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Old 07-14-2004   #1
dannysullivan
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An SEM Code Of Conduct?

As part of the discussion about improving the reputation of SEO, Kal asked:

Quote:
Why can't SEMPO enforce a Code of Conduct (or) why can't SEO Pros become the accepted industry body?
SEMPO has said it doesn't want to be a policing body, and in terms of spam monitoring, I agree for reasons I've explained earlier in the other thread.

However, there's no reason why SEMPO couldn't draft a code of conduct that members could voluntarily agree to. This would let SEMPO maintain its goal of promoting and educating people about SEM with the broad support of members, while a subset of members that want could choose to take an extra step in agreeing to the standards.

If not SEMPO, certainly anyone else could do this. But one of the challenges would be enforcement. Easy to put up a logo. I assume if you take part, you'd then agree that people could lodge complaints against you. That means someone needs to review these and post findings. I suppose a committee of people might do this.

What's in the code? No misselling? Non confusing jargon? Explain any potential risks to clients? A hard thing with this is there will be some disagreement in many of these things. Some people who have high prices for the same work others do might be accused of a rip-off. Yet that doesn't take into account the reputation, client management and other factors that may go into play.

Does the code say you won't spam? If so, another can of worms, given that the search engines themselves define that. But perhaps some search engines might take part. And if not, perhaps those agreeing to the code will trust their peers.

So...some thoughts. Pros, cons and most of all, any practical ideas on how such a thing might actually come about and be more widely accepted to those who want to follow it?
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Old 07-14-2004   #2
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Well perhaps to put up a contrarian view up front:

Checking whether products from a given supplier are in exact conformance with complex Standards is usually a painstaking and detailed process.

A much simpler test of any supplier is whether that supplier has satisfied customers or not. I believe it is the customers who can provide the best and most accurate feedback on given SEO's. We are not dealing here with some complex process where there can sometimes be arguments on whether a professional such as a lawyer or an accountant has handled something in the wrong way. Spam is not measured on some celestial, objective and scientific scale. The only workable definition must be that Spam for a given Search Engine is those web pages that have been de-indexed because they are deemed at that time to be in conflict with that Search Engine's Guidelines.

I think there is a duty on the Search Engines to provide at least notice to customers whose web pages have suffered de-indexation. Such customers can then at least make their views about such SEO suppliers widely known. I think such an approach would work well for 95% of the cases that trouble us all.
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Old 07-14-2004   #3
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SEMPO take your money and let you join. (Correct me if I'm wrong?)

I can list plenty of large SEO agencies who have no time for that. The SEO agencies who tend to work with the international web dev agencies.

If SEMPO, or someone else, was more active then it would be better. Take our money and then use to keep an eye on its members. If a complaint comes in, "SEO company #A hid links on our site!" then SEMPO (or whoever) could investigate, compare the results of the investigation against an agreed code of ethics and strike SEO company #A off the "approved list" if found gulity.

What could go on this code of ethics? What should go on this code of ethics?

We already have a start. Both Google and Yahoo have pages which state what they don't want to see.
- Hidden text
- Misleading redirects
- Excessive crosslinking
- Doorway pages
- Cloaking
- Attempts to trick the spider or algorithm.

If this is an ethical list then we should add to it:
- Attempts to trick the client.
- Mis-selling the product

Here's a tricky one:
Search engines don't like automated query tools. I imagine many readers on these forums use one, probably for keyword place checking rather than submissions.
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Old 07-14-2004   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wail
Here's a tricky one:
Search engines don't like automated query tools. I imagine many readers on these forums use one, probably for keyword place checking rather than submissions.
I can say that I don't. There are alternatives to these tools, acceptable alternatives.

regarding the SEM Code of Conduct, didn't Bruce Clay come out with a code at http://www.bruceclay.com/web_ethics.htm
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Old 07-14-2004   #5
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The trouble with the process is you would have to account for the fact that SEM/SEO companies could easily buy up false positives or negatives. There is a lot of animosity between at least certain individuals in the industry.
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Old 07-14-2004   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by I, Brian
The trouble with the process is you would have to account for the fact that SEM/SEO companies could easily buy up false positives or negatives. There is a lot of animosity between at least certain individuals in the industry.
True. I'm not sure how that impacts on a code of ethics though. It certainly impacts on how it'll be enforced - if it is, which is a stage away from having one.

Here's an extra ethical point.
- No false allegations of unethical conduct
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Old 07-15-2004   #7
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How are you going to judge false, though? What court of law is there that can decide the matter? There isn't. Any judgement is therefore going to have to fall on guesswork. And if the real world is a model to work by, that means real impartiality is going to be remarkably difficult to practice, and allegations of croneyism are going to follow any such body.

I also find it very interesting that, in the other thread, some of the persons pushing for a Code of Ethics the most - specifically to elevate themselves above webmasters who routinely break the explicit webmaster guidelines of Google and co - have themselves been plainly demonstrated to have routinely broken such recommendations.

In fact, the Google recommendations in themselves are pretty down on SEO in general, and at some point any SEO has to answer "no" to the follow question Google poses:

"Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"

Therefore, anybody in the SEO industry is going to be liable to be called up on the fact that we make site pages more visible to search engines, precisely because search engines exist. Therefore at some point pots are going to have to call kettles black.

With these sort of issues in mind, getting a disparate industry to agree collectively to be held to account by any terms is going to be rather uphill, to say the least - unless it focusses first on the SEM/client relationship, rather than the SEM/search engine relationship.

Last edited by I, Brian : 07-15-2004 at 04:14 AM.
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Old 07-15-2004   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wail
If SEMPO, or someone else, was more active then it would be better. Take our money and then use to keep an eye on its members.
Agreed. But I do think the search engines need to be involved from the outset. How about this:

1) Each of the major search engines offer a panel representative to work with SEMPO (or a new org if they weren't willing) to develop a list of common standards/guidelines in relation to acceptable site content. Looking at the Google and Yahoo lists, I see many common areas and don't think they'd have a problem creating a standard list they'd like to see webmasters adhere to. The engines are already sponsoring and advising SEMPO right? Why not take it a step further.

2) This common list of guidelines would be published on the SEMPO/org site and possibly on the submission pages of each engine.

3) SEMPO/org could develop a Code of Practice and Set of Industry Standards for members to follow, based on these common engine guidelines and standard business ethics. Someone in the other thread said that the PR industry doesn't have set standards in the US. In Australia it is quite different. Members of the PRIA are expected to adhere to an agreed Code of Conduct and industry standards in order to become a member. This works quite well. I'm not sure if it would apply as well to the US but I'm throwing it out there.

4) SEMs/SEOs wanting to join SEMPO/org would need to adhere to the agreed standards in order to be accepted for membership. They pay their fee and receive benefits (as outlined by SEMPO already) and a compliancy logo they can display on their websites.

5) SEMPO/org monitors membership based on continued compliancy and lack of consumer complaints. The consumer can complain to the association if standards are breached. The association can take action - eg. reject membership in these cases.

How am I doing so far?
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Old 07-15-2004   #9
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I think it sounds good up to 4. In the case of SEMPO, I wouldn't make it a requirement to follow the code of standards. Some firms simply may not be comfortable with that yet, even if they are squeeky clean. They may prefer to see how things work out before they toss their hats in. Yet some of those same firms could still help with the other missions that SEMPO has.

So..right now if you're a SEMPO member, you can use the SEMPO logo. But if you take the extra step and agree to a particular code, then perhaps you've got an additional logo to use.

In some ways, it's sort of like what the EU is doing. Many of the members use the Euro, but not all of them. There are problems with that, but some members need more time to adjust. And some members may simply not want to make that extra step ever, but the organization overall may still benefit by involving them somehow.

If you keep things voluntary, then I think you get much more acceptance, yet you still make a very important step forward.
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Old 07-15-2004   #10
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Helloo ... I'm over here!

I'm still from Missouri on all this. Let me apply a little bit of 'helicopter vision' on this. In other words, stand really far back and look through half closed eyes at what is going on.

I think the words industry, profession and standards are being used far too quickly here. If I want a bridge to be built, then I want to make sure that the engineer I use knows how to apply the standards and build one that will not fall down. There's no easy way of checking that this guy who calls himself an engineer can really do the job. However the engineering profession has set up a professional designation system so that I can check whether this guy is accredited.

Now let's turn to the Internet, web pages and search engines. Here it's very easy to check whether this particular SEO should be considered for a particular job. If he or she has had web pages they've worked on de-indexed by the Search Engines then they should not be considered. For ease of words, let's call the techniques that resulted in such de-indexation 'spammy techniques'.

Presumably 'spammy techniques' are ones where search algorithms cannot apply weights to merely reduce drastically the importance of the particular element. For whatever reason the Search Engines have decided that a given agency has used sufficient of the 'spammy techniques' for a particular web page that the only solution is de-indexation.

It's being suggested that the Search Engines should work with a group of individuals and companies they apparently don't like too much to attempt to codify the process by which these web pages have been de-indexed. In other words to help build a Spam Detector so that people can check that what they are about to do will fly.

In the aviation field, flight simulators are built because it's very much cheaper to learn to fly on a flight simulator than to learn with an expensive aircraft. In the case of web pages and Search Engines, it's very much easier to use the real thing than to go to these enormous efforts to create the Spam Detector. All that's needed is to be sure that when web pages crash (are de-indexed), there is adequate publicity. To my mind, that's fulfilled by informing the website owner rapidly that the web page has been de-indexed.
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Old 07-16-2004   #11
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For argument's sake:

Maybe this is way out of left field, but let's say you decide you don't do SEO, just PPC. Or just paid inclusion. Or just one type of PPC. Or one angle like copywriting only applicable to SEO or PPC. Or you have bid management software primarily, but you offer some services. Or you don't, but you could. Or you did once. You see what I'm saying. Not SEO, but some smaller part of SEM or some related service.

What seems to be happening here is that we're moving towards labeling the "typical model company" in a certain image circa 1999, when the industry has clearly moved in a more eclectic direction.

OK, so if you're one of the above, in ambiguous territory, do you qualify for the SEMPO Badge of Merit or not? Will qualifying for it make people think you're now an "SEO," thus actually distorting what you really do in the marketplace's eyes?

Or will not being a part of that, because you've decided you just don't fit the definition, leave you without the badge and cause some clients to wonder why you ain't got it?

I don't like where that could take us. It could interfere with the marketplace, IMHO, and the ability of companies to get their reputations and ideas out there to prospective clients without worrying about what "some mouthpiece" might be saying about the value of the Badge that the "other firms" have.

Do ad agencies that do SEO or direct marketing agencies that have a "strong partnership" with an SEO firm get the SEO Badge? Does an in-house SEO practitioner get to apply for the badge in case he's looking for a new job someday? It's all so confusing, and the question of the origins and legitimacy of the new badge seem unclear.

When I'm in a restaurant that has a badge for a health inspection, I know that a health inspector has inspected it. A voluntary code of conduct would be worthless, wouldn't it?

Disturbingly, what if some senior members of the industry agree to and even advocate strong codes of conduct, when everyone knows they employ people who don't follow the code? When everyone knows it's say one thing, and do another? If they're powerful people in the game, does one look the other way? Who will have the courage to stand up and take away that player's badge?

Last edited by andrewgoodman : 07-16-2004 at 02:20 AM. Reason: minor fix
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Old 07-16-2004   #12
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I think Bruce Clay has a very good "SEO Code of Ethics" page. Hopefully some of his ideas will become part of this standardized and globally approved "Code of Conduct".
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Old 07-16-2004   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacho
I think Bruce Clay has a very good "SEO Code of Ethics" page. Hopefully some of his ideas will become part of this standardized and globally approved "Code of Conduct".
You may if you wish you can have at this one. I purposely stayed away from SEM(O) as the broader scope of "business consulting conduct" is the greater theme of importance.

I try to format here but doesn't work well. I can email a copy.

Last edited by fathom : 07-16-2004 at 04:36 AM.
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Old 07-16-2004   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andrewgoodman
When I'm in a restaurant that has a badge for a health inspection, I know that a health inspector has inspected it. A voluntary code of conduct would be worthless, wouldn't it?
Your restaurant example, Andrew, illustrates another aspect of all this. It's easy to set up a set of hygiene rules that are necessary for restaurants. However it's very tough to set up a factual basis of choosing the best among a group of restaurants. Just see the problems that Michelin and the others have had in doing just that.

So it's easy to define a set of rules that are necessary for SEO's. In fact, there's just a single rule. They should not cause their clients' web pages to be de-indexed. The Search Engines know who they are. So ...
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Old 07-16-2004   #15
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And who is going to put up the legal fees when Large company A is taken off the list and files a multimillion dollar lawsuit in California against this proposed august body, claiming unfair business practices, illegal interference with their business and/or libel, etc etc?

You do not have to lose a large lawsuit to have it bankrupt you.
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Old 07-16-2004   #16
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Agreed that involving the SE's would help in the promotion of this minimum standard.

Coupla problems (hate to throw cold water but):

(1) They probably wouldn't do it. Corporate secrecy, liability, bad PR, etc.

(2) Everyone in the world other than companies that cause de-indexing, including the local ice cream shop, falls into the category of "company that did not cause clients to be removed from the index." So even if I don't do SEO (or did it once on a lark), I could probably qualify for the "white hat SEO" badge. Unless Anne Holland sicced her nefarious researchers on me of course to determine whether I am "primarily" an SEO company, which I am not and make no bones about. The marketplace confusion that an ethical SEO badge could cause is serious, as companies doing SEM and other online marketing might feel the pressure to have it just in case, lest competitors start whispering that the "accreditation" is vital.

(2a) Causation is a tricky thing. Even defining the boundaries of where some SEO "companies" legally end is tricky. Rogue workers could cause problems for good companies.

(2b) Again, if a Bruce Clay, LLC, or an i-prospect, or whatnot, runs into this sort of problem (not saying they would, just saying what if, and you can change the name to some other company in the biz that might be powerful enough to have friends), do you really think that they'll land on the list, or will that get smoothed over? So again it becomes a governance issue.

(3) This last one bothers me quite a bit. Spam definitions vary, and it's fair to have a different opinion about what constitutes grounds for removal. Paid inclusion comes with editorial standards that could be capriciously applied, as one of my clients recently found out. A company with no spammy intent at all got rejected by Overture's editorial staff for violations like "keyword stuffing." Meanwhile, many pages on Google's index have five times as much keyword stuffing. If an SEO firm tries to optimize for the paid inclusion index and gets whacked by editorial staff at (eg.) Yahoo/Overture because an editor is green or because there is an uneven application of rules at their end (some people even think larger companies might be given more leeway), does that make the SEO a black hat now? In whose opinion? Do I trust Yahoo/Overture to be involved in indirectly rating SEM firms? To the extent that some people at the SE's believe spam = "trying to get your clients' pages ranked higher," we may have an inherent conflict here.
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Old 07-16-2004   #17
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Whoa, Andrew. You're putting many more words in my mouth than I ever said. I'm not suggesting that the SE's publish a list of Black Hat Companies. Nor even more so that there be a list of White Hat Companies, although some others might.

All I am proposing is that if a SE de-indexes a web page, it immediately informs the owner of that web page. No explanations are given as to why the de-indexation. The aim is to make sure that if there are website owners who have been de-indexed through the actions of their hired (or even internal) SEO's then they know about it real quick. That's the simple solution I am suggesting to clean up this messy and disagreeable situation. Let's bring it out into the open at least to the eyes of those principally involved.
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Old 07-16-2004   #18
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Pattern disclosure form

Why not take a smaller step instead: nearly everyone seems to think full disclosure to the client of risks and realistic rewards is a good thing. So why not try to come up with a standardized, plain language 'pattern' SEO disclosure form?

This would be something that SEO's might use to give to clients that would explain 1. what the client can expect from the SEO and performance, 2. what the risks to the client are for the recommended course of action (perhaps check boxes next to optional high risk paragraphs that apply)

By creating a 'model' disclosure agreement that any SEO could use or adapt to thier practice you would have the most direct benefit to clients and the least regulatory baggage. Release it under a creative commons license so it can be copied and adapted without copyright hassles. In this case it is leading by example.

It is a smaller step than a code of conduct but one that might gain much more immediate acceptance since it can help both client and SEO avoid misunderstandings.
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Old 07-16-2004   #19
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>So why not try to come up with a standardized, plain language 'pattern' SEO disclosure form?<

We've been using exactly this for over three years now. We call it an insertion order and we do not charge a client or perform any work until it is read, signed and faxed to our office. It states in laymen's terms what we do and do not guarantee, what they can expect in what time frame and that they are authorizing us, as an informed client, to perform stated services on their behalf under the terms and conditions laid out in the insertion order.

It has solved an incredible number of communication problems for us. Since we started using the insertion orders, we've had very little problem with clients claiming they had instructed someone on our staff to perform specific actions yet no one can produce any evidence of such instructions. We have had no charge backs, legal problems, (other than the ones I initiated of course), or accusations of non-performance in breach of contract.

I'll be happy to share it with anyone who turns in an order.



How about a code of ethics that has just three short lines. Three simple things that we could all follow if we so choose. No tests. No accredidations. No governing bodies.
*********************

Do the best you can do
Be proud of what you do
DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO
***************************

I try to do this everyday in my business and in my life with one little line I've added just this past year.

Do the best you can do
Be proud of what you do
DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO

and charge accordingly

Last edited by massa : 07-16-2004 at 12:53 PM.
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Old 07-17-2004   #20
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Quote:
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To the extent that some people at the SE's believe spam = "trying to get your clients' pages ranked higher," we may have an inherent conflict here.
Agreed. It's a difficult hurdle to jump. I'm also sure that SE involvement would take a LOT of convincing. Voluntary compliancy is pointless IMO, because it doesn't differentiate. I just think it's about time the industry began regulating itself because the existing Free For All reputation is severely damaging.
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