Should Search Engines Teach SEO?
Personally, I think Matt should start with the basics. Not just because it would be fun to see long-time SEO pundits disagreeing with him on minor points, but because before you teach the advanced stuff you should make sure your students understand where you're coming from.
Some of the things Matt puts on his blog are propaganda posts, such as his lectures about using rel=nofollow. The NoFollow attribute is Matt's baby, so you have to expect him to advocate its use -- anyone would be expected to go to bat for their ideas.
But sometimes Matt drops significant hints that are just absolutely missed by the SEO pundits. They dwell on stupid, meaningless stuff like PageRank, the implications of "excessive reciprocal linking", why such-and-such site isn't being outed, etc. You know, no automated system is perfect, and I believe Google relies mostly on automation to keep its search results clean. Yes, yes, they penalize and ban sites so there is clearly human intervention in some places, but most of it is automated. The software is occasionally going to miss something. People occasionally miss something.
It would be interesting to see what search engine employees like Matt and Laura Lippay of Yahoo! (who used to be on the SEO industry side) have to say about the best methods of optimization. They would strive to teach people how to optimize both fairly and effectively. They would speak with authority that typical SEO gurus (including me) simply lack.
There are several search engine optimization organications around these days, and at least two of them offer some sort of certification. While the people involved in these groups are widely respected, they don't have the proper credentials in search science to really be certifying anyone. A better certification system would rely upon a blend of traditional IR principles and commercial search engine placement practices.
And while many people in the SEO industry feel that the search engines would proselytize and use their access to SEO students to advocate "favored" practices that would, in fact, assist their engines in improving results, what's the harm in that? It's not like those students wouldn't be able to find the FAQs, tutorials, and forums that teach the Dark Side principles, that offer speculative advice, and that simply go off into the wild blue yonder prattling about PageRank converging to an average of 1.
Search engines have been looking over the fence for a long time, since before Google existed. They have quietly hired SEO professionals as "consultants" and examined various techniques and principles without saying much in public. Google employees openly attend SEO industry events and party with the Black Hat SEOs and give interviews and do all the main promotional stuff, but they haven't really done much to help Google lay a foundation of trust and understanding in the SEO community.
Educating SEOs in reliable methodologies that meet search engine guidelines would go a long way toward establishing professional standards. It would also help validate or calibrate the certifications being offered in the industry, because you know those certification curricula would be adjusted to at least examine what the search engines have to say about acceptale SEO practices.
But it would also help SEOs interact more directly with search engines. There is a dirty side to the long history of SEO-search service interactions that doesn't get talked about much. So far as I know, Google never played that game, but other search services have. In the past, people learned not to share too many secrets openly in certain SEO communities because community insiders took what they learned to their paying clients (search services) and ... well ... you can see where that leads.
I think Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask all owe it to themselves and their users to discuss what they consider to be proper optimization in a more formal environment. I'm not saying I would want to pay Google $2000 for the privilege of sitting in the Googleplex for a week, but if it came down to that, then it would be better than the haphazard "what should I write about next?" from Matt Cutts.
Matt is a great resource for everyone, but he can't certify SEO professionals, and in my opinion, no one can do it properly. The need for certification has oft been discussed, proposed, and mostly sidelined despite the efforts being made. SEO certification needs to be standardized and made available to everyone at a cost-effective level. I can even envision 2-tier SEO certification, because project planning in itself is a major investment of time and resources.