NOTE: I originally published this article on CultureFeast.com in 2006. It has been relocated here for posterity.
How do you know if you are dealing with an SEO expert? What are their credentials? How do you discern between the expert and the expert fake?
Could there be another industry more inflated by ego, misinformation, and repetition than search engine optimization? Perhaps there are a few others out there, but not many. But what else can one expect from an unregulated industry? There’s no FCC, FTC, FEC, FMC, FERC, HIPAA, ATF, SEC, FAA or any other acronym’d agency standardizing legitimate SEO practices.
Search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves each have their own secret algorithms which mathematically select, arrange, and prioritize search results. No two search engines work the same. No two search engines yield exactly the same search results (unless they are actually powered by the same search engine but packaged under different names).
No SEO “expert” or firm knows all of the search engines’ secrets. So how do they write so many articles, blogs, and forums with such authority? And why are the ones pinky swearing that they’re honest only telling you enough to maintain enough mystery to keep you relying upon their expertise and yet still wondering what the heck they are doing behind those closed doors?
Am I saying that they’re all scam artists? No. Many of them aren’t. But even the ones who are legit are still count on an air of mystery and difficulty to keep the client from demanding too many specific answers. Why? Because if these search engine specialists revealed all that they know to a client, they know that an intelligent client would be unimpressed.
The truth is that most companies could perform their own SEO and be quite successful. There are exceptions, like the home mortgage industry. Certain industries are so competitive in organic search that most companies will not be able to compete even with professional natural SEO services.
So why should a company hire an SEO professional? In my opinion, such contracting of services only makes sense when a company either has enough money to throw around or they have much more important tasks for their own employees to perform. I compare it to online grocery shopping – it saves you time and effort, but unless you’re disabled, filthy rich, or ungodly busy it is not a cost effective option.
Of course, I’m not going to begrudge anyone the opportunity to sub out a service they do not feel comfortable with performing themselves. Every executive has the right to decide which is more valuable to the company in this situation: time or money. I understand that, and I also respect a person who focuses on contributing their strengths rather than faking strengths that eventually cost the company due to incompetence and pride.
You will find those same types of people in the search engine marketing profession. Men and women have forged careers in search engine marketing because they learned how to retell someone else’s stories and to write “new” articles containing recycled information. Those types are actually better at sales and personal PR than SEO.
So what exactly makes a person an SEO expert? Seriously. Don’t accept someone’s claims without critically examining them. There’s no federal or industry-wide standard. So who makes an expert an expert? What’s the difference between an expert and an expert fake? And how can you tell one from the other?
It’s a slippery slope. Sadly, it is an industry where many companies profit from client ignorance. Am I going to present clear-cut evidence here of my claims? Not a chance. I don’t have to, and I don’t want to make any specific enemies. I learned what I know by studying SEO online wherever I could because I was trying to join the industry.
What I realized through my extensive online reading and professional relationships is that a good humble businessperson is always more trustworthy and reliable than a self-proclaimed expert. Humility is key. Use your discernment.
If you don’t believe me, subscribe to a few SEO newsletters and catch up on your SEO articles. See for yourself if you don’t read the same thing over and over, only presented in a different order or from a different angle. Study which groups or individuals support and compliment each other in SEO articles, forums, and blogs. Notice how they build a castle of thoughts out of thin air.
In this industry, some will corroborate each other if it means reinforcing the fuzzy logic that has benefited their own business. The lack of fresh information is fairly convincing evidence that search engine optimization and keyword research are not all that complicated. If they were, the experts wouldn’t have to recycle to put out new articles and blogs.
For all of you still willing and ready to hire an SEO professional, all I ask is that you make an educated decision based on research. And always check with clients the firm claims to have serviced. Find out if they were really a client, what type of service they received, and if they were satisfied with that service.
And, of course, make sure you aren’t verifying one firm with one of their bread-and-butter partners. Remember, things are not always what they appear. If you keep these basic considerations in mind, you should do well when choosing the right SEO professional.
UPDATE: This post turned some heads a few months after it was originally published. I wrote a followup piece in reply to those critiques here.