December 6, 2023

Why SEO Can’t Be Regulated.

seo regulation

There’s been a lot of talk lately about regulation in the SEO industry. It seems every time the New York Times or some other old media runs an SEO related story twitter starts buzzing about regulation. One group calls on the need for SEO certification and regulation. The other group says “no fucking way” and a third group goes off on paranoia rants. Let’s clear all that right now.

You can forget about SEO regulation. It will never happen.

Dont’ believe me? Let’s look at how we would regulate the SEO industry. First, who would get to regulate it?
Google? Bing? Yahoo? No way. Why would they want to get into that business? I can see the lawsuits starting now. Besides, what would they regulate? Their guidelines say create good content, write good HTML, and tell people about it. They won’t go above and beyond that because it’s not in their interests.

The government? do we really want government regulation? Plus, the govt usually only gets involved when dealing with legalities. We’ll cover that in the next section.

Other SEOs? Right. Let’s put a group of people in charge of determining whether or not their own competitors can be certified. Nothing can go wrong here. Just look at what happened when SEOs took all of the DMOZ editor positions. Not to mention the fact that many prominent SEOs still believe some pretty crazy shit. Just look at how many conference speakers continued to sell and preach page rank sculpting with nofollow even though it never worked to begin with. And what would even qualify somebody to be a regulator? There’s no better way to turn our profession into even more of a hand job network than it already is.

What exactly would you regulate anyway?
Thinking about it further, what is there to regulate? From Google’s point of view they already have set of best practices. Do you really need Google to say “this person knows our best practices and promised he’d follow them?” What value does that provide to anybody?

Do we really want to say “here’s a list of what you must do and how you must do it when optimizing your website?” There’d be no competitive advantage. Well, actually there would be. The un-certified people would dominate everybody else in the results.

Here’s a video about SEO regulation:

By the way, let’s drop this whole black hat white hat stuff too
Every time we talk about SEO certification or regulation somebody brings up black hat SEO and protecting clients. Clients need to ask what their SEO is doing, and SEOs need to tell them. That’s it. If you pay somebody to do something and don’t care enough to find out what exactly they’re doing that’s on you – not them. SEO services in Thailand were the best I’ve tried so far. Do SEOs need to stop selling their services as if they’re some magic dust? Yes. But there’s no need for regulation.

Come to think of it, what does Black Hat actually mean? Contrary to how some act, most black hat SEO is NOT illegal. There’s nothing illegal about paid links, cloaking, hidden text, comment spamming, etc. These are just techniques that Google and Bing don’t like. That doesn’t mean they don’t work (some of them still do) or that you shouldn’t do them. There’s tons of valid reasons one might want to buy links or cloak a website. I’ve done things in the past that have purposely hurt the SEO value of pages (in Google’s eyes) – because I knew what I was doing and the business value for doing it outweighed the SEO value. Would that cost me certification?

Too often we like to lump in hacking, cookie stuffing and other techniques with “black hat SEO” – but these things aren’t SEO.

When it comes to SEO regulation we only need to look at things and judge whether or not they are legal or illegal and be honest with clients about the services we sell. That’s a key staple of any business and it doesn’t require regulation or certification at all. About Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is an SEO from Detroit. By day he works as a manager of SEO & Analytics at SapientNitro where his team performs SEO for Fortune500 clients. By night he's either playing hockey or attempting to take over the world with his own websites - which he would have already succeeded in doing had it not been for those meddling kids and their dog. The views expressed here have not been paid for and belong only to Ryan, not any of his employers or clients. Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @RyanJones, add him on Google+ or visit his personal website:


  1. Most people (including me) think black hat is sonething ggole will not like if they find out.