SEO Certification – What Is Your View?

Ash Nallawalla

26 January 2008


Certified SEOI wrote this initially as a new forum post after I saw someone being disparaged for saying he is a “Certified SEO Professional”. I don’t believe we should poke fun at someone who claims to be a “certified SEO” or asks about certification offerings.

I see opportunistic charlatans through to some respected names in the industry who offer a certification. Just as a car driver’s licence is a certification but is not an endorsement of expertise, there is a case for SEO certification.

The Need

As a hiring manager, I know that in Melbourne it is next to impossible to advertise for an SEO and get more than one resume from someone who has real SEO experience, that is an in-house SEO role or an SEO agency background.

As a recipient of spam, I know there are numerous individuals and companies who claim to be SEO experts, but their websites show little evidence of this expertise. There are so-called SEO Certification companies who will sell you a certification badge, but again their own website shows little evidence of such knowledge.

There are people who ask about SEO certification, suggesting there is a need.

The Challenge

The usual question is “Who will certify the certifiers?” I don’t think there is a perfect answer, but the history of every profession might reveal a similar dilemma at the beginning. Are we happy to let the SEO profession remain an amorphous cloud?

If you asked within a given context, e.g. Webmasterworld members, who is an expert SEO, you might get a dozen names from anyone you ask and many of the answers would have a common core, say, five individuals.

Do we want a situation where the world has just five experts, certified by acclamation? Are they experts because they have time to display their logical reasoning at length — given that we cannot often see their work in practice?

Then there are other islands of expertise, such as other SEO forums, training companies, and SEM industry associations, who have their own list of experts, certified and otherwise.

What I see happening is similar to a university comparison. There is the Ivy League and then there is the rest, including the School of Hard Knocks. The putative certifying bodies will not go away just because some of us pooh-pooh their product. The self-trained experts will quietly continue to succeed by dint of their own effort. Some of these certifying entities will do a great job of marketing their Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval stamps and employers will begin to look for this Seal in resumes.

The Barriers

The main barrier is ego. Look at any person who rubbishes SEO certification. Has he positioned himself as an expert, say, by operating an SEO business? Has he convinced himself that he is really good because his projects have all been resounding successes? Therefore, he may feel no need to be certified. Is he threatened by a growing number of newbies clutching their certifications?

The other barrier is a lack of cohesion. Relatively few SEOs join SEO associations – for a variety of valid reasons, particularly when they work for their own websites and not for clients. While they do not need a certification, are they saying that they do not need formal SEO training, where the certificate is merely an outcome? If they were starting today, would they prefer the trial-and-error path that most of us have endured in our early days, until we found Webmasterworld?

Is there anything we can do to influence this outcome? Please comment.

Ash Nallawalla

Search strategist experienced in large, complex websites. Ash's Google+ profile

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  • Tracy Fredrychowski on 27 January 2008

    Well said … especially your statement; “If they were starting today, would they prefer the trial-and-error path that most of us have endured in our early days, until we found Webmasterworld?”

    I hope you don’t mind a comment from one of the organizations that offers SEO Certification.

    Our company does offer SEO Certification so please let me explain our efforts and what we hope to achieve with each one of our students. I can not speak for other companies who offer SEO Certification but I can give you an opinion from this side of the fence.

    Students who are looking for certification are normally looking to help their existing client base or to make a difference with their employers Web site.

    Most have hit a brick wall with their efforts and are looking for answers to why they can not achieve organic results in the search engines.

    We hope by giving students a place where they can sharpen their skills they will have the confidence needed to perform completely white hat techniques and make successes of their Web sites.

    Search engine optimization goes beyond just making a Web site search engine friendly. Its all about understanding how the search engines work and how all the different relevancy factors can affect optimization efforts. Along with how a certified SEO can communicate their skills as a search engine optimizer to potential clients. This is really what Certification is all about.

    There are a couple points SEO Certification help with:
    1 – Certification builds confidence in SEO skills.
    2 – Teaches students how white hat techniques are used to achieve organic search results.
    3 – Informs students of all the latest industry changes and standards with the search engines and how to use them to their advantage.

    We all know there is a big debate on “Who will certify the certifiers?” but in most cases those that are offering a SEO Certification Class or Workshop have worked in the Industry for many years and have built a reputation for knowing how the search engines work and what it takes to achieve organic search results. Most of these companies spend endless hours keeping up to date with all the search engines guidelines and are always testing to make sure they are teaching the latest strategies.

    I do agree many think SEO certification is just a big joke and it holds no value across the Industry but I see a true need for individuals to understand that it takes more than hiring a web designer and putting up a pretty site. It takes a well rounded Web site that has been developed both cosmetically and optimized to do well on the Internet.

    Formal training has to start somewhere and students that can prove to their clients they have had formal training will gain the confidence of their customers. In the end hopefully the companies that offer SEO Certification will also gain the confidence of the Industry when it sees they are producing individuals who truly work to give the most relevant results on the Internet and are working with the search engines not against them.

  • […] Magellan recently wrote a post entitled “SEO Certification – What Is Your View?” tackling the thorny issue of SEO certification in todays Search Marketing industry. This topic of […]

  • Feydakin on 28 January 2008

    The problem is that these will just become another laundry list of alphabet soup certifications just like all the other tech certs out there.. It is so rare to see an MCSE or CNE (remember those?) and of the other certified professionals that have even the most basic if skills that I can’t imagine who would be qualified to provide this certification..

    I can hear the new radio commercials already..

    Tired of driving a truck?? Become a Comtrain certified SEO in just 3 weeks.. Go from your dead end job to making $70k/yr just by giving us $5k..

    These mills churn out MCSEs by the dozen and they can’t even diagnose a bad power supply (yes this happened this weekend to my wife at her job).. Trying to teach the intricacies of anything but the most basic of link building to someone that hasn’t actually spent time in the field would be a pure waste of time and money..

    @Tracy: you statement that Certification builds confidence in SEO skills might be reasonable if people taking these courses actually came away from them with any skills.. We had one come in to the webmasterradio irc chat and open with I got my certification last week and then proceeded to argue with long standing professional SEOs about the various aspects of SEO.. About the ony thing he really knew was that Google is a search Engine, after that things got weird.. It was sad in a train wreck for of way..

    Personally I see a new wave of these certs coming through from dozens of locations and not a one of them being worth the ink used to print them..

  • Ash on 28 January 2008

    Great comments! It is quite possible that some organisation will do their homework, hook up with someone like Prometric and there will be new MCSE-like tiers of SEO certification and we will still be debating the quality of the graduates. It is just like the MBAs from unknown universities.

    I don’t think employers are silly enough to look only at a certification. Last place I worked in (hiring SEOs) placed no significance on the presence or absence of a degree. It all went on the way they answered the questions and their experience. And there will be some employers – perhaps government agencies who will look for the piece of paper before making a shortlist.

  • Tracy Fredrychowski on 28 January 2008

    It is so good to hear both sides of the debate and my only hope is that those that are seeking certification do to their homework first. Some companies will just hand out certification for attending a seminar or workshop regardless if the attendee has fully understood the material. In our case students are not certified until they have taken a certification exam and passed with a 76% or better. Certification no matter what it is for has to hold a value and be truly earned to be respected in that Industry.

  • Ash on 28 January 2008

    I just searched for “SEO Certification” in Google and was surprised by the number of offerings. As low as $49.95…

  • David Temple on 28 January 2008

    Ash, interesting perspective but I think seo certification is a misnomer. When you certify someone as an MCSE, or even GAP, etc. they are learning within a system with very clear standards. Search marketing on the other hand has no industry standards so it is really uncertifiable.

    When looking for any sem training classes one thing I would recommend is to look at the instructors, are they recognized in the industry, are they thought leaders or do they just talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

    “Organized training” is a much better way to learn since the information online is often, wrong, old, ambiguous and quite frankly confusing. There is plenty of training out there, just don’t forget the sage advice, “buyer beware”.

    @Ash, good find

  • […] In my weekly reads the other day I came across an interesting post from Ash Nallawalla’s Blog that caught my eye and I just had to read it.  SEO Certification – What Is Your View?  […]

  • Jspeyer on 29 January 2008

    SEO certification will separate the men from the boys. It is not that simple to get certified! I plan to go ahead and get certified

  • Anthony a.k.a. OldSchool on 29 January 2008

    I have seen many industries grow to embrace certification as a measure of both accountability and professionalism. In the US, I think of the ASE certification system used in the automotive industry. For years, people just settled for getting taken advantage of when they go their car fixed and it became a joke. There was even the “you don’t get you car serviced as the dealer, do you?” Seinfeld episode. I believe that many consumers have come to recognize the ASE logo and it has a measure of respect, although there are several trusted and competent technicians that do not subscribe to the certification process.

    The question of who should manage the program is a valid one. The first group that comes to mind is SEMPO, but I know that wouldn’t sit well with everyone. Perhaps the certification revenues could help them lower their membrship fees 🙂

  • Anthony a.k.a. OldSchool on 29 January 2008

    I did forget to add that like any other degree of qualification, be it a degree or certification, it should never be assumed that it is a sign of expertise, but rather a sign of understanding a given body of knowledge. After all, an MD becomes an MD far earlier than a jurisdiction would allow him or her to operate on a patient.

  • Lee Odden on 29 January 2008

    Reputable organizations like the DMA and SEMPO are now offering formal online SEO/SEM training programs and others like Australia’s own Kalena Jordan’s Search Engine College have been around for ages. Those are great starting points for newbies and people crossing over into SEM from other fields.

    However, it is client results that speak volumes, not an individual’s “certification” status. We put anywhere from 3 to 8 people on a SEO project and I see no need for at least half of them to ever get any kind of SEO training outside of what we provide internally.

  • Tracy Fredrychowski on 29 January 2008

    Anthony you are exactly right with your comment; be it a degree or certification, it should never be assumed that it is a sign of expertise, but rather a sign of understanding.” This is so true and like any other formal training it takes more than a piece of paper to prove you are an expert in any field. The true knowledge comes from learning the basic principles and then learning on your own through your own hard work how to apply what you have learned in the real world. This is what really makes and certification valuable.

    SEO Certification is really like any other certification program as long as the organization that is offering it is a reliable training facility and backs their curriculum with Professional Instructors. I can not speak for all the training facilities but I can say that all the Search Engine Academy Training Locations in the US are actually backed by a University and offer their student’s college credits (CEU’s) for taking their Certification Workshop.

  • WRCS on 29 January 2008

    There was never certification fore seven-sea pirates so why bother with certification for www pirates?

  • Matt Ridout on 29 January 2008

    Very nice post.

    In London I can tell you that people do advertise for various SEO roles and there are plenty of jobs available. I would agree however that in smaller cities when you mention SEO they look at you with a blank expression!

  • Vikram on 29 January 2008

    Nice post. Can any one give me list of companies that give SEO certification in India?

    It would be helpful.

  • Sunny Masand on 29 January 2008

    I personally feel that this is a good initiative with regards to organizing set standards in the SEO industry.

    I look forward to getting some more information about the course and enrolling for it as well.


  • Michael Martinez on 30 January 2008

    I don’t believe any of the certification programs or SEO educational courses available right now are adequate. I would not give much weight to seeing a SEMPO certification on a resume, and there are some resumes I have rejected outright because the applicants had attended someone’s “SEO seminar”.

    I agree we need some sort of certification, but before you can have certification that is credible you have to have standards.

    We have no standards.

    Everyone who attends an SEO conference in the next year should be asking the conference organizers why SEO Industry Standards is not on their main programming calendar.

    Don’t accept hemming and hawing as an answer.

  • Feydakin on 30 January 2008

    ASE certification deals with facts though.. It’s pretty rare when opinion will fix a car 🙂

    The problem with the certs I’ve seen in the past is that the people that really know their stuff will never bother with them.. And for topics like SEO that are terribly dynamic they become worthless with every algo change unless you want to keep the certs at a very basic / entry level.. And if all they are is entry level, what’s the point?? Scam some poor kid out of his $49.95?? Sounds a lot like the A+ certifications..

  • WRCS on 31 January 2008

    Reply nineteen is the most apposite (so far).

  • […] I set up a Google Alert for some of my keyword phrases so when any one blogs on one of my keyword phrases and I feel I can contribute to the post I make a comment on them. […]

  • microsoft expression web designer 2007…

    excellent post.. Please add some more.. Thanks Jason…

  • Mark on 9 April 2008

    Great post, could not have said it better. I have personally done both. Went through the years of reading fourms etc and trial and error beofre coming across software to make life a little easier and then finally some certification for a few reasons, curiosity, strengthen knowledge in both seo and other areas. With that I don’t think it hurts any to have something to show if asked. Necessary, not at all but I do not think it is a bad thing.

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