Friday, May 19, 2017

Does SEO Need Online Reputation Management?

In last week's post, we asked a simple question: Do you need Online Reputation Management? As we noted, the ORM industry "promises to monitor and improve (or repair, when needed) the reputation of individuals and businesses online."

Unfairly (or not), many individuals and businesses suffer from poor online reputations. For an individual, a poor online reputation can translate to a lost job interview (or worse, a lost job). For a business, a poor reputation (like a series of bad Yelp reviews) can translate to profit-loss or even closure.

But what of an entire industry that requires ORM? We often hear, for example, that the SEO industry suffers from a bad online reputation.

How is this possible? The very point of SEO, after all, is to improve a site's visibility by optimizing carefully crafted content. ORM works hand-in-hand with SEO (as part of a comprehensive digital marketing campaign) to improve businesses reputations.

Well, like many online industries, SEO is unregulated by any ethical body, and many so-called SEOs use optimization to negative ends.

We reported, for example, on the case of a Dallas firm who had hired a certain William Stanley "to improve its online reputation." Stanley is one of many who work under the pretense of SEO, yet practice something closer to "negative SEO," or as Stanley admitted in his plea deal, "illegitimate SEO."

In his plea, Stanley admitted to threatening his clients by "posting fraudulent comments and creating negative reviews online if the victim did not pay him a certain amount of money."

Negative SEO, which attempts to deliberately harm another site's reputation, is as old as SEO itself. Stanley admitted he "created websites that had the ability to damage GE’s reputation by associating GE with a scam."

Stanley was likely referring to "bad links," one of the earliest weapons in the Black Hat SEO arsenal.

Read: "Organic Website Optimization & Negative SEO: The Battle Between Good and Bad"

We also reported on e-Ventures Worldwide, who had 213 sites de-indexed by Google after the search engine determined the sites were pure spam. Defending the company, Dan Blacharski, "a thought leader, adviser, and industry observer," asked "Is Google Trying to Kill SEO?"

Blacharski's hackneyed understanding of the elements of this case pointed to yet another problem that has dogged SEO's reputation: Even well-meaning industry observers misunderstand SEO, and many, like Blarchaski defend the wrong type of practices--in this case spammy practices, which have little to do with true, organic SEO.

Read: "Google is Not Trying to Kill SEO"

Frank Sinatra was arrested in 1938, after two women fought over him, arguably improving his reputation. Unfortunately, most individuals and businesses are not so lucky. [Photo Source]

Does SEO Deserve the Bad Reputation? 

The SEO reputation problem was cited by Tony Wright, an SEO veteran, in a recent article for Search Engine Journal.

"There are still uneducated, unethical people claiming to be SEOs," Wright says, "and our industry still has less respect than used car dealers."

For Wright, the problem is essentially about communication. "Its incredibly easy to find SEO information online," Wright notes, but the "amount of bad SEO information online is staggering."

Unfortunately, Wright believes, the SEO industry deserves this fate.

After all, "four years ago, as a newly elected board member of SEMPO, [Wright] embarked on an ambitious endeavor to create a 'search congress.'" It was a "noble idea" that "failed miserably." Over the years, Wright notes, only four people filled out the form on the search congress site to solicit more information.

The problem, Wright says, is indifference: even the good SEOs don't care enough to fight the bad.

With all due respect to Wright, we disagree. This blog, as well as many reputable SEO publications (the sites that often hit the top of the SERP) go to great pains to distinguish poor SEO practices, like negative SEO and bad links, from good practices, like those advocated by organic SEO.

To distinguish between the two, consumers must perform their own research before blindly accepting the advice of a spammy SEOs--like those who flood inboxes with innocuous greetings--"Greetings of the day!"--that quickly turn scary.

"Many business owners and unsophisticated webmasters (and even some who think they are sophisticated) don’t see these solicitations as spam," Wright says. "They fear that something is wrong with their sites."

So how do perform your own research? If you're considering SEO for your website, we suggest reading our post on finding a reputable firm: Five Questions for Your SEO Company. Otherwise, browse the articles on sites like Search Engine Journal, Moz, or Search Engine Land--or of course, The Organic SEO Blog.

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Just like this blog, the professional SEO specialists at Stepman's SEO strive to educate you about what we do and how we do it. After all, you should know exactly what to expect from your SEO professional's work.