Do Real Industry Stuff

Just last week I was sitting in the audience in the Westin in Seattle where I heard Wil Reynolds give a talk that was basically titled “Do Real Company Stuff“. Intriguingly, a few days before I had a brief exchange on Twitter with Branko, who I greatly respect and greatly enjoy his insights. He had just published this post on SEObook about small businesses and Google’s recent algorithm updates.

I wrote another post as a response to what he and others have said about outing, but I’m publishing this one instead after hearing Wil’s talk.

Do Real Industry Sh*t

Every industry that sticks around has its scandals. Every industry that sticks around has its whistleblowers and regulators. Every industry but SEO has a set of ethics by which it abides. Sure, there are always outliers, but there are more regulations that outliers, and the outliers often get slapped down pretty quickly.

SEO as an industry needs to grow up. We all want to make more money, right? We all want more respect from our clients, right? We all want to be proud of what we do each day, leaving the office knowing that we have made the world a better place, right?

This is much harder in an industry without regulations or rules. We are never going to get higher up in organizations to get the buy-in we need to get the sign-off on the budgets we deserve if the only news that ever comes out of the SEO industry is about huge corporations gaming the system and gewtting slapped down by Google, or some agency breaking the rules and getting banned from Google’s index for a while.

That sort of one-sided press is not what will get us the sort of accounts that we all know we deserve. Marketers already have a bad reputation, because a lot of the public does not understand what we are doing. Heck, I did not understand what marketers really do until I ended up in this industry and career that I have grown to love and given up a lot for.

We manipulate for the greater good.

Require A Better Standard

This next statement is going to cause a lot of turmoil amongst the community.

We need to make ourselves official by acting official.

SEOs have long been the dark wizards of the Internet, mainipulating the search engines and spinning our articles on our way to unearned rankings. But guess what? Google has turned our world updside down in the past 18 months with Panda, Penguin, and untold other updates that they never told us about.

But now we have an opportunity to show that we are not dark wizards, but rather that we help businesses doing RCS to succeed online. We need to have higher levels of transparency and show what is working, because we have put so much work into what we have done that the barrier to entry for our competitors is high, and they are already way behind. We need to quit the stupid tactics that have made many of us feel dirty at the end of the day, and instead celebrate the wins that we are getting for our clients. Our tactics are still going to be reverse-engineered by our competitors, so why are we so loathe to control the conversation around it and shout about our successes? And why do we let clients smother us with NDAs and other agreements that prevent us from doing so?

We Need Real Marketers

You know what? Sometimes I wish I had a marketing degree so that I could put together better official marketing strategies for my big clients. I wish I knew how to pitch things from a business point of view, because that would help me connect better with the higher-ups in companies thst I am sure to be put in front of now.

Anyone can learn to do SEO. Sure, it helps to have web dev skills, writing skills, and data skills, but most of these can be taught. And guess what? Unfortunately, a lot of people in the business world still care where you went to university and what your background is.

We need real marketers.

We grow up for the greater good.

We Need Whistleblowers

We need people in the community who are willing to be bold and stand up for what they believe. Parts of the SEO community can be like the bullies in high school who come along and throw you into a locker or out the freshmen into a trash can.

But guess what? Eventually the freshmen grow up. And sometimes they grow up to be stronger than those who used to pick on them. And oftentimes they become more successful than those who bullied them in high school.

We need people who are willing to out bad and spammy tactics, because our industry deserves a better name. And we need people who will do so with as little self-serving motivation as possible. Interestingly, those who are willing to stand up are probably the ones who deserve to win because they are opening themselves up to scrutiny. If they have skeletons in the closet, they will be found out. So it takes real guts to stand up to the bullies and tell them to stop.

I’ve always cheered for that kid. Go get em, kid.

We stand up for the greater good.

We Need Accountability

Fnally, we need accountability, not vigilante justice. Vigilante justice will turn us into the Wild West when we are trying to become Madison Avenue.

Every industry with a public profile has industry associations. What do we have? Freakin TopSEOs, which we all know is paid placement (I hope Google is discounting those links). What do we need? We need an organization like SEMPO to step up and say “These are the trusted agencies that exist online, and these are who we endorse.”

The best we have right now is SEOmoz’s Recommended Agencies, which is a good list but not official. It is out together by a company, not an organization.

So please SEMPO, step up and be what our industry needs you to be.

Let’s quit hiding in the shadows. Let’s do what real industries do. And let’s get the respect we deserve.

12 thoughts on “Do Real Industry Stuff

  1. Hi John,

    A really interesting post. I did a video at the start of the year on what the industry needs to fight for ( and it’s nice to see a lot of similar views in your post.

    In terms of transparency I do feel that as an industry we are probably one of the most transparent in terms of giving feedback and showing what worked. If anyone in another industry stood up and showed the kind of data our thought leaders do they would probably be sued for revealing corporate secrets.

    Sadly I don’t think you’ll ever see the end of NDA’s, especially more big brands work with agencies. If anything there will be more NDA’s.

    One issue I have is with outing. I’d argue that public outing actually gives the industry a worse name, not a better one. That the more times a big industry source reveals a bad SEO tactic, the worse everyone looks. Let’s face it, there’s enough bad SEO things people have done in the history of the net that every media outlet could run a story on outing every day.

    Instead what we need is more people to stand up and say that a tactic is bad, or to do the outing within the community. So if you see a blog post somewhere that is black hat, or not a long term strategy it’s important to start a debate and call out the person within say an industry blog. Running to the NY Times doesn’t help perception of what we do, one bit.

    And thank you for slamming TopSEO’s, I wish more people would!

  2. Great thoughts John. Really like this:

    We need people in the community who are willing to be bold and stand up for what they believe.

    Completely agree. This goes for bullies but it also goes for SEOs who are trying to make a name for themselves. I have struggled with this. It’s so easy to play it safe when wanting validation from your peers and thought leaders. But if you’re doing that, you’re not really saying anything at all.

  3. I completely agree with you, and I feel you pretty much hit the nail on the head with the high school reference.

    Anyone that has tried to explain to get more budget or buy in knows how little we are regarded as a “grown up” bunch, partly because of the perception Mike hinted at, but also because of our complete lack of “grown up” industry bodies, accreditations or even any real formal training.

    I published a post a while back about how we needed something just like you have proposed here ( I’m glad I wasn’t the only one.

    P.s +1 for slamming Top SEOs.

  4. Spot-on thinking, John. I loved Wil’s presentation at MozCon and was thinking the same thing. SEOs need to transform their work, companies, and entire industry in the way you described so that we focus on RCS. In effect, SEO becomes about marketing or business optimization, not just focused on keywords, links, and ranking.

  5. Hi John,

    Saw you speak at linklove boston and really enjoyed your perspective. Wanted to throw a question out there and get your thoughts if you have a chance… if not, no biggie.

    When i attended linklove and following a lot of the mozcon chatter I tended to notice that a lot of the strategies (while valuable and certainly to some extent actionable) were conducted and executed in a way to market SEO more than to reveal SEO strategy.

    I have no problem with this, and I thoroughly believe that in order for an industry to gain the credibility that it desires it must present itself as one worthy of such.

    But all of this good will and community is perilously overshadowed by big tickets news of the “death of SEO” and agencies being banned for violating google guidelines…

    it seems like a lot of effort goes into combating the negative by playing up the positive. While at the same time taking shortcuts to meet deliverables for clients…

    So I guess my question is this: is it the wisest course of action (in your opinion) to devote the majority of resources and talent from the SEO community into marketing SEO, or should we take a step back and focusing on results for the client?

    Obviously I’m not pointing fingers anywhere, it was just a thought that I had…one I thought you might have some insight on.

    Great blog. Thanks

  6. Thanks for doing exactly what you have been saying in your post and standing up and being counted.

    You are very right regarding SEMPO, the need a tighter grip on industry standards.

    The sad fact is many humans are fundamentally lazy and when there are automation tools around that claim to be able to do everything at the click of a button people think there is no need to SEO because I have this or that software and they just fill the web with spam get there sites penalized and kick off with our industry saying that SEO is a waste of time.

    Really the words Search Engine Optimization themselves do not do the industry justice. Like you said, the industry needs proper marketers. While the likes of MozCon helps breed this kind of marketer and helps people to think more outside of the box there is a long way to go to get all genuine SEO’s all singing off the same hymn sheet.

    The problem is Marketing is such a diverse subject a lot of the principles behind it are a matter of opinion. With Google changing its mind on what it recommends seemingly every other day it is easy to see why some new startups with talented guys but on a limited budget are struggling to make headway against the spammers when despite penguin that seems to of focused on over-optimization of anchor text it is quite apparent that Google still has a long way to go in getting anywhere near the kind of spam detection that us real marketers and actually the users of Google also want.

    In some cases there spam protection has had a direct affect on the UX of Google. A recent search I did had the No1 spot going to a blank website with OSE reporting 3500 forum profile links and a few other spammy blog comments. 2 weeks on, the site is still there at no1 despite being reported.

    I think continual training and public awareness of our industry will aid in helping businesses understand what our trade involves. Marketers need to be the first to condemn the cheap spammy services but be able to back it up with proof that real marketing is the only thing with longevity.

  7. Overall I like the article and I think you made some good points. I have to disagree with one big sentiment though, “We manipulate for the greater good.”

    I am an SEO and come from a marketing background and have no qualms with the art of selling. However, I think you’re drinking your own kool-aid if you really think that most marketing is “for the greater good”.

    Let me ask you, if Coke or Pepsi wanted to hire Distilled for a campaign would you guys turn it down? I’d be shocked if the answer was yes. Even in your recent SEOMoz post you use a hotel chain as an example. Do you really consider those kinds of products and services a favor to humanity?

    The core of marketing is interrupting patterns and getting people to take notice. Influencing their decisions, understanding how our brains work in order to leave a lasting impression.

    Unless you’re solely doing SEO for non profits I have to take issue with that statement.

    Maybe i’m being too granular but it seems like the crux of which you based your post and the direction of the industry.

    I love SEO but I don’t think our rallying cry can be that our marketing efforts (which generally entail getting people to buy more stuff) is some altruistic service to the human race.

  8. Hi John,

    I’m a big fan of yours, and now even more so. I give you a lot of credit for speaking your mind and sounding the rally cry.

    Ken Krogue wrote an article in Forbes a few weeks ago that really hit home. The article, “The Death Of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, And Real Content,” included a quote from Adam Torkildson; “Google is in the process of making the SEO industry obsolete, SEO will be dead in 2 years.”

    I think at the end of the day it’s about UX. It’s about a visitor coming to a site and quickly and effortlessly knowing exactly what that site is about and where they want to navigate to next.

    SEO is a big piece of the puzzle, but I think there’s more to to it. Call it inbound marketing, online marketing, content marketing; it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your customers embrace all of the various components, such as SEO, blogging, social media, offers, landing pages, CTA’s, PPC, and email, to deliver a UX that’s aligned with your customers brand, products, and services.

    I think the magic happens when you’re able to really get inside the head of your best prospects and customers and align your content with the answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.

    I don’t know the SEO industry and landscape as well as you, but of what I do, I hope that SEOMoz leads the charge.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

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  11. This has been a subject we have been talking about for a very long time. In my market Australia their are many dodgy SEO companies who set up shop after seeing SEO as a “Good way to make money” these people with little to no SEO background then progress to rip off people like no tomorrow (example below a recent story where a company ripped off 1000’s of people):

    Recently a good hangout on this subject in the Australian market took place with some good insights from Agencies in Australia:

    The thing is getting on SEOmoz’s recommended list is also interesting, I have emailed a few times asking how to get on that but apparently it is an “independent board” of people? Yet who are they and why are only specific companies involved?
    I mean real industry contributes on SEOmoz and people who are active in the community on daily basis and push out good work do not seem to get a look into that list? Right? I does not seem to be the case currently, some people on the list I have never even seen them be active in the community.

    Top SEO’s is just a case of pay your way to the top and make a up your revenue/ clients (from what I have seen). So many companies on their have our clients as their “current clients lists” and every one seems to have 100 people working for them and 5-10 million in revenue (yeah right, make it all up). Sad thing is SME’s will still listen to that website.

    But the thing is who can you leave liability too who does not have a financial interest solely and is not affiliated with any other specific company in a direct way?

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