Is the SEO Industry ready for self-regulation?

By | March 28, 2010 at 9:30 pm | 3 comments | Online Marketing | Tags: , , ,

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:

  1. No-one had heard of the person behind the company
  2. You had to pay $99/month to be verified and that’s simply not impartial!

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?

Can SEO be led by a World Wide Web Consortium?

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.

The minefield that is international law

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”.

Who watches the Watchmen?

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.

About the Author

Kev Strong

Kev Strong is an online marketing consultant at Newcastle Upon Tyne based digital marketing agency, Mediaworks. A lover of all things search and an ex-web developer, Kev Strong (a.k.a Goosh) is a specialist in advanced search engine optimisation.


  1. Peter Handley (12 years ago)

    Didn’t see this the other day, really good article.

    Tough area to be discussing – I agree pretty much with everything you say. I see pros and cons for regulation of some kind – I think there could be benefits to have some sort of gold seal – but like you’ve said, who watches the watchmen?

    TopSEOs really makes me cross, as I think we’ve talked about on Twitter. I know when asked what was needed to be done to improve our ranking (we had previously been 6th in their ranking system) we were essentially told that only position 7 was available for the next few years, and that 7th would of course cost us!

    I think topSEOs being in many ways a ‘trusted’ or ‘respected’ source, that there is greater danger in that. I have on a few occassions been asked why we don’t rank higher… Some people obviously give this type of verification some weight, despite the fact it’s paid for and completely undeserving.

  2. Charles Preston (12 years ago)

    I hereby Verify this article! LOL..seriously though, you bring up some good points here.

    I quoted Alvin Toffler a few days ago and will quote it here again because I think it is very relevant to the discussion.

    In the 80’s Toffler said,

    “What is inescapably clear, whatever we choose to believe, is that we are altering our infosphere fundamentally…we are adding a whole new strata of communication to the social system. The emerging Third Wave infosphere makes that of the Second Wave era – dominated by its mass media, the post office, and the telephone – seem hopelessly primitive by contrast”

    I personally believe that the SEM community are the defacto gatekeepers of this new infosphere. DEFACTO being the keyword here which is defined as –

    “in practice but not necessarily ordained by law”

    Large sums of money are paid to the gatekeepers for services that can make or break someone’s career, company or personal life. It can happen very quickly as I learned from personal experience last week via the whole Verified SEO fiasco.

    That’s a lot of power being wielded out there.

    Granted the whole affair occurred within the boundaries of a sub-strata of the infosphere, that being a large segment of the SEM community at large however that made little difference in the effect it had.

    The problem was that because I had not participated in the SEM community much over the years as an SEM consultant, nobody knew who I was and so the initial rumors that I was running some sort of scam spread very quickly. Before I could properly explain what I was actually attempting to do with the service the damage was already done.

    In hindsight I can see exactly HOW that happened however, it should not have happened. It reminded me of the old, “She’s a witch!” skit in Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie.

    The intent behind the service was to help consumers find a capable SEM provider. From my experience, having worked with many small businesses over the years, the primary complaint from the SMB community is that it is very confusing and very difficult for most of of them to discern just exactly how to evaluate an SEM provider for hire.

    Even though there is a mountain of content out there explaining how to do that it seems that it is not being very well digested by the business community at large.

    I was told that the SEM community itself does a fine job of policing itself however a good portion of what I experienced last week was due to hearsay and misunderstanding.

    Not only is there a dangerous level of mistrust about the SEM industry from the consumer’s perspective but there is an equal amount within the SEM community itself.

    You said, “Who is it to say that your campaign was a success for the client? ”

    I would contend that it would be the client who would make that decision would it not?

    SEM is just another way for a business to get a sales lead. It is a marketing tactic as far as the business world is concerned. Sure it is a trade, a science, and an art to those who practice it but we need to be looking at this more from the consumer’s side of things.

    On the one hand the industry can tout itself as being a much better way for a business to attract clients/customers than old media tactics like direct mail, yellow pages, etc. I think that is absolutely true generally speaking. The problem is that many businesses are wary of using new media marketing precisely because there is no easy way to tell who is doing what and how to make sense of it.

    The SEM industry is run by geeks. People who love technology. I am proud to be one of them however I also know as a businessman that the average consumer doesn’t really care about all the jargon and technology for the most part, they care about getting sales.

    I think if any industry regulation took place it would absolutely have to take this dynamic into consideration.

  3. Rhys (12 years ago)

    Testing! 🙂