John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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Flying the SEO Helicopter

A very long time ago I was a programmer. Not a “coder”, but a programmer.

In the beautiful stone and walnut offices of a global corporation, I sat at a computer desk. It was special, because it had a slide out keyboard tray, was arranged to accommodate a screen placed in front of me when I sat in the chair. My arms were placed in front of me, with my hands on the keyboard. Except for the girls in secretarial pool and the men in “data processing”, no one else “sat that way”. Within the Engineering unit, my desk was a curiosity and a magnet for geeks. It was cool. It was the future.

My manager (a chemist) was a jovial, caring guy and a company man. I remember he came by one day and remarked “so you know how to fly one of these things?”

We came to refer to it as the Helicopter. I flew the helicopter. We had a team of Engineers, managers, and support people, and now the unit had a helicopter, and I was the pilot. They had big expectations for me.The helicopter was expensive and shiny and futuristic; amazing, even. The helicopter was going to do the “heavy lifting”. It was going to “save the day” on projects we could not otherwise do without computing power. And it was clear from day one that everyone else supported me as pilot partly because they expected that, over time, I would teach them how to fly it themselves (or fly one they would get on their own desk, someday).

Fast forward and we’re all spending our days flying these things. But are we doing any heavy lifting? Are we getting the job done, saving the day, enabling the team? Or are we just “flying around” like one of those toy indoor helicopters, putzing around the room dodging lamps and co-workers’ monitors until we run out of battery power and drop to the floor? And we call it work.

More than ever, we have ways to keep “busy” with SEO. The old stand-byes “keyword research” and “competitive analysis” and “SERP analysis” can keep us busy day after day. With TRILLIONS of links in place on the world wide web, we could link analyze for weeks if left alone to our cockpits. And I suppose every one of you SEOs out there could rationalize and justify the effort and expense (and many of you agency types do just that.. for a living). The helicopter is now cheap, fast, and mobile. The fuel is cheap as well, but it turns out there are two kinds of fuel for SEO helicopters. The kind the machine needs to fly (basic software and electricity), and the kind we need to actually do any work with it (seo data sets, seo tools, and accurate and effective information). The latter fuel is not cheap at all. And it’s been getting more and more expensive.

Knowing how to fly one of these things is not worth much any more. Knowing how to get the work done is.

The next time you find yourself putzing on your computer while allegedly “working”, imagine a pilot buzzing around the landscape in the company helicopter, burning fuel and not accomplishing much besides increasing the basic flying skills of the pilot (a valid endeavor, for sure… but not “heavy lifting” and probably not helping the team save the day. Is that you? Do you deserve to be sitting in that seat? Or is there someone to your left or right who, given some opportunity, would be a much more effective helicopter pilot for your team’s ambitions?

These days I try and have as many helicopters as I can flying around the job site. I’ll put anyone into the pilot seat, and give them fuel, and get them started. Go make a difference. Go figure out a better way to approach our goal lines. Show us a better way. Do some heavy lifting. Save the day. Prove yourself worthy of the pilot seat. Go. For. It.

SEO is not about tools or processes, but people. I suspect that will increasingly become the case, as tools continue to get bigger and more complex, and more and more “pilots” spend their days buzzing around the office with their cool helicopters and fancy fuels.

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