Who Has Search Engine Marketers’ Backs? No One – We Need Lobbyists

Did you know that Google spent $5 million to influence politicians just last quarter? And that was doubled from the quarter before and may double again this quarter. Facebook spent a boatload too, but not as much Google. Microsoft spent even more.

Issues like the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA  which received so much attention earlier this year, privacy issues, security issues, patent laws and a myriad of other items keep the Google, Facebook and Microsoft DC teams extremely active on Capitol Hill.

In my home state of Texas, over-eager tax collectors are auditing SEO firms for back sales taxes. Nevermind that for years the law has been interpreted to mean that service firms are exempt from sales tax. Oh yea, and thanks to the Texas Comptroller, Amazon will pay a fine and start collecting sales tax in Texas beginning July 1. I’m going to rent a UPS box in Oklahoma, I think.

But can you guess who isn’t paying attention? Search Engine Marketers. Look at the headlines in any of the leading SEM trade magazines. Go to the forums. Read the Twitter streams of prominent search marketers. Most SEM news is about algorithm chasing or new things that Google or Facebook has done to piss us off. We’ve also got tips and tricks and coverage from conferences.

A random announcement by Matt Cutts about his cats will receive more pixel ink in our trades than any legislation ever has. We don’t really want to talk about the laws that are being created to govern our industry unless they blatantly threaten us, or Google and the other technology companies tell us we should care (and that’s exactly what happened with SOPA).

And you know what? I don’t blame us.

Let’s face it, unless there is drama unfolding or we can a see a direct impact on our lives, most of us find the political process slow and mind-numbingly boring. I tell my clients it’s a full-time job just keeping up with daily changes in the search and social media landscape. And it really is. Watching the political landscape for threats to our industry is also a full-time job – a very necessary job. But the question is, whose job is it?

Who is looking out for the interests of search and social marketers on Capitol Hill? As far as I can see, no one yet.

Increasingly, we need timely insight into what is happening in Washington D.C. and with governments around the world. New legislation, like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and now the new Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Act (CISPA), can threaten our very livelihood.

We have no representation in Washington D.C.

We must rely upon other organization, like Google and Facebook, to make our case on Capitol Hill, and hope their interests align with ours. In many cases, they simply don’t.

In fact, most of us aren’t even aware of the issues that we need to be watching. But as I mentioned earlier, you can bet that the search and social players are spending significant lobbying money. I highly recommend reading this Politico article to understand what’s happening on “The Hill.”

Governments aren’t the only entities that we need to watch.

Recently, Mozilla announced that the Firefox browser would utilize a secure method of searching Google by default. For search marketers, that means our jobs just got a little more difficult. We’ve already seen our analytics regress toward 1999 with the number of Google referrals from “Not Provided” skyrocketing faster than prices at the gas pump.

Then there’s the ubiquitous Penguin update, starting with a cryptic announcement by Matt Cutts at South by Southwest and culminating in an algorithm shift that garnered more mainstream ink than any in decades – even though it purportedly only affected 3-4% of searches (really? like “not provided” on affects 10% of searches?).

Are search engine marketers’ views even considered by these companies when they make decisions? Is the search engine marketing community asked what it thinks about these changes? Do we even completely the understand the rules that we are meant to follow? Hardly.

So my question is, in this day and age, can we all collaborate to find solutions that would benefit users, engines and the SEM community? Yes.

So, why isn’t someone asking our legislators, the search engines and other companies tough questions – and pushing to be part of the conversation?

When we think of lobbying, we think of guys in expensive suits taking politicians out to lunch. But, that’s an antiquated way to view the field. Today, lobbying is about understanding the issues, creating a position on each issue, and communicating your position to those with the decision-making power. That’s not always a government. Sometimes it’s an industry leader.

My conclusion: I don’t have the answers. I have a few suspicions about who should be at the forefront of this conversation – but unfortunately, I think significant action will move somewhat slowly.

Without a hot-button topic like SOPA to fuel the fire, the short-term benefits won’t justify participation by most. But the bottom line is, if we want to maintain our momentum, we need to find common ground and pay for our own representation. I feel like search engine marketers have just earned a seat at the big kid marketing table in the last few years. If we want to keep our seat, we need someone watching our backs.

So where are the search engine marketing lobbyists? I don’t know, but I hope they show up soon.

Image used under license, courtesy of Shutterstock.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Features: Opinion


About The Author: is CEO and Founder of WrightIMC has spent his career helping businesses of all sizes be profitable on the Web. Wright is a search marketing geek and also has extensive experience in online crisis communication and brand reputation strategy. Wright has twice served as President of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Search Marketing Association, and is a sought after speaker at industry events, including SMX, Search Engine Strategies, Pubcon and others. Find him on Twitter @tonynwright.

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  • http://semanticantics.com/ Rob Skidmore

    Tony, very insightful article, I’ll admit that it scared me a little. Hopefully we can rally as an industry before it is too late to do something about it. 

  • http://www.websitesthatwin.com/ Philippa Gamse

    Tony – very thought-provoking. I recommend the book “The Underdog Edge” by Amy Showalter – it’s a great read about influencing others when you don’t have the big bucks . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/skrukowski Scott Krukowski

    Because SEM wouldn’t exist without Google or Facebook or any of the real industries that provide true value.  Looby against what?  Changes that Google may make to their internal and proprietorially owned algorithms? 

    Google’s mission with search is to make it better and more valid, not to help SEM firms and back linked networks “game” a system with flavor of the week buzzwords instead of focusing on true and valuable content.

    Produce valuable content and a valuable service and one shouldn’t need to “optimize” their website to “game” Google’s search.  

    This may make the SEM upset because the SEM industry must ask themselves “How much value are we truly creating?”  And the answer could be more frightening.  

    Focus on real value, change your business to accommodate real value creation, and one shouldn’t have to be so concerned about your points.   

  • http://zuhah.com/ Zuhah

    Puts a new perspective on how at times SEM can be on the edge.  Just when you think you have mastered it all, everything could change.

  • http://searchmarketingwisdom.com alanbleiweiss

    A lobbyist? who’s going to drive that? SEMPO? yeah. run for the hills.  We as an industry can’t even form and maintain an ethical organization purely for our own industry’s growth, let alone then generate a lobbying arm.  

  • http://twitter.com/tedives Ted Ives

    Tony – Unfortunately we’re the hosts, not the parasites.   We’re too busy carrying everyone else on our backs to hire lobbyists!    The good news is when the system eventually comes crashing down, at least online marketers will still have marketable skills, unlike many.

  • http://twitter.com/Kevin_Lee_QED Kevin Lee

    Alan, I’m perplexed.  SEMPO, unethical?  Anyway, I’m sure the SEMPO BOD (which I am no longer on after 9 years) would love to allocate resources to catalyze grassroots activism, (my recollection is that there are some restrictions on lobbying based on the bylaws or corporate tax designation) but over the years I’ve seen a great percentage of SEMPO members busy with their 80 hour work week’s to dedicate time to supporting the industry.  There are many clear exceptions and one can find those easily.  However for grass root “lobbying” to work, you need people who care and can take the time to volunteer their efforts. The search marketing industry may have to learn the hard way as the IAB has its hands full with cookie and privacy issues and has search on the back burner (and only paid search, not organic). 

  • http://twitter.com/robgarner Rob Garner

    Hi Tony,


    As a 3rd year SEMPO board member, I agree that there are
    significant threats to the search and social marketing industry, and the
    Internet marketing industry as a whole. I also agree that it is imperative that
    parties representing search and social marketers to step up to the plate on
    this. There are clearly forces in play that would like to see whole or partial
    privatization and governance of the U.S. Internet in particular, and this is a
    threat to marketers, Internet users, and the various long-tail economies that
    the Internet has created. As a fellow resident of Texas, I am also very
    concerned about our state’s actions toward Amazon and other Texas marketers as
    well. Other states like Colorado are imposing similar policies. But there are additional
    issues that should be addressed around the world, such as cookie policies in
    the EU, and as a global organization with members in 60 countries, SEMPO is also
    monitoring and responding to these events.

    SEMPO has been proactive at addressing issues and threats to
    business owners (and Internet users) over the last year. While the SOPA/PIPA
    votes really came into the public consciousness in mid-January 2012, the SEMPO
    board was monitoring previous hearings back in Q4 of 2011. We read the bills,
    listened to the full hearings, carefully weighed the issues, and we
    communicated our position.

    Not responding to proposed legislation like SOPA would be a
    disservice to SEMPO membership, as these bills threatened to undermine
    businesses, from the biggest enterprise marketers, to individual consultants.
    We communicated our position (against SOPA/PIPA in any form) to members of
    congress, and received responses from over 20 senators and representatives. And
    we also communicated these efforts to membership. Here is a link to the letters
    sent : http://www.sempo.org/?page=stop_sopa_pipa. 
    SEMPO Chairman Chris Boggs also went on radio talk shows, and penned an op-ed
    on SEMPO’s position as well. SEMPO members were highly vocal on this issue in
    blogs, and in social networks.

    This was not the first time we presented a position on a
    public policy issue, as we also weighed in on the Google FTC hearings. 
    Here is the letter and SEL coverage here: http://searchengineland.com/sempo-to-feds-hands-off-google-101180.
    Also check out this interview with Chris Boggs here as well: http://www.webpronews.com/sempo-ftc-shouldnt-regulate-google-and-other-search-engines-2011-12.

    I can say firsthand for myself and on behalf of the board
    that you are correct that this type of effort requires a lot of
    resources.  It takes a lot of time, diligence, weighing of issues,
    listening, and communicating in the proper channels. 2011 was a year of
    learnings for SEMPO in this area. As a non-profit business association, we
    believe we have a duty to weigh in and provide a voice in this area. As Kevin
    Lee mentioned, SEMPO members contribute their valuable time to these efforts,
    often on top of heavy work and travel schedules. The level of commitment is
    truly inspiring.

    I agree that many in search and social spaces have a lot of
    apathy in this area, but this apathy does not extend to the SEMPO board and
    members.  In addition to the efforts
    cited above, SEMPO has just elected a new board for 2012-2014, and we have made
    public policy a core strategic focus for this term. We may not have a lobbyist,
    but SEMPO is providing a voice not for search engines, but for search and
    social marketers, and also search and social users.

    Tony – I know you are a SEMPO member, and I would personally
    like to invite you to help join us in these efforts at a strategic level. Of
    course, all others in the search and social marketing industry are welcome as

  • http://twitter.com/AlesiaKrush Alesia Krush

    Well, offline advertisers have their backs covered. When they invest in advertising and someone messes with their investments, they take action. But when it comes to online advertising… SEO’s don’t pay Google to use it as an ad channel. Well, paid advertisers do, but they have Google to protect their interests. As for the rest of the folks, no money no honey and no lobbyists.
    So, what we need to do is stop agreeing that SEO is free advertising. There are companies that pay SEO agencies for SEO in particular. Who is going to protect their investments? Just because they are using Google, it doesn’t mean they’re not doing any work.
    After all, paid offline advertisers did not pay for the TV the prospect is watching their ads on.

  • Laura Karolchik-Griffin

    Being the wife of a political activist who’s helped stop SOPA, etc.  What we need to think is – how do we start this?  Who’s willing to step up and start speaking up.  For me to keep employed I’m willing to do what I would to start!

  • http://twitter.com/Neuromancer Maurice Walshe

    With my wonk hat on I would be careful who we get to do
    lobbying and also to pick your examples carefully  I would suggest using in-house
    SEOS for big brands as the leads on this  as they work for legit (in politicians
    eyes) businesses – Low quality comparison sites and single page product sites
    are asking for trouble.

    As we can say to the MP, Congressman or Senator well Bob
    this cookie nonsense from  the  EU means we have had to expend so much time on
    make work we don’t have any budget for that expansion we had planed so we wont
    be able to recruit those new jobs in your constituency. (ignoring the peopel who have been made redundant as a result of panda/penguin)

    and does SPOA/PIPA or ACTA effect SEO’s not really its more a problem for Google and if we are going to loby for things that google wants well whats in it for us?

  • http://twitter.com/robgarner Rob Garner

    Maurice – yes, SOPA/PIPA would have had a major effect on SEOs, and all other webmasters and site owners (enterprise or individual proprietor). The domain provisions were tantamount to immediate *eminent domain* against website owners based on accusation alone, and a website shutdown would effectively kill all types of legitimate businesses, without any hearings or process.

  • KramerEdward77

    my friend’s step-sis ter makes $72/ho u r on the internet. She has bee n wi thout a job for 9 months but last month her pa y was $12371 just working on the internet for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more ====>> ⇛⇛⇛⇛► http://enternet-Job.blogspot.com

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