Compared to other marketing practices like advertising and PR, the SEO industry is incredibly young. As an industry we are still finding our way, establishing best practice guidelines, maturing and, in some cases, still proving our worth as SEO experts, consultants and firms to the marketing “old guard.”
One of the ways SEO has legitimized itself in the eyes of the old guard has been to form SEO industry associations, which were designed to promote solidarity and increase the credibility of their members. While some of these associations do a good job of providing education for their members, across the board they could be much better. In my 12 years in the SEO industry, I have found most associations to be a waste of my time and money.
What the SEO industry really needs is an association that not only provides valuable educational resources to its members, but also actively works to help those SEO and SEM firms get business.
Most (if not all) industry associations require a fee to join. What is my membership fee really getting me? For the most part, I get a link on their website and the privilege of posting their logo on mine. I have never gotten a client that came from an industry association’s website, and only a handful of leads.
A major part of being in an SEO association is getting invited to events for “networking.” But who am I really networking with? Not potential clients, just other members of that association. What good does that do me a small SEO firm owner? The other SEO and SEM professionals aren’t looking to hire me or my company. If I paid to travel to one of these networking events, what kind of return can I actually expect? I’m not going to make my money back by going to that event.
Of all the SEO industry associations out there, I think that there are two national organizations that do a decent job and are worth being a part of. The first is SEMPO. I have been a member of SEMPO since 2005, and while I have never landed a client from being a member of the organization, it did lend credibility to my business when I started out. That was a huge boon in the beginning. I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of SEO firm owners are like me, small business owners; what are we really getting by being members? I’ve built my company’s reputation up to the point where I don’t have to rely on SEMPO’s stamp of approval to show my worth. I remain a member because the SEMPO badge looks good to prospective clients, but I’ve only gotten a few leads that I can attribute to my SEMPO membership and no actual clients.
The other industry organization that I think does a good job is SEOPros.org. They are not as big as SEMPO, but I am a big fan of them because they are very particular about who they let join. They don’t believe in pay-for-play (such as TopSEO.com) like other SEO industry associations (the idea that anyone who has the money can join). They conduct a thorough review of your company to make sure you are a white hat, ethical SEO company. I appreciate that because black hat SEO firms and spammers shouldn’t be allowed to join industry associations just because they can pay. Their membership devalues the association as a whole and drags down the reputation of the other members.
I am also a member of some smaller, local SEO organizations like the Boston SEO Meetup. Boston SEO Meetup hosts local events and there is a sense of camaraderie among the members. It’s not just SEO professionals at the events; small business owners, web designers, freelance copywriters and more all show up. The best part about the Boston SEO Meetup, it’s free. Other local SEO/SEM associations such as SEMNE, CIMA and SEMpdx are good, yet once again they are mostly for networking with other SEO professionals. You might get a little local branding, which is important, but you could do a lot more branding with the $1000 or so (depending on the local SEO association) you paid to belong. I’d rather invest the $1000 membership fee in an AD campaign or something that is going to help me get clients.
I’m not denying that some SEO industry associations have their place or value, but on the whole we need them to be better. I have to give props to the eMarketing Association. They offer certification classes to members and do a good job of promoting their members. But the eMA is an Internet marketing association, not an SEO association. An SEO industry association should do more for their members than just give them a link. A link isn’t worth my $1000 membership fee, a client is.
I remain a member of several industry associations mostly because my clients expect me to. A good, white hat SEO firm is supposed to belong to the big industry organizations. However, I have seen very little return from belonging to these associations other than a directory link. What has been your experience as an SEO firm, consultant or actual client that has used and/or increased business from an SEO industry association? Please share your thoughts and I would like to hear other opinions well.