The vital issue of trust continues to fuel debate in the world of online and search marketing. It came to the fore again with the launch of ABCE’s audit service for search engine marketing (SEM) which aims to ‘provide a level of trust’ for marketers.
However, we have to wonder whether another online body wading into the trust debate will really be the answer.
There has already been substantial effort from all corners of the industry to establish confidence in the medium; the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) all launched their own regulation and best practice guidelines during 2007. Despite these activities, not one industry body has actually achieved anything, let alone improved trust levels. In my view, this is largely because each group represents its own needs and those of its members thereby failing to bring together the varied and disparate needs of our digital industry.
So is a Search code of conduct actually necessary? I doubt whether any agency objects to being evaluated as long as it adds value to their business. But, as yet, any initiatives have not been policed, making it easy for agencies to claim they operate to the highest standards. A client’s top priority is not accreditation but campaign results that deliver amazing returns on Search investments.
But if the industry is intent on introducing best-practice measures that both clients and consumers will recognise, should we be turning to the search engines instead? After all, they already have kudos with consumers. However, rather than rewarding good Search practice, the engines only monitor bad practice, such as competitor trademark bidding. Perhaps the model needs to be turned on its head to ensure agencies are on their best behaviour.
Unfortunately, codes of conduct have a history of being unenforceable, rendering them completely unnecessary. The most successful agencies have already built a reputation for themselves and continue to demonstrate the effectiveness of Search to their clients on a daily basis. The trade bodies are creating a climate of uncertainty in an otherwise phenomenally successful industry and threaten to stifle its growth with red tape.