SEO Standards: Is Now the Right Time?

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Lately there have been renewed calls for a set of industry standards for search engine optimization. Paul Bruemmer touched off the latest round of debate with an editorial on SearchEngineLand.com, and SMX West held a panel discussion on the topic.

The goal is to develop an industry-wide consensus on which search engine optimization practices are safe and ethical. The topic has long been controversial, and past calls for standards have not achieved much traction.

SEMPO considered addressing SEO standards back in 2004 before quickly abandoning the effort. The hostility surrounding SEMPO’s first year is a cautionary tale for anyone seeking to promote industry standards. Any serious effort to create a set of standards is bound to encounter intense opposition from some corners of the industry.

This opposition is rooted in the independent streak that runs through the industry. Calls for standards are met with the reply, “Who are you to tell me how to do my job?”

Any set of standards would have to tackle a thorny set of questions. Should they focus on optimization techniques or on the relationship with the client? Should standards focus on dos and don’ts or on risk assessment and disclosure? Is a particular SEO technique always wrong or are there exceptions?

I am under no illusions that any one person could bring about industry standards simply by calling for them. Danny Sullivan is perhaps the only person with the credibility to make such a call, and Danny has expressed skepticism in the past as to whether such an effort would succeed.

The time for standards will come when a clear majority of SEO firms and practitioners believe it’s in their best interest to have them.

But as our industry matures, it’s worth asking if that time might be at hand. SEO isn’t the new kid on the block anymore, and as it has moved into the mainstream, the buzz surrounding it has not always been good.

As recently as four years ago, the most common question I heard about search engine optimization was, “SEO? What is that?” Today I am more likely to hear, “SEO? We tried that and it didn’t work.”

Increasingly, the biggest challenge I face with new clients is cleaning up the mess left by their previous search engine optimization company. It’s not unusual to begin a project by removing link farms, taking down doorway pages, and stripping away clumsy optimization tactics set up by their last SEO contractor.

It’s time to recognize that black-hat tactics and dated optimization techniques are making it harder for the rest of us to do our jobs. Indeed, these tactics may be driving companies away from search engine optimization entirely.

Is that enough to push us toward a set of industry standards? I can only hope.

About the Author

Tom Dahm is the President of BridgePose Search Engine Marketing and past founder of NetMechanic. He has been optimizing websites since 1996.

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