Corporate law is a minefield for business. There are hundreds – possibly thousands – of ways in which they can fall foul of environmental, health and safety, employment, fiscal and competition laws that have accrued to the ship of state like barnacles over the last 100 years or so. While all these acts have occurred under the auspices of one entity we call ‘the Government’ they have actually been driven by innumerable circumstances of history that often have been long forgotten. Trade union campaigns… infamous public incidents… scientific evidence… pan-international agreements… even the needs of war… all of these reasons can spark new legislation into life.
And this is basically a Good Thing. Businesses might occasionally chafe about ‘red type’ and ‘bureaucratic madness’ (both of which certainly exist) but in the main it means we can buy and consume products and services from companies (and work for them) with much greater certainty and protection than at any time in history. It’s boring, occasionally strange, but mostly effective.
At the same time, falling foul of any of this legislation can wreck a business. Compensation payouts, fines, restrictive covenants, bans and so on are part and parcel of business life, and you don’t have to look very far to find examples of fines and censures being handed out – JD Sports and Uber might grab the headlines, but your local courts, employment and industrial tribunals, and small claims courts are overflowing with companies learning the letter of the law the hard way and being forced to up their games.
Anyway, I draw this to your attention, because I think it makes a reasonable analogy for the state of play of SEO today – maybe even a way to sell SEO to a still-sceptical management.
Instead of thinking of Google as being a search engine, imagine that it is instead the de-facto regulator of access to the internet. And instead of thinking of The Algorithm as software, think of it as the legislative code of the internet.* Now we can imagine that – as events unfold – Google responds to various imperatives to add to existing legislation. These we call ‘updates’ of the major and minor varieties. We also see ‘show trials’ when Google very publicly punishes huge companies pour encourager les autres (albeit generally for a matter of days until the message has been received).
Now, in business life, most companies keep a company solicitor on hand – either on a monthly retainer or on rate card according to usage. Their fees are high, but with good reason: screw up your internal policies on race or sexual discrimination, for example, and you could face considerable fines, adverse publicity and potentially the loss of your business altogether. So, before making decisions about certain categories your business it makes sense to consult for legal advice.
If we think of Google as effectively extra-governmental legislators, maybe think of SEO as acting like a company solicitor in this field. It would behoove you to liaise with them about things you want to do. Introducing new product categories… content drives… changes in site architecture… picking a new platform. A well-informed SEO, with their finger on the pulse should be worth just as much as a company solicitor. Maybe it’s time for SEOs to present themselves as such, rather than clinging on to any semblance of edgy web iconoclasts.
* This is, arguably, why a company such as Google really requires proper legislation itself, as it operates what is effectively a quasi-legal framework that genuinely holds life-or-death over businesses, their customers and employees, yet it’s framework is entirely impenetrable, and in direct conflict with its own business imperatives.