SEO in a World With a Code of Ethics and Without Search Engine Figureheads

In one 30-day period, we had a bit of a shakeup with three pieces of news that have the potential to change our industry.

October 2: SEMPO calls for a “Search Congress” to create an SEO Code of Ethics.

October 30: Microsoft laid off Duane Forrester and a handful of other Bing employees.

October 31: Matt Cutts decides he’s not coming back to Google until 2015.

On Matt Cutts

First things first: Nothing’s really going to change if Matt Cutts does announce his leave will turn into full-blown retirement, assuming he’s not already operating under that assumption.

Can anyone outside of Google’s Web spam team say that their job has been negatively affected because Cutts hasn’t been around for three months? Other than maybe the void left by his lack of YouTube videos?

No offense Matt, but I didn’t even notice you were gone.

In all likelihood, Cutts has been so busy being the figurehead of Web spam that he probably hasn’t done much fighting of Web spam in the past five years. He even alluded to that when he first announced in July he was going on leave.

“Seriously, they’re much better at spam fighting than I am, so don’t worry on that score.”

There’s no telling if his absence has hurt or helped Google, but the better part of me says it hasn’t hurt the search engine giant. If it has, you better believe they’d be pushing him to come back sooner rather than green-lighting an extended leave.

Of course, Google will feel it if its SEO figurehead leaves, just like any company would, but more from a PR/brand standpoint than an operational Web spam stand point. But, SEOs are a minor, minor percentage of the people who A) actually use Google and B) Google makes money off of, which is very little if any, so business will continue to be as usual.

The biggest thing the SEO industry will lose is just someone to blame worship with the next round of algorithm updates until the next person steps into the limelight.

On Duane Forrester

This piece of news was more telling to me than Matt Cutts extending his leave. Forrester has long been the face of Bing Webmaster Tools and the downright darling of the SEO industry, so Microsoft laying him off stung. One, because you felt bad for the guy, and two because you’re left wondering what the hell Microsoft is thinking?

Forrester’s layoff is likely part of a massive restructuring the company started in July that would eliminate 18,000 jobs over the course of the year.

I don’t know what Microsoft’s plans are for Bing or its relationship with the SEO industry, but one could argue that this will hurt more than Google losing Cutts. Duane championed Bing. He made it relevant for us. He made it valuable for us. He made us want to use it because we could get different, if not better, data. No one else at Microsoft even comes close.

Now, wouldn’t it be serendipitous if Forrester took Cutts’ place at Google?

On an SEO Code of Ethics

Many others have chimed in on this before me — read Larry Kim’s “Why SEO’s Don’t Need a Code of Ethics from SEMPO” and the combined voices of Rhea Drysdale, Kim Krause Berg, and Kristine Schachinger in “Industry Experts Respond to SEMPO’s Code of Ethics Plans.”

To summarize, it’s a good idea in theory, but it’s so far from being practical. Kim argues frivolous lawsuits and no way to enforce adoption, where the latter three question SEMPO’s validity to police an industry and a COE’s ability to even do anything if someone breaks the rules. I love the way Schachinger put it:

D*cks will be d*cks and an unethical SEO is already subject to online reviews and many laws related to fraud, yet that does not stop them. Does anyone really think a group with an SEO code of ethics will?

I can’t see a code of ethics ever existing for SEO. There are just too many questions. The industry changes too frequently. And why is it that SEO needs a code of ethics when no other marketing tactic, and frankly, very few other industries have one? There are people who do shady things in any industry, not just SEO.

Yes, your website is important, and yes what we do can really impact someone’s business, but let’s be real here: We are not saving lives. We do not to be held to the same standard as doctors.

And furthermore, don’t we already have an enforcer of ethics that punishes us if we break the rules? Don’t we just call that Google?

What do you think SEO will look like with no search engine figureheads? Are in you favor or against an SEO code of ethics?

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