Why are there no SEO “Industry” Standards?


I’m about to tell you…

No SEO Standards SignA few days back I ran across a lengthy piece by Michael Martinez, entitled “How your Audits and Backlink Research Fail”. The headline aroused my curiosity about what insights he might have into how and where the average SEO falls down. It is, after all, The Average SEO which I spend most of my professional life cleaning up after.

Much to my disappointment, however, the article is basically a rant piece containing a great deal of rambling digression, with the underlying central theme being an incessant complaint that “THERE ARE NO INDUSTRY STANDARDS IN SEO”, oft-repeated throughout the entire four-thousand (!) word diatribe.


While we’re on the subject, this lack of SEO “Industry” Standards is at least in part due to the fact that SEO is actually a Commercial Sector, not an industry, since it produces no tangible products unless you’re counting colossal amounts of bullshit.

There are other reasons too. I’ll get to those shortly.

Be that as it may, with topside of two decades of commercial/promotional Internet experience under my belt, I don’t need a four thousand word vociferation by that most verbose of SEOs to tell me that not having a set of overriding rules for Search Engine Optimization causes complications in day to day life, especially one with an Unashamed Clickbait title.

Look… If your central theme is a complaint about the lack of overall standards and best practices, I suggest you lead with that sentiment in the first place. Why write a headline implying insights into how audits and link research fall on their faces, when the thing should actually be entitled ”The overall lack of universal SEO Industry Standards pisses me off!”…?

I guess fewer people would have read the thing then, wouldn’t they?

During the peregrination into his labyrinthine mind, Michael states that “the SEO industry refuses to adopt professional standards”. I want to tackle this part first, because it’s actually a grossly inaccurate assessment of the situation.

While it’s true that there is no central, overseeing standards authority for Search Engine Optimization, this is due to a far greater number of factors than the sector’s simple refusal to adopt any. These include:

There would be bloodshed if they tried.

Trying to get multiple SEOs to work together is like putting a bunch of spiders in a box. Most of them will be dead within minutes.

This is mainly due to the fact that, as it stands currently, the SEO Sector is far too egotistic and singlemindedly set in its individualistic ways to function as a cohesive unit working toward a common, positive goal.

In well over a decade, none of the Tinfoil-Hat-Wearing SEO Eggspurts who regularly attend those Mutual Backslapping/Googspiracy Sessions known as SEO CONFERENCES have ever publicly called on their colleagues to help them create any Overseeing Rules for SEO. Instead most Optimizers are too busy publicly schmoozing Googlers, or trying to tear them down by falsely implying Googlers’ racist motivations on Twitter, in a vain effort to become “The Famousest SEO Eggspurt”.

No ordinary SEO will submit to standards created by a single individual.

Over the years, a couple of operators have tried to introduce formal standards, including the Grand Old Man of SEO. However, the SEO Sector did not play along with these schemes either, since uniting behind any single individual or agency in such an endeavor is simply not an option for the average SEO at Large. Doing so would be tantamount to admitting that individual’s/agency’s superior knowledge and, quite aside from the fact that the tabled recommendations were already outdated and laughable when they were made, Optimizers’ Egos simply won’t permit that kind of subservient behavior to a peer, even if that peer did invent the term “SEO”.

Google won’t do it.

All the above leaves Google as the only potential source of Coherent Optimization Practices. The Search Giant, however, has staunchly refused to create any kind of Formalized SEO Standards or Certifications for the past decade, because such a move “would merely confuse matters and lead to further gaming of its systems by those SEOs always determined to behave just as badly as they can get away with”.

On a related note, it’s been said on a number of occasions that the closest Google has come to endorsing “Certified SEOs” is in its Product Expert Program.

In effect, this effectively leaves the SEO Sector at an impasse. It’s not actually as though the SEO Sector merely refuses to adopt any formal rules. It’s simply not part of its collective mentality to all work together toward the creation of such.

There’s still more to this issue, but let me digress for a moment.

Instead of exploring potential causes or positing any kind of solutions, as befits a man of his experience and standing, all Michael chooses to do is whine about the current state of affairs for the entirety of his post.

Why not take five hundred of those four thousand words and use them to try and improve things?

And yet, for all his extensive repetition and Lot Bewailing, Michael does make an excellent point about SEO’s toxic, unquestioning reliance on ”Link Assessment Tools”.

I agree. These tools are frankly beyond useless for any practical/positive purpose, when their metrics are followed unquestioningly. If anything, blind faith in Link Tool Data is as likely to result in catastrophic damage as tangible benefit. Here, as in all other aspects of SEO, knowledge and experience are needed to process the data presented, before taking action.

Once again, however, Mr. Martinez insists on applying a condescending black and white rhetoric filter to the topic – and focusing on everything he perceives to be wrong – without ever venturing near any attempts to disentangle the Gordian Knot or indeed provide any constructive thinking-points on the subject.

You should NOT be using SEO link evaluation tools to evaluate links.  That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of.” he proclaims sternly, before almost immediately launching into yet another lamentation that ”If we had real industry standards, I’m confident few if any SEO tools would be deemed acceptable.

Speaking professionally, I’m going to state categorically that “Link Evaluation Tools are a crucial weapon in the competent Search Engine Optimizer’s Arsenal.” no matter what Michael Martinez says. And just to put that statement into context, my largest client site currently has 5,112,528 inbound links, according to Majestic.com, which is my personal link evaluator of choice when I’m not, using my own tools. For the record, that profile used to be over forty five million (45,000,000)  links from over a hundred and sixty five thousand (165,000) domains, before I purged it.

Majestic.com Inbound Link Figures

Now, show me a single SEO who has either the time or inclination to audit such a gargantuan link profile manually, without ANY help from link evaluation tools.

That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of¹.

But what about solutions? I’ve just spent 1,177 words talking about the flaws of unconstructive bellyaching, so now I’ll use the next 2,823 to put forward some thoughts and potential solutions. Just kidding, I no more have time to write a 4,000 word blog post than I do to edit forty five million links manually.

Nevertheless, let’s flip this thing on its head and give it a shake, to see what falls out.

It’s true that there are no overriding standards for Search Engine Optimization.

As an old friend of mine once said: ”SEO is 90% opinions and 10% facts.

That was a decade ago and, if anything, these days the ratio is 95% opinions and 5% facts. Why? Because Google is 100% opaque about its algorithms and ranking signals, as are all the other Also-Ran Search Providers out there.

Where, then, are we supposed to begin the creation of coherent “SEO Sector Standards”?

I’ll hand these question back to Michael, because I really am open to suggestions:

  1. Where is the “Line” for any standards to be established?
    From where I’m looking, the line is about three microns thick. But let’s keep it really simple and only apply it to Meta Titles and  H1 Tags. What would the universal standard be?

  2. How would you “Standardize” Keyword Research?
    Given the multitudinous permutations of Audience Type, Query Intent, and Business Goals alone, I think we can agree that applying any kind of standards here would face some inherent difficulties. How would you address them?

  3. How do you produce universal Technical SEO Standards?
    On the onsite-front, things are not so bad. In fact, a lot of SEOs already follow pretty much the same formulas. However, how many SEOs can handle server-side-scripts or alter the Memory settings for SQL Databases to reduce request overheads and speed up sites?

  4. And then there’s:
    Zorg: "Link Acquisition... My Favorite!Natural/Organic Link Acquisition is an immensely multifaceted practice. How would you not only standardize it,  but also teach the concepts, let alone monitor them?

  5. And, lastly, who’s going to be monitoring and enforcing all these standards?
    If you have standards, someone has to be watching, consistently, from somewhere. Who’s going to appoint these people? Who’s monitoring them? And, of course, how will they get paid and by whom?

Until he fields some potential answers I’m going to go out on a limb and say It’s basically impossible to introduce a set of immutable SEO Standards for everyone to adhere to.

Why is this? So glad you asked.

SEO is both an Art and a Science, relying as much on Experience, Professional Acumen, and not least Consumer Psychology, as it does on Hard Data and Formulas. As Michael has pointed out already, blind faith in Link Tool Data is “DUMB”, which is why he also goes on to say that “Of course, naturally, the tool vendors are careful to disclaim their data, their algorithms, and their tools’ recommendations.”

They would, wouldn’t they? Don’t you?

Are you telling me you have no Disclaimers in your Terms & Conditions or Service Agreements?

That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of. Oh, wait…

In any case, using link tool data “as-is” and acting on it without employing “The Filters of Skill and Experience” really is dumb. But of course that does not stop a great many SEO Eggspurts from doing just that, either because it’s easier or because they have neither skills nor experience.

However, the actual data these tools accrue provides an essential base for the experienced professional to build his/her actual analysis upon, especially when [s]he’s auditing forty five million links.

Where else are they supposed to get clients’ link data from in the first place? Google Search Console?

Sure, Search Console does tell you that a site has millions of links, but when you try to access/download the data you’re limited to “The Top Thousand” of any given metric. With respect, that is a pointless number when my client’s site has inlinks from fifty one thousand root domains.

Further, and more importantly… Until such time as Google comes clean about the link-component of its algorithm set², these tools are the best shot we have at helping us analyze the quality of an inbound link profile without being driven stark raving insane by forty five million entries.

The exact same principle applies to the creation of SEO Sector Standards. Until such time as Google makes its core algorithms public, there can be no such standards, because SEO – as a field of commerce – will remain FAR TOO SUBJECTIVE to standardize.

In that respect it’s no different from Marketing.

Ever since Umbricius Scauras first branded his fish sauce in Pompeii, circa 35 C.E, Marketing has been a constant and growing part of human existence. Yet here we are, almost two thousand years later, and we have yet to create an Universal Set of Marketing Standards.

Why? Because Marketing too, is FAR TOO SUBJECTIVE A FIELD to be standardized.

What we have done during the past couple of millennia, however, is create a set of Consumer Protection Standards, to stop unscrupulous marketers from exploiting unwitting customers. And while these standards do not encroach on the basic freedom of creativity for the promotional campaigns being created, they do clamp down on deceptive behavior, under “Threat of Consequences”.

It’s absotively no different with Search Engine Optimization. While the field itself may be far too subjective to standardize – not least because it involves a fair degree of Marketing – we should be able to create an overriding set of Consumer Protection Standards. Capable of identifying and labeling deceptive behaviors used in an attempt to achieve search engine rankings unethically³, these rules should involve a “Threat of Consequences” for Optimizers caught breaking them.

Now if only someone would finally step up and compile such Consumer Protection Standards, in 2018. Oh, wait… (again!)

Yeah, Google already did that back in 2001. They’re called the Webmaster Guidelines and they’re designed to protect consumers, which is to say “Google’s Users”. You see, Michael, while you’re busily bewailing a general lack of ruling standards in a sector WHICH SIMPLY CANNOT BE STANDARDIZED, you’ve totally ignored the existence of the only universal guidelines likely to be applied to SEO. That is, the only ones until such time as Google becomes 100% transparent about its algorithms, signals and ranking factors. or until the company loses its crown as the search engine of choice for the masses.

So, Michael, pedantry aside for a moment, instead of griping about how unfair/inconvenient it all is, why not choose to focus on actively working to raise the SEO Sector’s Bar? Because – like myself and a small number of other professionals –  you’re one of the few people in SEO with enough knowledge to actually start doing that.

How about it?

¹ Actually, the craziest thing I ever heard of was a scheme to sell a Cameroonian Navy Frigate to Somali Pirates and then launder the proceeds through North Cyprus, but that is another story.

² A couple of years back the German Legislature asked Google to disclose its algorithm. Rather predictably, Google declined. Some sources claim that Google laughed evilly while refusing to tell the Germans its secrets, but that part is unconfirmed. So I’m going out on a limb again, and categorically saying that Google will not publish the content of its algorithmic components anytime soon.

³ For instance by building links in an attempt to achieve rankings for terms where their websites do not even remotely satisfy the “Query Intent” of search engine users.

So, basically never…

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