Google’s decision to offer digital marketing certification, which includes search engine optimization (SEO), left some amused. Others were confused.
Meanwhile, some are rushing to get the certification. But should you?
Sadly, many SEO professionals have been disappointed with what they’ve seen of the certification training so far. For example, Google’s instructors were teaching nonsense about keyword density and word count. (Once that problematic slide was called out, Google quickly erased it.)
Whether you’re thinking about getting certification from Google, or hiring someone who has certification, here are some important questions to answer and things to evaluate.
Does the person receive SEO certification or course completion?
In many cases, certification generally means that a person or user enrolls in many courses and attends these courses.
Many certification programs offer a Certificate of Completion after each course a person takes. Or the Certificate of Completion is given after a person takes a set of courses. This reward system at least shows progress toward a seemingly greater goal: certification in a topic or discipline.
In some certification programs, attendees must pass a test to receive certification. Some of these tests are relatively easy to pass. Some are not so easy because the instructors are trying to measure whether an attendee has the genuine aptitude to be certified.
There are many types of certification, including but not limited to:
- Usability/UX (user experience)
- Interaction design (IxD)
- Human/computer interfaces (HCI)
- User interfaces (UI)
- And so forth
In some cases, classes might be a set of continuing education classes. This certification process can provide more trust value because the coursework appears to be endorsed by a college or university.
The most advanced route to “certification” is likely the least common route: getting a degree in the topic or discipline. This route is not for everyone because it tends to be time-consuming and expensive, especially with out-of-state or out-of-country tuition. Additionally, one must apply and be admitted into the undergraduate or graduate program.
This route is best for truly die-hard, passionate fans of the topic or discipline. Nevertheless, the people who choose this route can often become the best instructors for certification.
At the end of all of these routes, after all of the coursework, practice, homework and tests, a person is awarded a certificate and usually a stamp that shows that person went through the entire certification process.
The image-formatted stamp is supposed to communicate trust, authority, and credibility. Here are some things to look out for when evaluating an SEO certification program:
- Quality of instructors: You should look for experienced, well-educated and well-trained instructors. Simply having a brand name next to a person’s name does not automatically mean that an instructor is an expert. You want subject-matter experts to teach the classes.
- Course quality: Look at the certification’s agenda to see what is taught. Are you being taught how to use a certification organization’s tool or set of tools? This isn’t necessarily SEO certification. SEO pros use a variety of tools. Make sure the course quality is objective.
- Completion vs. certification: Are you being awarded the completion or a certification? Certification programs that require passing a test or tests for aptitude might be better than certification programs that don’t. On the other hand, as long as the subject-matter experts are outstanding, completing a series of courses for a Certificate of Completion can be equally authoritative and trustworthy.
- Continuing education and training. Understand that SEO certification is also not the same as SEO experience. Algorithm changes, the appearance of search engine results pages (SERPs), fluctuating search traffic, evolving technologies, and so forth make SEO an ongoing (iterative) process.
So if you want to hire or contract a qualified search engine optimizer, don’t only use certification as a qualification factor. Please keep in mind ongoing education, training and experience.
What about unethical SEO and ethical SEO?
This is a subject that Google has overlooked. Currently, anyone can get Google’s SEO certification. Therefore, the SEO certification does not guarantee that an SEO pro follows all of Google’s guidelines and best practices.
I know. Many SEO professionals want to move past this topic. Many SEO pros believe we have long moved past this topic. The ethical vs. unethical debate is the proverbial elephant in the room.
Ethical SEO means following all of the rules set forth by the web search engines. This type of SEO pro is considered an ethical SEO pro.
Unethical SEO involves several methods that do not follow the rules and guidelines set forth by web search engines. These unethical methods are usually used to get higher rankings faster than ethical methods. The companies that implement unethical SEO methods might feel the risk of search engine spam is worth taking.
The classification is not a strict division. There are usually shades of gray.
For example, an ethical SEO might not spam search engines but will follow a usability/UX rule that differs from what search engines recommend. An unethical SEO might follow most of the rules but genuinely disagree and ignore one or two guidelines. In the end, ethical SEO is often in the eye of the beholder.
As mentioned previously, I do not think that the folks at Google fully thought out this certification process. If Google truly wants its SEO Certification program to communicate trust, credibility and authority, then it should have considered the different types of SEO methodologies. Talking to the “Spam Department” and the Search Quality Raters might have helped.
Can Google succeed with SEO certification?
Google can get some gains from having SEO certification. Currently, search and evaluating search listings is not commonly taught at schools from elementary school through university. People still believe that search engine optimization is optimizing for search engines only instead of optimizing for people who use search engines.
As long as these circumstances persist, I believe Google can have some success.
What would be better? If Google offered a certification on how to best use their arsenal of search tools.
If Google can provide stamps of approval for Google Analytics and Google Ads, why not provide similar certification for using available Google search tools? What can SEOs and other professionals learn from each of these search tools? How can people best connect Google search tools to different products such as Google Analytics?
What about image search? Video search? How can both newbies and experts make an image XML sitemap? A video XML sitemap? I can see many how-to items in the course agendas that lead to hands-on exercises and test questions.
This type of certification can be far more useful for SEO newbies and professionals and other types of web professionals.
What am I going to do as an SEO professional?
I will probably take the certification courses for several reasons.
For credibility? Of course.
But I will also evaluate the quality of information being presented. After all, Google isn’t the only search engine. I’d rather have a broader SEO perspective than only focus on a single search engine.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.