SEO Accreditation strategy Session

The seminal meeting of the Search Engine Optimisation Accreditation Strategy Session met upstairs in the Cock Tavern in Fitzrovia on December 8th to attempt to begin the process of establishing standards by which the industry could be held accountable.  This was both to improve the industry as a whole and for brand protection.  SEO as a brand has taken its fair share of knocks, and as an industry which is so young, it is experiencing growing pains of a kind not experienced by another industry for possibly over a century.

Numerous industry professionals crowded around a table and set the world of SEO to rights.  We attempted to hammer out a roadmap towards something which most of the industry would opt in to.  Why do something like this again may be a frequent question.  Unlike the reason the SEMPO representative suggested to me, I was not “stung by a black hatter” but instead at a conference met yet another in a long list (double digits) of people ripped off by a firm/agency claiming to offer SEO.  My impetus was about protecting ‘brand SEO’, something which I think has to be done, but by a neutral 3rd party lest we become the car mechanics of the marketing world.

One of the problems with utilising one of the existing professional bodies, it seemed, was the very nature of the industry.  SEO is more than just a discipline of marketing or an arm of advertising – it is a term representative of a particular skill set which is populated with professionals and amateurs alike.  While exciting and new as only a mixture of technology and marketing can be, it is also populated by a broad spectrum of levels of service.  It is the disparity in the levels of service, expertise, execution and accountability that this session was attempting to address.

The prospect of any sort of badge, qualification or exam is, in some ways anathema to such a new and pioneering industry.  Qualifications, though, may be about to be imposed upon it.  Indeed, the co-chair of SEMPO UK and top bod at iCrossing confirmed just prior to the meeting that the IPA would be releasing a qualification with an exam in February of 2010.  While the attempt to create a minimum basic level to which all within the industry must meet has been tried before, with varying levels of recognition and success, the current environment of social media fuelled communications could help this succeed where others have failed.

A SEMPO rep was invited and while someone was going to attend and chat to me about the IPA and SEMPO work which was going on in the background of this new qualification we’ll be seeing soon.  While the SEMPO rep’s suggestion that we back SEMPO was probably well-intentioned, backing a professional body whose own website had not been updated since 2008 in an industry which often lives and dies by fresh content seemed somehow less than the obvious choice.  It also seemed somewhat presumptuous since no one officially representing the organisation was present thought it was nice they decided to tell me about the IPA exam coming out in 2010 and offer to send me details of the SEMPO/IPA deal.

One suggestion made by Dixon Jones was to have modules related to each discipline.  Individuals taking an accreditation could then take a module, pass an exam and there would be a degree of confidence in the skills and ability of that individual relating to that one facet of SEO.  Someone could therefore take the Google Maps exam or the Google Local exam and while not perhaps always indicative of where the algorithm is at any particular moment, it would give a foundation in the principles underlying the system being learned.

My favourite option was more of a service level guarantee.  I was arguing for something under the IAB which is already neutral and independent where a minimum level of service was guaranteed by anyone who was a member.  This could then be promoted and the IAB would become the independent regulatory body for what is a type of advertising.  Fees would be paid and in return a degree of brand protection and defence would be undertaken within the UK and they could be the go-to place when businesses had questions.  The usual trade body perks could then be utilised and because it was a large, not small body there was the economies of scale.

Freshness of content, relevancy and participation was all spoken about and many ideas about contributing to exams made, including a review panel and some excellent suggestions based around certain sections of CIM.  There was some concern about policing, granting of authority and recognition, barriers to entry and the like.  Nothing is ever going to be perfect but another start has been made.

Sabre-rattling though it may have seemed, it was a rather good excuse to gather together and drink with a theme and as the night wore on, the charitable arm of the session was born – RED(tm) SEO ASS.  For those present at this and future meetings, perhaps a “certified SEO ASS” badge should be created :-)

Of course, these views are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the SEO Chicks.

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15 Responses to “SEO Accreditation strategy Session”

  1. Davorgoldie says:

    Great post Judith.

    I’ve had the same conversation with so many clients; small businesses who have been stung for a couple of thousand, to blue chips who couldn’t tell you what KPI’s their retained ‘agency’ were working towards.

    There are so many positives that having an accreditation has that it makes total sense for the industry to adopt.

    Just a shame I missed the meet up!


  2. Sounds like a good start Judith,I only wish I could have joined to er,rattle my sabre as well. I’m sure you discussed this as well but you’ve got to wonder who is qualified (currently) to accredit or police the industry who would give up their current job to do so?You’ve opened a can of worms and those worms have rapidly founf themselves in a serious pickle! I’m looking forward to hearing more and what everyone’s views are.

  3. Julie Joyce says:

    I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the industry being accredited, honestly. However, it has nothing to do with the methods that I practice, which “can” be blackhat at times, with the client’s consent. Instead, I just worry that regulating anything related to marketing is a bit tricky. I’m tired of seeing these people pop up online and proclaim to be experts when they have no online footprint in SEO at all. I’m really tired of how anyone with a Twitter account is suddenly offering social media services.

    However, I also can tell you that there are a good number of SEOs out there who could easily pass any industry exam, but that doesn’t mean a client would get his or her money’s worth out of them. Having some medals on your jacket doesn’t always translate into actually being GOOD at what you do. I think that some would go after accreditation and still continue to do shit work. I think that some might choose not to go after it and would do great work. I know of people who cheated to get certified by Google Adwords, so it’s not a failsafe method of making sure that no one becomes the victim of a scam artist, unfortunately.

    In any case, excellent article…thought-provoking, and a great topic for discussion!! Your post honestly really made me think!

  4. Good luck, I totally understand having started the first org SeoPros almost a decade ago. We attempted the same noble deed. Yours will end where ours did… at the table it was discussed at. Why… because the industry talks a good game but will never follow through!

    The first problem is it is always one body trying to set standards in an industry where several factions exist with differeing ideals. DMA, SEMPO, IPA, yourself and OSEOP will be launching a site. Not to mention the others… simply because they don’t deserve to be in the same sentence with the others.

    In the end it will be a hodge podge of Membership collections and certification with no Value. It only has value if everyone forms a body like the W3C and works with the others in a concerted effort to support one standard, not increase revenue streams which, IMO, is what all the others are about. I agree a standards body should at least have a note that things changed dramatically yesterday!

    There are at least 4 or 5 certifications now. They run from out and out scam to basically certification for understanding how to use a SEO toolset and then you have the group who are selling a franchise to teach SEO, hmmm gotta wonder about that. SeoPros/OSEOP chose to instead recommend training. Our feeling has laways been the training and “cert” must be separate to be taken seriously.

    Currently our recs are just Kalena Jordan’s “Search Engine College” and Dan Thies personal training. The SEO Dojo is currently under review by several memebers. Every recommendation is based on the input and interviews of OSEOP Members who have taken the training. Recommendations also must originate from unbiased Members.

    In the end all accreditation to date has just been a come on for another service or course. Please take this unsolicited advice, at the very least, don’t fall into that trap. Set the questions and let the Professionals find training. IMO, that’s the only way a certification/accrediatation can not be perceived as part of a sale of another product. Anything SeoPros/OSEOP can do to help feel free to ask, you’ll find the excutive and memebrs very open.

  5. Anything that could help refine a pile of CV’s from 2nd jobbers is useful. Reserving further judgement until we know more in Feb!

    Would I do it? Possibly – if I thought I would be limiting my business by not being ‘accredited’.

    There will always be cowboys whatever the industry and I think e.g. plumbing, building and auto repair have a worse rep than SEO. I mean, who would say “do take a man along if you’re getting a quote for SEO!”?

    If you buy a service, then you need to do your research. I’m not trying to shift the blame for unethical practise to the client, but I think education and expectation-setting should be core to any programme.

  6. I don’t have a stake in SEO accreditation one way or the other (a certain red head who shall go nameless is my seo savior). However, I will offer up a quote from several years ago that I always point to when people start talking accreditation, certificates, parchment, etc.

    “The beauty of the CNE and MCSE programs is they only last a few weeks or months, so workers can become experts on a particular technology (and not at all on competitors to that technology) without having to take years of college-level training. MCSEs and CNEs don’t have to go to college at all. They just have to pass the tests. This sounded great until I remembered my days 20 years ago investigating the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. One of the underlying reasons for that fiasco was that the reactor operators were trained not to run the reactor as much as to pass the test.”
    – Robert X. Cringely, “I, Cringely”

  7. This is something that is growing increasingly dear to my heart. I don’t think accreditation will benifit coprorate seo companies much, large organisations have the time, money, resources and contacts to get a company that (broadly speaking) knows what they are doing. It’s the SME’s who lose their whole years marketing budget to a local “seo” with a copy of Web CEO and no intention to follow through who really lose out.

    Of course unless the large organisations, conference speakers liek Judith, and well known industry names get on board the accreditation will fail before it starts. So there is the catch 22. The people who need to get it in order for it to succeed won’t benifit from it.

    In terms of what it should be, I think it needs to be more about service level guarantees, and being able to demonstrate work done than it is about qualifications. But even that wll prove a little sticky with such an intangible process

  8. Barry Adams says:

    I agree that a certification in itself won’t solve the issues plaguing the SEO industry. I do think that a good, tough, continually up-to-date SEO certification programme managed by an independent 3rd party will add value to the industry. It will enable potential customers to separate the wheat from the chaff at least a little bit, with the certification serving as a bare minimum level of competence and knowledge.

  9. channel5 says:

    I’m looking at this as a site owner primarily. My interest in SEO started as I needed SEO for my sites. After finding that it was almost impossible to get anyone good back then (early 2000′s) I learnt how to DIY SEO. In the interests of full disclosure I do now own a stake in a link building company which I (and my partners) founded as we couldn’t find anyone else decent at link building. However, I still consider myself primarily client side rather than agency.

    From a client side I don’t think that having “exams” is going to be the sway, as exams unfortunately tend to prove only that you can pass exams, plus in SEO they would be quickly dated.

    The key thing as a client I’d be looking for something that gives “trust”. I’m not talking about trust in terms of tactics used, just purely that the company i’m buying services from will follow through on their promise and not rip me off.

    It means openness and honesty, there’s nothing wrong with a company offering a service which the engines may consider breaks the TOS as long as the client is aware of the risk/reward ratio and is fully signed up to it.

    So to me the key points that any accredited firm/individual must adhere to are:

    - openness (we’ll tell you what we’ll do)
    - honesty (we’ll educate you of the risks and likely rewards)
    - trust (we will follow through and actually implement the work)
    - measurability (we will track and measure our success – or lack of it)

    So accreditation should be more along the line of a company signing up to a set of professional operating standards. Customers with complaints could take their complaint to the accreditation body and companies that are found to be in breach of standards would be censured and/or have their accreditation removed.

    So in summary, to me the greater value would be in managing professional values rather than skill sets or tactics.

  10. Thank you everyone for your suggestions and contributions!

    I’m a fan of service level assurances but the IPA apparently is coming out with this qualification in February according to the SEMPO rep at iCrossing. Qualifications are coming whether we want them or not.

    Something is needed and as @Terry Van Horne said this sort of thing has been tried before. I wonder, though, if having the IPA behind it will give it legs. If some of the community would also endorse it, it might be the first step towards a university course of some sort.


    Whatever comes of it, things are certainly changing and in a positive direction.

  11. Search engine-specific accreditation should be coming from the search engines.

    Search engine optimization is not all about Google and GOOD SEO is definitely about ALL search-related functions.

    Any attempt to establish standards that focuses on one search engine will be a dismal failure. Such “standards” would have no credibility.

  12. [...] years of harassing her. Of her starter action, this one was def my fav. Welcome to the madness Kay!SEO Accreditation strategy Session – while it is unlikely any time soon, it is always nice to see some of the more prominent peeps [...]

  13. Sorry to get to this so late!
    However I had a very interesting discussion with another inhouse online marketing person, about those inhouse SEO people (and there’s a few in agency land) who bring us into disrepute.
    They alter statistics (analytics, links etc) – and as the only people who know how to use analytics etc can get away with it.
    If the make a mistake they b#llshit their way past it, “oh yes blog spam is social media, its when you do it on Chinese sites its part of their culture” etc…
    They jump from role to role every 6 months, before they’re lack of knowledge is exposed, before their manipulation of data is exposed.

    Now how do you prevent that?
    Accreditation? Would that prevent them from simply lying and saying they had it?
    Dont get me wrong – I think they’re certainly should be standards and qualifications in our industry… but how do you prevent the above?

    Shame list / public black list?
    Fine’s from an industry body (would have to be v.official industry body, so might put off many from joining)

    Drives me mad…..

  14. [...] It’s not a new topic either, with some of the best commentary/opinion I’ve read coming from Judith Lewis via the ever readable SEO Chicks blog, back in [...]

  15. What Is SEMPO? | modupallisaritha says:

    [...] It’s not a new topic either, with some of the best commentary/opinion I’ve read coming from Judith Lewis via the ever readable SEO Chicks blog, back in [...]

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