• thejeffmatson

    I think of SEO as being a celebrity and gaining fame. An SEO should know how to stand out in a crowd and be extremely confident in anything that they do. Mix that personality with a love for data and a technical background, and you have the perfect SEO.

    I’ve gotten quite far with that exact method.

  • Jason Sigler

    I don’t know how many times I started and stopped a response to this article. I love this article but the difficulty I have in quantifying a response to it shows the complexity that SEO really is, which then shows how complex a person a great SEO is.

    I really like the concept of Inbound Marketing/Inbound Marketer. I think that is really what SEO comes down to as the industry evolves. I see great SEO’s as the person that can walk between coders, copywriters, social media developers, and traditional marketers, almost as a catalyst.

    Knowing how each piece of the digital marketing landscape affects the other to get the results that the client is looking for is where, to me at least, the SEO lives. You can have great copy and it not be delivered effectively, and then you have a break in the SEO chain. Your company or client could be a great brand, but their social media is not effective in engaging potential customers online, and now your SEO chain is weaker.

    Being able to grasp and apply concepts from coding, copy creation, psychology, and traditional marketing are elements that make up the future of SEO, especially as we move away from meta based content and more towards truly organic interaction between data and the people who consume it.

    I am proud to call myself an SEO, but I am not afraid to let that title go as we evolve as an industry, as evolution is a core principle of great SEO.

  • Tony Dimmock

    We had a similar situation at DWM when we recently advertised for new hires.

    I took the approach of naming the role “internet marketing assistant” that included “Online research, keyword analysis, analytics.. in fact if you love data and have a strong passion for achieving success, we’d love to hear from you!”

    It worked a treat with 15 candidates applying, 5 coming for interviews and having the challenge of choosing a final few. A week into their roles and both parties think it’s a perfect match :)

    Like your intern that had “moxie”, one of ours expressed delight at how they’d won personal awards for various service-related activities and had reached a tipping point where they really wanted a chance to prove themselves and be pat of something exciting.

    We used Rand’s excellent interview questions blog post as a basis to script our own and found the “re-arrange TAGFEE into your own personal priority list” offered awesome insight to what made them tick.

    One of the first comments we made to them was to learn, investigate and help the team in all manner of activities to help find their sweet-spot – so any un-needed pressure was removed as soon as they started. I know from previous management experience that preferences, strengths and weaknesses will reveal themselves naturally, thereby enabling us to help them fulfil various roles that they literally soar at – a true win / win for all parties :)

  • Meagan French

    Hi Wil, I’m glad you’re changing up your approach to recruiting!

    I can say as a growth hacking/content consultant that I don’t touch “SEO” contracts with a 10 foot pole. There are sadly still many companies running their online marketing like it’s 2009. Those that want to bring me in specifically to work on search ranking, penalties, and meta tagging are ignoring the larger interdisciplinary approach they should take if they want to be successful in 2014.

    The good thing about marketing these days is that search, social, content, testing and paid are all overlapping channels: focusing on just one is a really bad idea, but rather they can all work together to grow a site through great content that serves it’s users needs. The kinds of contracts I get excited about are those that focus on growth in all channels, not just moving keywords from position 10 to 7.

  • Rick Noel, eBiz ROI, Inc.

    Nice headline Wil. It definitely got my attention!

    SEO has gotten a bad rap for a lot of the reasons that you mentioned. Who among us doesn’t get their daily dose of SEO SPAM from link-peddling shysters.

    Anyone who is interested in digital marketing has seen or heard of businesses that have been penalized from the questionable tactics of an “SEO.” It’s the primary reason that trust and reputation in our industry is so important to win business and attract talent.

    As digital marketing and SEO in particular evolve, how we source talent and adjust strategies like SEER and DWM (Hi Tony).

    But for Pete’s sake, never come the day, when we hear Wil Reynolds say he has truly thrown in the SEO towel!


    As someone who has been involved in all shades of SEO over the years, let’s talk about the reverse situation – where a company approaches you as a potential hire just to find out that they have no interest in content development, messaging or actually engaging the client’s audience. Instead they were concerned only with how many bad reviews I could have removed or how many spammy* articles I could write on third-party blogs.

    It put a sour taste in my mouth to ever work for a ‘SEO Agency.’

    I know that if I’ve had such an experience that other potential hires you might encounter may have as well. Ultimate this only sours the reputation of working in the industry as an individual consultant to any degree.

    In short, sometimes just the presentation of the position as being SEO related can begin to draw in comparisons of previous offers that didn’t go so well in the end.

    As a side note – if someone walked into your agency with years of experience under their belt they will have already read Rand’s article on interviews, quickly identify what you are asking them and why.

    If they want to position at any cost they will be armed with an approach to falsely represent themselves – even to the point of turning the tables with “Oh, I read Rand’s article as well” just to see how you would react to being caught. It’s a bit like playing chess and underestimating your opponent to such a degree that you tell them your next 10 moves.

    If you copy Rand’s interviewing approach to closely, make sure you are interviewing people that should have had no previous knowledge of that article. If an agency did it to me, I’d level the playing field just to re-establish the honesty that we both know where the approach was coming from and why. ;)

    *By spammy, I mean just that. Not legitimate outreach to influencers in the industry.

  • Ryan Critchett

    Right. Shortcutters ruined it for us. — So many parallels there. Spent time in the Army. And all the A-holes got my platoon smoked (PT’d to the point of puking).

  • wilreynolds

    Hey there thanks for the response! It’s sad to see the reverse happen, but there are enough jobs out there for “SEO” right? I don’t know the article you are referencing so please post a link. I can totally empathize thought with that experience of yours. One of our top SEOs almost quit the industry because he thought that SEO = spam. After his first job in “SEO

  • wilreynolds

    Megan, your perspective is super interesting. Sounds like you realize that we are in the v business of growing businesses not of just getting rankings right? It’s like show me someone who wants ranking over revenue, and I’ll show you a fool. If I can find a way to grow your business in other ways, why would you not be interested? I find that the other things that grow a business can be strong signals to Google as well. ;)

    It’s a balance. I get a lot of pleasure from working in search and moving up the ranking, for sure.f But I do that as part of a larger goal. You know?

    Like your approach!

  • Dharmesh Shah

    Exceptionally well written — thanks for writing this.

    Disclosure: I’m biased, being from the “inbound marketing” camp but I’m not going to try and talk you into adopting that.

    My issue with moving to the more general “online marketing” is that it’s almost too broad to be useful. If you’re going to go that route, might as well just hire for “marketing” (because, who the heck is looking to place people with the title “offline marketer”)?

  • Larry Kim

    I dropped “seo” from my twitter bio a while ago. It’s become a dirty word.

  • phantom73

    Wil, you are without a doubt one of my favorite people in search, and if my life, a bottle of Pliny the Elder, or a killer lobster roll depended on my ability to name the top SEOs today, your name would be close to the top of a very short list – but I have to push back against you here.

    Your experiences might differ from mine, but I have been in SEO longer than I care to admit, and have always found this label of our industry as ‘tricksters and spammers’ to be way overblown. Yes, it’s probably true to some degree, but we make it worse by obsessing over the worst of our industry (or frauds pretending to be in our industry) in what I can only describe as some perverse form of self-flagellating navel-gazing.

    Are there sleazy, SEOs out there? Absolutely. But the fact is, there are crappy docs out there, and people are still going to med school. I don’t think the Saul Goodmans of the world have hurt the number of people taking the bar. People still vote no matter how many slimy politicians the system throws at them.

    We need to stop worrying about JC Penney or iAcquire buying links or who the next Rap Genius will be and focus on the people who are out there doing good work, creating value for their clients, and helping the community and industry by their efforts. Because at the end of the day, those people have about as much chance of being confused with the frauds and the slimeballs as Peyton Manning has of confused with Aaron Hernandez or Mike Vick.

    **As an aside let me say I think we make a much bigger deal out of the Rap Genius’s of the world than we should – what they did was leverage a strength they had to form strategic partnerships, build brand visibility, and ultimately increase acquisition through another channel. People may cluck at how they got their rankings, but judging by the speed with which they returned to the SERPs, it’s pretty clear they were driving value for searchers, their customers, and Google **

    I don’t think we need to worry about the people who think SEO is gimmicky or technical – the industry’s future has never needed them because they never had the vision to see the bigger picture. The future of SEO lies – pretty much as it always has – in the fact that people who know SEO and enter this field kow that it moves the needle better than almost anything else in digital marketing.

    Instead of arguing your point about coding and SEO, I want to double down on it – not only would I contend that people who can’t contend shouldn’t be in SEO, they shouldn’t be in digital marketing at all. SEOs, or other digital marketers don’t have have to speak in AJAX or write in JavaScript, but the code is what makes digital marketing special, and if you can’t embrace it, you won’t be truly successful as a digital marker.

    Yes, there are lots of people who are great at writing, video, and pitches but don’t know jack about code – they are call copywriters, videographers, and account people.

    I don’t interview people all the time, but when I do, for any digital role, I always try and gauge their technical expertise, not only on its own merit, but as a sign of intellectual curiousity and a measure of the candidate’s willingness to hustle; you want a job in digital in one of the worst job markets in history and can’t be bothered to read ‘HTML for Dummies’?

    Sorry for running on, but long story short, SEO doesn’t need to be rebranded, and marketers don’t need to run away from it. Where else can you have one meeting to review title tags, need states, lifetime value, and point of market entry? As an industry, we need to do what works for us and not embody what good SEO is and champion when we see it in our colleagues. As long as we do that, everything else will take care of itself.

  • Hashim Warren

    I saw an internal job posting at Moz for an in-house SEO. It read like they want a journalist, or managing editor. So why not write that instead of SEO, and just bring the person up to speed on ranking factors?

    In the offline world I like to compare SEO to a retail packaging company and Google to Walmart. Want to get your doggie treats on the Walmart shelf? Your packaging better follow all of the guidelines. Want to appear at the front of the ailse? Well, Walmart won’t say exactly how they make that decision, so it’s best to follow sound marketing principles and avoid packaging tricks.

    If you’re really pressed for better placement you can pay Walmart for a special display. They still reserve the right to reject you, but the more you pay the better they’ll let you stand out amongst everyone else who’s paying that week.

    Oh, and packaging companies optimize for Walmart because they’re the biggest and the other retail chains copy their practices.

    See the parallels?

    One of my clients is a reatail packaging and display company. They hire designers and teach them the Walmart rules. They don’t hire someone who specializes in the rules and tack on that they should know design.

    What do you think Wil?

  • Krystian

    I’m used to using SEM, rather than SEO and probably would keep it that way. People who are responsible for a present industry image aren’t marketers, neither SEOs. More or less, they are spammers.

  • Keith Brown

    I’ve interviewed my fair share of candidates for “SEO” type positions over the last several years, and never have I seen more people afraid to call themselves an SEO in 2014. Zillow doesn’t question their identity. They reap the rewards of an SEO industry afraid and on their heels. In January 2014 they announced 70,000,000 monthly visitors. Not Paid, not social, it’s 95% organic. Make hay while the sun shines, and the Google sun is shining just as bright as ever.

  • wilreynolds

    @Hashim:disqus You are bringing up some great points. We’ve always seen SEER as a bit of a training organization already, so it kinda fits with us. The hard part about posting a social media or internet marketing job post would be what those people expect their day to day to be…sure we are pioneering and all, but if we do social well, and that social effort doesn’t lead to increased conversions / search then we are in a bit of a pickle. Its a fine fine line, but I LOVE your thinking on this. I feel like SEO is a combination of so many disciplines that labeling it one might completely cause us to miss out on certain types of people, you know, it would be too narrow to say social media, or online PR and too broad to say internet marketing. What would you call the job?

  • wilreynolds

    @phantom73:disqus disagree all day, do you think I get better at my job or improve my viewpoints if all I do is get people to agree with me, love you too man, bring it on! :)

    Actually I also love your approach to this too.

    I feel like if you ask any small business about SEO you get a pretty negative response, this is outside of just SEOs. Its the people who purchase our services see many of us as a necessary evil. I think that is part of the issue.

    On being confused with the frauds, I agree with you, the only issue is that sometimes the peytons have to jump through hoops to get people to realize that they are not Vick. I know I have a prospect right now, who thinks this way – we’ll probably drop out of the running b/c if they can’t see the difference a part of me feels like that might be on them.

    Regarding Rap Genius, I think I agree with you here for the most part too, maybe we’re making a bigger deal of this, but it does grab national headlines and it does get companies like expedia to lose stock price to the tune of 8% in a day. Positive headlines about SEO companies are less than the negative in the national press.

    Your part about intellectul curiosity is the KEY for hiring smart marketers, I love working with people who are just curious, they usually end up teaching themselves, or taking classes to acquire the skills they need. I love seeing that in people.

    I think we agree more than we disagree :)

  • wilreynolds

    Not yet, I am an SEO, just thinking my job descriptions might be ripe for a little “People Optimization” :) As I want to find the best people out there, and I am wondering if the title is turning some people off.

  • wilreynolds

    @dharmeshs:disqus Online Marketing is way way too broad for all the reasons you mentioned…Inbound for me requires SEER to have expertise in some areas outside of our current expertise. We play nice in the sandbox with other disciplines, and I want my team to be really good at that, but I don’t want to see SEER people giving clients Email and CRO recommendations if they haven’t actually tested a lot of them, study the craft, etc. Maybe we hire for deep internal expertise on those and have our team members leverage internal areas of expertise that are not search. Hmmmmm. Got me thinking.

  • Dennis Brown

    To SEO or not to SEO. That is the question. I’m glad I came across this post. Super poignant to the evolutionary view of the industry. You bring up many great points but cutting through it all, SEO has to be a part of the digital marketing biz. Search, SEM, Content Marketing, etc… take your pick. But the real thing to watch is how the practice of SEO continues to evolve. SEOs can stay strong because as long as there are search engines, there will be SEOs.

  • Piperis F

    This is a great post – whether or not to use SEO is a key question in business. I think that it’s definitely a positive development because it can create huge potential for a company’s online presence!

  • Terry Van Horne

    This is horseshit! SEO’s who spam are not SEO’s they are link building hacks masquerading as SEO’s. When people in our profession perceive SEO’s this way it says much about the profession. I have likely done what others call SEO longer than or as long as anyone and have never really called myself an SEO. Mainly because that sold me short.

    The best at our trade are more Internet marketers than anything else as they understand that driving traffic from search engines is only one channel of many to get traffic from not to mention the role of web development. Inbound marketing same thing just another BS buzzword like content marketing for Internet marketing. The channels are also overlapping to where working together they produce these other channels that eventually get tags like inbound marketing or content marketing.

    None of this stuff is new it is all as old as the web itself. There is not a single technique that is used today that does not have it’s roots in the tech and practices we were doing in 96 now we just have better tools and resources. The Internet is much like Madison Avenue in the 50′s and 60′s and like that did it will continue to innovate so when you tag your asse with one of these anchors like inbound marketing(wankers all) you actually sell yourself short!

  • SteveG

    Welcome to the real world of marketing! You guys have always done great work, glad to see you finally stop calling it SEO :)

  • john miglautsch

    Loved, “look at your job titles and A/B test them.” Even where SEO is well established – we can still test creative and isolate causal variables. I might say we need more experiment in the SEO conceptual arsenal.

  • Spook SEO

    Hi Wil!

    This is such a well written post. Two thumbs up for this. I tend to agree with you that SEO is the representation of internet marketing. SEO people helps us rank by doing smart marketing and by doing “ethical” SEO.