We've all been subjected to some kind of marketing hoax before. Whether it's diet pills that work in a week or pyramid schemes that claim they'll make you a millionaire, we're all familiar with these kinds of quick fix products and services. As consumers, we see what brands want us to see-opportunities, quick solutions, affordability, and achievement without much effort. Being seduced by such offers is an experience that everyone as buyers can relate to. But I find that experience complicated by my duality as both consumer and leader of an agency, specifically because I see so many SEO related scams. 

As is true with any industry, SEO has its fair share of snake oil salesmen. With so many automated and black hat SEO services claiming they'll take websites to the top of Google's search results overnight, it's easy to see how the industry as a whole can seem like a scam. For those of us who dedicate ourselves to practicing and providing SEO services the right way, the presence of snake oil salesmen is particularly frustrating. We now have to understand how and why SEO can be viewed as snake oil, be able to identify fraudulent SEO practices and businesses, and maintain a pristine record as a reliable and trust-worthy agency.

Since the early years of 2003-2005, SEO has evolved at an impressive rate and significantly exceeded everyone's expectations regarding the impact it would have. Practices developed as quickly as technology advanced, at once creating limitless opportunity and a serious generational gap. For me, that generational gap is in large part contributive to why SEO can be viewed as snake oil. Think of it in terms of the OJ Simpson trial. DNA evidence overwhelmingly indicated that the murderer was, in fact, OJ Simpson. Today, that would undoubtedly sway a jury, because we grew up with DNA science and shows like Cold Case Files and CSI. But in 1995, DNA science was still relatively new and therefore unfamiliar and subject to skepticism from the average person. A similar argument can be made for SEO. An entire industry came from technological advancements that happened rapidly, so if you didn't grow up right alongside that technology, it can come across as a misleading, lucrative practice.

The snake oil stigma persists for SEO, firstly, because there are still many people who are unfamiliar with it and secondly, because there are so many people who have abused it. As a professional within the SEO industry, I've heard more times than I care to count of experiences with automated link building scams that have resulted in harsh penalties. When your perspective is coming from within the industry, you know what to look for and can readily determine black hat SEO practices from white hat SEO practices. From the outside looking in or as a business owner looking to navigate the tricky world on digital marketing and the web, it's not so easy to discern a con artist from a respectable agency.

The reality is that, much like DNA science, SEO is an industry that will likely stand the test of time. As long as search engines like Google and Bing remain an integral part of the human experience with technology, SEO is here to stay. As consumers, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves to the best of our ability on the evolving industry of SEO, regarding it as a resource rather than a trap. But as agencies and professionals of SEO, we have a responsibility to hold our industry and its practices to a standard reflective of its potential for assisting others. In doing so, we can chip away at the snake oil stigma that looms over SEO and redeem its reputation as a necessary and profitable practice.

Published on: May 17, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.