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by Mike Essex on 12th October 2012
The SEO industry is suffering an identity crisis. On the one hand there are people who say it’s dead, then there’s those who want to rename it “Inbound marketing” or any other offshoot. Likewise what SEOs do today is very different to what they did five years ago. Which begs the question, if an industry has fundamentally changed (or is “dead”), can we still call ourselves SEOs any more?
In theory, a lot of the things Google asks for in their Webmaster Guidelines could be taken care of by other roles such as Web Developers and Copywriters. It’s the fact that they aren’t done, and that people want to push them further for better results that SEO was even created in the first place.
So here’s the conundrum. At what point does someone start becoming an SEO or stop becoming an SEO? Let’s look at some examples.
1) If someone does on-page changes to the technical architecture of a site, are they an SEO or are they simply a web developer? Likewise, at what point does a web developer become an SEO if they make these changes?
2) If someone in PR does outreach or follows up a press release with a link, are they an SEO? Likewise, if an SEO does outreach for a major news website are they still an SEO?
3) If someone uses Google Analytics to pull off data at what point to do they become an SEO and not an analyst?
4) If I write content I’m a copywriter or journalist, but if I write it in the hope it will get links and shares does that suddenly make me an SEO? At what point do the lines between copywriter and inbound marketer blur?
5) If I make an affiliate website and realise that writing content in a certain way improves my ranking am I an SEO, or just a smart affiliate?
6) If by making a Conversion Rate Optimisation change I inadvertently improve the site’s ranking, am I an SEO? Or is it only if I pursue that change further and try to replicate it that I become an SEO?
I’ll leave these for you to debate in the comments.
There’s no definite point where SEO overlaps, and part of it stems from the fact that SEO covers such a wide range of skillsets. Often it’s the role of the SEO to delegate many of these tasks, or to broaden their knowledge set. It’s why someone can say “SEOs need to code” but there can be thousands of successful SEOs who think Ruby on Rails is a new punk rock band.
It’s different strokes for different folks.
Dave Trott embodies this perfectly. Despite the fact he openly admitted he didn’t know what SEO was, he gave one of the stand out presentations at Brighton SEO. Almost every SEO could take something away from the talk that we could use.
But Dave is an advertising man. Therefore if he teaches us something and we use it, are we doing SEO or are we doing advertising? Hannah Smith wrote a fantastic post looking at how we could use the lessons in our industry, and it just goes to show that actually SEO is not a closed environment, it’s a rapidly evolving beast filled with smart people who want to grasp anything they can use to give the best results to their clients.
There’s also cases where websites inadvertently make people who have never even heard of SEO in to SEOs. Such as Squidoo, who encourage you to add extra modules and content to your articles. This is so Squidoo could rank better after the Panda update, and their users follow these rules. So is it possible to be an SEO even if you don’t even know it exists?
Part of the conundrum for me personally is that SEO introduced me to a number of different specialisms – Web Design, Analytics, Content Creation, PR, and Social Media – that helped improve rankings. Over time to improve my SEO skills I also improved skills in those areas.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as this image from SEOmoz shows:
With the Koozai site my time is spent more on those aspects above than what you’d call typical SEO, so can I even call myself an SEO any more? It hasn’t been in my job title for over a year. Yet one of the goals and benefits of doing those five aspects is that it does improve our SEO, as well as performance on other channels.
For me, SEO broadened my horizons and it will always have a role in whatever I do. That’s why when I see blog posts saying someone has “left SEO” I know it’s not true (this is also a great article on the topic). Once you have quit an SEO job it never leaves you, or the way you think about the web. Unless your next job didn’t involve the web in any way then it’s impossible to avoid.
If I left SEO to become a journalist: I’d still be considerate when giving out links, and I’d write content in a way to ensure it got clicks and shares.
If I left SEO to become an Analyst: I’d still care where traffic came from and how to get more.
If I left SEO to design cereal packets: I’d use CRO ideas to consider how I could sell more.
Even if I left SEO to walk dogs for a living: I’d still need a website to sell my services, and that would bring me back full circle.
When I stopped writing video game reviews I found I couldn’t stop. I’d think in my head about the scores, pros and cons of products I tried. Even completely random products that were nothing to do with video games. I couldn’t forget that way of thinking, and then it seeped in to other aspects of my life such as critiquing adverts and websites, helping me with design.
If I wanted to join the rank of hardcore SEOs with Tattoos, then I’d get one which read “SEO 4 LIFE”, because once you’re an SEO you’re always an SEO. You can change roles, change industries or change job but the lessons you learn in finding what users and robots want are applicable everywhere. Even if you don’t realise it, SEO will stay with you.
Once an SEO, always an SEO.
Which begs the question: At what point did you class yourself to be an “SEO” and if you aren’t an SEO any more what made you feel you no longer warranted the tag?