5 Ways To Fix SEO’s Reputation Problem

November 4, 2010
By Lisa Barone in 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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