Search Standards, Part 1

I was interested to read Jills recent article on search standards, and I had to respond, even though I adore her and (literally) owe the start of my career to her. I started responding on her forum, but since it got too long and the article wasn't actually posted in her forum, I decided to respond here, instead.

I disagree. Although it's all well and good to approach things with a completely laizzes faire, buyer beware attitude, in practice standards are not about SEO's.

They are about the public.

SEO's don't need protection from other SEO's. Neither do search engines.

Why do lawyers and doctors and firemen and engineers and almost every other industry have standards?

Do lawyers need protection from other lawyers? Is there a big concern that by implementing standards your lawyer will not be able to help you sell your house or write your will? Or that shady lawyers would take advantage of those poor, unsuspecting judges? Bah.

The standards are there so that the non-legally trained public has the right to be informed about their rights and obligations, and has a reasonable expectation of a certain level of service and professionalism.

In SEO, they have the right to know what the hell you are talking about when you talk about "attraction", "entry" or "zebra" pages.

So, to address the points in the article in order:

1. There are too many ways of skinning the SEO cat. This is a straw man argument. Of course there are lots of ways to do business, and to approach a problem. That's not what standards are about. That's a checklist, not a standard. A standard could say something like: Don't do things that are proven to be harmful or not work, not "you must do things exactly in the order of X.

Good standards are written in the negative (thou shalt not) as opposed to the positive "thou shalt do this and only this), unless there really is only one acceptable way. Arguing that they would prevent innovation is assuming that the standards would be written in such a way as to prevent innovation, then knocking it down. That's a false assumption. If it hasn't even been written yet, how can you argue that it will prevent innovation or seek to enforce specific practices? You can't. Argument fails for lack of substance or evidence.

2. We can't even agree on the definition of search engine optimization. First, a definition isn't a process, so standard definitions are not even addressed in argument 1, above.

Second, and to the meat of this one: There is nothing stopping people from arguing about definitions and standards for some things. Physicists still can't decide what gravity or light really are. Doctors differ between the "surgery" and "medication" camps. That doesn't mean they don't have standards.

But if there is a set definition that the public can understand, it is in the public's interest to be able to know what they are getting. Sure, you can call your reciprocal link building system a "Proto-Relatic Symbiosis Program" if it makes you happy, but the client should know that you are building reciprocal links, not building rocket ships. And they should know what the pros and cons are of doing so are.

Standard definitions help the public understand what they are getting into, and allow them to compare services. If you want to define "SEO" differently from the industry standard definition, go ahead, but you should not be able to hide behind your custom definition ("I know the contract says I'll do SEO on your site, but I define SEO as only setting up a link farm"). Contracts require a known vocabulary and a shared understanding of the terms of the contract.

Let me be clear about this: if you define things differently than your client, and you sign a contract without clarifying them, you don't have a valid contract. This works both ways. A client can define "SEO" or "PPC" in a very different way than you, and then refuse to pay unless you have completely and fully outlined your definitions. All of them. Does your contract do that? If you gave your standard contract to me, could I find a loophole? I'll bet I could. Do you want to bet your income on it?

Standard definitions help prevent these issues. If you have a different definition, fine. Outline your definition in the contract. Nothing wrong with that. But to not have standard definitions is to open yourself to lawsuits, miscommunications and angry clients.



1 comment:

Zach Katkin said...

At first I didn't want to hear your argument. I am not in favor of standards for SEO, it's too new and I though unnecessary. But I do agree the industry as a whole has a responsibility to properly (and finally) define some things.