I was going to write about how there seems to be a debate brewing on the SEO horizon about standards in the industry, but it appears as though the storm has arrived.
Back in February, SEW Expert Chris Boggs kicked off the discussion in a call to standardization where he proposed the need for a clean glossary of definitions with an assigned risk rating, a great place to start, in my opinion.
Well, the reflection on the brushfire it started created some debate among industry experts. SEW Expert Frank Watson backs Chris up by supporting not the policing of standards, but simply laying out guidelines and the basics of what an SEO should be doing for a client.
SEW Expert William Flaiz stepped up, in this case against standardization, where he opposes the establishment of a risk ratings system. He feels that agencies play an important part in establishing "ethical and educative issues" instead of outside arbitration.
The real meat and potatoes of the discussion right now, however, isn't necessarily what standards to employ, but whether we need -- or should even consider -- SEO standards. I've stated here repeatedly how the rules of SEO are always in flux. How do we "catch a wave upon the sand," so to speak? Do we want to?
Lisa Barone over at Bruce Clay Inc. is clearly arguing for standards:
...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.
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.
And she makes a good point. How can we effectively train people if we don't have basic guidelines for the industry? How do we claim any credibility when offering services and training other than "We're better than them?" And -- sometimes more importantly -- how do we discredit those who are eroding the respectability of SEM by black hat, spammy, gimmicky, ultimately harmful methods without having an example to point to, to say "here's why."
The strongest argument for standardization is when it comes to certification. How can someone know if they've taken an appropriate course or useful training if the curriculum is not vetted? By anyone? Why would you take the time and spend the money to get a Ph.D. from a university that isn't accredited?
And one step further: Should we take this standards march to colleges and universities, grab the level and quality of training by the helm, and aid in the sculpting of not just the ideas, but the formal education stage of SEM?
As I mentioned in a previous article, there's a lack of "standardized" SEO training in the industry. Although some organizations offer certifications for the courses they offer, there still isn't a standard that has been established.
We Don't Need No Stinkin' Standards
Meanwhile, Jill Whalen argues for the other side of the coin. So if there's an obvious need for such standards, then why abandon the search before we even click the Google search button?
Aside from the difficulty in pinning down the aforementioned flux, there's also the issue of the SEM practitioners who want their "trade secrets" high on a shelf like Grandma hiding her secret recipes. Even though we all have the same goals -- to make our clients happy and successful people -- we all believe, if we're good, that our pie is better than all the rest. And those people who make crappy pie don't want anyone else to know.
Other arguments against standards, past the point of definition, fall into categories such as how they would limit or restrain innovation, how it would cause some to feel powerless and resentful towards the locus of power, how broad or narrow would specifications be, and once it's all figured out: how the heck do you enforce it?
Slide into enforcement and you start mumbling about the Internet police and then, well, you just sound silly. Or paranoid. Or both.
What resources exist to help a new SEO trainee learn about what standards are out there? In our next article we'll take a closer look. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on standardization? Let me know.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!