The Leadership Vacuum of Search Engine Marketing

All politics are personal.

Whether you lean left or right, at the end of the day the politics that affect your life are the ones you should care about the most.

I’ve long been an advocate for our industry to get more involved in working to shape the laws that govern the ecosystem that provides us with our livelihoods.

As an industry, despite some valiant efforts, we have failed to create a united front that protects us from legislation passed by bureaucrats that think the internet is a “series of tubes”

Legislation is constantly being proposed by politicians who have no understanding of the ramifications these laws will have on our industry, our companies, and our clients.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media platforms spend literally millions of dollars each year lobbying lawmakers, trying to influence legislation that could potentially upend their entire business models.

In the search industry, we lament our lawmakers’ lack of basic understanding of how the internet works – all the while sitting back and watching as the corporations that help feed our families react to potential legislation in sometimes draconian actions that have decimated specific industries.

Executive Orders

Before we talk about some of the measures that Google and others have taken that have harmed legitimate industries, let’s look at the latest shot across the bow to our livelihood.

On May 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order seeking to re-define a section of the long-standing Communications Decency Act (CDA) passed in 1996.

Section 230 of the CDA protects social media and other user-generated content providers from liability resulting from what is posted by their users.

Without these protections, it is safe to assume that Twitter, Facebook, and even Google would not exist as they do today.

In fact, section 230 of the CDA has repeatedly been referred to as “the 26 words that created the internet”

Trump’s executive order appears to have no teeth, however, his public spats with social media giants aren’t over, by a long shot.

Section 230

I’ve served as an expert witness several times on issues related to section 230 of the CDA.

I’ll be the first to admit that I think the law needs to be re-examined.

Shielding UGC publishers from litigation create a nightmare for many small businesses that have been defamed by competitors, disgruntled employees, and even run-of-the-mill trolls.

There is a fine line between a UGC publisher creating an environment where comments and reviews are perceived as tacitly endorsed by an authoritative source such as Google, even if as search marketers when know this editorializing is far more algorithmic than editorial.

But, by dismantling section 230, we run the risk of decimating the internet landscape as we know it – including and especially Google.

There are no easy answers on this one.

But I believe that people who understand how Google works – and don’t have a vested interest in Google’s financial statements – should be providing guidance to our lawmakers.

Our industry isn’t doing that.

Online Advertising’s Industry Wasteland

There are many legitimate industries that are not allowed to advertise on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms.

Google’s advertising policy page lists many categories of businesses that are either banned or restricted from advertising on the Google Ads platform.

Twitter and Facebook both have similar lists.

Everything from healthcare to financial services has pockets of their industries that are affected.

These businesses are left with SEO being one of their only options.

Anyone who has performed SEO in one of these “banned” categories knows they quickly become the “wild west”, where Google’s rules and terms of service mean very little, no matter how the algorithm attempts to improve.

To my knowledge, none of the major search engines or social media platforms have ever reached out to the search and social media industry to ask what businesses should be able to advertise and what business should not.

One prominent example of what I consider to be an overreach by Google is the advertising restrictions placed on drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.

You can find these restrictions here.

I don’t know anyone that would say that there is not a societal need for these facilities.

But I also understand why Google took this stand.

Frankly, Google couldn’t tell the legitimate offers from the scammers.

So they outsourced the verification function to a company called Legitscript – but most of the facilities affected aren’t even eligible for Legitscript’s services.

This leaves many smaller sober houses and rehabilitation centers without many options.

They are forced to participate in highly competitive, and in many cases, highly risky SEO programs that may or may not bear any fruit.

Leadership Vacuum

Our industry has, for some time, experienced a leadership vacuum.

The recent demise of the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO), which was folded into the Digital Analytics Association was the last breath of our industry leadership.

SEOs can’t agree on who should lead us, much less the path we need to take moving forward.

In our current state, the SEO industry is at the whim of others who may not have our best interest at heart.

Google will continue to dictate what it deems best for the industry, which in many cases, is not what is best for those who practice search engine marketing.

Where are the leaders?

Where are those that will step up, take the hard hits it takes to unify the industry, and get us a seat at the big boys’ table where the discussions that really matter are taking place?

I don’t believe that the leaders aren’t out there.

Our industry is full of tribes.

The tribes are tight-knit groups that help each other, care for each other, and freely share their knowledge – in most cases, without worry about competitive concerns.

But when it comes to making meaningful strides toward influencing policy or bettering the industry, we argue like the Hatfields and the McCoys.

I see everyday people in our industry with polar opposite political views helping each other with technical SEO issues.

I know that the industry can work together to create a better experience for both practitioners and consumers alike.

But we need a uniter.

We need a person or group who can get us all rowing the boat in the same direction.

Once we have that, I believe that there is no limit to what we can do.

So who wants to step up?

More Resources:

Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, June 2020