Mainstream news outlets are covering corporate black hat schemes (J.C. Penny, Forbes, Overstock). Non-industry friends want to discuss Demand Medias approach to content. Neighbors are chatting about Googles farmer update. Actors are portraying SEOs on primetime TV.
What could all this media attention mean for our industry?
1. More Funding for SEO
Before the story broke and about J.C. Penny driving traffic via black hat tricks (and before they were demoted in the SERPs), the companys spokesperson was quoted saying J.C. Penny saw strong growth over the holiday season.
People take note when a leading retailers marketing practices are exposed"especially if theyve recently increased their profit margins.
Businesses that may have never before considered SEO are now exploring the possibility. No company wants to be left behind because theyre not tapping into the full potential of a revenue stream.
Executives saw not only what above-the-fold search results could do for a companys bottom line, but also how a company could get nailed for taking black hat shortcuts. This could lead to more quality investment in SEO"which could mean increased spending for seasoned consultants or firms and/or more in-house SEO jobs.
2. More Competition in the Field
People with little SEO knowledge are coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on the new funding that executives are starting to spend on SEO. Itll be annoying for a while, but those get-to-the-top-of-Google-in-30-days guys weed themselves out and eventually sink their own ship.
What is exciting is that the media coverage may have sparked the interest of college students. If this happens, schools will be forced to take SEO seriously (especially journalism and marketing schools) and give students the foundation and tools they need to jump into online marketing.
How does that help us? Well, were going to have a more knowledgeable and enthusiastic workforce. Those eager, properly trained SEOs will join with the rest of the ethical SEO community and help us push the spam sites off the SERPs. Were going to have more people on the right side of the tug-of-war rope.
3. Increased Transparency at Google
Marketing history is rife with unethical manipulation. Exposure usually benefits both the industry and the consumer. Hopefully, we'll see more publicity around Googles algorithm updates, and I think most of us agree that further transparency is a step in the right direction.
4. More Industry Watch Dogs
I hope these latest news stories inspire journalists to examine others who may unfairly be ranking in the SERPs. This could weed out companies like J.C. Penny that have been ranking high because they have a deeper link-buying budget.
The exposure could help level the playing field for websites that dont have big budgets for link building. Perhaps theyll even explore relationships between Google, its big spenders, and their natural search results.
5. Shifts in Search Behavior
People dont want to think about how search results pop up on their screens. Sometimes it even freaks them out (wait"theyre watching me?). As the veil lifts and Googles practices become more public, users could be turned off.
Does this mean theyll stop searching on Google? Not necessarily, but it could make other search engines/ways of finding information more attractive to people who are Googlers by default.
Non-industry people have now been exposed to the conspiracy theory that Google allows big PPC spenders to unfairly rank well in organic search. That thought won't be easy to extinguish.
Google has always been in the business of making money. But its also enjoyed the reputation of being don't be evil nice guys whore just looking out for Web surfers. As people start thinking about Google as a for-profit corporation, brand perception may shift and search habits may change.
How Will More Exposure Affect Search?
It's always interesting when your industry is talked about in the mainstream media, and increased exposure often brings some degree of change.
These are my initial thoughts of what we may see in the near future. How do you think increased exposure may affect us?
Note: The opinions in this blog post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.
Meaghan Olson is a writer and digital marketer living in Chicago. She's a believer in the power of words – and in the technology that makes those words matter. Meaghan is the SEO Director at MyUS.com and she runs a site dedicated to giardiniera, the most delicious and under-appreciated condiment in the world. On the weekends, you can find her in section 157 at U.S. Cellular Field cheering for the White Sox.