Blog Post

Code of Ethics for the SEO Industry


The idea of ethics in online marketing and particularly in the SEO industry has been getting hotter recently. We have elaborated on ethics in the past and the SEO reseller space, but we wanted to break it down and share some new information with you! In this Daily Brown Bag, you’ll learn about the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO), what sort of marketing code of ethics SEMPO is calling for, search engine marketing and how it has evolved, and other insights about ethics and the SEO industry that you’ll want to know.

Also available on YouTube.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Hello and welcome to Daily Brown Bag. Today we're gonna be talking about ethics and the SEO industry. I'm Chad Hill and I'm joined by Adam Setzer.

Good afternoon, Chad. Welcome to the Brown Bag. Ethics in SEO is an interesting topic, Chad, and I know we have debated it for hours and hours over our six years today in the SEO reseller space. But this idea of ethics in online marketing and particularly in SEO is getting hotter recently, specifically because SEMPO, and that stands for the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, has been calling for the organization of some sort of marketing code of ethics that the SEO industry... I guess particularly folks in North America, could follow.

Again, there has been a lot of discussion and debate about this over the years as search engine marketing has evolved. But they are getting serious. They are forming what they are calling the search congress, and this will meet sometime in 2015.

They are currently calling for delegates for their congress, so they're using big words, Chad, and sounding pretty serious. During their inaugural meeting they want to have delegates from all sorts of areas from the SEO industry and they want to start drafting a code of ethics.

So I expect sometime next year we will see something from this initiative if it gets off the ground. This discussion is happening, of course, this week at Pubcon in Las Vegas.

I think it's probably much needed, Chad. I mean, SEO has been a controversial industry for awhile and it's probably time. SEO has been evolving. It has been changing. Obviously we have covered the Google algorithm updates and the tactics and what people think are okay and what people think aren't okay, and the various names and tags that they applied to that.

There is, as we've said over and over again, so much gray. The other big key point to think about here is there are just such low barriers to entry into the SEO industry because it's all internet based that you really can end up with folks who don't have a lot of experience maybe posing as people who do. So there's certainly a lot of controversy and people calling for some sort of SEO certification process.

So I'll be interested to hear your thoughts and see if you think this is actually gonna happen.

Yeah. Well, I think this HIPAA thing has sort of been talked about many times. I know SEMPO from six years ago was out there trying to do SEO trainings and certifications. So whether or not it takes off, I don't know.

I do think it's useful. I think it's useful for a lot of reasons. I think it's useful for the end customer to be able to have some understanding of what SEO certifications someone has gone through.

We have this on the paid search side of things. Google puts out certification standards. I think you and I, we're always looking for ways to train our team. Certainly it would be great to have other training standards for SEO that we can sort of look at as third party best practices.

But specifically in the debate here, one of the things that Doc Sheldon came out and talked about back in August was that really, in SEO, he says there aren't hats. I mean, everyone likes to kind of categorize everyone in this black hat seo, white hat seo, gray hat seo world. What he really said it comes down to is that there are business ethics, and things like transparency, trust, integrity, responsibility, dealing with conflicts of interest... Those are the things that, really, businesses need to be working on and get out of this world of calling everyone having to wear a certain color hat in SEO.

He also said that it would be great if this governing body or this congress that they are putting together would make it something that was easy for people to go through the process of basically saying that they would abide by the SEO standards, or if there was some certification, to be able to pass that without a huge amount of cost.

I think it is interesting that SEMPO is stepping up here. I think early on, I can remember back in 2007, SEMPO had a higher profile than I think they do today. So this would be great if they could actually step back in here and gain a little traction and be able to bring people together to address these issues.

Adam, as you started off with, it is a little bit the wild west here in the SEO world. I think everyone is trying to figure out how do you abide by the SEO practices when you're dealing with somewhat vague standards that Google has been putting out. What can you do to come out with a set of SEO standards and principles that everyone can abide by?

So I'm all in favor of it. Don't know if it will happen, but it will be interesting to see.

Yeah. I think that last point you made, Chad, about how difficult this actually is to do given that Google, the dominant player that really sets the tone for what is considered okay, what is ethical in SEO and what isn't, is actually shrouded in such secrecy and has publicly stated as such.

So it's gonna be very interesting to watch this play out. We will certainly keep covering it into 2015 to see if this search congress actually happens. I'm with you. I would fully embrace something like this that was very credible and very objective in SEO, just like we do on the page search side, where we send all of our analysts through AdWords certification to be able to say, "Yeah. Here's how we prove we've got credibility."

But we'd like to hear your comments on our blog. Do you think this is a good idea? Is this a bad idea? Drop us a few notes. Better yet, subscribe, and we'll meet you back for another Brown Bag real soon.