Stoney and I had a humorous exchange concerning an individual who had been dubbed an “SEO Expert”. A visit to the website of the search guru is what made the whole thing very comical. Unless I missed the boat somewhere and the new cutting edge trend in SEO is webpages that are unreadable (lack of contrast between background and text), require 2 full page widths of horizontal scrolling to view and contain no meta data.
This got me thinking about what it is to be an "expert", in any profession really, but more so what that means in the SEO arena which has several inherent qualities that pose some unique obstacles for establishing credible expertise standards industry-wide. Let’s break this problem down a little and maybe we can gain some insight.
What is an Expert?
First and foremost we need to clearly define the qualities, qualifications and even the burdens that must accompany the designation of “SEO Expert (aka – Traffic Pimp, Visibility Ninja, The Don of Salience)” . A Google search for a definition of “expert” yields several definitions with some significant variation. For example WordNet defines an expert as “a person with special knowledge or ability who performs skillfully”. This seems like a good definition, but to me “Expert” describes some sort of professional status or recognition of exceptional skill. Wikipedia takes a different route and offers a very robust definition:
"An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of knowledge, technique, or skill whose judgement is accorded authority and status by the public or their peers. Experts have prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field. The opposite of an expert is generally known as a layperson, while someone who occupies a middle grade of understanding is generally known as a technician and often employed to assist experts."
I think that the Wiki definition is a more concrete and practical definition of what an “expert” is, so lets run with it.
- Recognized for Knowledge & Skill.
- Judgement is Respected.
- Extensive Experience
- Extensive Education
But What’s an SEO Expert?
Now we’ll take a look at our definition of expert and explore how that translates into the search optimization profession.
An Expert is (whatever quality above), therefore, and SEO Expert…
- Has Professionally Recognized Contributions.
- Opinion is generally regarded as attention worthy.
- Is seasoned across a long enough span of time to have a strong history that reflects not only successes but also important learning experiences where outcomes fell short of goals; even outright failures. The expert’s portfolio will be diverse as well.
- No Formal Educational Standards Exist. Nor is there a governing body which attempts to establish guidelines. This is where pinning down SEO expertise gets a bit tricky. Currently most professional SEO’s are essentially self taught or at least self-directed learners. The SEO body of knowledge is highly available and extremely present on the web. The problem (especially for the novice, or aspiring expert) is recognizing the solid information and distinguishing it from the oh-so-much-more abundant garbage info. Participation in a well recognized forum can help demystify various aspects of SEO and perhaps even help one develop a discriminating eye for locating quality SEO information.
And Professional Academics?
Even though we don’t have a formal academic track for SEO, we can still formulate a knowledge profile that such a program would provide. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Web design; a good eye for quality, aesthetics and usability.
- Web development; XHTML, CSS, XML, HTML, Web Services, RSS, etc.
- Marketing; Especially consumer behavior, advertising, conversion strategy, etc.
- Internet and WWW; a solid grasp of the mechanics of the web.
- Internet Research & Data Mining
- Business Ethics; The Power of the Dark Side seduces many padowan SEO’s.
- Information Retrieval: Basic IR concepts.
- Web Information Retrieval: Search technology, trends, techniques, etc.
- Copywriting: especially as this skill is applied on the WWW.
Profile of an Expert SEO
Now we can put it all together and see what makes the Expert SEO tick:
Based on our definition of an expert SEO, he/she may be recognized by the following:
For all things SEO; their opinion is valued and generally regarded as attention worthy.
They have a strong portfolio with an extensive history of sustainable success across many different industries. They have made valid contributions to the craft and have offered their unique insight into critical areas of the profession.
They have a professional level competency in the following areas:
- Web design and development
- Marketing Theory and Practice
- Business Ethics
They have a functional grasp of the following subjects:
- Internet and WWW Technologies
- Internet Research & Data Mining
- Information Retrieval
- Web Information Retrieval
So does this sound like the profile of a Master SEO? We have outlined a basic framework for defining expertise, but this is far from a usable or definitive treatment. Please contribute your thoughts. With enough participation; we could codify some truly useable standards from which all manner of interesting and insightful projects could develop.
Things to consider:
What areas have yet to be considered? What do trends within the industry tell us about how to ensure one’s expertise will be viable in the future? What distinct yet complimentary disciplines are likely to be integrated into SEO in the future? What about our definition of expert? Is it accurate? Can it be improved? Should it be scrapped?