Someone is Quitting the SEO Industry because Everyone Can Mention Themselves as an SEO Specialist

I'm quitting the SEO industry. We have a worse reputations than used car salesmen and there's no one to blame but us.
The problem with working in an industry with a low entry barrier is that every hack who can buy adwords, update a WordPress site and use Google analytics calls themselves an SEO specialist. Our reputation has been tarnished by these fly-by-night scam-artists. Something must be done to protect consumers from these leaches for one and second we need to form key partnerships to rebuild our collective reputation. Something really stinks in the SEO world and it has to change fast if we want to continue being credible catalysts. /rant
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Are you actually quitting, or just whining? Nearly every profession in the world has this problem. Which professional has an untarnished reputation? Lawyers? Insurers? Construction? Automotive? Real estate? Marketers? Web developers?
Even doctors have to battle to convince people of their expertise.
This is the main reason exclusive professional accreditation bodies exist, and it still doesn't totally solve the problem.
I'm not an SEO, I lurk here to learn and implement the most I can to my own site. I would like to make an observation. It seems like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the new "Graphic Designer" of the late 90s/early 2000s. Anyone who had a Mac and a bootleg of photoshop claimed to be a graphic designer.
Now, that's an industry that still has a ton of shitheads and of course, some amazing talent. It's an industry that still moves forward and exists even as more and more people had access to comps with PS.
With that said, I would like to give you guys an idea or a bit of encouragement if you will to take a look at some of the steps the graphic design industry took to overcome this challenge. I think there's something to be learned there.
Also, as someone with a sales background, I would also encourage anyone running their own business to brush up on sales skills and techniques. You may be very good at what you do but if you can't sell your amazing service better than someone else who is able to sell a shitty service very well, then you are going to lose the battle. I wish the world worked in a way where everyone and everything was judged and labeled as it really is, but it's not. How you present yourself and the value you bring is just as important for your success as actually knowing and being good at the work.
Again, just a bit of advice and encouragement from someone outside of your industry. I would hate to see some good folks give up because of the bad apples.

What industry are you in?

I've been in sales since I was about 16 years old. I eat and breath sales. I've sold for a bunch of different industries. I've sold on the phone, in person, outbound, inbound, etc. I'm saying this not to toot my own horn but to add weight to what I'm going to tell you. Sales, the art of selling, is one of the most important aspect, if not the most important, of running a business. Without sales, you have no lifeline. You must sell. Yet so many people forget to focus on being as good of a sales rep for their own company as they are at the service or product they provide.
My company specializes in high-end and performance vehicle location, financing, and delivery. In the past, I owned another sales oriented business which was very lucrative, yet so incredibly unsatisfying.
What do you do?
I do web development and I agree with you on what you're saying about sales. I think that if you provide a good service (or product) that you genuinely feel can help a potential customer, you don't even have to be a good "salesman". It all comes naturally.
On the other hand, selling stuff that you know is not so good, or the customer doesn't need it, is something I could never do.
Absolutely agree with you, you should always create or offer a good product. But you have to be able to proficiently present your product the absolute best you can. And that in itself is sales. Some define sales as a means of manipulating someone to buy. But sales is a very deep process the minute you shake hands or pick up the phone and say hello. Being able to clearly communicate the benefits of your great service is a sales process and every product needs it.

Lol very true. India seems to have a lot of SEO gurus.


As a webdev I always wondered what value a SEO can really add. My problem is less about knowing what I could do to enhance our site, but having the time to actually do it. And most SEO tips seem to come down to getting some rather simple basics right.
Beyond that would be content production. But how can a SEO expert who isn't an expert about the kind of product our company does really help here? He can't write blogs. My colleagues know that this would be important. But they too don't have the time. And you can't write much about our products without being an engineer.
There are a few things I would like to know better (eg what other blogs write about our products, who links to us etc). But I don't need an "expert" for this, convincing my boss to hire a student part time for a few months would most likely be enough to make a simple analysis like that.
So where is you place? Where do you add real value?

This is why, in my view, the only valuable SEO users are the ones that double up as professional writers. I was trained as a copywriter, but given our companies SEO to manage, and I have an immediate advantage over the competition because I CAN quickly learn to write about a brand new topic in a convincing, professional manner; I can market good, high quality content that other webmasters want, and I can produce optimized blog posts that are guaranteed to rank.
I facepalm every time I see SEO users outsourcing content; if you're not capable of quickly adapting, and producing good work, you're basically just playing the part of a glorified analytics report.
SEO really encompasses a lot of things these days. When people ask what I do I have 1 of 2 answers I give them. Either I say "I help companies make more money from their websites." or "I help people rank higher on Google" (because that usually translates into something they can understand better).
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) or sales funnel optimization is something I help people do. I look at their analytics and show them how to split test Call to Actions (CTA)s, headlines, etc.
Another thing might be "link building," but that's really the online version of Public Relations (PR). I help companies do cool things that will help them get noticed. For some small places, even a few mentions in the hyper-local blogs can help them in their local rankings.
Content creation, which you mentioned, is also a big one. But engineers are immersed in the product and usually have "expert syndrome." Since they know so much about the product that's what they want to talk about. I help them get to the next step, the "so what?" Lets say your product helps keep car engines cooler in the summer. Well that's interesting and I'm sure you can tell me all about the different alloys in it, and the manufacturing process, etc. But let's view it from the customers POV. First of all, who is the customer? B2B is way different than B2C. Identifying customer segments and personas is important for content creation because it helps you really figure out their specific needs. Top of funnel customers and bottom of funnel customers are way different.
There's other stuff too, but that kind of gives you the idea. I really try to figure out what THIS client needs. Rather than just saying "okey doke, lets take a look at those title tags" (although on-page stuff is usually quick win/easy fix).

Thank you for this very well written answer. If you put it into a context of usability and user experience (though maybe more concentrating on the marketing aspects than the technical things) this makes far more sense to me.

I think SEO users should be integrated on all the other disciplines. No web developer should make a site with bad on-site SEO. No blogger should be neglecting keyword research and thinking about an organic search strategy. No social media guru should be leveraging their profiles to promote linkbait and generate social signals.
I think Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as its own profession will die out as other disciplines evolve to cover the organic search strategies. And if it does continue to exist, it will be someone who sets strategy implemented by all disciplines, but likely integrated with a brand manager or marketing lead. There's no excuse to have a head of your marketing department that doesn't know SEO strategy.
re: On-Page.
Black hat and poor SEO users have created a battleground with Google where a lot of things web devs and website owners do can possibly be misinterpreted as manipulative. And with Google, they seem to err on the side of distrust.
Which is frankly awesome because website owners shooting themselves in the foot allows quicker wins.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is most effective when combined with other skills, such as marketing and content writing. For a lot of web applications it just doesn't make sense, but for some businesses it can be a solid way of acquiring customers.

Start a guild. A body with accreditation, a cost that keeps out hacks who don't know what's necessary to get accredited, and a yearly update on accreditation testing to keep it reliable. The guild of beauty therapists works for an otherwise hack-filled industry. In lieu of the industry having any law-defined overseeing accreditation then the industry could work together to crowd-source such a thing.
Get enough notable individuals together to start it and everyone that's NOT a hack will happily sign up to have something reasonably official that the public can trust.


The web as a whole is the same way. Everyone and their dog seems to think they can make a website because they bought xzy page builder program thing, or can sign up for a free WordPress/blogger/etc account.
In Search Engine Optimization (SEO) we have to fight three fronts, the "Poser" the folks as you mention, the Indians (some not all) who sell blog spam, directory site, and "linkbuilding (re:linkspam) services as SEO for rock bottom prices, and the blackhats who use things like nevative SEO, and Search Engine Result Page (SERP) gaming to get the results (even if only temporarily).
The way to fix the industry is not to run away from it, but to do the best job possible and show your ability. As far as I am concerned SEO as it has been known is dead or dying. Its far beyond the concepts we started with. SEO is only a small fragment of the overall need. From Social, to SEO and Copywriting and Content strategies, to conversion optimization, (real) link building, Cost Per Click (CPC), you name it.
I think one of the biggest problems is that there's not really any standard for establishing credibility. If a small business wants to hire a web designer they look through portfolios and choose the person whose work they like the best. If they want to hire an SEO specialist, what is there for them to look at? I guess links built for other clients or ranking reports for other clients but that would be pretty superficial stuff. It doesn't really tell them how good the SEO specialist is or whether they'll like his work. So instead they compare based on price lists and how many links are included in the package.
Maybe at some point the industry will create a solution to this problem.
As a web developer I have had to clean up many SEO peoples mistakes.
Really bad stuff, had one take a clients site off line. Had another one just delete all the re-directs in the .htaccess the other day and took 1/2 the site offline. Then after breaking it he pulls all the crawl errors from webmaster tools (the ones caused by him cleaning out the .htaccess) and send me a list of re-directs that need to happen to fix the crawl errors. Now my clients pay me to fix all these things they pay other people to break but it still annoys me.
To say I cringe every time a client tells me they have hired someone to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an understatement.
That said, considering you see the problems with your industry you are exactly the kind of person that should stick with it. More of you and less of them evens the playing field and will leave less of a wake of screwed clients behind.


This is quite a funny post. Long time lurker.
I completely agree with you about many people claiming to be an 'SEO specialist'. Too many people doing the same shit, right? It was a clan: optimize this off-page stuff and linking from these link farms.
I've been doing this for a long time.
The issue with Google, and rightfully so, is on-page content.
Links from trusted sources. Especially .edu & .gov (this should be obvious)
Content: original & thorough: Also obvious
Hierarchy: making your site navigable within at LEAST two links: obvious
I could go on. I've been performing SEO for 7 years without any issues from my clients: I've always made them money.
It's about a) user experience b) how spiders view your site c) (reputable google-sponsored) reviews and d) pagesize.
if you spend a bunch of money on Pay Per Click (PPC) that doesn't hurt either (its a fact)
There are a few other factors: -domain age obviously helps -with new sites: over-optimization -readability, especially now with anchor text -using G+ is seems like a pointless act…except for the fact that its almost crucial these days, especially for national branding.
I don't see SEO as a discreet job description for too much longer, but that doesn't mean it's going away – just evolving to the needs of the industry. Baking SEO into content strategy & web development is a super powerful skill-set when you're competent in several different areas and part of a well rounded team. I'll proudly have my day job for a long time to come, even if in three years my day-to-day 'SEO' skillset is completely different than it is today. However, if you're a self-proclaimed SEO freelancer… god-speed.
It is not only in SEO industry, but it happens everywhere. In SEO industry there are indeed many low entry barriers, but there are many good ones as well. They have been working hard in the industry and not giving up.
Yea not only do we have a bad rep but the game changes so often its too stressful to try and do it for umpteen clients. I've built 3 side sites of my own that keep me plenty though. Going to sell the SEO biz.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is more about social media, marketing and Content Strategy than simply "writing a few articles" or checking site architecture.
Most the people I see using the term SEO hardly know anything about true optimization. Most of the content being written by these companies is god awful. It is only a matter of time before Google cracks down even harder. Hell, some of you still believe higher word count is the answer. "Just throw more words in the article, that's all you need to do."
Now you even have companies like offering "SEO" services. Do you know how much employees get paid at around $8-$12 an hour. f*cking hopeless.

I work as a writer for a large ecommerce site. A couple of years ago, our company started embracing SEO in a really big way–too big of a way. They decided that we needed to have lots of content on every category or subcategory page. Not to help the customer (because who reads that shit), but for Google. Now they want SEO banners and more. We went from having a really nice layout with a smooth, intuitive interface to something that resembles a link farm page with unnecessary and often mediocre content. I've tried to fight it, telling the powers that be that Google WILL f*ck us for it, eventually. But they can't see past their noses.
Not an expert. But I believe that Google wants to provide the user with the most relevant result and the best possible experience. But at what point does optimization hinder that experience for the user? And when will Google acknowledge this?

Maybe they are just trying to sell it. Otherwise, you can tell them I told you so in a few years.

You are right. It gets me that these people who work for $10hr do not know their worth. Then it really depreciates the field. I have people tell me "Why hire you at X amount when Joe does it cheaper?". My answer: I am good and know how much I am worth and what I can bring to the table. Usually they call me back after 5-6 months when the other guy f's it up.
lol outsourcing backlinking is in an even worse shape. A company I used to work for would outsource the efforts and pay people 1-2 an hour to use scrapebox.


The funny thing about your complaint is that, the medium to better guys in our industry can buy adwords/update WordPress/do analytics the ones that suck build linkwheels, buy Fiverr gigs, xrummer blast and comment spam.
Yeah our industry has got a bad name and you are right there is a low barrier to entry and I guess that is why most good SEO users don't call themselves SEO users anymore.
Hell even Danny Sullivan was so worried about the SEO tag he started marketing land. Only problem is internet marketing has just as bad a rep these days. He has even decided that from now on he will only refer to internet marketing as online marketing.
The real problem is that the internet itself has a low barrier to entry. Wouldn't it be nice if only University graduates were allowed to use the internet ;)

That's not why we started Marketing Land. I'm as sad as many people that SEO gets a bad reputation, despite people who do very good work that's needed. My recent "Why People Hate SEO" article looks at this more, if anyone wants to Google it and read more.
But Marketing Land was started because my company wanted to be able to cover things beyond search marketing, without causing Search Engine Land to become diluted.
Indeed, creating Marketing Land actually emphasizes how important we think search — search marketing, paid search, SEO and search as an activity — are. They're so huge that we want to ensure people deeply involved with them have a site that's front and center about the subject.
It would be nice if University graduates who got a degree in Marketing and promise the world to their customers stopped going around the Online Marketing world acting like they know it all and f*cking up SEO & ONline Marketing for the professionals who actually have the experience and know these things take a lot of time and patience. They're usually the ones who start buying the Fiverr gigs when a customer starts to complain their website isn't at the top of google.

Completely understand your concerns, but it's the same in a lot of industries, computer repairs, programming, car mechanics, electricians, plumbers, etc. They all get a bad name, but people still need them and the work is out there. People learn to stay away from scammers, use your customer referrals to show your new and potential customers that you are trustworthy.
depends on how you view SEO, I don't consider my self in any way spammy. I don't fill the web with more crap either.
It's how you view SEO, and SEO in itself is so varied now. We have all had to evolve, to incorporate more aspects of Digital Marketing into the mix. SEO props up the Conversion funnel, and will always do, but as an SEO these days, my role incorporates site architecture, content marketing, Social Media integration, Relationship building (somewhat like Public Relations (PR)) and Conversion optimization. All the above combine to rank websites higher with a view to converting users.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) isn't about being dodgy, it never was. We just had a fair few more dodgy activities in our industry than many others. I guess its a bit like competing in the Tour de France a few years ago, If you are not on drugs, you won't keep up. Now that Panda & Penguin have taken bites out of the shady side to SEO, it's a much more reputable industry, it's much harder and also much more competitive. So if you are still doing shady stuff, then yea, you may kiss goodbye to your SEO career. If you have evolved, it's a great place to be.


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