There has always been debate about professional search engine optimizers’ motivations. Why would someone who could rank web pages at the top of Google offer to work as a consultant to others? A good SEO could make more money working for herself than for others, right?
Not exactly. Just as in any other line of work, we humans thrive on satisfaction. We seek it out, work hard for it, and feel really, really good when we get it. Thing is, people are all different, and different things satisfy different people. Some SEOs are satisfied with money… true. But others seek the praise of others. Some seek the thrill of dominating a fierce competitor. Some get high off the underdog thing: David beating Goliath. Still others get satisfaction out of finding and exploiting a little known secret or undiscovered market opportunity, kind of like playing a game of spy v. spy or Clue or working through a complex puzzle. For some, the money isn’t the goal. The win is the goal. For some, it’s the journey that matters.
I have held several of those perspectives at different times in my life, and I believe I understand them. I also expect there are many more perspectives out there driving SEOs to do their magic. For me, there is no need to debate “Why would an SEO work for others” because the answer is simple: because she wants to. A better question might be, is it cost-effective to SEO for clients?
Lately SEO for Clients has gotten much harder than it used to be. And there is one reason: CHANGE.
I believe the only barrier to SEO is change. Anyone can learn to optimize websites. The basics parallel webmastering - proper code, proper design, complete details. The SEO part comes from paying atention to the details of search engines. The competitive aspects of SEO come from the fact that SEO is always changing, and SEO practitioners need to adapt and keep up to remain competitive in the SERPs. There is a TON of free SEO information on the web. Most of it is junk. Much of the junk is outdated, but most of the junk is assumption based on minimal experimental evidence or simply anecdotal evidence. With so much changing, novice SEO detectives cannot deduce anything meaningful. Still, they deduct. So much well-cited published information is outdated by change, that SEO self-study isn’t easy or inexpensive. Lately, there is more change than ever before.
Client work is expectation management with a little SEO sprinkled on the top. That can be easy money for a smoozer (think Ad Agency) provided the SEO part is easy enough. But as things change rapidly (as they are now), client expectations become harder to manage. SEO is harder to manage, but the client expectation side is even harder. It’s much easier to fire your low-level SEO and pay 5 times more for a short stint with a top-tier SEO than it is to explain to your client why you were 100% incorrect with your last SEO strategy document. Why your judgement was bad. With rapid change, even the best clients get anxious. The worst clients become nightmares.
When you work for yourself you can turn on a dime. You see opportunity in change. When you work for a client, change is a P.I.T.A. that creates more work for everyone. If that work is 80% client expectation management, you better like client expectation management.
It’s simple, really. There are two kinds of SEOs. Those who work for clients, and those who work for themselves. Two sets of objectives, two skill sets to match, and two perspectives on the changing world of search engine optimization. Many of us wear both hats at different times, but that just means we are able to function from differing perspectives, and perhaps are good communicators. In the end, the best SEOs will outperform everyone else provided there is adequate change. If the change slows down, the client expectaton management people will do well. If change picks up, the independents are likely to enjoy more satisfaction than the client-serving SEOs.
Of course there is one exception: the snake oil salesmen SEOs. They do well with very high levels of change, and they are exposed by periods of minimal change. It looks to me like we can once again expect to see high-pressure snake oil SEO making a comeback.