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Cleaning up the SEO Cesspool

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Cleaning up the SEO Cesspool

Boy, don’t you just love to hate my article titles?  I know this topic has been discussed numerous times.

Seriously though – for all the short term talk that happens every time we take a hit from someone who gives our industry a bad rap, we’ve never yet come to a clear consensus as an industry on how to properly deal with the ramifications.  I for one think it’s time we find a way to address it.  And I have a proposal on how we can work towards such a seemingly impossible goal…

The SEO Bashers

Since this article is appearing at SEJ, I’ll refrain from pointing fingers at individuals who I believe fit the bill.  Instead, I’ll just clarify a bit about what I personally perceive to be qualification for actually cesspool worthy candidates or issues.    Let’s start with the SEO bashers.   Talking heads who love to blast SEO as evil, how SEO is ruining the SERPs, or how SEO is dead for any six reasons.  We all know who the top culprits are.

Yet for every one of the loudest voices, there’s probably fifty other, less well known people out there saying the same things.  And honestly, we can disagree all we want amongst ourselves on how to address it. Whether we should leave a plethora of counter-point comments, respond with a counter-blog article, or we should just ignore the problem.

The funny thing is, none of these methods has any serious foundation at the collective level, in another aspect of our industry.  Reputation management.  Well sure, some of the actions a number of us take can be considered at least partial reputation management.  In that we create content in response.  Yet it’s always case by case, one at a time. Usually with a lot of venom. (uh, yeah, count me in on that one!)

And It’s always without any true cohesive or collective voice in method or process.  So sometimes it helps to one degree or another, and other times, it just fans the flames  of ego on the part of  h8ers.  And in it’s worst outcome, sometimes reinforces the view that we’re just a bunch of hackers.

The Words We Choose & The Impression They Leave

Another area lies in that oh-so-famous concept of black-hat tactics.  Honestly, we do ourselves no favor by referring to things in our industry with such a term unless we, as a collective body of professionals, have the courage to change the way we go about discussing the topic.

And quite honestly, I personally believe the only reason such talk flourishes at conference sessions, in chat, on Twitter, is because it strokes the ego of many of the players puffing up their chests to prove they can get away with some of the very things the rest of the industry can’t.  And we put such people on a pedestal.  Which only leads to more bashing from outside the industry.

I’m not saying that any of these people should be cast aside.  Ultimately, many also have contributed greatly to our collective success.  Not to mention that the majority of dialogue about these subjects does have value.  Yet I believe we need to go about it in a much different way.  And we need to be much more aware of the fact that our words reach more people than just industry insiders.

Without A Unified Voice Who Will Listen?

Because so much of all of this goes on, many agencies and design houses around the globe who venture just a little while into finding out what this SEO thing is all about inevitably end up lost, confused, and overwhelmed.  Which inevitably then leads to many of them using industry buzz words, then proceeding to hack-job their client web sites, while claiming “sure – we do SEO”.

And too, when big corporations come out with yet another “3 easy steps to online success” product, they get away with deceptive murder.  Claiming the most outrageous nonsense when it comes to how their automated solution includes SEO or how it will get them “found in the search engines”.

The Ultimate Price We Pay

By acting in these ways in these situations, and by failing to establish a unified standard for how we act, and what it means to be a professional industry, we ultimately prove to the world that we’re really an immature lot, rather than garnering the respect we otherwise know, for a fact, we deserve.  And the price we pay for that reality, is business owners continue to look upon our industry with suspicion.  And we shoot ourselves in the collective foot monetarily.

A Possible Path To Enlightenment

Imagine having one widely accepted entity that can give a professional stamp of approval to things?  Not from an exact methodology perspective of course.  But one where we combine the efforts of the many who have taken on one or another issue themselves?   That we can refer to as our industry truly setting an example?  Or where that entity can be a central clearing-house for business owners to turn to?  Or how about a collective voice that responds to attack mentality in a professional, legitimized manner?

There have been several attempts on a small scale, and even a few on a more wide-spread scale, to bring order to chaos through the years.  SEMPO and  the Bruce Clay Code of Ethics are just two quite noble and yet vastly different examples in a sea of attempts, to one degree or another to bring professionalism to the forefront.  To say to the world – we’ve got our act together as an industry.  Dialogue has taken place one article at a time repeatedly through the years as well. Yet even with all these efforts, I believe we can go much further.

The First Step – Cooperative Planning

So what’s a group of highly intelligent, adamantly rebellious people supposed to do?  What I envision is establishing an initial working group to not focus on the bigger picture, or the longer term objectives, but instead, to establish a framework from which we can move forward.  This group would then coordinate efforts on establishing  first phase web presence, where collaboration can begin in earnest, online.  A central clearing-house even, of information sharing.

From there, I suggest the panel seek out the support of our own industry conference organizations, and encourage them to open up one session at each of a select handful of the top conferences where people can come together and help get this thing off the ground in a more substantial way.  By having a presence that the big conferences get behind, at least in a supportive manner, we can quickly (always a relative term) bring even more attention to our effort, and people will take us seriously.

Of course, if they don’t want to, we’d need to find sponsorship another way.  Yet how could they not want to be involved if we really take a stand at giving this a go?

The Painful Reality

Now, I don’t have any of the nitty gritty details here.  Like many in our industry, I have what I believe are some serious ideas and notions about at least some of the things we’d need to do and how we might do them.  Which I’d be happy to throw into the mix.  But this isn’t a platform for my views at the detailed level. And they’re just my views, not really hashed out given the scope here.  Instead, I’m only providing a starting point that I believe is long overdue.

Yes, I already know how many objections there are to even attempting this.  Believe me.  In more than one discussion I caught on the topic this past year, issues came up about who the initial participants would be, what would give them the right to decide how things come together, what if later participants disagree on the early decisions…

And I know how overwhelming this can seem, because over the years I have served, and continue to serve, on non-profit organization boards of directors and administrative committees, and sub-committees.  Where chaos can reign supreme. Even with Roberts Rules of Order in play.

So I know quite well how daunting it can be to even begin to come together and attempt to form a cohesive group of people, let alone a unified message.  Yet these are, ultimately, excuses.  And I sincerely hope we can get past them.

Hope Through Example

As much as we all see the challenge in pulling something of this magnitude off, none of us can deny that there exist countless professional organizations in an untold number of other industries.   THINK AMA, IEEE, W3C, SAE… The list is long and large.  So why not let go of the fear and embrace the possible?  Why not make an attempt to do this thing?

Who’s Gonna Take The First Step?

Well, honestly, this article can serve as the first step.  If enough people who get all bent over industry bashers want to be more than talkers, and if enough people in our industry are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the disrespect we take on, then we can let this moment be the moment we stop being the doormat of the online world.  We can begin to shed the collective victim mentality in a real way once and for all.

But for now, that’s getting the proverbial cart before the horse.  The only real question left at this moment – is anyone else with me on this?

Alan Bleiweiss has been an Internet professional since 1995, managing client projects valued at upwards of $2,000,000.00.  Just a few of his most notable clients through the years have included PCH.com, WeightWatchers.com, and Starkist.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AlanBleiweiss , read his blog at Search Marketing Wisdom, and be sure to read his column here at SearchEngineJournal.com the 2nd and 4th Tuesday each month.

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Alan Bleiweiss

Alan Bleiweiss

Alan Bleiweiss is a Forensic SEO audit consultant with audit client sites consisting of upwards of 50 million pages and ... [Read full bio]

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