Guest blogger Judith Lewis.
It has been said that SEO is not a profession. To work in SEO, you do not need to have earned a degree in any particular subject; there is no body from which you can be expelled; and while there are voluntary organizations (mostly dealing with advertising), there isn’t even a voluntary code of practice you can sign up to.
It would be nice – even useful – to have an industry body for search from which expulsion would be a serious matter. When a lawyer is expelled from the bar association, he is also banned from practicing. While this is not a workable solution for search or SEO, it illustrates the huge difference between search practitioners and people working in other recognized professions.
SEO requires a diverse skill set, one not available through a traditional educational outlet. There is a need for web design and build skills, marketing, copywriting, psychology, analytics and maths, as well as the ability to pull together a variety of arts-based and science-based courses into the single task of optimizing a page. It is not an easy job and it is one that requires apprenticeship as well as a higher education in most cases.
SEO can make or break a website. An organic search professional can make a site millions, or cost the owner their livelihood. Many sales happen online as a result of SEO and if a company cannot be found, even on a brand search, it is likely to destroy these sales. Thus SEO could be seen as being almost as important as the job of the accountant. It has to be right first time (generally) and, while there is some modest margin for error, if deliberate tampering is detected it can be disastrous.
What is not possible is to impose a brand new authority and set of requirements on a sometimes lawless, cowboy industry. Much as in the old west, the townsfolk will view any attempt at lawmaking in their town with some distrust, even hostility. Some will simply mutter in the bar, some will be openly hostile, and those who feel most threatened will round up a posse and run them out of town, or kill the lawmakers. While SEOs may not kill with a gun, they can and do kill things through a variety of methods, including inactivity.
If this industry wants to be taken seriously and be seen as a profession then it needs to change from the bottom up. At a recent meeting of SEOs (dubbed the the SEO Accreditation Strategy Session), there were a number of suggestions, all of which were excellent. Ideas including getting courses into universities, having a set of minimum ‘expectations’, a community-created online exam with constantly updated questions, an organisation like the IAB, and more were bandied about. Perhaps SEMPO is the organization for the job.
While no one solution was seen as the right one the clear thread which arose was that there is a need for something not just to help protect businesses, but also to protect the industry’s reputation. The reputation of SEO is increasingly being tarnished by those who write incorrect facts about it based on as little as fifteen minutes exposure to it. Brand protection may be seen as something only companies do but it is needed for brand SEO. Something needs to be done which has the backing of the majority of the community, including the highly visible members. What form it has to take and how it is executed is still up for debate.