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Google is doing a good job managing SEO. It has positioned itself such that it has so much cash and so much control, that it can manipulate the search experience to counter SEO efforts, even while hurting users and in many cases wrecking the search quality, without much risk to it’s own success.
And now we search industry professionals find ourselves dealing with a new problem: ourselves. We’ve gotten to the point where crappy, irresponsible SEO is hurting everyone. I didn’t say bothering everyone. I said hurting everyone. Hurting other SEOs, hurting marketing partners, and hurting client businesses and other players in the Internet ecosystem.
The solution is not more sloppy, deceptive, or ignorant SEO industry organizing. The solution is not pretending not to be an SEO by re-branding as Content Marketing or UnBound or whatever. And the solution is not limiting your service provision to SEO “audits” as if you were immune from the problems.
The Solution I See
The solution I think will work has two parts: 1. Let the failed & fake SEOs go away and become realtors or whatever else they want to pursue next, and 2. Stop tolerating the crap some of the remaining SEO firms put into the public eye (especially the scammers).
Is it Time to Quit SEO?
The first part is easy. Even the laziest SEOs can simply not do anything and let the losers walk. They came for the easy money and fast credibility. Now they will leave, and do the same somewhere else.
Can the Survivors Make It?
The second part might be too hard, though, because it requires some courage and some work, two resources I believe the SEO industry media and leadership lacks. And also because there are still a lot of crappy SEOs who are in denial about their ability to deliver SEO results for their projects. They are likely to hold on, band together, and pretend they are still awesome, that their SEO still works, and that the world is a happy place filled with rainbows and ponies that never age.
What is “Grey”?
It’s also not “easy” to agree on what is a scam. There seems to be a real failure on the part of many search marketing practitioners, when it comes to recognizing the color grey. Grey is not a shade of black. But it is also not a shade of white. And there is not one “grey”. In a monochrome world, such as we have with ONE SEARCH ENGINE, there is a continuum of shading from pure white to deep black. It is a FACT that the line of allowable tactics actually moves, both with topic and time.
Grey is Everything
The grey issue is super important. Perhaps a third component of a clean-up of the SEO industry should be a sort of color-blindness test, to measure whether or not we can recognize “grey” and demonstrate suitable skills to manage the shifting shade bar that is the continuum of SEO between white and black. Many of today’s self-proclaimed SEOs would fail that test, in my opinion.
I can just imagine certain players jumping in to suggest that an “ethics program” is the solution for that…. LAUGH OUT LOUD. We don’t need a badge program hidden under an “ethics” label.
If You’re Winning, You Have What It Takes
The solid truth is much simpler than that: if you are successful as an SEO, you’ve proven your ability to judge the gray, and adapt as the borders of greyishness shift with Google’s whim. If you cannot succeed in today’s SEO climate, you should move on, or “go back to school” which in this field might mean return to testing and studying.
Alas, though… so many have poor business skills as well, and so no cash in the bank to fund such re-investment. It was a good ride up till now, but if you didn’t save a war chest, it’s just basic business logic that you need to go home now, because you’re not equipped to keep playing your old cards.
But the Winners Aren’t Safe: Survivors have Bigger Problems Now
Right now, we have new big problems that will challenge even the prepared SEOs who would otherwise be able to continue successfully and prosper. We are now at a point where enough people who are NOT search marketers know enough about SEO to make big mistakes that impact the online businesses that are trying to achieve search marketing success.
Combine that with the continued presence of ineffective SEOs refusing to walk away, the seemingly deliberate abandonment of those businesses by Google, and a few well-equipped scammers boldly taking advantage with no push-back from the SEO industry players, and we have a recipe for disaster.
SEO Opportunity being Drowned in Nonsense
If real businesses encounter real difficulty achieving search marketing success, that fact is supposed to spell opportunity for professional search optimizers. When players make big bets and stall or suffer failures, it should generate great business for real consultants who know how to right the ship, and for real independent SEOs competitively working those same SERPs. But it’s not.
It’s Clean Up Time – It’s a Matter of Survival
It’s time to call a spade a spade. If your SEO practice is all about pushing tactics today until they get penalized, and then pushing the counter-tactics tomorrow to clean up after your own mess, it’s time to go home.
If you SEO consulting business is limited to audits that give you a one-way opportunity to criticize others’ work, while attempting to use the opened door to sell web development or packaged monochromatic tactical services, it’s time to get out of the way. You’re just hurting people, and abusing trust.
If your SEO business survives by collecting a front load fee (“setup” or “research” or “market analysis” etc) that you hope will carry you through to some future time when your SEO actually works, it’s quitting time. Give yourself a break from the stress… Google isn’t going to get dumber. SEO isn’t going to get easier. You don’t have a viable business.
And if you’re an association or agency or trade group and the only prospects you see for growth and survival are old school badge programs or extortion, or if you are planning to survive by selling re-packaged SEO tools, please…. give it up. It’s a dead horse.
But if you are a real SEO, get back to work. Study the SERPs, test your hunches. Over build, work harder, and just try to win. If necessary, pick a less-competitive sub vertical to re-start, just like you did last time. Hard work is the only way to recover as an effective SEO.
SEO Still Works and It Always Will
There is no reason why SEO won’t work today, just as it worked yesterday. Except for a very few keyword spaces, there is plenty of organic SERP to develop business. If your domain isn’t in the SERP, getting it there will give you more reach. If your marketing message isn’t convincing, rewrite it to be effective, or re-analyze your customer’s market to better understand their perspective. If you are losing to your competitor, figure out why. If Google is giving you trouble, solve the problems.
And if you honestly see that you don’t know what to do, don’t know why the things you do aren’t working, and don’t have a plan to change that, it’s time to get another job.
Quit Whining. You’re Polluting the Cesspool
Stop complaining, and stop being an easily-recognizable target for the increasing numbers of ill-informed business people who are making bad moves because they think they understand SEO. Left on their own, without you to blame, they will seek “real help” and that supports effective SEO and the real SEO industry.
When you publish ignorant blog posts, irresponsible claims about SEO, and rants calling for clarity from Google on SEO tactical issues, you are just splashing around muddying the waters without any chance of taking home fish. You’re becoming a simple nuisance, ruining the fishing for everyone, for no valid purpose.
And if You were really only in SEO for the Celebrity…
If you were only in SEO because it was rewarding to be an instant entertainer, micro-celebrity, and self-proclaimed “successful Internet entrepreneur”, it should be easy to make an excuse and take a quiet exit at the top of your game.
One of the best aspects of travel (aside from, well, traveling) is that I get to meet real people in pursuit of real goals. I get to discuss SEO and Internet business, plus careers, with people from all over the globe (as long as they speak English, sigh). This includes sharing unique experiences that really cannot be observed any other way than in-person, or via storytelling. Travel is all about story telling, and listening.
With “competitive seo” there is little room for debate. It’s about winning. It’s about being in front of potential customers when they search Google, with a higher prominence than everyone else (including all of the other SEOs trying to win that audience).
You can define what it means to be “Number 1″ for any given niche or keyword set or market, as appropriate, but the honest definition must match performance. The #1 spot is defined as the spot that has been observed to convert the best. The Money Spot. The best spot to win becomes the #1 spot, every time. In SEO, the owner of #2 is not a contender, but the first loser.
There is a lot of nuance in the above-mentioned concepts of “customer”, “niche or keyword set”, and “conversion”. In my experience, very few professionals have a strong grasp of overall SEO. Most are tactical practitioners focused on some subset of the above.
So it is always interesting to meet and discuss SEO with those who claim it as their profession, job, vocation, past-time or calling. I find it very easy, with a brief discussion, to ascertain the technical skill levels, experience with general or keyword-specific SEO, vision, perspective, and even the “religion” of an SEO. Which is why it’s a great idea to travel (to meet them).
One of the first things I have to ascertain about any SEO is… does he want to win, or just want to be The Winner?
Is it possible that the best SEO could be known to be a great SEO? This is a tough question that many in our industry do not understand to be difficult. In fact, many think it is an obvious, silly question. According to many I meet, the best SEOs are up on the stage, demonstrating their abilities. They are well known, admired by their peers, and both well-paid and highly-regarded.
Now we can debate at length why this is not true, how things could possible work out if it were true, etc., but it is very likely such a discussion will first be side-tracked by a second question – who cares? Clearly the famous Top SEO knows hir stuff… isn’t that all that matters? Or better yet, who cares? If I feel it is a certainty that every time So-and-So takes the stage, I learn great stuff… does it really matter if someone is a “real SEO” or just a knowledgeable and entertaining very good one?
Yes, it does. Because…money.
Only while this thing we call SEO is new and requires great learning skills and determination, will demand will be strong and salaries respectable. As the US market is learning now, if SEO gets de-mystified, or Google takes most of the “best spots”, only the winners will survive. And that forces people like me, the ones who hire “real SEOs” and put “real SEO” to work every day, to redefine “winners” very carefully.
If you are serious about SEO, are you trying to win, or just trying to be a “winner”?
If you are trying to win, good on you, mate. Best of luck, and hey, I’d like to meet you some time, when it’s convenient. I’ll buy the beer! But if you are trying to be The Winner, I’m afraid we’re in different professions. The #1 spots don’t really matter much to you, except perhaps the #1 spot for “Top SEO”, which has no value in my game.
So where does “money” come in? Throughout history, money is the means of getting things done. Money is not a posession, but a tool. For the SEO trying to win, money is a resource. For the SEO trying to be The Winner, money is a reward. There is a very big difference.
Real SEOs need the money now, to put to work on SEO. Those sacrificing everything to be “winners” will often defer what they see as rewards, for later. The budget is spent on travel, clothes, appearances, and perhaps picking up the check when dining with those who can help them move up the ladder.
But most of what we get to observe is not at that level. We don’t get to witness many true winners at SEO.
Regarding those who win at “Being The Winner”, we may see them on stage, but we don’t have access to them. They refuse speaking engagements unless they are the keynote speaker, with large audience. They require luxury suites with building and floor-level security. These “rock stars” are celebrities, but they believe they are Winners.
Try getting attention from them at a networking event. They famously refuse to “meet-up” insisting instead on only “meeting UP” i.e. accepting invitations that are “upstream” from their status.
Regarding those who actually win the #1 spots, we don’t have access to them, either. Anyone who has ever battled and won a top money spot will admit that staying there requires commitment and confidentiality, as well as diligence. SEO is constantly changing. What worked last year, is different now. No one wants you to take the stage and discuss what worked last year. Getting up on stage and talking about what is working now won’t be good for performance.
Less obviously, it can be very difficult to discuss practical SEO matters with a peer, without revealing potentially dangerous vulnerabilities. SEOs are opportunists with skills.
It’s relatively easy to access the winners who are retired from the game. They are busy living life… just go out there and do something and you’ll find them right next to you, working hard at enjoying life and not being at work. Great resources on matters of entrepreneuring, fund raising, family and life matters, and truly wonderful footwear, but not current SEO.
If you sense this issue in your SEO life, you have my sympathies. If you disregard this as an irrelevant harangue, good luck in your quest for RockStar Status.
In between, is life as an SEO. And we must live life, for all else is naught.
If I can influence you in any way, I urge you to recognize that there are these two disparate forms of Winning in SEO. I encourage you to acknowledging (to yourself) which path you are on with your true intent, so as to help you existentially. You may live a fuller, happier existance, with less need to seek external validation (i.e. less struggle).
I admit, it also helps me put my money to work hiring effective SEOs and enabling them on paths of mutual success. But honestly that is of secondary importance. Because the greatest part of living life is sharing it with people. All of it. The good, the bad, the joys, the pain, and most of all, the wonder. And for those stimulated by intellectual discussions, it’s truly awesome to meet winners and discuss specifics of the roads traveled.
Unfortunately, those striving to be The Winner seem to be sadly devoid of the truth that is our human experience. If they have it, they’re hiding it as a secret past. If they don’t have it, they live in fear of encountering it, or in denial that it is important for their journey.
If there is one thing we can learn from video game players, it is the importance of playing the game. Stop talking about the game. Instead, be the gamer. We can talk about it later, and it’ll be awesome.