OK, maybe the last one's stretching it, but SEO has a bad name. Even Google doesn't have nice things to say when you search for SEO:
Scammers and Spammers
Many people haven't even heard of SEO. I generally get a blank stare when people ask what it is I do for a living.
For those that do know of SEO, the industry definitely has a bad reputation. There are some SEO horror stories out there.
As one example, a realtor friend of mine hired an SEO company to get her page one rankings on "Her town Real Estate" in 30 days, because they told her they could guarantee it. They didn't deliver, because they couldn't. They still took her money and stopped answering her phone calls.
Another example is an SEO company that charges $2,500 for a quality link building program, only to turn around and give an overseas company $25 to throw the same solitary link up in their 100 domain directory link farm (then charge the client $2,500 the next month to remove the links after they incurred a Google penalty).
And let's not forget the SEO companies that still charge to submit sites to the search engines, or at least still advertise such a service on their websites.
One client I worked with had recently severed ties with their previous agency. One of the first things I noticed was that they had a hidden links page on their site.
This links page (actually three pages) was littered with links to unrelated businesses, from Florida real estate firms, to California dentists, to Minnesota massage parlors. After a little investigation we determined that this was basically both the client list and the link building strategy for the previous agency. They hadn't sought permission from their client to put this link list on their site -- they had just buried it and hoped no one, apart from the search engines, would notice.
Is this Exclusively an SEO Issue?
For those of you out there thinking, "Well, I'm in social media, so I don't have to deal with this," yes you do. Wherever there's an opportunity to make money there's always going to be an unsavory element looking for ways for that money to end up in their bank account.
One person I recently talked to at an SES conference told me how they were locked in a fight with their previous social media consultant. Their contract had come to a conclusion, and the decision was made not to renew. The consultant then informed them that if they wanted access to their social media profiles they'd have to pay her for them, despite the contract stating that they were the property of the company.
They were negotiating with her, because they were concerned that if they went in hard with a legal response, she may have harmed their social media presence using the official accounts. Now, there may have been more to the story than I was privy to, but in a world where posting an inappropriate tweet can result in immediate outrage and potential lost business, it's a real concern.
Cleaning up the Name
So what do we do? How do we clear the name of SEO? How do we make people understand what it is?
Well, there's no easy solution. All we can do is continue to educate people about what SEO can do, and conversely what it can't and shouldn't do.
By publicizing the positive aspects of SEO (in other words the money that's been generated either through SEO, or through SEO in conjunction with other marketing tactics) we're going to at least make people take a second look at SEO and hopefully reprise their opinion.
By helping people to understand what they should be looking for when looking to hire a reputable SEO company, we're going to help them avoid the spammers and scammers, and hopefully help them have a better understanding of, and experience with, SEO.
At least Bing seems to have a better opinion of SEO than Google.