The Pointless Existential Crisis of SEOs

The Pointless Existential Crisis of an SEOI love conferences. You get to meet new people, hang out with peers, get to know the industry head honchos, learn about the latest events and technologies in the industry as well as what’s up and coming. The networking and learning opportunities are incredible. Anybody truly serious about their industry should attend at least 2 to 3 valuable conferences per year.

Last year, Optimum7 attended Pubcon Vegas 2013 and I learned (really just confirmed) something quite interesting, and yet not so surprising, about myself. I absolutely LOVE what I do. I love technology; I love marketing; I cannot wait for the “internet of things” to take off and make the entire world fair play as a communications platform. Just today I read a piece in Gizmodo about Google wanting to put ads on thermostats (and everything else we own). Merely thinking about the future of the marketing industry is exhilarating to me.

Where Do I Fit?

Casting aside the excitement, I also learned something very interesting and somewhat discouraging about myself: I do not fit in with my peers. I’m not an “SEO” or a “Content Marketer” nor a “Conversion Optimization” expert. I can optimize a website. I can create strategic plans and processes to grow a website’s organic traffic. I can create long term and short-term content strategies. I have even increased conversion rates for many of my clients by double digits. I have accomplished all this and more by working in tandem with some very smart people here at Optimum7.

But the truth is I was not able to connect with the vibes at the conference at all…

And please, don’t get me wrong. It was a phenomenal event; I took home a lot, and met some amazing people. However, one of the things that I took with me was a heavy doubt as to what my current role in this industry is and what it should be in the future.  Once I spoke with people in this industry who didn’t get to attend the conference, I realized that I’m not the only one who feels this way. It seems as though there’s an identity crisis among people working for small marketing companies – us sheep of the Google Dance.

Real Talk

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that by now you have all stopped calling yourselves SEOs, SEMs, Organic Marketing Experts, Digital Marketing Experts, whatever it is we have been calling ourselves for the past 10 years. If we were “experts” in the true sense of the word, we would have either found a way to outrank Amazon and created our own store or business and would be laughing at Jeff Bezos from our yachts or perhaps Google would have made us disappear for discovering their trade secrets. None of this is very likely. So don’t kid yourself; show me graphs, show me results, do whatever you want, but many of us have spit in the wind and gotten lucky. In today’s market place, organic marketing is always a gamble. We all know Google is making SEO impossible as they continue to push us toward Google AdWords. (You know they’re serious about ads if they want to turn our thermostats into one!)

Back to Basics

As Nathan Safran, Director of Research as Conductor very eloquently puts it in a Search Engine Land piece:

           The modern-day SEO is an organic search professional positioned at the intersection of liberal arts (content) and technology (data).

He then goes on to say:

[Y]ou, as a practitioner or organization, must be aware if you are tacking too far to one side.

My one disagreement with Nathan’s statements is that he’s still using the SEO acronym to reference “organic marketers” (or whatever it is we’re going to be calling ourselves). At this point there is very little left to “optimize.”

So why am I calling this teenage melodrama an SEO’s pointless existential crisis?

The fact is our industry is no longer the underdog. We’re no longer being ignored by our Mad Men counterparts, and even those cool Creative Directors from Madison Avenue have no idea what to really do with the beautiful pieces of content they develop (TV Ads, Display Ads, Rich Media Ads, etc.). They have people doing that for them, and you know what? They make more money than many of us and have no idea what an .htaccess file is or that keeping their billion dollar campaign under the same domain will push their entire site’s authority and increase their organic traffic.

These small, technical, yet highly essential nuances are seriously lacking in the world of advertising. I have seen 7, 8, and 9 figure companies with an online presence that would make one of us blush. We’ve all seen it. The old school Ad Men know this, which is why they are scooping us up one by one to work for them while pitching some bloody battles in an effort to buy media. All this is an attempt to compete with the not-so-new kids on the media block – Google, Facebook, Amazon (coming soon), etc.

As larger, old school advertisement agencies pluck up our talent, what is left for small, early 2000 digital agencies? Where do we go from here? Where do you go from here? Do you really want to work for Publicis Groupe, DDB or BBDO? I mean, they’re amazing companies. Let me emphasize; AMAZING companies, yet there is something that’s just really fulfilling about working for a smaller firm. But how will small companies like ours survive when much of our competition is working with ten times our budget? This is our existential crisis, we do not know what and who we are as marketers…as professionals. Our niche remains unclear as we’re pushed out of our old roles and into an unknown future. Google has made it virtually impossible to work with the budgets and margins that our clientele is used to spending and organic marketing continues to become more and more of a gamble in an alarming amount of instances.

Again, I ask: Where do WE go from here? Where do YOU go from here? Who ARE we?

The answer is actually quite simple:

INNOVATE, EVOLVE, REPEAT.

We are not asocial geeks – or at least we can’t afford to be anymore. We cannot label ourselves as SEO/SEM geeks and go back to AdWords editor and our spreadsheets, watch Big Bang Theory (although I do love that show) and pretend we’re okay with what is happening in the ad industry and be content. We are communicators, we are marketers, and we are businessmen and women. We have an edge that not every marketing executive has: we understand, we LOVE technology. We can see beauty in a data set where others cannot; we understand how to take advantage of technology in really small, unseen ways that can have a huge impact on the reach and success of a marketing campaign. We have the capability of becoming the Don Drapers of our time as long as we keep some Larry Page savvy in the mix.

Colleagues, Peers, SEO’s – Whoever You Think You Are…WAKE UP!

Stop trying to sell the same services you have been selling for the past 10-15 years, and stop trying to recover from Penguin/Panda by re-doing your titles, descriptions, and disavowing half the world. Take a step back and look around you. You have the brain of a tech with the conversational and sales skills of a marketer, the analytical skills of a data scientist, and the eye of an artist.

The question is simple: Do you want to close shop and move on to new ventures? Or do you want to use your skills to overhaul an industry that’s being overtaken by the big cats?

There is no crisis. It is merely good ol’ Darwinism. The comet has landed – the choice to evolve is yours.