Recently, the SEO industry debated whether or not we need standards as part of our profession’s requirements. You may have heard about it. I made a bored face. It does not seem viable that any real restrictions could be put on an online industry like this, but I wonder about the pros and cons of introducing SEO as an academic field in which one can earn a college degree. Let’s look at these advantages and disadvantages:
- Official training. This is a given within accredited colleges and accounts for everything from my degree in English (I am officially licensed to write good and do other stuff good too) to the certifications given to surgeons.
- Certified instructors. With university courses come teachers. These are people who (generally) know a lot about their subject and can impart it in an efficient fashion.
- Trusted knowledge. I’d like to think that between two and four years of structured learning would take care of the basics of SEO and a lot more besides. Training new SEO employees would no longer be necessary.
- The Idiot Recession. Total dimwits can’t call themselves doctors. Requiring some certification might elimiate some of them within SEO.
- Money. Not everyone can afford to go to university and those who do often end up paying for it for a large portion of the rest of their lives. College educations can be hideously expensive and beyond the means of many people. At present, this expense doesn’t stop a person from becoming extremely successful in our industry. It seems criminal to threaten that.
- Snobbery. I’m not sure this extends beyond the United States and Britain (it probably does, but it doesn’t seem to affect my native New Zealand), but have you heard what graduates of the University of Random State will say about the graduates of Random State University? Adding degree programmes in SEO is a definitive way to make our cliquey, infuriating industry even worse.
- Standardisation can kill ingenuity. If too many institutions establish a “correct way” of doing something (and universities are excellent at this), innovation can be stifled as non-standard and thus incorrect.
- A lack of qualified teachers. Danny Dover, a colleague of mine at SEOmoz, is currently enrolled at the University of Washington. He recently commented about how little true web development education was available at UW, a large, respected state college. He and I are both relatively sure that one of the reasons for this is that great web developers are still developing. Few have yet to progress to teaching, and becoming a web dev teacher is not yet understood as an accepted profession, whereas teaching geology or French is a normal aspiration.
- Bastardisation. Following on from a lack of qualified teachers, universities will throw non-SEOs at SEO classes. A print-marketer or an IT specialist isn’t necessarily qualified to teach SEO, but do you remember the awful Teacher’s Assistant who taught your Biology session in your second year? The one who knew less than you did? Imagine that person in charge of teaching the difference between robots.txt exclusion and the meta noindex tag and in which situation you should use either.
- Limitation. Even if SEO had been an option when I was choosing a college major, I doubt I would have picked it. Forcing or even encouraging people to obtain a degree in a subject before embarking in a corresponding profession limits the people the industry will eventually obtain. This isn’t a certainty: I’ve often heard that the subject of one’s degree rarely dictates their career path and that is definitely true for me. I spent four years being an obsessive wordsmith and analysing seventeenth century plays. Now I read .htaccess files and find well-executed CSS replacement delicious. Peter Chilson, you were the best teacher I ever had and I am truly sorry for what I’ve become
I’ve spoken to several people who graduated with marketing and advertising degrees (in New Zealand) who learned about SEO during college. On a superficial level, it seems like regulating SEO by introducing it into collegiate environments is a great idea, but are those benefits worth the significant and undesirable disadvantages? Is it better to put up with the idiots (your junk mail folder confirms that we have quite a few of them) and accept that Julie and I have degrees in English, Rand is one semester away from a degree in Finance and that I’d be even better at what I do if I’d spent the years between 2002 and 2006 ranking websites rather than doing my Modern British Lit homework?