt the industry? Are they necessary to protect clients? Would they be useful in educating SEOs and non SEOs alike?