SEO Ethics and Regulation: On SEMPO’s Search Congress and TopSEOs Ban

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Your local CPA, attorney, and heck even your local barber are required to operate under a code by some sort of oversight committee or association. Your SEO agency is not. Should there be some sort of committee to regulate web marketing agencies? One of the industries long running associations seems to think so.


This week at Pubcon in Las Vegas, non-profit SEMPO is facilitating the first meeting of “Search Congress” to address this. They hope that with SEO agencies and groups to draft the North American Search Engine Marketing Code of Ethics.

While they insist that they’re only laying the groundwork and not making the rules, there’s already plenty of criticism. This is because the main requirement is that delegates be SEMPO members, or part of groups that have members.

Whatever the case, or impetus behind it, is it a good idea?

There’s an argument for it in that any SEO agency you contract can employ different tactics to get their goal. Some of these tactics may follow Google’s guidelines, others might fall more in grey areas or could even be defined as “black hat”. A code or seal of approval from this group might help a business to find a reputable partner in search and mitigate that risk.

Arguments against it are that it would be completely unenforceable, that SEO is a global industry and not limited to the US and Canada, or that it would simply fail to gain respect and traction from the industry.

The biggest gripe is who’s behind it. Years ago, SEMPO attempted to do something similar with an SEO course and certifications that was meant to separate the pretenders from the contenders. It didn’t do much for anyone except help SEMPO build their bank account.

I’m looking forward to hearing more about the results, and am curious to find out what happens. I do think it would be valuable to have some sort of way to validate the abilities and ethics of an agency, but can’t begin to imagine how this would be achieved.

top seos banned

Another entity that attempted to do something similar is the much maligned ““. This organization has been run for years and claims to “identify and rank the best online marketing and SEO companies” as an objective third party. They also claim that agencies only get added to the list after a meticulous evaluation process that determines where they should rank.

TopSEOs has come under fire many times over the years for being a scam since there was no evaluation procedure. Apparently the only real requirement was paying them a minimum of $1500 per month to get listed. The sites at the top obviously spent a lot more, which they were happy to do because it worked! TopSEOs enjoyed top placement in search for terms like SEO Firm, PPC Firm, SEO Company Reviews, etc. which brought plenty of traffic.

What is most telling is the companies in those top spots. Firms like Captain Marketing or 180Fusion dominate. These two are both well known for their cold calling, though not particularly well known for their authority in search speaks volumes. Basically, it’s just one of those things all SEO guys know… it’s totally rigged.

Well, TopSEOs have gotten their come-uppance this week in that Google has removed them from the index. 100% gone. Banned. Bing too. The only thing you’ll see from a search for TopSEOs is news stories similar to this and maybe some lame press releases from agencies bragging about their award.

Mark Jackson’s post here goes into far more detail and he even goes as far as to say the straw that may have broke the camel’s back is an e-mail from him to Matt Cutts. An interesting read to be sure.

Now I’m not comparing SEMPO to TOPSEOs, but it’s clear that there is a need for something that helps consumers of SEO services make educated choices, but what’s not clear is how to go about it.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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