There has been quite a bit of concern and controversy surrounding the industry Code of Ethics (COE) that SEMPO wants to see implemented. There has definitely been a lot of questions, so I approached both Tony Wright, the VP of Communication and Public Relation for SEMPO, who led the original SEMPO meeting about the plans at Pubcon and Chris Boggs, on the Board of Directors for SEMPO, who has been vocal about the plans on social media, to get their responses to some of the burning questions people have about the COE plans.
Why do you feel the industry needs a code of ethics?
Personally, I think that having a unified code of ethics will provide two main benefits. The most important benefit will be for those that employ search engine marketers. It will let them know the people they have hired have voluntarily agreed to be held accountable to a specific code that has been created and approved by their peers. For those of us in the industry, it will set a foundation going forward for what we deem as acceptable conduct as a search engine marketer.
The amount of horror stories I read and hear about, especially with SEO and increasingly Social Media, leads me to believe that a Code of Ethics could be something that “burned” business owners may be able to look towards as a designation of trustfulness. Naturally, since humans are not robots and there are plenty of “evil marketers” out there, this could never be foolproof. However, I get tired of hearing about SEOs being shady and using smoke and mirrors, since it reflects on something that I have personally been a part of for so much of my life. This is why I am putting all my efforts into helping create a unified Code of Ethics that marketers can agree upon and share.
This will be very similar to the BBB I feel. Do you look for a BBB designation for every business you work with? I almost never do, and I think that many marketers especially if they haven’t been burned in the past will likely not look for a Code of Ethics seal. Therefore, I feel this whole thing voluntary and will help those on “both sides” (business and agency/consultant) that want to participate.
Will there be any “checks” for those who are assigned as delegates to ensure they are practicing “ethical SEO” or could there be the potential that those who practice or even embrace spam techniques could be delegates?
In the long run, this will be decided by the elected delegates themselves. However, I wouldn’t want to part of any organization that doesn’t hold it’s leaders accountable to the requirements they set forth. Remember, the idea behind this is to have elected delegates that can be replaced if they don’t represent their constituents adequately. I would think that there would be some sort of “impeachment” process for delegates that don’t follow the rules, but again, that final decision will be up to the delegates.
I do not foresee any active “checks” for Delegates. If an organization sends a delegate they would be seen as an equal voters, regardless of their “style” of marketing. One person’s Genius is another person’s Spam. My personal Code of Ethics would be as much about regulating spammers (that don’t produce any tangible results) as it would be to ensure that all business owners fully understand the tactics being recommended and implemented.
However, of course if some Delegates pose the potential to derail the validity of the Code due to their excessive negativ
Why did you decide on the delegates from local groups as opposed to choosing well respected industry leaders to create a code of ethics?
We believe that no individual represents the search industry as a whole. And it would be presumptuous of SEMPO to pick delegates based upon who we feel are the “respected industry leaders”. There are some great people in search who have done a lot for the industry, but no one can claim to represent the industry. By identifying groups that meet a certain criteria (which is still being finalized, BTW – input will be taken once our new site is up) we can encourage those that want to get involved to join those groups to have a say. This way, we aren’t creating a code of ethics that only represents a vocal minority – but that provides a better (albeit, not perfect) representation of the industry as a whole.
I personally want this to be a democratic process not a popularity vote, but I am not sure why this path wasn’t taken. Honestly, there are some “industry leaders” that have grown far too “popular” without maintaining experience working with clients and Websites across industries through the years. I doubt that some would be as up-to-date and currently trained as I would hope the delegates will be.
Will the list of delegates be publicly available as they are chosen?
Yes. I don’t anticipate any scenario in which the publicly elected delegates would ever be not readily available to anyone.
I would expect them to be, but do not know.
In the meeting, it was said there would be a “nominal fee” for this. How much would this nominal fee be? Who would be in charge of this money and what would happen to any excess?
I wish I hadn’t said that, actually. I don’t know that there will be a nominal fee for participation. However, it would be naive to think that there won’t be administrative costs involved, especially in enforcing a code of ethics. The fees for administration will be decided by the delegates once they are elected. For now, this is a grass roots efforts and there are no funds involved. Everything as of now is volunteer-based.
I know nothing about this part of the process, but I would throw out a complete guess that it will be in the “dollars per month” range versus “tens of dollars per month” range. Obviously, with established SEMPO haters and concerned talk of “money grabbing” already out there it would be a huge mistake for SEMPO to manage it. I would hope we can create a separate neutral entity (perhaps Searchcongress.com/org) to handle it.
You said you don’t want to police things like title tag length. What DO you want to police?
Frankly, I have ideas, but I will keep those to myself for now. The contents of the COE will be solely decided upon by the elected delegates. These delegates will have access to every suggestion that is made through the site we are creating – and don’t think I won’t be providing my own suggestions through the site. But the end result will be framed by the delegates.
And to answer a question that I anticipate this brings up – we have not determined whether suggestions will be submitted anonymously or not. I personally see benefits to both, but that will be a discussion that we will have as a SEMPO board. After the inaugural congress, the delegates will decide that point, but we have to decide that for the initial framing as we don’t have any delegates to defer too.
I believe that was Tony Wright that specifically said that? [Editor note: Yes it was, but I sent the identical set of questions to both] Personally, I want people to know what kind of risk they are putting their Web site into, if any, when engaging in SEO. I would want the delegates to have this discussion at length. I certainly don’t think the code would be about setting definitions for things that can have 2-3 “correct” interpretations (such as Title Tag length), but rather general behavior that places marketers in risk areas they are unaware of such as based on the latest search engine algorithm updates or Spam-fighting edicts.
How would you police whether someone is going against the code of ethics? What was perfectly legitimate 2 or 3 years ago is against the rules today. Could someone upset that an SEO couldn’t get them to #1 for “buy viagra” report him?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but all enforcement will need to be decided by the delegates. Personally, I think that the initial COE needs to be somewhat broad and should not include any tactics that would change quickly. My sincere hope is that the enforcement process will include an enforcement committee that would understand the scenario described in your question and address it appropriately. Again, I have ideas on how it should work, but I’ll send those to the delegate for now instead of putting them out there publicly.
This isn’t Webmaster Tools from what I understand. That type of questions makes me sad – I think that Google has gotten our industry so shell-shocked by having implemented a very skud missile-like (inaccurate but still deadly) process of reporting spammers. The example you use is quite telling, because the cheating and reporting does seem to go on mostly in the very difficult niches and industries.
I personally would have it be an honor system, and if a neutral or affected party is willing to openly report another entity that claims to follow the Code for breaking it, then I am fine with it. As long as the accused can know their accuser, I would hope we wouldn’t see “fake” reports. This is obviously a huge topic for the Delegates to answer.
If someone breaks the code of ethics, what do you see as a punishment? Simply kicked out and no longer eligible to say they belong? Or will there be name-and-shame consequences?
Again, that will be up to the delegates to decide.
I kind of like the name and shame idea, to give it a little more teeth. I like the way the AFP uses theirs, and you can see the list is pretty small, about 1 per year revoked: http://www.afpnet.org/Ethics/
Obviously this is a hot topic, why do you think some industry people are so against a code of ethics?
From what I’ve seen, there are three types of people that are against this – those that don’t really understand what we’re trying to do and think that they will be told how to run their business, those that truly believe a code of ethics would hurt the industry and could cause legal harm to the industry and those that don’t like SEMPO and are against SEMPO organizing this.
For the first group, I’m hoping as more communication comes out (and it will, but please be patient – all of us are volunteers and have to do our day jobs as well) those will come on board. For the second group, I personally am open. If we hold the initial delegates meeting and the delegates decide that a code of ethics would be bad for the industry, so be it. The people will have spoken through their elected representatives. For the third group, I would hope that they could put aside their SEMPO bias and understand that this is a SEMPO organized effort, not a SEMPO led effort. I hope that they will understand that the intent behind this is to create a representative unified code of ethics – not a SEMPO code of ethics.
I hate that this is already seen a SEMPO code of ethics by some. That could not be further from the truth. Quite a few people who are not involved in SEMPO (and aren’t really in agreement with SEMPO) helped with the initial organization of this effort. SEMPO was the logical choice to organize it, as it’s (as far as I know) the only national organization claiming to represent the search marketing community.
I feel personally this is mostly because of past hate or jealousy or misunderstanding of SEMPO, from my personal “headset.” I also feel that some people are afraid that we are becoming too legitimate of an industry, and perhaps the days of making millions while sitting around at home aren’t going to last much longer. Some may feel that they would be forced to participate in order to get access to certain RFPs or RFIs – if that becomes the case it would be no different than such requirements in other industries in relation to licensing and insurance minimums, in order to be illegible to bid on work (I could see government contracts having this requirement).
Many see it as a way to force people to join SEMPO… will people need to join SEMPO in order to publicly state they follow the code of ethics?
That is just not true. No one will have to join SEMPO to be involved in this. We have already had interest from other groups not associated SEMPO that want to be involved. Our goal is to make it so that anyone who wants to participate can join an organization and vote for or run as a delegate. And while SEMPO will be one of those organizations you can join (and I would definitely encourage that), there will be other paths to participation.
Of course not. This is a group-of-groups effort, and in my eyes there will likely end up being some sort of compromise to allow some of the deserving “independents” to vote in their own delegate(s).
What do you think about the code of ethics?
Editor: I will be doing a follow-up piece with reactions from SEOs about SEMPO’s plans for a code of ethics… if you would like to contribute, please email me or contact us.
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