It’s been brewing for a long time, and on Friday 26th March 2010 it quite literally exploded. Edward Lewis of SEO Consultants decided to test the credentials of Verified SEO –a self-appointed SEM verification service whose sole aim was to let consumers know if an SEM company was reputable by following up claims/testimonials/case studies etc. The two major problems the SEO industry had with this idea were:
Needless to say, this was a bad move (particularly with the claims of having industry veterans backing the company).
However, this did get me thinking about whether the industry needs regulation – and more importantly – is it ready for it?
With SEO being an internationally-recognised advertising solution for businesses, can it be vetted and monitored by a self-regulation body similar to the W3C? I would like to think it could be but whilst the W3C is there for the “greater-good” of coding standards (and much more) I honestly think that SEO is too ingrained in the marketing sector to simply be regulated by a “guideline” authority.
If, as SEO’s, we want to put ourselves forward for verification by a 3rd party regulatory board then we have to be 100% clear in the aims of the board. When it comes to customers paying cold, hard cash for a solution, you have to be held accountable for your actions – success or not. Who is it to say that your campaign was a success for the client? Are you willing to divulge this information to a 3rd party regulatory body? I doubt you would be unless it was law – which brings me to my next point.
If the SEO industry is to go down the path of an independent regulatory board and be held accountable for its actions (monetary or otherwise), we have to remember that SEO is an international beast that is practised in several countries around the world and with that comes the minefield of international law; Differences in consumer law, employment law, transparency in income etc. Whose law has jurisdiction and do we even need to get legal – will an accreditation list simply suffice?
I think we have to ask ourselves if we are ready for regulation, or whether a select committee can put in place a set of rules and guidelines that enables us, as individual & corporate SEO’s, to say “My name is X and I am a recognised SEO”.
Whilst I agree one hundred percent with Edward’s outing of VerifiedSEO (and his forthcoming analysis of TopSEOs), I did notice how quickly this spread like wildfire throughout the industry and how I was sharply reminded (as was Mr Preston of VerifiedSEO) how close nit this industry is. This reminded me of DC’s graphic-novel Watchmen and the context of a tagline that regularly appears: “Who watches the Watchmen?” Which is ultimately taken to mean “They’re watching out for us, who’s watching out for them?”
If the SEO industry is indeed ready for regulation by a 3rd party such as the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK, then how will the industry move ahead with this? There are plenty of individuals who many recognise to be the voices of SEO and would back as industry leaders.
Ultimately I think the industry has to look at itself and ask whether it is ready for self-regulation by an elected panel of peers.