How SEO professionals can salvage their reputations in the face of unjust criticism (and blog posts).
The SEO (define) industry recently suffered yet another online media drubbing. When we're not being compared to bovine excrement by Jason Calacanis or to used car salesmen by Jeremy Schoemaker, reputable publications such as "Business Week" publish blogs posts that greatly oversimplify offerings from our diverse industry.
If you aren't familiar with this particular storyline, here's a brief recap to help you connect the dot-coms:
Calacanis has been feuding with the SEO industry for quite some time. It began during a public discussion when Calacanis declared all SEO to be "bullsh*t" and all SEO professionals to be "snake-oil salesmen." Highly reputable SEO expert Neil Patel, author of "ProNet Advertising," offered to increase Calcanis's blog traffic 10-20 percent in under 30 days using completely ethical practices to prove no snakes were oiled to produce results. The upshot: a 21 percent increase in search engine referrals, with implementation of a mere 10 percent of Patel's recommendations.
Schoemaker delineated why 95 percent of SEO experts are lower than the lowest life forms. He did, however, go on to provided solid advice about what to look for in a reputable SEO expert.
Meanwhile, Gene Marks's overly simplified post on businessweek.com, which misrepresented 95 percent of the SEO industry to small businesses, resulted in his being labeled an unintelligent cousin of the donkey.
According to these three people, manipulating data is one of our lesser sins.
Why am I bothering to shine a light on some of our loudest critics? There are a couple things to add to their tired, old arguments. First, each is a little bit right. OK, that's like being a little bit pregnant. Read on, and it will all make sense soon.
If you haven't had the luxury of working with an SEO expert who operates in complete transparency within the strictest current best practice guidelines, then you know that some SEO practitioners over-promise and under-deliver. That's why these critics have lambasted and lampooned our industry. Yes, they did throw out the baby with the bathwater to make a point, but the point remains.
One of the big problems the SEO industry faces is clients who won't allow us to name them publicly and discuss their results. We have one e-commerce client that's showing 39 percent growth in year-over-year organic search engine referrals. Natural search results are driving more traffic to its site than ever before.
Another client achieved a 2,300 percent increase in indexation levels in each of the major search engines in less than 15 days using only current best practices for optimizing an all-Flash Web site (and noscript wasn't part of the solution). Sure, it only had three pages of the original Flash-based site indexed previously, so there was nowhere to go but up, but its rock-solid implementation of our recommendations is what struck gold.
And then there's the little B2B (define) site that was redesigned to be search friendly, achieving a 61 percent increase in pages indexed just two weeks after the relaunch.
But I can't name names.
Doing so would violate the terms of our services. It all ends up looking like Ashlee Simpson's non-nose job. Did she or didn't she? I can go to sleep each night knowing I did my best to ethically meet our clients' expectations. But a similar tonic isn't necessarily available to all players in this diverse industry.
What can we as an industry do to provide ourselves with a little facelift, if not pure-play reputation management? We could publish case studies that support our service claims. But those are self-serving for the individual publisher, not necessarily the SEO industry as a whole.
We could set standards and take oaths, but subscribing to such tactics would merely give lip service to a set of standards few of us could actually agree about. That's the other Catch-22 we face: defining what best practices are and what service standards mean when technical implementations are usually left entirely up to our clients.
We can also ask SEMPO to get to work. That's right, ask SEMPO to set up a pro bono work structure for members to donate their time to optimize a series of nonprofit Web sites. Then we could write about it, measure it, and be absolutely transparent about which tactics were implemented, when, and why for what Web sites.
What do you say, SEMPO? Are you up for it, or is this a pipedream that will never make it out of committee?
In the meantime, I'm going to chat with a few local charities. We've got enough dog lovers and cat fanciers in our shop that a little free optimization work just might help make a difference not only for our industry but also for the greater community, which includes a few furry friends.
If we can get SEMPO to help provide a little online reputation management and join the cause, we just might make a little chicken soup for the SEO industry's soul. Right now, we should all act independently to at least help make a difference for some great causes a little closer to home.
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P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.
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