I can’t work out this IAB / DMA Search Marketing Best Practice Charter, which was released to the masses last week “to reinforce advertiser and agency confidence in the medium”.

I’m not sure whether to file it under ‘heart in the right place’ or not, but I do know that it is sorely lacking in any best practice guidelines.

Also, I’m not convinced that advertisers particularly need their confidence restoring (we recently estimated that in the UK more than £2bn will be spent on search marketing in 2007 – not a sign of a crisis of confidence).

Let’s remind ourselves of the criteria for self-inclusion into the scheme:

1. They must have at least two employees dedicated to search marketing

2. They must have search engine accreditation (from Google or Microsoft with more to follow) and have received official search engine optimisation (SEO) training as relevant

3. The company must have been trading for 6 months

4. The company must be a member of either IAB UK, IAB Europe, DMA or Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organisation (SEMPO) or the Association of Business to Business Agencies (ABBA).

Now, the IAB says this scheme “significantly raises the bar on best practice in the UK”, but, of the above criteria, how many do you think are bona fide indications of ‘best practice’?

I’d argue that only the second point is relevant to best practice. But then even that one is a bit loose – exactly what constitutes ‘official’ search engine optimisation training? Does that include E-consultancy’s SEO training courses, for example? And if it does, then can the IAB/DMA be sure that what we’re saying is ethical and in line with ‘best practice’?

Certainly, criteria #1 and #3 have nothing at all to do with best practice. And is criteria #4 the giveaway? Is this merely an exercise in growing the memberships of those respective organisations? We think not, but then again you can’t be a part of this unless you are a member of one of the above. And again, such a membership is not a guarantee of best practice.

The point with these sorts of schemes is that for them to carry any weight they need to be policed. And we don’t think it is at all easy to police this sort of thing. In this case, the IAB says “the charter will be self-policed by the SEM industry”. Hmmm, let’s see how that works out…

Here at E-consultancy, we know a little bit about best practice guidelines in search marketing, having released hundreds of pages dedicated to the subject. We understand the guidelines too – presumably that’s why E-consultancy sits at the top of Google for these terms.

IAB chief executive Guy Phillipson claims that this charter is “an important first step in the establishment of search marketing best practice in the UK”, but the 2006 release of our comprehensive best practice reports on SEO and Paid Search predate this scheme, so ‘second step’ might have been slightly more accurate.

Ultimately, while I’ll get behind anything that helps the internet industry develop, I reckon this ‘best practice’ charter isn’t going to do a great deal for anybody because it sorely lacks the best practice guidelines it purports to be immersed in.

Further Reading

SEO Best Practice Guidelines

Paid Search Best Practice Guidelines

Search Engine Marketing Buyer’s Guide