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No. 40
September 11th, 2007

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Does the SEO Industry Need an Accreditation Entity?

Last night, SEOmoz posted a quiz to test one’s SEO skills that was meant partially for fun, and partially for substance. Today that quiz received what seemed to me to be an inordinate amount of criticism from members of the SEO industry, though many of the critiques leveled by Vanessa Fox and Danny Sullivan had real merit. (Incidentally, one of the main criticisms, that the test was SEOmoz-centric, ties in with similar arguments made against The College Board regarding the SAT’s favoritism towards particular ethno- and demographics.)

I found the quiz to be an interesting general barometer of my own skill in the field, and while I felt that many of the “black and white” answers were indeed much gray-er, it was a far more stimulating way to spend 40 minutes on a Monday night than watching the 49ers’ and Cardinals’ impotence at Monster Park. No one else (that I know of) has made any effort to objectify the level of one’s SEO skill, and for being the first to TRY, I have nothing but praise for SEOmoz.

I commented with that sentiment on Vanessa’s blog, and to my surprise, Danny Sullivan (more or less the father of SEO) responded to my comment.

Hey Vanessa,

Like Pat [of SEOish, who’d made a similar comment earlier], I take issue not with your actual comments about the quiz but at how you presented them. There were definitely some gray areas which Rand & Co. presented as hard & fast answers, but on the whole it was a noble attempt to separate wheat from chaff in the SEO world. Clearly if folks like DazzlinDonna [of SEOScoop–a terrific SEO herself] are scoring “only” 85% there are some problems with it, but to say it’s “completely wrong” is a bit over the top.

This is a serious question: does SEMPO or any other similar community have a similar quiz? If not, I say we applaud this one as a great first effort at A) letting relatively new SEOs like myself know where we stand in relation to the rest of the industry and B) putting some of the snake-oil salesmen in their place by coming up with some sort of REAL barometer of SEO skill.

David, I appreciate the education effort, I do. But let’s be clear. If you are a relatively new SEO, this was a terrible, terrible quiz for you to know where you stand. There were a ton of basic questions not covered. You’ve got a few questions not related to the techniques of SEO at all. You’ve got many questions where there’s going to be real conflict about what’s correct — and that doesn’t help the new SEO assess anything. They’ll just think they’re wrong if the test says they’re wrong. SEMPO actually does training rather than quizzes. There’s been a big trend recently toward various places trying to offer training and “accreditation.” I guess I’m old school in the end by thinking the best accreditation tends to be your client recommendations.

To which I replied again:

…I’m not necessarily saying that SEMPO should do a 75-question quiz & thereafter brand that person as a “qualified” SEO. But I do think that the SEO community as a whole could help its reputation problem w/some sort of objective criteria to rate its practitioners. Most professional fields DO offer degrees or certification upon the satisfactory completion of particular tests. Even Google does it with Adwords Qualification. Maybe it’s not a test per se; maybe it’s a peer-rating system, or a hybrid of the two. Or something different altogether.

Also, I’m not looking at this entirely from the SEO’s perspective of validating his/her business, I’m trying to look at it from the client perspective as well. I 100% agree that client recommendations are by far the best “accreditation,” but those don’t really help prospective clients who barely know where to begin with online marketing, and who have no idea what separates good SEOs from bad ones. ANYONE can list client recommendations on his/her site…

It just strikes me that a valid, well-publicized certification from a reliable source would go a long way towards weeding out the SEO spammers. Now that the SEO industry has outgrown its infancy and is moving rapidly into late childhood or adolescence (largely thanks to the efforts of Danny himself), it seems to me that a natural progression into some sort of objective rating system is in order. Whether that’s along the lines of a Bar-style Exam or Martindale-Hubbell’s AV, BV, CV peer review rating system for lawyers, I’m not sure. But in my view, a well-conceived certification process can only help validate the industry further.

What do others think?