Is There An SEO Shibolleth?

First off, a few bits and bobs that may seem irrelevant to SEO but really aren’t…

A shibolleth is a word, behavior, or certain language used to determine whether or not you belong to a certain group…this is a fairly simplistic definition but it’s basically a method of classification. And no, it’s not something they say in the theme song to Laverne and Shirley.

While I was in London last week, I went to the Tate Modern. There’s a crack in the floor there, which is an art installation by artist Doris Salcedo. Funnily enough, several people have actually fallen into said crack. Seriously. It’s a giant crack running through the floor, symbolizing the divide between groups. Which groups? Any, really. People who can visit an art show without falling into an exhibit compared to people who can’t. People who like modern art compared to people who don’t get it. Non-Europeans compared to Europeans. The list goes on and on.

This made me start thinking about whether, in SEO, we have our own shibboleth, something like a question that could be asked, whose answer would determine whether you were truly an SEO.

As you hopefully know, SEOMoz had a test awhile back, the SEO Expert Quiz, to give you a percentile score that would give you a clue as to whether or not you really know what you’re doing in this industry. This drew an amazing amount of criticism from people, many of whom received low scores…for the record mine was nothing to brag about but I did not feel the need to get on anyone’s blog and trash Rand for putting this out there.

The lovely Chris Dunn from Greenlight, a man of amazingly good musical taste, went out carousing with the fine-boned and delicate SEO Chicks (and two SEO Blokes) last week and mentioned asking potential employees about redirects, as a sort of screening process.

I’m sure there are many more instances of things like this, because there has to be a way to measure knowledge right? Therefore, we could have our SEO shibolleth couldn’t we?

Here’s the problem with this: who determines a baseline for knowledge in this industry? Yes, there are some things that every halfway decent SEO needs to know, but could all of us agree with what those things are? I’m sure that my idea of basics is completely different from an SEO who didn’t come from a programming background. A mostly PPC-rooted SEO will see the basics differently than someone who has only done cloaking. So how can we ever truly create something that will really tell us that yes, this SEO knows what he or she is doing or no, this SEO doesn’t have the faintest bit of knowledge? Should we let the leaders in this industry make the call? Even THEY wouldn’t agree, I bet.

Many industries have a standardized test. There are tests that must be passed before degrees are awarded, before licenses are issued, etc. You can’t get away from this…so will we ever really see one in a field so dynamic as SEO? It’s both art and science, both intuition and fact-based action. How can anything ever measure something so fluid? And, most importantly, is there a need for it?

I don’t think that there is. There is such a huge variety of techniques and mindsets in this industry, with no one of them truly being that much better than the others. We have SEOs from insanely varied backgrounds right now…we have technically trained SEOs and ones who couldn’t code HTML if their lives depended on it, all of whom are doing well. You can’t simply ask for the secret word and determine whether or not someone is going to get a number one ranking or drive a major amount of converting traffic to a site.

So, in the end, we probably won’t see our SEO shibolleth. At least we probably won’t see an industry-wide one, not any time soon. While manipulation of the SERPs is still possible, there really are no right or wrong answers. You can do well when you go completely against Google’s webmaster guidelines, just as you can do poorly while following them to the letter.

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