The SEO industry may have one of the most negative reputations of any marketing –related field. Oftentimes the only reason SEO is being talked about in major news outlets is if a major company has been busted for practicing black hat SEO—like the J.C. Penney link building scam that made national headlines and resulted in the retailer’s free-fall in Google’s search results. Their black hat tactics (even if the company denies they were aware of the links) threw SEO under the light of public scrutiny, with many smaller businesses grabbing their torches and pitchforks, determined to punish the SEO scammers who had conned them. While there are plenty of good, white hat SEO providers trying to rebuild the industry’s reputation and public perception, there are a few internal problems that could keep the world of SEO from ever being looked upon favorably.
Too many “experts”
One of the biggest issues regarding the search industry is that anyone with a computer and basic understanding of how Google ranks sites (which are laid out in the Google Webmaster Guidelines) can set up shop and proclaim they are an “SEO expert.” Very few colleges even offer classes on Internet marketing and SEO, let alone give out degrees in them. The rules and tactics of SEO are mostly learned through actual experience and time spent in the industry.
There is no real qualification system for what makes an SEO expert. Someone with ten years of search industry experience is obviously more qualified than someone who has only been working in SEO for a year. But is someone with 10 years of marketing experience, not necessarily with a concentration in SEO, more qualified to manage an SEO campaign than the person with one year under their belt?
A former in-house SEO manager who leaves their company to become an independent SEO consultant has experience in SEO, but only with that one brand. A large and well-established company like an airline or department store has an incredible amount of brand recognition and trust, both from the search engines and the consumers. Their SEO strategy is going to be wildly different than a small mom-and-pop pizza joint. Does the newly independent consultant really know how to handle that kind of client? Without the budget and brand power to support their efforts, can they still deliver? Experts have to be able to deliver, regardless of the client.
It’s an uphill battle to build a business
Growing a small business, regardless of industry, is an uphill battle. It’s not uncommon for a company to be operating in the red for the first year or two of its life. It takes time to build a brand, recruit and keep a customer base, develop an online and offline presence and so forth. The same is true for the SEO industry.
The costs of advertising a new business can be astronomical, especially if the owner is trying to attract a qualified audience. Most SEO companies are going to do most of their marketing online and to place a banner ad on a popular site can cost thousands of dollars a month. Having a booth at an industry trade show could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars and there is very little chance of getting enough clients from that one tradeshow to cover the cost of going. Very few small businesses have that kind of advertising budget to play around with. So what happens is that the well established players dominate the field. New businesses struggle to gain any kind of foothold and many don’t make it.
The simple fact is that there are not enough quality clients to go around. Good SEO businesses can’t survive on selling their services for $50 a month, unless they have thousands of clients. The low-end clients that want a lot of SEO done but aren’t willing to pay won’t give their money to white hat SEO companies. They opt for the cheaper, most likely black hat SEO con men because they charge less. The good search marketing company loses out to a bad one. There is no way to stay in business when the competition is doing everything they can to steal business, even if that means resorting to underhanded and unsanctioned tactics to get it.
Most industry associations don’t make a difference
SEO has industry associations, just like any other industry, but most of them don’t offer any real value to their members other than a badge and link to their website. Very few SEO companies get any real traffic brought over from the associations’ sites, which means they aren’t getting any qualified leads. Paying to be part of an organization that doesn’t help sell your business isn’t worth the money.
If a search marketing company belongs to an industry association that doesn’t provide any tangible ROI, aside from the website badge, they are actually advertising that association and not their own business. That little badge at the bottom of a webpage could potentially be driving traffic away from the company’s site, further reducing the chance of conversion.
Plenty of association events provide a chance to network, but with whom? Other association members. An SEO firm doesn’t need to hire an SEO firm. There is no value in going to these events because they don’t attract, or even invite, potential clients. While some events, like an industry award show, might be honoring certain members of their industry for their work, how does that really help grow a business? Do potential clients really care if a particular SEO firm wins for “Best Article Concerning the Effects of Negative Keywords in PPC ads?” Probably not.
In the end
The bottom line is that the SEO industry has its own internal issues to contend with, alongside any negative public opinions and scandals. There needs to be a way to filter through the multitude of “experts” and hone out the con men from the good SEO consultants. Newer SEO firms struggle to carve out a niche for themselves and often lose out to bigger advertising budgets or underhanded competitors. Growing a good, white hat SEO company almost isn’t worth the effort when a quick $50 can be made with a little link buying. Industry associations create cliques that don’t play well with each other and don’t provide any real value to the members. Before the SEO industry can really rebuild its reputation, it has plenty of internal cleanups to take care of.
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