In our last two installments, I raised the question whether we should concern ourselves with, focus on, or even want SEO standards. I received many responses in the form of feedback, e-mails and thoughts posted on Sphinn. Here's what I heard:
Overall, people were positive about standards. Most people agree that there should be some standards in place for various reasons. One important reason was brought out by Terry Van Horne, founder of SEOPros.org, when he stated, "Standards would be one way to get over the 'credibility' hump."
Another reader echoed similar sentiments, effectively saying that without a standards, without a reference, it's difficult to sell the service to skeptical people, and it's nearly impossible to convince them that what they've heard from their buddy, who read some article, isn't necessarily "best practices."
In light of putting together a comprehensive idea of SEO standards, Van Horne also alluded to the "secret sauce" of SEO providers and the natural tendency to protect information, even if that information can be found publicly. Ben Potter from Leapfrogg expands on this idea by saying:
I believe the only people who are worried about being exposed are those likely to be adopting a black hat approach to SEO or those people who have read a newsletter or two and suddenly profess to be 'experts' -- selling SEO services with very little or no knowledge or experience. Therefore, in a scenario where a client looks to match a set of guidelines with the working practices of said person or company, it will become clear they are not cutting the mustard.
And that returns to the idea of credibility. If we have standards in place, we can knock out those folks who want to make a quick buck at the expense of the industry, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of every improperly-treated client, and every person they talk to, when they might actually benefit from a true and proper SEO campaign.
While most people agreed that there should be some sort of standardization, the highest level of concurrent thought came in the form of one question: How? Nathan Schubert said, "My concern about standardizing the SEM industry is that it's an ever-changing landscape and thus very difficult to maintain a sense of control or oversight. If you can't adequately enforce standards, then there's no point in having them," and this is also something we saw a great deal of.
Another reader wrote, "I can ask the advice of three different people in the industry and get three different answers. So my vote is in favor of at least a moderate level of standards, best practices, and training." Van Horne also brought this to bear with the comment, "The problem with that is most people can't even to agree to disagree on the contentious issues." Tim Staines said that implementing standards would be "nearly impossible."
The main charge is that because of an ever-changing system that has occasional catastrophic shake-ups, pinning down standards is difficult, and perhaps even foolhardy. Another comment suggested, "If there were standards then nothing would evolve." Are we painting ourselves into a corner by adopting standards when right now there is plasticity enough to handle all the changes that come about?
So if we can agree that there should be at least a modicum of standardization, perhaps in the form of an organized "best practices," how does that get implemented? Who holds the reins to that horse? And should that person or organization maintain that control, does it immediately imply that criticism and disdain will be wrought upon them?
According to Steve Gerencser, that's one path the discussion could follow: "But to try to enforce that standard on someone else will always, and it should, make people stand up and fight it."
Questioning and Concerning Even More
So who sets the standards? Ultimately, even if we pull together to form standards or best practices, the search engines still run the show and we're but marionettes trailing from their sometimes-skilled strings. Which brings us to one final question that I didn't expect from one reader: "Will search engines allow this?"
If we came together, collaborated like civilized professionals, organized a fully-functioning and yet flexible manner in which all SEO could be defined and verified and studied, would the search engines sabotage and defile it? Add more twists and turns to make it even more malleable? Or would they allow a definitive guide be compiled, printed, and published?
I guess the overall answer to that one is that they'd have a laugh. Since SEO practitioners shall never sit in the sanctum sanctorum of Google's hallowed halls, our organizing and writing may as well be chicken scratch, waxing ecstatic about what we can sense, what we can feel, but always just slightly out of reach.
As we wrap this final stretch into SEO educational standards, feel free to share your thoughts. I know the discussion is far from over.