SEOs are not as good as they think

Posted on August 22, 2011

Disclaimer – I’m writing this post mostly about myself, realizing the gaps in my own knowledge when comparing myself to true industry experts.

One major problem with SEOs, and even SMOs, right now is they think they are better than they actually are. This goes for freelancers, in-house and agency SEOs. Everyone thinks they are a superstar, and the truth is they are not that good. I mean, they are ok. They just don’t know what “really good!” looks like.

A lack of standards within the industry:
Part of the problem here is that you can’t get a degree in SEO, the certifications are mostly a joke and the only universal standard of measurement , Google’s ranking algorithm, is in a constant state of change. Anyone who spends enough time on SEO forums and news sites can fake their way through an interview. Results, or lack thereof, can always been explained away and most managers still think of SEO as more of a black art than a science. It’s a perfect storm of mediocrity and complacency.

There are a few ways to remedy complacency.

Start evaluating SEOs against some sort of standard.
The industry needs to recognize some sort of certification or test that scores SEOs on their knowledge and experience.  Knowledge and experience alone don’t make a good SEO, but they are building blocks.

Expose SEOs to what best in class really is.
Have an outside expert, preferable a well known one, come in and run an advanced workshop. If you can’t afford a trainer to come on site, send your team to some advanced conferences. I’m not talking about SES, I’m talking SMX Advanced, MOZcon and SearchLove (Note: SES is a fine conference in many respects. It just isn’t geared towards the advanced crowd.  I’ve got nothing but respect for the speakers and organizers).

Encourage friendly competition. Hold an SEO contest. Especially effective for larger teams, choose a non-sense phase with low competition and see which SEO can rank a brand new site for that phase by a certain date. Make sure the prize is something everyone will want. Maybe an ipad, macbook or conference pass.

Encourage industry interaction.
SEOs should be constantly blogging about the industry. They should have their own blogs. They should be writing for your company blog. They should be guest posting for other industry blogs and publications. If your SEOs aren’t doing that yet, it’s because they don’t know enough about a topic to write about it in depth, or they haven’t built up their network/reputation. In either case, there is work that needs to be done.

Update your teams KPIs.
KPIs are almost always about campaign performance. However, client performance doesn’t necessarily reflect how well the SEO is at their job. There are dozens of outside factors that can affect rankings, from changes to the site to offline marketing campaigns.

Good KPIs should look at campaign performance, but they also need to measure professional growth. They need to answer the question, “Is [name] becoming better at what they do” apart from campaign performance, which we just said wasn’t the best measurement. These new KPIs should measure things like efficiency, effectiveness, depth of knowledge, confidence, thought leadership, etc.

What do you think?
Do the SEOs you know think they are best in class?


9 Replies to "SEOs are not as good as they think"

  • Frank McDade
    August 22, 2011 (4:15 pm)

    I can’t say that people think they’re better than they are (some people are just rude and stubborn), but I will say that I see a lot of people that hold on to the few things that they know and never expand their mind.  It might be a power trip or some level of insecurity.  Either way, a lot of people will be secretive with that their tactics are (which might not even be successful) rather than sharing them.  I’ll tell anyone what I’ve been doing – it then forces me to further innovate. If we transition from silo’d superstars to supportive geniuses, I think the community wouldn’t need set-in-stone standards.

    • Dan Cristo
      August 22, 2011 (8:05 pm)

      I agree with you about sharing tactics. It forces you to come up with new tactics. 

      This industry does require constant learning of new tactics and discarding of older ones. In some ways that’s a very hard thing for most SEOs to do on a continual basis. 

      It does make it easier to adopt and abandon when you are exposed to new ideas, which is exactly what I was hoping to bring out with this post. If we want to be strong SEOs we need to be willing to expose ourselves to whats out there. This is often best accomplished through industry peer interaction.

  • Jey Pandian
    August 22, 2011 (5:38 pm)

    I didn’t like SMX Advanced Seattle – nothing ‘advanced’ was taught with the exception of David Mihm’s Local Search performance. Everything else was mediocre and one could easily pick up the same info by reading online resources. I honestly expected more out of it.

    Friendly competition is a good concept. I remember at C2R, Kris told me, I don’t care how much you know until you own the first 20 pages of your name. It was a good lesson in ORM. This lesson eventually transitioned to making rank for #1. I strongly believe that hands on lessons like these are the future of SEO Training.

    • Dan Cristo
      August 22, 2011 (8:07 pm)

      I might have to borrow Kris’ quote. Of course it may vary a bit depending on how competitive your name is, but I think the principle is right on the mark.

      • Jey Pandian
        August 22, 2011 (10:24 pm)

        Very true, I had to vy with someone else who had the same last name as me.

      • Jey Pandian
        August 22, 2011 (10:24 pm)

        Very true, I had to vy with someone else who had the same last name as me.

  • José da Silva
    August 22, 2011 (6:41 pm)

    The best SEO is not the one who wins a contest. No. It’s the one who makes money. If you want proof or credentials about how good a SEO is, just ask him for results. 
    I don’t think that blogging about SEO is a good proof of anything. Why should a good SEO share valuable knowledge to potential competitors?
    A good SEO will not speak about himself in forums or blogs. You don’t probably even know him.

    My 2 cents (of euro).

    • Dan Cristo
      August 22, 2011 (8:12 pm)

      Hey Jose,
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. 

      I’d have to respectfully disagree with you about making money. Yes, we tend to look at money as the ultimate “proof”, but you can’t just look at one metric.

      For example. I know SEOs that work for law firms who make BANK, but that doesn’t mean they are best in class. It’s just that some companies can pay higher salaries. 

      Everything is a signal – money, reputation, experience, campaign performance, etc. They all need to be looked at and assigned proper weighting before a solid judgement can be made.

  • Todd Yeager
    August 25, 2011 (12:03 pm)

    I love the point of “exposing SEOs to what best in class really is,” Dan.  It can be extremely eye-opening to realize just how much more knowledge some professionals have in your industry than you do.  If an SEO never inserts him/herself into that environment, i.e. advanced conferences,  they have no reason to think they’re not best in class…and will continue being blindly mediocre!!!

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