October 12, 2006

It surprised me to hear that one or two people found and responded to my article, “Breaking SEO Myths Part One: The SEO Expert”. You can imagine my surprise when, after ten months of having published this, I suddenly receive several email and blog responses on the topic. I’ve asked a couple non-SEO people to read both my article and the responses so that I could hear unbiased opinions.

The majority consensus was that 1) my article was an entertaining read, 2) there were a few small sections I could have written less pointedly (more PC), and 3) there must be some very sensitive or paranoid people working in the industry to respond so strongly.

I wrote this article as a warning to business owners and decision makers everywhere. I wrote it because it should take more than a good sales pitch to win a client. I wrote this because an unregulated industry has no real accountability, and an expert without accountability succeeds on nothing more than his or her ability to make a sales pitch and the client’s blind faith.

Am I claiming that all SEO firms and individuals are fakes, phonies, or shysters? No, and I said this in my article. I was not condemning an entire industry when I posted the article ten months ago. It’s when we fail to read each sentence and consider the context carefully that we come to faulty conclusions and poorly considered responses.

Who am I to criticize anyone? Well, fortunately for me, I don’t have to be an expert to criticize self-proclaimed experts (after all, if we followed that horrid logic, none of us would have the right to comment on politics, religion, terrorism, Medicare, education, or criminal justice unless there be a doctor / lawyer / priest / senator / terrorist out there among you). As far as talents, abilities, and interests lie, I am a writer/editor at heart. I love the English language.

As a copywriter, more than half of my clients have been interactive marketing / SEO companies. I have participated in two local interactive marketing / SEO associations, listened to the speakers, read my share of SEO articles, bought and read SEO books, etc. That does not mean I claim to be an expert. It means that I have sufficient exposure to the industry to have developed informed opinions. It’s not that I think the search engine optimization industry is in worse shape than all other industries.

But there are few checks and balances at present. The lack of checks and balances (i.e. regulation) means that no one is unequivocally qualified to claim expert status. Some people out there offer a free list of qualities that they think defines an expert. Of course, we have to trust such a person implicitly to take their word for it. Looks like we’re back to blind faith again.

As I’ve already mentioned, the primary purpose of “Breaking SEO Myths” was to warn potential clients about self-proclaimed search engine optimization experts. The secondary purpose was, if anything, to challenge SEOs to actually do something about the problem. So what is the problem? Well, there are many. I cannot possibly deal with all the problems or solutions in one article or post. Here are the top three problems I see with self-proclaimed expert SEOs:

No regulating agency. Simply put, no existing committee or organization fulfills the role of W3C for the SEO industry. Want a suggestion rather than just a list of problems? Here it is: Form a worldwide committee that functions for SEO like the W3C does for HTML/CSS. 

Sure, a regulatory committee/organization presents its own set of challenges and difficulties, but so does selecting the right SEO. Obviously, universal standards would be difficult to define in some areas due to the number of ways a task can be accomplished. If coming together to found a regulatory agency is impossible, then each SEO should be a little more humble and willing to admit that their credentials are based upon hearsay or repetition (How many people do I have to pitch, land, and practice open-heart surgery on before I become an expert?).

Because of the lack of a regulatory agency, most SEOs create alliances with other SEOs. They form small committees, organizations, blogs, chat rooms, and conferences. They write as much as they possibly can on the subject of SEO to increase exposure and the perception of authority (after all, if 80 websites post or quote your article, that makes you an expert, right?

Oh, right! That’s how Google determines authority, and SEOs just happen to be experts at creating backlinks to improve the perception of authority and importance. How convenient.)

Because of the lack of a regulatory agency, people create service directories of the Top 5 or Top 10 agencies in a given field. This would be extremely helpful if only those directories weren’t offering placement for a price.

For example, see topseos.com. Want to be listed in the Top 5 Organic Optimization List? If you’re willing to pay the price, you can be listed #1. They say that they will call three of your clients to ensure the quality of your work, but history has not proven this to be true. Doesn’t lend much credibility, does it?

Not only does this reflect poorly on the people who created the site directory, but it reflects poorly on the companies paying to be listed as experts. Do you honestly think that a business owner is going to realize he or she is looking at paid placement advertising?

It is one thing to list sponsors. It’s an entirely different thing to rank companies so as to show preference and recommendation. Websites like these are a far cry from the Better Business Bureau of SEO.

There you have it. I am not challenging the statement that many SEO companies are offering useful and helpful services to their clients. As they say, at the end of the day there are still only ten spots on the first page of each major search engine. There are certainly challenges to face, and many of which are unique to the client.

I recently accepted an SEO position at a local Dallas interactive agency. I met the president of the company in 2005 and worked on several projects for the agency over the past year. Taking someone at their word simply isn’t playing it smart, unless you have a strong relationship with someone who can vouch for them. Then again, if you have that benefit, this article isn’t meant for you anyway.

Some of the responses to my article indicate that there are more than a few SEOs out there who feel uncertain about their own right to claim expert status. The irony is amusing.

And before another person reads this and gets all huffy, you can rest assured that I have never called myself an SEO expert. I work for a company that offers professional services.

About the Author Daniel

Daniel launched his first blog in 2005, the same year he began copywriting for PR and SEO. He served dozens of clients with SEO, advertising, and usability testing services from 2006 to 2012. For nine years running, he has managed SEO, WordPress, and backend functionality for the family business. Daniel is passionate about helping small business owners increase the usability of their websites so that they can convert more visitors into customers.

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