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Choosing an SEO Expert: Musing on an Attempt to Trademark “SEO”

Choosing an SEO Expert: Musing on an Attempt to Trademark “SEO”

There’s been a story brewing for quite some time about the attempt by Jason Gambert to trademark the term “SEO”.
Gambert claims that the words “search engine optimization” have no real linguistic English value beyond being a process;. So, he’s trying to trademark “SEO” as a service, basically claiming that “SEO” itself is Net lingo and has no “Official English linguistic value.”

In his blog, Gambert claims that “I am helping the search engine marketing community establish an approved SEO process, which can be sold as an ‘SEO service.’” He goes on to explain that other industries have standards and guidelines and, as these industries are recognised as services, it means that there is a way for consumers to identify practitioners with credible offerings.

Now, although we can jump on the “fry Gambert” bandwagon and I think that his idea is nothing more than a revenue/copyright ploy, I’m going to leave that to the rest of cyberspace. Instead, Gambert’s comments do raise an age old question that I would like to discuss: Do we need SEO standards?

It’s true that other areas of web development have standards: HTML has validation; w3c produces reams of standards on CSS and XHTML; there are standards for ECMAScript (most commonly JavaScript); but do these really create security amongst web designers and developers?

The SEO industry really does have its share of cheats and con artists. We’ve all heard stories of small business owners getting hoodwinked by SEO scams. Shouldn’t we, as responsible professionals, do something to remove the black-hatters from our field?

Perhaps we should, but is a body of standards the best way to go about it? I’m not convinced that standards will separate the expert from the swindler. Indeed, SEO was effectively started by scam artists – how else would you describe someone distributing spam to a forum in order to increase their own SERP?
Whom would the community trust as members of a body that certifies a person or company is following SEO standards? Never mind that, who would we trust to create those standards in the first place?

Yes, there are respected SEO professionals, but as a whole the industry is young enough to still be a little rough around the edges. Some might argue that this is exactly why we need standards – but consider what would happen if someone tried to create them and enforce them. You’d more than likely get a mess that’s even worse than what Gambert is trying to pull.

Would a body of standards prevent people who don’t do due diligence from getting scammed? No. Will it prevent those who carry the SEO trademark from scamming others? No. Gambert’s trademark claim should be invalidated as the cheap swindle it is and the industry should promote the ideals of SEO experts and educate consumers on what to look for in them; something that I will cover now.

What to Look for in an SEO Expert
Here’s the paradox: Bad SEO works, and works quickly, but will ultimately get you banned from the search engines. So, from a consumer’s point of view, poor (or black hat) SEO appears to give them results that they need. They pay. Then the expert is gone, just in time for the customer’s rankings to start falling like a blind roofer.
Like all things in life, nothing worth having ever comes easy; and quality SEO is no different. When looking for an SEO expert, this is rule number one:

Always ensure that the expert is prepared to offer a medium-to-long term relationship.

SEO is not a one-stop shop. It is not an overnight fix. It requires time to follow your keywords; to establish links and drive traffic from forums, blogs and article sites; to manage on-the-page metatags, titles and internal links; and manage off-the-page anchor text optimisation.
All of this requires the expert to be on hand to compete and monitor the optimisation process. If they are unwilling to offer this, they may be a fly-by-night “expert”.

Does the expert know what they are doing?

This may seem like a very vague and expansive question, especially as consumers may not know what they are expecting of their expert. However, it is a pertinent question nonetheless. You and your SEO expert should look for three things before even attempting to optimise your site:

Are your customers searching for your products and/or services online?

This should be very easy for your expert to determine by putting the appropriate keywords in Wordtracker. It’s not just about whether people are searching for your kind of offerings online, though; it’s also about how many people are searching. If too few people are looking for you online, SEO on this area would be a waste of money – and your expert should advise you of this.

Are your competitors showing up for the terms that you want to target?

This could indicate that your competitors have found it worth their while to spend money on SEO. That doesn’t automatically mean that you will as well, however. Your expert should be able to advise you of the benefits that his/her services will offer.

What effect would an increase in targeted traffic to your web site have on my business?

This is really the most important question. If your web site effectively converts traffic into sales already, then you can expect SEO that increases your traffic to also increase your sales. If it doesn’t, more traffic is not going to translate into more sales.

If, between you and your expert, you can answer these questions positively, then it should be worth continuing with SEO.

What kind of SEO services do you want?

Do you want someone who specialises in on-the-page? Who specialises in content writing? Article submission? Do you want someone that knows all areas of SEO, or maybe someone who’s new to the field (and therefore cheaper)? Do you want to spend money on an AdWords or a PayPerClick campaign?

Fleshing out your requirements and their potential return on investment is the next step with your expert. There’s no hard and fast list of questions that you need to ask next, but there are a few that you should always check with your new hire, to paraphrase Jon Rognerud, writing for Entrepreneur.com:

What ranking guarantees do you provide? No honest, reputable SEO will make any kind of ranking guarantee. If you see anything like “#1 position for your keywords in six weeks!” run the other way.

Are you going to change my web site? The answer to this had better be “yes;” SEO is based on site content and structure.

How do you handle linking? Honest SEOs will explain their approach in great detail and let you see what they do. If they get evasive or claim that they use proprietary software or techniques, they might be engaging in black hat and/or spammy practices.

What are your other services and what is your pricing model? This should be clearly explained, not “sold.” Sure, SEO may be the company’s main service, but it may also do web analytics, pay-per-click, e-mail marketing, social media optimization, and more.

Who are some of your competitors? An honest firm will tell you who their competitors are and provide details.

What are your qualifications? Though no certifications are required for SEO, some things can help, like the Google Advertising Professional program. You may also want to consider time in business, though that’s no guarantee of expertise. Does the firm specialize in certain market segments? This would also be a good time to ask for customer references, just as you would for any contractor.

What kind of traffic results can I expect to see, how soon, and how much will they cost? Don’t judge them on price alone. Some scammy SEO companies will set up a pay-per-click campaign without their clients’ knowledge; the client pays fees every month, and the minute they stop paying, their traffic disappears.

Ideally, you and your SEO form a partnership. They should keep you apprised of what they’re doing and the effects, with weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports. With patience, planning, cooperation, and a lot of research, getting an SEO for your site could be an excellent decision. Good luck!

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