Changing the conversation about SEO

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Take a gander at recent “news” headlines involving SEO and it’s no surprise most people have a negative perception of search marketing.

If you only read these articles, you’d think all SEOs worked out of a dirty basement and only came out under the cover of darkness.

While the SEO industry’s reputation issues are mostly self-wrought, a big reason the industry is viewed so poorly is because people who don’t understand SEO only know what they read in mainstream publications.

The SEO community as a whole is filled with a bunch of super smart people, such as Bill SlawskiCyrus Shepard and Jon Cooper who publish in-depth and tactical content for all to see. Places like Inbound.org can be a little hit or miss at times, but you’d be hard pressed to find better curated marketing content. People on r/BigSeo are patient and helpful with SEO noobs.

Yet the negative headlines and poor industry reputation persist.

The problem isn’t that SEO is evil or boring or geeky. The wonderful people and research highlighted above are just a tiny example of how stimulating and intellectual SEO can be.

The problem is that every time people who don’t already know about SEO read or hear about SEO, it’s often presented in a negative light. Your run-of-the-mill small business owner isn’t going to open up their computer and check out Search Engine Land or Pointblank SEO (sorry guys). No matter how engaging our industry’s content is, it matters little to those outside of the SEO world.

So how can we change that?

Break out of the bubble

For starters, we need to work at tearing down the massive wall between those who know about SEO vs. those who don’t. If you work with clients, you are already doing this. This can be a challenge for any niche, but SEOs tend to congregate among themselves instead of talking marketing or business with non-SEOs.

Too often we’re like the scared boys at the middle school dance. SEOs stand around in a corner talking about guest posting guidelines and lamenting Google+ authorship photos while a whole world of opportunity stares us down from right across the room.

Too many SEO blogs cater to other SEOs instead of trying to reach the uninformed. Take a couple of minutes and look at the websites for a few local businesses, and you’ll understand why it’s hard for them to see the value in chatting with other SEOs on Twitter for three hours a day. The vast majority of small businesses have terrible websites with duplicate title tags and no page copy who need help not a dissertation on rel=canonical issues.

Small businesses are still spending tons of money on door hangers, yellow pages ads, direct mail and radio spots. None of these are inherently bad, but marketing plans that rely heavily on old-school outbound strategies may be doomed from the beginning. The only reason people still use them is because these tactics are familiar and less scary than online marketing.

Work to end misinformation

For every SEO professional who actually knows what he or she is doing, there are a dozen people who are totally clueless yet the responsibility of managing SEO for client websites.

These people do just as much damage to SEOs reputation as negative headlines do. As much as Google frustrates me, the biggest threat to our industry comes from SEOs who have no idea what they are doing. These people usually fall into the following categories:

The Overbearing Developer

Thoughts on SEO: SEO in 2014 is just clean code and great design.

Can Be Found: Hanging out at a local coffee shop or posting lengthy comments on Hacker News.

The “Techie” Nephew

Thoughts on SEO: I’ve been on Facebook for 5 years. I’m a marketing expert, dude.

Can Be Found: Showing up 15 minutes late to work. Talks about ‘hits’ a lot.

The Cheap Freelancer

Thoughts on SEO: These Pligg submission will guarantee page 1 ranking.

Can Be Found: In your spam folder, Fiverr.com and various Internet forums.

The Business Traditionalist

Thoughts On SEO: In our industry, online doesn’t matter as much.

Can Be Found: In the boardroom, sadly.

The White Hat Elitist

Thoughts on SEO: The best SEO is not doing SEO at all. It just happens.

Can Be Found: Creating great content and memorizing Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

The Black Hat Elitist

Thoughts on SEO: Subscribe to my private newsletter for $200 and then I’ll tell you.

Can Be Found: Behind a paywall.

The Mainstream Journalist

Thoughts on SEO: SEO is dead. This slideshow will prove it. Click to continue.

Can Be Found: Counting pageviews, making quizzes, and sending resumes to Buzzfeed.

Fortunately, not everybody who works in SEO falls into one of those categories.

If you’ve worked on more than 5 websites and planned and executed a successful SEO campaign for each…then congratulations…you know more than many of the above experts.

Collectively, knowledgeable SEOs could make a huge impact in the business world. If you’ve ever worked on a site that has never been optimized, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not uncommon for sites to double or triple their revenue in a year after an SEO campaign. That is an insane return on investment compared to most marketing channels.

Despite all that, the anti-SEO headlines keep coming and we continue to do nothing.

I wrote about this problem a year ago, and I don’t think anything has changed since then:

We spend so much time arguing about gender distribution on SEO websites, writing about the color of Rand Fishkin’s shoes and his personal grooming habits and fighting each other for precious karma while thousands of people are reading misinformation telling them that SEO is dead and an industry full of scumbags.

Since the very first day I read about SEO, I’ve been waiting for the rest of the world to figure out how awesome it is. I keep browsing headlines, checking the page titles of major websites and reading online discussions waiting for a steady stream of new converts. I figured by now the headlines would be talking about this new marketing channel with unbelievable ROI, but it’s still the same recycled drivel about SEO not existing or SEO being a scam.

I used to only blame others for being ignorant, but we SEOs haven’t done nearly enough to evangelize our industry and the remarkable work that people are doing. For SEO to grow as a marketing channel, we need to get positive, engaging content in front of people who are still learning about search.

As much as I long to open the newspaper one day and read “SEO is alive and well” that isn’t going to happen unless we start fighting to change the conversation.

Who’s with me?