Most of the readers who e-mailed me were in favor of standardization in one way or another. The debate even continued over on Sphinn, where there were points made for and against the idea.
I'll focus on the discussion in the next installment, but the feedback uncovered some additional questions I'd like to throw out to you:
- Do SEO standards help or hinder a neophyte looking for education? A small or new company?
- Does setting standards give away "industry secrets?" Are there industry secrets to give away?
- Do official standards imply an official standards organization? How do you feel about all the power in one place?
- Where do we draw the line between guidelines and policing?
- Are standards even practical until my mole delivers the Google algorithm via microfilm?
Organizing Standards with Standards Organizations
Officially, there are no official SEO standards organizations. If there were, you'd know it, because suddenly there would be three or more -- and they'd all be arguing. However, some organizations are part of a movement to legitimize SEM as a viable and valid practice.
So, what resources exist to help a new SEO trainee learn about what standards are out there? Let's take a look.
Interactive Advertising Bureau
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has set up a best practice resource that is supported by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. The IAB's assorted task forces include basic search engine policies, checklists to help advertisers, search marketing how-tos, and even "a set of industry guidelines for the usage of pop-ups and pop-unders."
While the IAB is a respected institution, has done its homework, and holds some sway when it comes to bending an ear, standards are only as good as the folks who follow them. While many people want to create respectable standards for the industry, unfortunately there are some who seek to subvert the white hat to gain an edge, even if for only a short time.
The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) has also composed a metrics and standards task force to help develop guidelines for search engine technologies, and they're in the beginning phases of putting together a plan of action. Again, the purpose is to add credit and efficiency to the industry by delineating a fixed set of best practices and glossary terms to help guide those who are looking for such standards.
SEO Standards Web Consortium
I was even able to find a SEO Standards Web Consortium. Of course, as with the idea of SEO standards, the project is still in its concept phase.
For some other training and guideline resources, you can visit SEO-Space.
I Can Has Flexibility?
When it comes down to it, we need some sort of industry standard -- or guidelines -- if for no other reason than credibility. As it is, many businesses turn up an eyebrow at the purveyors of search engine services as though we're wearing a top hat, fake moustache, and trying to sell them snake oil tonic. Businesses are taking bad experiences to heart and there's nothing to point to for service providers to say "I'm not that guy." Standards would also be a solid starting point for anyone trying to break into the business or simply becoming educated about it.
On the other hand, making standards that are too restricting will make practitioners eschew any such standards, and make it nearly impossible to have anything stick. We'll need a happy medium, perhaps something like the U.S. Constitution, which is flexible enough to fit the needs of a changing people and changing industry. Then again, not everyone pays attention to the Constitution, either.
Please continue to send me your thoughts on this issue. I'll report on specific outcomes in the next installment. Also, please let me know in your e-mail if it's OK to publish your name and comments in a future column on this topic.
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!