5 Ways To Fix SEO’s Reputation Problem

by on 11/04/2010 • 61 Comments | SEO

Over at Sphinn, Matt McGee has started a great discussion about what we can all do to fix the SEO Industry’s Reputation Problem. Matt mentions SEO’s tendency to be thrown under the proverbial bus by mainstream media and prominent writers and how the problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It may sound like a sad statement to make, but he’s right. I fell into the SEO world back in 2006 and it feels like we’re constantly rehashing the same conversations and industry issues. Why isn’t it improving? And is there a realistic way for us, the people who love this industry, to fix the negative reputation others have created for us?

Here are a few things I think need to happen in order to SEO to finally get the respect it deserves.

Build Trust Through Education

One way I think we can help but a dent in SEO’s reputation problem is to constantly seek out opportunities to educate others on the science behind SEO and how we’re using to better their Web site. One thing I really respected about Bruce Clay, Inc. when I worked there is that they require their clients to attend SEO training. They do so because they understand that an educated client is a better client. And I think that principle can be applied on an even larger scale – including targeting colleges and universities. Yes, educate clients on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it to help them see a better return to increase professional transparency. But I’d also like to see more SEO professionals stepping into the classroom and starting the education process there, as well. Not only could we help groom future SEOs, but we also expose future business owners, CEOs and management to the concept of SEO and why it’s so important. Anthony Verre wrote a great article about continuing the lost generation of marketers, arguing that today’s universities are still clueless about search marketing and what makes up SEM. It’s time we fix that. There are other places we can increase search education than simply attending our own conferences. Get out there and do something.

Support One Another

One place I think SEO has always struggled is not creating unnecessary divides between the people that practice it. The whitehat/blackhat debates, the in-fighting and tearing people down in public that often takes place doesn’t help to instill an image of credibility or professionalism. Thankfully, I think we’re seeing A LOT less of this type of behavior (which is a great and way less exhausting), but I still think it’s something that could be improved industry-wide. Supporting one another also includes not taking the bait when A Big Name takes to their blog to declare SEO dead or just more snakeoil. I think by now we’ve said our piece and it’s time to stop feeding it. Otherwise, we keep ourselves in the perpetual cycle of being poked in the eye. Instead of responding to negativity with 20 blog posts from SEOs taking pot shots at this week’s SEO Is Dead author, we need to find a more positive way to respond. Filling the SERPs up with more snark doesn’t seem to be helping.

Take Ourselves More Seriously

I may take heat here, but I wonder if it’s time for SEOs to take themselves more seriously in public settings. I imagine if you’re the VP of a Fortune 100, it’s a bit worrisome to invest in SEO after attending a conference like SES, SMX or PubCon and see the top names in the field carrying themselves in a way that doesn’t always show them in the best light. If we want respect as an industry, then we need to command it. It may just be time for the industry to grow up a little bit. To stop acting like out of control renegades and starting putting the business back in our profession. The Wild West days of SEO are over. They have been for a long time. When you show up, you’re representing more than just yourself and your company. You’re also representing the industry that you’re part of. I know plenty of people will disagree with me on that one. But that’s how I feel.

Become Better Evangelists

As an industry, I think we need to decide that we care about our image. I know there’s always pushback from people who think it’s a waste of time to worry about outside opinion when so many of us have no problem landing clients and putting food on our table – but it does matter. Just because we can create businesses in spite of a looming reputation problem, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to clean it up at the same time. As Michelle Robbins notes over at Sphinn, we wouldn’t recommend a client ignore their ORM problem, so we shouldn’t be ignoring ours. It’s important to get this cleaned up. It’s important as the bigger budgets come, it’s important as more kids graduate looking for careers in SEO, and it’s important that we clean up our own streets. Because if we don’t care enough to tack it it, who will? Garbage attracts more garbage. By ignoring the problem, we make it worse.

Being Honest About The Problem

In the comments over at Sphinn, Jill Whalen said something I really agreed with. She said that, to some degree, SEOs have a reputation problem because we deserve one. Our reputation problem is a result of the overnight SEO shops that pop up and take advantage of people. It’s based on the SEO rating companies and fake awards that companies (even legitimate companies) buy to look legit or better than their competition. It’s based on the spam emails that flood all of our inboxes promising guaranteed overnight results. How do we end this? Do we report the emails as spam? Do we contact the companies? Do we continue to urge business owners to beware of these types of practices? Do we send Danny Sullivan to bring order and dispose of the bodies? I don’t know that anyone has a real answer to that. All we can do is continue the education process and to encourage the public to research an SEO company like they would if they would any other type of vendor. We can’t force someone to make a good hiring decision, but we can give them the tools to do so if they’re looking for them.

I think the first step to solving this problem is deciding that we’re going to. I don’t think the answer is SEO standards or certifications. I don’t think it’s up to an organization like SEMPO to fix it. I think it’s up to every one of us to become evangelists of what we do, to represent ourselves in a professional manner, and to educate those whenever we can. And if that doesn’t work, then yeah, we sic Danny to bring back order. ;)  But those are just my thoughts? What say you? Should SEOs be concerned with fixing the negativity that surrounds us or do we just let the haters hate?

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

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61 thoughts on “5 Ways To Fix SEO’s Reputation Problem

    • True statement. Of course, most of those blog spammers aren’t legitimate SEOs and are running con shops of their own. I’d argue that’s on the blogger to keep their own yard clean and send that stuff to the trash where it belongs or at least remove the anchor text to something like “anonymous”. It may seem like it’s not their responsibility to do so, but it’s happening on their front lawn. Maybe if enough people kill it dead, they’ll stop doing it. A long shot but….what’s the alternative?

      • “or you could just turn off comments.” Sorry, I thought I’d get in and say it before Michael did.

        I completely agree on your point on looking professional at conferences (the same thing goes for company events by the way). When you are at an event like that you are working. You may think you’re just hanging out with your SEO buddies but you’re being seen by potential clients, co-workers, colleagues, and employees. Have a good time, but don’t get puking in the bushes blotto. If you want to do that take it to a venue away from the event or save it for home.

        I also agree with the fact that we need to do far better at educating non-SEO people about what SEO actually is and how it works when done correctly, including setting realistic expectations for executives or clients. We’re immersed in this stuff so much we forget that most people, even in other marketing disciplines, have no idea how it works. I’m trying to make a point of engaging non-SEO people in my local community and talking about SEO so they understand it better whether that be speaking to a group of marketing VPs or individual small business owners.

        I liken it to taking your car to a mechanic. Who do you trust more, the one who says it $3000 pay me and I’ll fix it or the one takes the time to explain what’s wrong (even if you don’t know a carburetor from a camshaft) and gives you the $3000 option or one for $500 that will get you part of the way there? To most people the details of SEO are as murky as the guts of their engine. If we all took a little time to educate non-SEOs our industry would be better understood and respected.

        • Thanks @Rob. The car mechanic metaphor is perfect.

          And thanks to @Lisa, I agree that our Industry needs to stop being a teenager. I love my SEO friends, but our industry needs to behave professionally. We are interacting with suits now. They expect more.

          When you walk into their offices, even the receptionist is dressed up. These are the people who don’t “get” social media, because their personalities are so separated from their business. We, on the other hand, operate where personality is our brand. The only way we’re going to grow our industry into young adulthood is to get it out of its “parents’ house.” Start being the vendor/employee you would expect to work for you.

  1. I really couldn’t care less what reputation the industry has. People don’t hire the industry, they hire me. I have my own reputation and that’s the only one I concern myself with.

    Look at Carmax. Nobody has a shittier reputation than used car dealers. But Carmax did things that separated themselves from the shadier aspects of the industry — to the point where if you say ‘used car dealer’ you will not think of Carmax, even though they’re the biggest there is.

    In short: worry about your brand and your reputation. Take advantage of the industry’s shitty reputation to demonstrate what makes you different.

    • Kevin – your Carmax example proves the point actually – as I noted here (using used cars as an example even) – language and perception do matter. Used car dealers of all stripes, not just Carmax got wise to understanding how they were perceived and they fought against it by changing the language they used and repositioning within the market, amongst other needed changes. No one buys or sells used cars anymore – it’s all previously owned vehicles. No negative connotation there.

      Of course, as also mentioned in my comment there – an industry that fails to take care of itself will fall to regulation. Thus we have ‘lemon laws’ to protect consumers from shifty car salesman. Does SEO really want that for this industry as well??

    • I’m inclined to disagree, Kevin. In a lot of ways, people do hire the industry when they choose to even get involved in it or not. It doesn’t matter how great YOUR brand is if people are still running scared from SEO.

      • I would argue that if you’re selling SEO as a service, you’re doing it wrong. Services are hard to sell — products aren’t. I won’t pay for a maid, but I’ll buy a Dyson. I won’t pay for a landscaper, but I’ll buy a John Deer. Great products make you go *wow*. Great services make you go *meh* — if you’re lucky.

        If you do choose to sell a service, and you decide to call that service SEO, then it’s *your* fault that people come into the relationship with negative connotations.

        • And I would argue that that’s pretty backassward, and my clients would probably argue that too. Every sales/tech/marketing/advertising job I’ve had for the past thirty years has been some form of customer service, and great service sure doesn’t make me go “meh”, and I have a waiting list about three years long for people who don’t think great service is “meh” either.

          • I understand what you mean — I do. I didn’t communicate my thoughts as clearly as I intended. Let me clarify:

            Great customer service is absolutely noticed. No question about it. Great service by a waiter is absolutely noticed. There are some areas where fantastic service is noticed and praised — but service is not the primary product. When a service is your primary product, then it becomes harder to impress someone.

            Think about a mechanic. You go in expecting them to fix a problem, and if they do their job perfectly, then your expectations are simply met. It’s *hard* for a mechanic to exceed your expectations.

            So this is what I’m trying to say:

            SEO as a service is simply getting your site at the top of Google. This is a pointless exercise, and a horrible selling point.

            SEO as a product is getting relevant traffic to a site. Your product is interested eyeballs.

            The scammers always focus on the service — the rankings. The people who are good focus on the product: the eyeballs.

  2. This is an industry where a bad industry reputation may be a good thing because it leads to less competition. If your competition isn’t doing SEO (because they think it’s bogus), you are in a better situation.

    Bad for people trying to sell SEO services to large companies, maybe. Good for the rest of us.

    • Do we really want to encourage less competition? I’d rather see lots of people fighting for clients and trying to improve things than any low-hanging fruit SEO be able to take on projects simply because there’s no one there to take them. That may actually be part of the problem. Imagine if you actually had to KNOW SEO to practice it? :)

      • No, no, Lisa. The essence of any business strategy is to improve economic profits by reducing competition. Remember from Econ 101 – in a perfectly competitive market there are no profits. Businesses seek to be in markets that are not competitive. That’s why so many try to differentiate and occupy a niche. Less direct competition means more profits.

        I agree that there are many know-nothings practicing SEO now. But I’m an old timer who started in 2000 and you know how old people always are: the kids these days are horrible.

        • Crimsongirl,

          Competition builds better businesses. And better businesses make higher profits.

          If you want to be the only service provider in town and as a result get away with a crappy product because you are to lazy to improve, be my guest.

          I would rather build businesses that have value not take advantage of people because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

          • Joe, please read Michael Porter or any other business strategist. Competition is great for customers. It’s bad for providers – SEOs in this case. Nobody disputes this. Nobody argues that competition is good for business. It’s good for the customers.

  3. Kevin makes some good points. Maybe we are asking the wrong questions.
    Do we really need an SEO “community”?
    Can we rename our service and let SEO die?
    Maybe I should spend the next few days removing all references to SEO and search engine optimization from our main company website. Then I will start advertising internet marketing. The art of building brands and driving traffic to a website rather than the art of manipulating search position. Rather than being high fructose corn syrup I can be corn sugar ;)

    • Like it or not, we are a community. And if you change the name to Internet Marketing or Web Marketing or Unicorns & Magic, another community will just form around that. I’d rather see everyone get the semantics and phrases straight and work on building something we’re proud of than trying to change the name to escape a reputation that follows us.

  4. Better speaker vetting at conferences — there are too many unqualified speakers making the rounds at various events, and I don’t think organizers do a good enough job weeding out the folks who don’t know what they’re talking about.

  5. We could also stop talking to OURSELVES about SEO so much, and start talking to *real* people. As in, non-industry folks. You know, where the clients come from. I guess that would fall under evangelizing. But honest to God, we’re inbred as hell. That’s why I avoided making a lot of “industry” contacts before I got around to jumping on Twitter. Most normal people don’t have a fuzzy clue what we’re talking about in our blog posts about whatever monkey wrench Google’s thrown at us that day. It’s all clicks and buzzes to them. They want to know in real world terms what it means for them. They don’t have time to learn the science or even the lingo. I’m not saying dumb it down; they’re not dumb. But it’s like we’re speaking French and they’re speaking English. No comprende. (Now I’m speaking Spanish. See????)

    This really jumped out at me some years ago when I stumbled across a well known domain forum. Here were people you’d think would know at least a little about how SEO and PPC worked; many were parking domains, but they thought it was as much smoke and fire and jello as the civilians do. And we’re talking really basic stuff.

    If I am ever misguided enough to launch my blog/site, it will most definitely NOT be pointed at other folks just like me. After all, I can talk to myself all day long without having to do all the exhausting writing.

    • We could also stop talking to OURSELVES about SEO so much, and start talking to *real* people.

      I think that’s HUGE. SEO conferences are great for networking with others and learning a bit about your craft – but if you’re trying to teach people SEO, maybe start going outside of our little bubble. Every time a small business owner is quoted as saying SEO is snakeoil, maybe reach out to THEM instead of writing a post attacking the author/story. I think as an industry we could do a much better job reaching out to others OUTSIDE of our inbred bubble. Because you’re right, much of our talking/educating is directed at each other.

      • I agree with this 100%! We need to teach non-SEO people about what we do. I’ve already spoken to my old class in college twice about what search engines are and do. In the meantime, we need to explain to our clients what they need and want. Too often, one competitor “gets an SEO” and the rest feel they need to as well.

        I also believe we need to support Online Media recruiters. SEO is too vague when hiring. I had interns who said they had done SEO, but when probed, they were helping to do backlinking without even knowing why that was a part of SEO. This absolutely worries me.

  6. 5 great points Lisa. From the world of small business I can tell you the phone still rings every day with calls from telemarketers (the latest one is automated) offering “top of page” results. How many small businesses have fallen prey to this I don’t know, but it probably only takes one time to make them leery of SEO.

    • It definitely does. But how do we stop that other than making sure people know that’s NOT the way to hire an SEO and that these people can’t offer you real results? That’s why I think education, especially in the schools, is so important. Get people thinking about SEO/marketing properly right from the beginning.

  7. I think it might help if we stop creating and pushing garbage for links. That we quit trying to look for the easy and quick ranking tactics and we stick to the fundamentals and build outstanding properties that make our competitors sob.

    We need to just start doing better work.

  8. As long as Google keeps rewarding SEO spam, people will continue to believe that’s what they need to do.

    That certainly doesn’t help our cause either.

    • Two words: content farms -> you’re not helping.

      Yet more and more tools are popping up to enable their quick and easy deployment. Precisely because Google rewards it.

      Related to the “just because we can does it mean we should?” question is this post from Steve Plunkett.

      Joe nailed it – build businesses that provide value, do better work.

  9. sometimes saving something is more trouble/work/resources/money than starting fresh … I think SEO’s reputation has past the point of ever being saved.

    • Okay, say we make a brand new term. How do we prevent the same thing from happening all over again? I’m cool with a new term — but we’re not Madonna. I don’t want to reinvent my industry every 3 years.

      • I don’t think a new term or reinvention is needed. It’s marketing (seo/sem), it’s branding (smm), it’s advertising (ppc). The channel is different, the methods are channel specific, but the fundamentals are the same. I don’t think this industry needs to separate itself from the core of traditional marketing.

        Channels, platforms and methods are always changing (as are the acronyms) but marketing fundamentals – not so much.

        • I agree, but I think even the term “internet marketer” is tainted. I have a marketing degree, the title of “internet marketing manager” for a large company and a good size budget. However, when I tell people I am an internet marketer, I get the same reaction I would if I had told them I sell knives door to door.

          Too many hacks. Too many affiliate marketers selling internet dreams.

      • Forget Madonna, we have to go the Prince route. We’ll be the Industry Formerly Known As SEO.
        Seriously, I don’t think simply rebranding is the answer. The problem is no one has ever established the intent behind SEO. No conventional marketer gets a deal by saying, “we’ll get you 1,000 people to walk by and notice your business.” It’s obvious that isn’t what the business is after, yet that’s what those businesses that swoon for the “page 1 of Google for $99″ are falling for.
        Problem 1: small to medium businesses don’t yet fully understand how their website (and more generally, the Internet) impacts them, nor how SEO affects it. We solve this, as netmeg said, by talking to *real* people. We need to be evangelists – how many non-SEO / business conferences have you spoken at? Spammers and scammers aren’t going to evangelize in this way, so it’s a great opportunity for SEOs to take the lead.
        Problem 2: since we never established a finite purpose to SEO, we make the problem worse. Ask 100 SEOs what SEO is and you’ll get 100 answers. Ask a conventional marketer and you’ll find something about improving brand awareness or driving revenue. SEO is somewhere between rankings and traffic. How can we expect the real world to understand what we do when we don’t even know?

        If I were to say there was a third problem, I would say that *bad* SEOs need to somehow be controlled. Those are the somewhat legitimate businesses that think they know how to do SEO, believe they’re doing it the right way, but do a piss poor job because there is no regulation. Nearly every other industry is regulated in some way, either by laws, education or license requirements, a government oversight program, or otherwise. I’m not sure any of those are the right solution for SEO, and hopefully educating businesses will solve this problem. In the SEO industry, the fly-by-night garage mechanic looks just as shiny, whole, and knowledgable as the wildly successful 100-man shop.

  10. Too many people claiming to be experts, not enough experts. Combined with the fact that people outside the industry are not capable of differentiating between experts and posers.

    Accounts have accounting degrees. Financial advisers have finance degrees. SEO’s have a website.

    Affiliate marketers are not helping either.

    • CEOs have accounting degrees. Restaurant managers have accounting degrees. Writers have accounting degrees. School Bus drivers have accounting degrees. Secretaries have accounting degrees. SEOs have accounting degrees.

      Let’s not pretend that what interested a person when they were 20 is any indication of a person’s current aptitude or motivation to do any given job well, particularly one as diverse in skillsets as SEO.

      That said, if you really want to find someone with a degree that means something to SEO, find someone with a computer science degree who focused on data retrieval…bam.

      • I agree, in most cases, college does not teach you how to do job but rather demonstrate you have the aptitude to learn one. I just hired an intern with a math degree… I guess my point is that there are not many qualifiers that your typically business owner is familiar with.

    • Information Retrieval, I meant to say — I didn’t mean to submit the comment yet.

      To add on:

      Every industry has experts and posers. And nobody outside the industry can tell the difference until they immerse themselves in it.

      Remember that scene in Good Will Hunting where the professor tells Will that only a handful of people in the entire world could determine which one of them was better than the other, even though Will was substantially better than the professor?

      • I agree.

        I think the profession just needs time to grow and mature. Relatively peaking, it is brand new. I imagine other professions had the same issues when they first emerged. The honest car salesmen is still trying to solve this issue. However, when people find an honest car salesmen after being burned by unethical salesmen, they refer them to everyone they know. Mechanics are not much different.

        Although hacks may make the industry look bad, they make the pros look amazingly competent.

  11. The reason the SEO industry has a problem is that very few people are willing to pay to have SEO done correctly. There are a lot of people with small amounts of money with nowhere to spend it but on bad SEO’s. I have people call me up all the time and are shocked when I tell them how much it costs. My prices are not even that high compared to most companies that have big names. Your not going to get quality SEO for a few hundred dollars a month it just can’t happen. If your going to rank in Google for a top term it takes a lot of time and needs to be done by experienced people that know what they are doing. Once you get a reputation for being a good SEO you can charge a lot of money because there are very few people that can achieve results.

    Of course I have heard stories of people with Good names that have done some bad SEO and gone for the quick money. It is very hard to tarnish your name in SEO. We could all publicly denounce some scammer and they will continue to make money. Very few people actually pay attention to our little SEO world. I meet people all the time that have never heard of good names like Danny or Bruce Clay much like ever heard of who has a bad name in SEO.

    • Absolutely, dead on. It’s a market for lemons situation with outsiders unable to differentiate between good and shady providers except on price. Once they are burned, its nigh-impossible to get them to trust an actual professional.

      I got into SEO because we couldn’t find a qualified pro at a company I worked at years ago. Knowing very little I remember it being wicked hard to get a recommendation. Without some sort of licensure or some way to filter all the noise into a smaller set of approved providers, I don’t see how the situation will improve.

    • @Ogletree

      I find myself agreeing with your comments. I, too, am shocked when I discover a new SEO client has never heard of Danny Sullivan. I, too, have had referrals who find their way to me after being burned by some well known “experts”. However, in those cases, it’s boiled down to the client not accepting what needs to be done for the good of their site or they balk at the fee or they had expectations that were impossible to meet. When people don’t get what they want, they bitch about it. I’m learning to take it all with a grain of salt or before I accept something as real truth, I investigate their claim.

  12. Jill is right in that some so-called SEO’s do blatantly break rules and get away with it. In the past months I’ve done battle with some of it. In two cases, a Google rep advised companies I represent to obtain legal counsel. In another, my client is contacting the FBI. In another case, an SEO company called every company that ranked under them and threatened them to not even try to move up in SERPS because they’d be slapped down.

    I disagree that education, or the supposed lack of, is going to help. Many of us have been educating since the mid 1990′s and remain ethical. I think that bad practices are a choice being made by people and companies, even after being educated. The folks who do harm don’t give a damn about the industry’s reputation, and won’t until there is an absolute way to stop them.

  13. I agree with Ogletree. I think the fact that because most small businesses don’t have the budgets needed for a decent SEO campaign, they end up going for the cheaper “page 1 for $99″ route and when nothing happens, they think the whole industry is a scam. SEO is a tough sell, because no matter what you’ve got to get the client on side. It’s a leap of faith to pay you X amount of dollars for X amount of months before you see results. That’s a tough sell for any industry. I agree that education is the key, but with an already tarnished reputation, people already shut off when you start talking because in their head, they are going “he’s a scam artist.”

  14. As someone not ‘officially’ in your industry, I have to say my opinion of a good number of SEO companies is garbage. My company seems to get called in after someone has gotten fleeced for $40k by a MLM / SEO salesman. To have the community self-police and weed out all the junk, it would make the rest of the industry stronger, in my opinion. We have this problem on the SoMe / tech side of the fence as well – so I try to be understanding.

  15. Hey Lisa,

    I agree with most f the article but would like to comment on the “support one another” – We recentky had the case in France where one of the document of a big agency went public… and to be honest this document was a disgrace to the profession.

    One Blogger tore this document apart in an very “direct” article and it has created a huge controversy in France between the SEOs who said “we shouldn’t go public with this type of disputes” and the one who agreed on the denunciation of such a bad work.

    In my opinion, tearing some of the “scam shops” apart publicly can be beneficial sometimes as it educates general public on how things should be done normally and how they should protect themselves. It also shows the profession is careful with the process that should be implemented.

  16. Lisa…spot-on, girl!

    Many many of the above comments reflect my own thoughts on same, but I can tell you that up here in Canuckland, things while similar are fairly different. Oh sure, we still have the black/white hat issue, the off-shore spammers who send out millions of emails (to us too!) offering to SEO your firm to the top for peanuts but more than that as we have so very very few firms here that “do” SEO, mostly it’s a wide open field.

    Those of us who have had an SEO practice for years, realized long ago that the education of the marketplace works best…and hence the few of us here in my own city regularily speak at Chamber functions, service clubs, user groups, networking clubs…you name it and we’ve all done it. And, it seems to work too…as the phone always rings right after such a presentation and our stats on downloads for SEO whitepapers or guides always brings leads…

    Sadly tho, I can also offer that the SEO “posers” have increased their spams lately in the past say 4 months and yes, I’m sure that many local/regional firms have fallen prey to them too….

    I await more comments here tho…especially from SugarRae — and just wanted to add — “thanks” !

    :-)

    Jim

  17. I believe that some of the respected members of our industry are causing problems as well. I have had sales calls where the prospect said some pretty bad stuff about some names we all know and respect. It is not just the black hat spammers it is also some of the white hat people. When I go to conferences I hear all kinds of stories about how certain respected people have done some pretty bad things. There seems to be a culture of not outing respected names. I have seen some stuff that made me very angry but I was told to keep my mouth shut because this person is beloved in the industry and it would ruin me to out them. I get my business from networking in the industry and I can’t afford that.

    The black hat and sleazy local SEO firms out there could care less about their reputation because they rely on cold calling, ppc, and other methods and could care less what the SEO industry thinks of them.

  18. This is a topic that comes up regularly around the office, in meetings, over emails, etc. In fact this post (and the one from Matt) actually triggered a series of emails around the discussion which hopefully will make it to blog form in the near future. :) Thanks for continuing the discussion, now let’s just hope we can figure out or at least work towards a solution.

  19. I think Jill Whalen is absolutely right that shoddy work and articles that exist just to provide links will persist until Google stops rewarding them. Unfortunately, the fact that these tactics work (to some extent) will also probably continue to tarnish associations with SEO. Good work makes a difference, but not so much that you have to be good to be in SEO or style yourself an expert.

    I’m too new to the SEO world to see a lot of the in-fighting, but I do see a lot of really confusing and contradictory advice being bandied about!

  20. Let me offer some clarity to the key challenge that must be overcome in order to change the perception of this industry. Most SEO firms offer tactics not well thought out plans that integrate into Internet marketing strategy. This industry is over saturated with thousands of nebulous service providers, most of who promise unreasonable expectations and have little of any broader marketing experience. Why? Any person can get started with little if any working capital and because this service sector doesn’t require credentials or licensing. Anyone can self proclaim themselves to be an “Internet Marketing Firm” or qualified SEO.
    Most of the local businesses I present to have disclosed to me what they consider to be a bad experience with so called SEO’s including those bigger IYP’s and other local service providers that “bundle” SEO as part of their respective offerings. In order to succeed in this space, you must be able prove performance by providing case studies. Where were your clients before your services, where are your clients now? You need to differentiate yourself and your services, clearly define reasonable expectations, deliver performance and perceived value. You need to prove performance from reliable data and a well thought out performance matrix tailored for the client. Truthfully, I haven’t seen much it in the “SEO” space.

  21. @Frank The problem is that most compaines do not want people to know they do SEO and they really don’t want people to know that their SEO is realy good. Most of us have to sign things saying we can never disclose our clients. I can’t brag about the good things I have done without getting sued.

    Another Issue is that we do not agree on things as a community. There are people that take White hat so far that they are ripping off their clients and people that do black hat so far they are ripping off their clients. I promise you even in this group of commenters we would be calling each other names if each of us knew what the others were doing.

  22. Hi Lisa. Okay. First of all, your comment policy made me laugh. You have really good rules around here. Anyway, I have to agree with you on this, “When you show up, you’re representing more than just yourself and your company. You’re also representing the industry that you’re part of.” Very well said. I know some people working in private label SEO companies and I commend those who are proud of being part of the field. Companies from different services are seeking help from SEOs to promote their sites, and that’s part of their marketing strategies. I think people should be more open-minded, that’s all. Everybody’s doing business, anyway.

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