I was attending a social media panel discussion at the F5-Expo conference yesterday. One of the topics being discussed was Twitter, and one of the panelists had made a half-joking remark that those who follow several thousand people on Twitter were probably mostly “SEO spammers”. Accounts built for the sole purpose of spewing out links. The type of accounts Twitter bans within a few days of their creation.
Now being an SEO when I heard this remark I was for a fraction of a second a bit insulted. But let’s be honest, the statement is somewhat accurate. As every blog owner knows, the majority of their blog comments are probably spammy links if left unchecked. Even Danny Sullivan, has seen this personally and blogged about it. Some of you are probably saying “Hey, those aren’t SEO’s they’re probably just spammers…period!”. But that doesn’t matter because perception becomes reality. Folks who have a tertiary knowledge of how the online space works knows that links are important to SEO, therefore brand certain spammers as “SEO spammers”
I can also look back at my own experiences talking shop while at meetups and gatherings and have come across business people who hired an “SEO” who was promised quick results that didn’t materialize. I’ve also come across folks from various backgrounds who pass themselves off as an SEO as if it was a checkbox next to a job application.
SEO Has An Image Problem
And therein lies the problem of being an SEO in this industry. We’ve got an image problem.
- Business people who have been burned by an “SEO” now paints all others in this field with the same brush
- There are no barriers to entry to claim you’re an SEO, therefore as a consumer it’s difficult to tell if PR folks, writers, traditional marketers who claim they know organic search optimization really know what they’re doing
- Crap links are being dropped in blog comments, forum posts and web forms. And SEOs get the blame for it.
- Behemoth sites like WiseGeek.com that publish sub-par content to pull in as many search queries are polluting the net and can be perceived as an SEO money grab.
Being an SEO can be tiring sometimes because you can spend quite a bit of time dispelling fear, uncertainty and doubt out there. Imagine you’re a psychologist and every 1 out of 10 cocktail parties you attended you had to prove that your line of work was legitimate. It gets old.
What Can SEOs Do To Help Improve Their Image?
First let’s realize that this problem isn’t isolated to our line of work. Building contractors, insurance salesmen, realtors and others have similar problems with public perception. They get by just fine, so can we.
- Don’t Undercut Your Value – I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past. Pricing has a definite impact on how much value is perceived in a given service or product. Stick to your guns and quality clients will recognize this; and hopefully eventually others will as well.
- Don’t Take the Impossible Projects – Projects with impossible expectations are doomed to fail. Have some integrity and turn them down.
- Demonstrate Your Knowledge – Share your knowledge online to show people there’s more to this thing than others might perceive. This kind of knowledge sharing helps deflect uncertainty and puts you above others who claim they know what they’re doing.
- Say “No” to Shady Link Building – Please, don’t buy links by the bushel. Your fellow bloggers and forum owners will thank you for it.
- Get Results – Happy clients don’t complain about SEOs.
It’s not all doom & gloom. Guys like Rand Fishkin, Aaron Wall and companies like Enquiro and Distilledhave taken great strides in helping legitimize this industry. Well known brands are adopting SEO as a necessary marketing initiative. But there are still pockets of distrust and skepticism out there.
Will taking the steps mentioned erase everyone’s negative perception about SEOs? Most likely not.
But at least you can talk proudly at cocktail parties.