Proposed SEM Standards (Part 1)

There is no way that one person could hope to write an entire Standards document for an entire industry, so I'm breaking this down into smaller parts that I feel would be the most helpful to others.

In this case, the following is a proposed set of Standards for creating Standards. Yes, you need rules for making the rules. In the full Standards, this would be the first section.

Naturally, comments here or elsewhere (as long as you quote what you are commenting on so we are all on the same page) are welcome and actively encouraged.

More information on how Standards fit within and relate to a Code of Ethics and Guideines


Search Marketing Standards

In accordance with the Search Marketing Code of Ethics, the following Search Marketing Standards reflect the general consensus of the search marketing community.

The Creation of Standards

All Standards outlined in this document and any amendments thereof shall follow the intent and purpose of the Search Marketing Code of Ethics, and no Standard that directly violates a principle of the Code of Ethics shall be created.

Interpretations and Guidelines for Standards shall also be made in accordance with the principles of the Code of Ethics.

Standards shall strive to be consistent, useful and clear.

Standards should be written in such as way as to not stifle innovation, creativity or informed professional judgement, while still providing for a coherent, consistent and authoritative frame of reference for the industry and the public.

Standards should be written in a manner that is respectful towards, but independent of, other stakeholders in search, such as website owners and search engines.

No Standard shall be created without the opportunity for debate and discussion within the entire search marketing community. Standards are necessarily independent of the organizations and companies promoting them, and discussion and debate cannot be limited to only members of a particular company or organization.

Standards Creation Process

All Standards proposals shall undergo assessment and debate within the search marketing community.

  • Method 1: A proposed standard is created and offered publicly for comments.
  • Method 2: A particular Guideline or Best Practice achieves such a consensus amongst the search marketing community that it begins to act as a de facto Standard. With community permission, it can be promoted to a Standard.


Proposed (Draft) SEM Code of Ethics

For more information about how a Code of Ethics fits in with Standards and Guidelines, see the previous post.


Search Marketing Code of Ethics

We, the search marketing professionals who are voluntarily adhering to the statements of principles set out below, do hereby believe in and commit to the following:


We shall strive towards truthfulness and integrity in our dealings with others.

We will accurately disclose relevant significant potential conflicts of interest to our clients.

We shall avoid deceptive marketing practices.

We will clearly, accurately and fully disclose realistic potential negative consequences of our actions to our clients in advance.


We are responsible to our clients. Clients should never be harmed by our actions, and are entitled to be dealt with in a fair and accountable manner.

We are responsible to the profession. We will not engage in actions that are likely to bring the profession into disrepute in the eyes of the public.

We are responsible to society. We shall obey all laws pertaining to our professional actions and efforts.

We are responsible to ourselves, to continually improve and update our skills and knowledge.


We shall treat others with professional courtesy and conduct.

We shall hold the private information of others in strictest confidence.


We shall treat clients fairly and in good faith, and are entitled to expect the same in return.

We shall use our best efforts to act on behalf of a client, while maintaining a professional demeanour towards other stakeholders.

We shall not encourage clients or the public to have unreasonable, unrealistic or unattainable expectations regarding the profession, the industry or the services offered.


The Creation of Draft SEM Standards


Draft Code of Ethics posted

Proposed SEM Standards (Part 1)


As promised, I offer the following several posts to the SEM community as proposed draft Code of Ethics, Standards, and Guidelines.

First, a primer on how these 3 things fit together:

Code Of Ethics

A Code of Ethics is a general statement of common principles and ideals. They are usually not intended to deal with specific issues, but rather outline an overall approach and philosophy.

In law, this would be the equivalent of a constitution. It should rarely, if ever, change.

Example: SEO's shall avoid deceptive marketing practices.

This is fine as a philosophy, but of course it's not terribly clear what "deceptive" is in all cases. Sure, this would deal with directly and fraudulently lying to people, but what about something like IP delivery or cloaking, where there could be arguments as to whether they are deceptive or not?

Industry Standards

Standards are generally accepted and codified rules that are created to provide structure and guidance to a Code of Ethics. These can include definitions, best practices and so forth, but are generally at a high level.

Standards can change with the times, but should generally be written in such a way that such changes should be minimal. The idea here is to stabilize things and to give people something they can rely on.

Continuing with the legal analogy, if a Code of Ethics is like a Constitution, then Industry Standards are like laws or statutes.

Example: Avoid IP delivery methods that present substantially different information to search engines from what a human visitor would experience.

This is more helpful than "avoid deceptive marketing practices". It answers most of my questions and is the one-liner to take back to my client or boss. This would deal with 90% of the questions.

But what if I'm dealing with a technical issue that is more complex than this? I think I need more guidance, since I can think of a few examples where even this definition doesn't cut it. And what does "substantially" really mean, anyway? Well, now we look at Guidelines, which interpret the Standards.


The guidelines could be very large and detailed, and include information like alternatives to IP delivery, some example scenarios, or (worst case scenario) say something like "we don't know exactly what the result of doing X would be, as there is evidence that sometimes it works , and sometimes it doesn't. Proceed with caution."

Or, it could say: IP cloaking to go past verification pages is OK, but using it to go past paid login pages is frowned upon because it creates a poor user experience.

Perhaps a separate guideline would say that you can do this for paid pages if there is notification up front (before clicking on the result) that the page is paid.

Or it could actually be an entire forum thread with the whole community arguing their various points of view. That's OK. Some things are complicated, and often there are many ways to accomplish the goal.

Continuing with the legal analogy, if a Code of Ethics is like a Constitution, and Industry Standards are like laws or statutes, then Guidelines are Case Law: the individually tailored decisions of judges and juries based on messy and unique circumstances.

From my perspective, Ethics are easy, and standards could be set in a committee. It's the guidelines where all the fun happens. That's where the exceptions to the rules happen, where the weird situations get looked at, and so forth.

One of the big issues (and the source of most of the debate on this subject) is that many people think that proponents of standards are intending to put things that belong in guidelines into the standards or ethics. That would be a bad idea.

Debates like the proper use of nofollow, etc belong in the guidelines, because sometimes there is no clear, correct answer. Sometimes the best you can do is to make people aware that there is a controversy and what the issues and risks are. That's perfectly acceptable in a guideline, but not in a Code of Ethics or Industry Standards, which need to a reliable and clear to both SEM's and the public.

Once there ceases to be controversy over a guideline, it can be considered for promotion to a Standard. But it would not be unusual to have some guidelines never getting promoted. SEM's are a contentious, opinionated, independent bunch, and I expect our guidelines will probably reflect that.

At no point should the establishment of standards interfere with or prevent a professional from using their judgement or solving a problem. The standards and guidelines should exist to help and guide, not to hinder or hold back.

With all this in mind, and after reviewing the following (excellent) resources, I'll try to present some draft versions of all of this, hopefully to start a discussion and lend some structure to the debate.

Ian Update

One of the nice things about being the co-creator of an SEO tool like the SEO Browser is that when I have an idea for something I'd like fixed or added, it's a lot easier to make sure it happens ;)

Of course, I have to pay for it, but at least it happens...

For those of you who don't know what the SEO browser is, it's an online SEO tool that lets you see your site the way a search engine sees it. Although this sounds like something you can do in any text only browser like Lynx or Firefox with certain options turned off, there is a lot more to it than that.

Some of the features (some you have to go into "Advanced Mode" to see. It's at the top of the SEOBrowser page):
  • Text only mode browsing of the site.
  • Image and object alt attributes are shown, but Italicized to let you know it's alt text.
  • Issues with robots, metatags, etc are highlighted
  • The character count for titles, meta information, etc are listed.
  • You can see pages in advanced modes, such as with "stop characters" removed or in compressed mode (how a search engine actually stores the page)
  • You can see WHOIS info, DNS Info, Header response etc
  • Toggles Highlights your keywords so you can visualize the page easier.
  • Lists the KeyWord Density for every keyword on the page.
One of the only things it doesn't do is give advice. It's a tool for professionals to gather information with, not some sort of mechanical SEO tool. I don't believe in programs that try to replace the skill of a real SEO. Basically, I designed it to do what I needed. Then shared it.

Anyway, I'm pretty proud of the latest tweak. It's such a simple thing, but can be huge when you are dealing with complicated sites. When you go to each page, it lists the response code at the top in orange.

That's all. But in practice, it's actually really important. I'll give you a few examples. Non-SEO's may not appreciate these, but the rest of you should be able to figure out why I like this so much.

First, you can just go to my home page: [SEO Browser Version]

You'll see it's just a 200OK. Big deal. Now, lets get more interesting. Check out these pages by loading them into the seobrowser:
Cool huh? And very, very useful for people debugging sites. Try to spot the errors (some of them serious) in the example sites above. Then maybe take a look at your own.