SEO industry regulation: always a contentious issuePosted 14 September 2011 by Sandy Cosser
Way back in 2007, the question of whether the SEO industry should be regulated started capturing major attention. In 2008, the question got even bigger with some serious industry heavy-weights coming out both for and against regulation.
In 2007, Steven Bradley wrote a blog in response to another blog that came out in favour of regulation. Bradley made some very good points in his argument against regulation. Perhaps the most important point is that SEO is neither ethical nor unethical; instead there are ethical and unethical practitioners, as in all industries.
In 2008, when Lisa Barone still worked at Bruce Clay, she wrote that SEO is basically a form of advertising and that it MUST be regulated (her emphasis – the post is no longer available by the way, I looked).
With respect to Ms Barone, who is one of the industry’s best, I don’t agree that SEO is a form of advertising. Not really. SEO is like a catalogue of information; one that is constantly being rearranged as relevance ebbs and flows.
PPC could be considered advertising because one pays for one’s position. But SEO has more to do with quality control and product refinement and positioning. Which is a form of marketing, I suppose. One could get tied up in knots trying to find a true definition.
Also in 2008, Tinpig wrote a blog in which he came out against regulation. His point was that regulation is, in essence, intended to protect consumers. SEO is a relationship between agencies and companies. It’s the companies that want to reach consumers, not really the SEOs. SEO is kind of the middleman. (He also refers to SEO as an advertising medium, though).
The post says, and I quote:
“The need to protect clients from service providers simply doesn’t warrant a set of industry standards. The fact is that the world economy is fueled by hundreds, if not thousands, of service provider types. If clients are not doing their homework and are incapable of properly evaluating service providers, then they run the risk paying too much, or getting cheated, at every turn – not just with SEO.”
He adds: “The primary benefit to a regulated advertising industry is to protect the consumer against false claims, not to protect Big Brand Co. from Sneaky Ad Firm LLC because they might not deliver a quality product.”
The SEO issue is one of Big Brand Co and Sneaky Ad Firm LLC.
Self-regulation is a different matter
Self-regulation, as far as I can tell, comes in two categories:
- Self-regulation by the industry as a whole, which is what Barone advocated. It’s what a lot of SEO advocate; kind of a ‘we have to regulate ourselves before someone else does’.
I’d argue that even if we did come up with a set of regulations, which would be hugely difficult in an industry that changes all the time and is subject to the whims of capricious search engines, not to mention vague definitions, there’s still nothing stopping governments or international authorities from imposing additional regulations. A body to oversee the overseers if you will; as is the case in a lot of industries.
- Self-regulation by SEO companies themselves. This makes a lot more sense to me, although it doesn’t address the problem of unethical SEOs.
Here I’d argue that unethical SEOs would continue to be unethical even in the face of regulations. They’d just have to be sneakier about it. Meanwhile, ethical SEOs will still eschew dodgy practices and do everything they can to work within Google’s best practices and their own sense of what is right.
It’s not a perfect solution, obviously. It’s open to gaming. As all industries – regulated or not – are open to gaming. But I have an unyielding belief in accountability, which lets me believe whole-heartedly in self-regulation of the second category.
I’m interested to hear what you think.
(Image by iamwahid, stock.xchng)