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.