Sorting the wheat from the chaff – Where do we go

by Peter Young on July 28, 2010 · 4 comments

Kelvin Newman raised an interesting conversation on Twitter earlier, which myself, Judith Lewis and Duncan Parry amongst others responded to. For those that don’t know what we are talking about, this was regarding the miss-selling of SEO/SEM services by unscrupulous organisations more keen on a quick buck than providing valuable or useful services – which often further fuel the ‘SEO is snake oil’ fire.

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Further to that Andrew Girdwood from Bigmouthmedia raised a similar issue in a recent post on E-Consultancy

Its a problem that has long since loomed over the SEO industry, and one that isn’t likely to go away quickly. We aren’t the only profession with such an issue – a couple of weeks off (and morning television) have highlighted that unfortunately many professions share similar problems – however I think we need to take a look at their approaches and learn.

Many other problems have been approached by educating people on how to identify potential ‘snake oil’ salesman, on how to identify when there may be something suspect afoot and probably as important – what to do if something does go awry.

This is something we as a profession have often had problems addressing for a number of reasons

  • Lack of professional accreditation
  • Lack of single regulatory body
  • Lack of transparency – The smoke and mirrors approach is unfortunately still alive and well
  • SEO differences. Lets be honest ‘corporate SEO’ is a different game to ‘SMB SEO’

and therein lies the issue. How do you overcome these significant issues?

Further to this Greg Sterling’s recent post on ‘Report: UK SMBs Not Very SEO Savvy’ suggested a significant issue particularly in this sector. In the study (compiled by Thomson Local and Analytics SEO), they concluded

  • 47% of all business websites have none or very basic levels of SEO
  • Over 70% of companies with less than 50 employees have none or very basic levels of SEO
  • Unsurprisingly larger companies tend to have better websites
  • With a few exceptions, the length of time a business has been trading or the type of business has little on no bearing on the quality of its website
  • 12% of all business websites are not indexed in any search engine
  • 0.6% of business websites are under construction
  • Only 3% of all business websites could be considered to have advanced levels of SEO

I would perhaps suggest the SMB sector is particularly at danger of these unscrupulous operators, for a number of reasons most notably often a lack of skilled resource making the decision, the lack of formal purchase processes’ often associated with larger organisational purchases and the requirement for increased revenue often at significantly reduced budgets. Unfortunately, when you get burned on such instances you don’t often come back for seconds, and will often draw overall conclusions of the profession as a whole.

I think Duncan Parry may have part of the answer in his two responses, combined with Judith’s response as regards awareness via the burgeoning conference circuit.

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Conferences in particular do provide a way for the business community to find out more about SEO, however my concerns is that this is not comprehensive enough and often puts the onus on a business owner to find out more before he knows he potentially has a problem. It thus needs support from the wider business community to provide it with the ability to infiltrate particularly the smaller organisations – which I would suggest as Duncan said would be best handled at a central core.

However other options would need to be utilised to support this and could include:

  • More expansive relationships from industry bodies with small business organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce
  • Greater rollout of free/cheap search seminars. Larger conferences can be cost prohibitive thus events such as Brighton SEO and Manchester SEO could provide such an opportunity
  • Support from industry organisations such as the IAB/SEMPO etc
  • Constant support from the ‘core’ SEO community as a whole

There is no point going out and selling a standard way of SEO to the business audience as that is what makes SEO the industry it is – and lets face it – what works today – may not work tomorrow. However by allowing the business community to spot the warning signs, and the scammers, we give our industry the best chance of an increasingly favourable perception not only within the wider business community but by our wider peers as well.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Madden July 28, 2010 at 11:23 am

Clients dont understand SEO and so its possible and guaranteed that people will trade off that lack of knowledge. Without regulation this will always happen and nobody will regulate SEO.


Peter Young July 28, 2010 at 11:32 am

And therein lies part of the problem. However sure you would agree without some form of collaborative approach we are never likely to see any significant improvement in the problem.

There is no doubt we are not going to eradicate it (just look at brickies – loads of regulation and still loads of problems) – what we can do is reduce the opportunity via better education and awareness though….

Kev Strong July 28, 2010 at 11:43 am

I think a lot of the problems, particularly with small businesses, is the lack of education from their support roles/mentors.

Due to a lack of regulation we have seen many instances where the SEO industry has tried to govern itself (the TopSEO’s outage being a prime example) and whilst this is a great thing, it’s still only known within it’s own bubble and not getting the voice out there.

All industries have their snake oil salesmen, but with SEO it’s so easy to hide under the radar and peddle your wares without much comeback other than local reputation being at stake and I think this is where the fundamental problem lies – only the agencies/companies with bad reputations are known for their reputation by other agencies.

Peter Young July 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Think your last point is spot on and worth reiterating

“All industries have their snake oil salesmen, but with SEO it’s so easy to hide under the radar and peddle your wares without much comeback other than local reputation being at stake and I think this is where the fundamental problem lies”

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