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Is It Better To Be A Generalist Or A Specialist In Digital Marketing?

Andy Williams

by Andy Williams on 28th May 2013

Generalist or SpecialistWhen I first started out, I was an SEO.

That was what I did and that was what I was. It became my area of expertise. Completely self-taught I researched the subject and learnt along the way. But that was as far as it went. I took in all things SEO, I read all things SEO but I never went beyond SEO.

As this was what I focused on and practiced, I guess I would have been classed as a specialist.

These days I still refer to myself as an SEO but in truth I stopped being simply an SEO a very long time ago. The reason is I no longer feel you can be simply an SEO without required knowledge in other areas.

While SEO is still an essential part of any online campaign there are now so many other outside influences that shouldn’t be ignored. The growing influence of “social signals” alone shows that no matter how perfectly you optimise a site, you need to know more. So have we got to the stage now where the days of the specialist are gone?

Can you be a specialist in just one area of digital marketing or are we now at the stage where you need to be a master of all trades? Should you be a specialist or a generalist in today’s digital marketing world?

The Black and White Pathe Film Section

“Back when I were a lad”. OK maybe not that far back however the fact that this is the nostalgia bit is making me feel old.

Back when I started in SEO, it was heavily about On-Page. That’s not to say it isn’t now but going back 10 years, simply updating a H1 heading (if you were switched on enough to even have a H1 heading) would propel your rankings. If you had the key-term included in the content a silly amount of times then you would rule the world.

Alright it wasn’t quite that simple but it wasn’t far off.

Including the old Meta Keyword tag was a nugget in itself. Search engines used to love those. No they really did. Optimised site wide footer links were also all the rage and made a huge impact. Such was the power of SEO that there wasn’t much cause to broaden your powers.

PPC was of course also around but I enjoyed SEO and so never went down that path.

Then of course there was link building. With everyone now sat on hugely optimised sites link building was the next logical step forward. Again nothing has changed there except the way we build links but that has always been the case.

But for most, that is as far as it went for a very long time. That was what you specialised in. You were an SEO.

I was an SEO.

If you wanted SEO you went to an SEO.

If you wanted PPC you went to a PPC specialist.

Some did both but back then there were more people who did one or the other.

Back To The Future

So is this still the case? Do people specialise in one area or are they more of a generalist spreading their skills across a number of different areas?

Which is better? Today digital marketing covers a far wider range of skills. Back in the day it was SEO and/or PPC.

These days it’s about an online presence which covers a far wider range of areas and skills:

  • SEO
  • PPC
  • Content Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Mobile Search
  • Local Search
  • Video Marketing
  • Google Analytics
  • Online Brand Awareness

Each area has its own specialists. All of which will deliver you an amazing service. All of which can, and will, deliver results to your online business.

But is this enough?

Is it enough to be a specialist in just one of these fields? As I touched on earlier, I class myself as an SEO but the truth is that the nature of my job and the evolution of search engines has meant I stopped being simply an SEO a long time ago. It is almost impossible not to have to delve into other areas of digital marketing in order for your campaign to work successfully.

These days if you carry out an SEO campaign, you have to have an understanding of (for example) Social, Content Marketing and Local Search. Agencies have evolved to keep up with these changes and the campaigns they run have to include elements of other specialist areas to provide their clients with the best possible results.

My Opinion

In my opinion gone are the days when you can simply be a specialist in one area.

You need a working knowledge in a lot, lot more. Creating an SEO campaign that doesn’t take into account the likes of social or content is short sighted. Even if it isn’t you that is going to be carrying out any of the work beyond SEO, you still need to understand what else will be going on.

Social Media, PPC and Google Analytics could be argued as areas that can stand alone without needing to call on other skills and still be successful. But with SEO this has evolved too much. Too many other elements influence the rankings. You need to understand more than just on-page, more than just link building.

As a result I think it is wrong to be a specialist in just SEO alone.

The sheer nature of most people who work in this industry means that they will be experimenting, and testing other elements all the time to get a better understanding. Most of us carry out our experimenting when we get home before we carry them out on a client’s site (until we know what works and what doesn’t). And if you are one of the few that isn’t – You need to be.

If you aren’t testing or experimenting then how are you able to find out how everything works with each other? Get playing.

So there are areas that I believe you can still specialise in within the digital marketing world but when it comes to SEO you need to be a whole lot more.

Image Credit

Multi-tasking Business Woman Isolated on White by BigStock Photos

Andy Williams

Andy Williams

Andy Williams, our DADI award winning Digital Marketing Manager will be giving you useful insights into local search and the overall SEO landscape. Andy has over 9 years experience in the SEO industry including 2 years as the in-house SEO consultant with a leading Web Design company.

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1 Comment

  • Kazi Haque 28th May 2013

    I was started as a SEO specialist. i though it was enough to bring volume of traffic to company website. my job is done. making sale is their headache.

    E-commerce website who solely rely on online sales not happy just getting traffic. they demand more which is conversion. that’s the only thing they care.

    So i learned more area. Google analytics, social media, PPC, conversion specialist.

    Before doing only SEO, company used to like me. NOW they love me :)

    Thanks for the great post. appreciate it.

    Reply to this comment

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