In the early days of the Internet free help was everywhere. If you were willing to learn and could take criticism, you could learn how to be a web designer, SEO or programmer. The only investment was your time and a willingness to give back.
Communities grew out of the need to get jobs done properly. I started out as a moderator for an email list in 1995. While I worked full-time during the daytime in User Interface design, at night I freelanced in SEO for dirt cheap and I taught online for free. I’ve owned and maintained an SEO forum since 1998. That’s a long time to stay committed to a community and an industry. I don’t make any money volunteering at Cre8asiteofrums nor do any of the moderators who help.
Some of the most well known people in the search engine marketing, social networking and web design industries were once moderator’s at large forums. They gave back. They taught. They offered help to the community and the industries they love. They asked for nothing in return, but nearly all of them now have their own businesses. Some are speakers at conferences. Several have turned to focus on their own local towns. As the Internet expands, some of them have found they are needed in new places, like schools or organizations.
When they leave, the forum or community they participated in suffers. There are not enough replacements.
Where Have All The Mentors Gone?
Consider what happens when the company you work for has just laid off several people in your department but kept you on board. Suddenly your work load has doubled or tripled. You get no raise of course, despite the added hours and stress. Your attitude changes. You don’t want to go to work anymore. You resent your employer. It’s the same thing for forums and online communities.
Has the spirit of volunteering gone? Where are the folks from the entire search engine marketing industry who care about making sure the information being taught is correct? Where have the mentors gone?
The outrageous ads I see every day for SEO-type services may be an indicator of where the SEO industry is going these days. Here are some samples from the past 2 days alone:
A request to put paid text links on my site, even though the practice can get your web site banned from search engines or your page rank score will drop.
Someone will submit your site to “1023 search engines”.
Someone will take $5 and promote your site to their followers in Twitter.
Or in Facebook.
Someone will give you an SEO audit for under $10.
Someone will “Submit your sites”. They don’t bother to say to what.
Someone will click on your ads, for a fee.
Many people will leave blog comments for you, for cheap.
One person will “send you traffic”.
“I will link to your site” for a few bucks.
Incredible! It is easier for SEO’s to go online to lie and deceive than to participate in communities and build up a solid, ethical reputation.
Over the weekend I learned that a well known website that charges its members thousands to join has filled its articles database by scraping articles it finds on the Internet. They make it appear as though the author submitted the article and can be contacted personally. Neither is true. The contact forms for scraped content don’t work. The article writer gets no link, no bio and no proper credit for their work. Copyright information is completely ignored.
Regulating SEO practices and providing certification are topics that come up for debate several times a year. Nobody agrees on how or if it should be done. Certification does not mean the person will not turn around and conduct business ethically or responsibly. A badge is not proof of expertise. Satisfied clients and work history are the real indicators.
Every day I weed out forum spammers. They are nearly always from the SEO industry.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to get out and train people and companies who want to learn best practices. They fall in love with the challenges and thrill of organic SEO practices. I get to work with companies who believe in the future of the Internet. They want to know everything they can about user experience design, information architecture, accessibility for special needs users and how to rank well in search engines. These dignified folks understand that investing in truly skilled persons is the proper path. However, they are not easily found in forums and online communities offering support.
What is happening with the next generation of Internet workers? One look at a community such as Sphinn and you can see the poor quality of the articles. Sometimes the advice is downright incorrect or out dated. It’s not the fault of Sphinn. The contributors, who are mostly new online marketers, are not providing quality content. And the volunteer Moderators are the same people that I’ve seen volunteering since the 1990’s.
So when is the next generation of SEO’s going to step up to the plate? Who among you will stand out and be leaders?