Celebrities Killed The SEO Star

Oct 26th

As the co-founder of an SEO Consultancy, my biggest hurdle in business is finding more staff. Clients are lining up at our door, we have no trouble there, it's finding the staff to work with them that becomes the issue. This may not sound like the worst dilemma for a business to face, especially during the current global economic decline, but the causation is a matter of great concern to me as both an SEO and a businessman.

Ayima's company structure is such that only highly skilled SEOs make it through to our interview stage and yet even then, less than 5% meet our skill requirements. This isn't me being picky, misjudging characters or sourcing bad candidates - this is a knowledge pandemic that is spreading through our industry. We've started apprenticeship programs to teach eager candidates from the ground up, but this can take several years to generate the finished article.

After looking back at our past 30 interview candidates, my opinion for the reason behind this issue may not be a popular one. I believe that celebrity SEOs, brands and blogs are feeding a generation of untested and poorly trained search marketers, who pass themselves off as SEO experts. I will of course explain my positioning…

The Pander Update

Some high profile SEO bloggers recently ceased client work and personal projects, in order to appear impartial and trustworthy to their community. This makes sense at first, after-all, who wants to use a link building tool operated by someone working for one of your client's competitors? It does however bring to light 2 much larger issues;

1) a reliance on tertiary information for SEO analysis, and
2) a reliance on search engineers to provide fresh and exclusive information/data.

Some SEO information sites may argue that they have access to the Web Analytics accounts of their partners and that they do study index changes, but nothing replaces the value of following a handful of websites every single day of the year. An absence of "boots on the ground" leads to misinformation and a distancing from the SEO practices and concerns that really matter. This in turn results in an information churn which newbies to the industry naturally perceive as important.

Moving away from servicing clients or running in-house/affiliate projects also causes a financial flux. Revenue no longer relies on problem solving, but on juicy search engine spoilers and interviews. Search Engines are businesses too though and it's in their best interest to only reward and recommend the publishers/communities that tow their line. A once edgy and eager SEO consultancy must therefore transition into a best practice, almost vanilla, publisher in order to pander to the whims of over-eager search reps.

How do we expect the next generation of SEO consultants to analyse a website and its industry competitors, when all they've read about is how evil paid links are and how to tweak Google Analytics?

I could directly link the viewpoints and understandings of some recent SEO candidates back to a single SEO community, word for word. They would be horrified to see the kind of broken and malformed SEOs that their community has produced.

OMG, Check Out My Klout

It's true that social media metrics will become important factors for SEO in the future, but this certainly does not negate the need for a solid technical understanding of SEO. Getting 50 retweets and 20 +1's for a cute cat viral is the work of a 12 year old schoolgirl, not an SEO. If you can't understand the HTML mark-up of a page and how on-page elements influence a search engine, pick up a HTML/SEO book from 2001 and get reading. If you don't know how to optimise site structure and internal linking, read a book on how the web works or even a "UNIX for Dummies" manual. If you're unable to completely map out a competitor website's linking practices, placement and sources, set up a test site and start finding out how people buy/sell/barter/blag/bate for links.

You may be thinking at this point, "Rob, I already know this - why are you telling me?". Well, the sad fact is that many SEOs, with several years of experience at major and minor agencies, fail to show any understanding of these basic SEO building blocks. There are SEOs who can't identify the H1 on a page and that seriously consider "Wordle" and "Link Diagnosis" as business-class SEO tools. It used to be the case that candidates would read Aaron Wall's SEO Book or Dan Thies' big fat Search Engine Marketing Kit from cover-to-cover before even contemplating applying for an entry level SEO role. These days, major agencies are hiring people who simply say that "Content is King" and "Paid Links are Evil", they have at least 50 Twitter followers of course.

"Certified SEO" is NOT the answer

In most other professional industries, the answer would be simple - regulate and certify. This simply does not work for SEO though. I die a little, each time I see a "Certified SEO" proclamation on a résumé, with their examining board consisting of a dusty old SEO company, online questionnaire or a snake-oil salesman. A complete SEO knowledgebase cannot be taught or controlled by a single company or organisation. No one in their right mind would use Google's guide to SEO as their only source of knowledge for instance, just as no self-respecting Paid Search padawan would allow Google to set-up their PPC campaigns. Google's only interest is Google, not you. Popular SEO communities and training providers have their own agendas and opinions too.

I do however concede that some learning should be standardised, such as scientifically proven or verified ranking factors. Just the facts, no opinions, persuasions or ethical stances.

My Plea To You, The Industry

I plea to you, my fellow SEOs, to help fix this mess that we're in. Mentor young marketers, but let them make up their own minds. Put pressure on SEO communities to concentrate on facts/data and not to be scared by controversy or those with hidden agendas. Promote apprenticeship schemes in your company, so that SEOs learn on the job and not via a website. Encourage people to test ideas, rather than blindly believing the SEO teachings of industry celebs and strangers.

An experienced SEO with, what I perceive to be basic skills, isn't too much to ask for is it?

Published: October 26, 2011

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Comments

October 26, 2011 - 9:49am

I quit being a lawyer eleven months ago to try and turn my interest in SEO into a job and have been able to transition from a small company who were generous enough to take me on in January to a large company (on a local basis) that I joined in August, but every day I am learning, learning, learning and wouldn't consider for a minute that I was on top of the required knowledge.

There's always going to be someone smarter and there are always going to be new techniques, so no matter how much experience you gather or how many books and blogs you read there will always be things to learn or things to master.

I wish you well in your continued search for team members.

October 26, 2011 - 11:43am

There's always going to be someone smarter and there are always going to be new techniques, so no matter how much experience you gather or how many books and blogs you read there will always be things to learn or things to master.

I agree with that, but the main issue of the post wasn't so much about "who's smarter." Rather it highlighted perverse economic incentives which promote the creation of culturally constructed ignorance.

Complex nuanced advice isn't sexy, so you can't market it. It falls on deaf ears & isn't very profitable. But taking something old and giving it a new name, or offering a flat "across the board" omen of some sort gets noticed (even if the omen is mostly wrong) is exceptionally profitable. People want leaders who sound certain in a world where few things are. It is more profitable to tell harmful half-truths than it is to give nuanced tips that may seem conflicting until one thinks it through deeply.

Don't ever buy links is a perfect example.

The advice doesn't factor in:

  • risk tolerance
  • any other risk factors
  • investment level
  • ameliorating factors (like brand)
  • seasonality
  • margins
  • debt or leverage
  • network effects
  • short-term or long-term goals

Pull all the variables out of an equation and it is no longer an equation. Rather it becomes pablum devoid of value. It is no better than hollow political slogans like "hope" and "change."

And this isn't an issue isolated to only the SEO niche, but is a broad issue impacting societies the world over. In "the information age" this culturally constructed ignorance is one of the biggest problems facing humanity (along with a 2-tier legal system, income inequality, peak cheap oil, peak debt, debt-backed fractional reserve money, debt slavery, other human rights issues, etc.)

Agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is "the study of culturally constructed ignorance."

As Proctor argues, when society doesn't know something, it's often because special interests work hard to create confusion. Anti-Obama groups likely spent millions insisting he's a Muslim; church groups have shelled out even more pushing creationism. The oil and auto industries carefully seed doubt about the causes of global warming. And when the dust settles, society knows less than it did before.

"People always assume that if someone doesn't know something, it's because they haven't paid attention or haven't yet figured it out," Proctor says. "But ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth—or drowning it out—or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what's true and what's not."

That Google heavily invests in public relations spin, hands out favors to select publishers willing to spread their spin, etc. doesn't bode well for the goal to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

They are pissing in the pond they are allegedly tying to clean up.

That they fund sites like eHow as well only makes it that much worse!

October 26, 2011 - 10:01am

Found myself nodding along quite alot with most of that. I'd even take your celebrity communities point further by saying that because many of these communities run their own well promoted conferences, many SEOs can simply find themselves following the Twitter accounts and reading the articles of people who all share the same agenda and the same outlook on SEO.

Working in-house for a growing company soon teaches you that this attitude just won't cut it. While it might be great to sit around discussing "content is king" and the future of Google + all day, in the real world my bosses expect to see results. Reading blogs and discussing theory all day won't get these results, testing, analysis and constantly learning new skills are the only methods I've found to keep the smile on my boss's face :-)

October 26, 2011 - 11:36am

Rob agree with what your talking about, its a difficult one as a CTO of a European SEO co. we see this a lot, you of course want staff who are involved with the community and I do find that this expands their knowledge etc from the collaborative effect, especially more so the last few years with the explosion of twitter and other groups on Facebook. However I can't take away from the fact that some of the best SEO's I know or have worked with have no profile, and some other who have been very good at mixing with SEO celebs to increase their own brand may know SEO but are actual poor with implementation and time management. I personally try for a mixed team, some strong SEO strategy skills and some more focus project management wise, but a word to all "young SEO's" proving your worth is not just about blogging, I rarely blog but yet I also don't have time to sit at home each night and watch tv.

October 26, 2011 - 1:42pm

Rob,

Great post. My coworkers and I have had an ongoing discussion about the state of the SEO community for some time which has been spurred by a flurry of behavior that seems to propagate the fishbowl mentality.

I think that in many ways, it's the need for simplicity that complicates this problem. To Aaron's point, "Complex nuanced advice isn't sexy;" moreover it's difficult to sell. In my opinion, I believe that a part of the solution is to focus on the results generated by SEO with the understanding that there are still many variables beyond our control.

October 26, 2011 - 2:02pm

... many of the higher-profile SEOs seem to suffer, in varying degrees, from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

October 26, 2011 - 2:19pm

"Ayima's company structure is such that only highly skilled SEOs make it through to our interview stage and yet even then, less than 5% meet our skill requirements." and "An experienced SEO with, what I perceive to be basic skills, isn't too much to ask for is it?" seem to contradict themselves. Maybe I am wrong. That happens pretty regularly.

I agree that buzzwords and overly simplified rules are sold to people as SEO gold. However, the other end can be just as harmful. There is a certain degree of simplicity that helps productivity. This is true in all things. I think people often chase what is recent or flashy instead of focusing most on the things that are least likely to change over time and have the most impact, thus proving to be valuable to users and engines alike. This lends itself to consistency.

I also think that some SEOs are incredibly technical. It's always good to know more of the technical. That said, the technical is not everything. I think it's part art, part science.

I think in every industry, there are industry people who want their industry to appear as rocket science. It seems like there is this conflict in search engine world like there was on Madison Avenue between the creatives and the technical advertising # crunchers who helped with big ad purchases. Both are important.

All the internet is to people is a collection of content. So, in the end the content is all that users care about. When Joe User reads a news article he doesn't think about the code. So, your site may have sweet code and linking, but if users think your content is crap...you did a lot of technical work to have someone bounce.

Just my humble opinion.

October 26, 2011 - 2:21pm

I agree with your general point - the "rock star" mentality does have a down-side, although it exists in many industries. However, with all due respect to your team and your own expertise, I think calling out the companies who have moved out of consulting is a bit disingenuous. As someone who consults for one of those companies, I have a couple of counterpoints:

(1) SEO is still an immature discipline, and there has always been misinformation. Clients that came to my old firm as early as the late 90s had stories of being screwed by other SEOs and developers, and that was long before SEO celebrities or even most SEO blogs. They were being screwed by bad consulting firms, and plenty of those firms still exist. I'm not implying that you're one of them (I generally respect Ayima, for the record), but you and I both know there are still a lot of bad consultants.

(2) Just as you can get in a bubble if you focus too much on theory, you can get in a bubble if you focus too much on a niche or handful of clients. As practitioners, we're just as guilty of reading too much into our own experiences, and sometimes those experiences only represent a small piece of the puzzle. I've seen tunnel vision in many otherwise good consultants. I think the "street smart" vs. "book smart" argument is usually a load of crap - the best professionals have a bit of both.

(3) Pulling out of full-time consulting doesn't mean we've divorced ourselves from the real world. I, for example, work with SEOmoz half-time as a consultant, and spend the rest of my time working on clients. This is a conscious choice on my part, so that I can still meld theory and practice. We're also attached to a large network of currently practicing SEOs, many at the enterprise level. Finally, for my part, I'd say that I learn as much from moderating private Q&A as I do from my own clients. If you want an SEO challenge, try to solve a complex problem in 15 minutes and provide actionable information.

Again, I agree that there's a need for balance. I just think your point was lost by targeting your attack on a couple of firms instead of looking at the broader issue. Celebrity does not always equal expertise - no argument. That's true for all niches of the industry, though. We all have a responsibility to educate.

October 27, 2011 - 1:30pm

...I always enjoy your comments here & your blog posts over at SEOmoz.

I don't disagree with your "foot in each camp" strategy & it is what I do too (between running this site, doing a limited amount of consulting, and running numerous other websites).

I do think that people can extrapolate too much from their own sites if they only run 1 or 2 websites, but if you run a half-dozen or so different websites and they are across a few different niches then you have numerous direct deep probing lenses on search.

With algorithms like Panda, running 2 site in a certain niche where one gets hit by Panda and the other does not can be quite interesting. Do that a couple times over and you have a lot of data to work with.

October 26, 2011 - 2:28pm

I am an ex-actionscript developer (yes, one of those), I have worked as an SEO for an agency for almost a couple of years now - compared to most of you I am a noob but here is what I think...

1. Most SEOs these days are all theory and no action. Most of them are nothing but just project managers, outsourcing all the work and sitting behind a desk without any solid knowledge of web technologies or servers does not make you an SEO.

2. The role models: These are folks who speak at big conferences and are praised constantly on social networks. Well, here is the thing, a few months ago I bought a video dvd of a HUGE conference where some "celebrity" speakers were presenting ideas/techniques etc. Most of the speakers were just talking sh... again all theory.

3. Conferences are commercial hence no real value. Most blog posts are link baits with no real value.

In short, I can relate to this post.

October 26, 2011 - 3:20pm

I got into this industry 6-7 years ago and learned quickly that these Celebrity Rock Stars where just that ... celebrities. Maybe 1 in 10 post has some useful information.

Dont be a damn sheep and Don't be mesmerized by the crap the celebrities tell you. Fly under the radar .....

October 26, 2011 - 3:40pm

I am glad to hear it brought this issue up. I am going to try and stick to the topic that seems to have drummed up the most angst, SEO Bloggers, although I think there are several finer points worth a pint at the Pubcon bar for discussion as well. I don't wholly disagree with your statements, but I believe there are some missteps that should be addressed.

First, I do have to take immediate issue with one of your assumptions that these individuals must now solely rely on tertiary information or search engineers. It is very possible that these entities continue to do research (either macro or micro) on a variety of SEO techniques. While they may do this poorly in some cases, it is wrong to assume that their only sources of knowledge will come from third parties (other SEOs or the engines themselves). In an ideal world, these individuals would become public academics - the professors of our industries while people, like yourself, remain the CEOs. Both perform an important roll.

Second, while "boots on the ground" may provide an avenue for these individuals to filter the third party information against real-world examples, all-too-often consulting SEOs use their "boots on the ground" experiences as evidence well beyond its statistical accuracy. I am frustrated just as often by social media improves rankings from SEOMoz as I am frustrated with article marketing improves rankings from nearly every mid-tier SEO who blogs. In the same way that non-consulting bloggers need to verify their information on the ground, consulting bloggers need to verify their results with research.

Finally, I am not so certain that celebrities killed the SEO star; rather, they simply made a lot of people think they are SEO stars. The flood of applicants we received recently for a Director-level SEO position was filled with people who thought they were SEO aristocracy, but that did not mean there were not 1 or 2 who actually were. While we did not end up hiring for multiple reasons at that time, I think the real problem has been a pollution of the applicant pool not by tainting the good, but by merely drowning them out. Think back 5 or 10 years. You may have only gotten 2 or 3 applicants for that job, and 1 of them would have been fantastic. It was a small world back then, so you probably already knew who they were. That person still exists, they are just surrounded by 29 others who are sub-par.

It is hard to say that this is the fault of the bloggers though. Much of the information they present is useful in non-competitive spaces which, to be frank, is neither where your company nor mine participate. Moreover, the services they provide are invaluable to my company (SEOMoz in particular for the Site Intelligence API) regardless of their impact on the general discourse of the search world. We are now just in a world where everyone thinks they can sing and dance, and we now have to play the role of Simon Cowell, while everyone wants to be like Paula Abdul.

October 27, 2011 - 1:24pm

...I don't dig into as often as I would like to (more often I try to create link baits than rely on following competitors) but whenever I do dig into link data on Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer there is always something interesting to be found.

October 26, 2011 - 4:32pm

What's irritating is when you have a theory and want to test it and hear "did [Rand/Vanessa/Danny/Matt/DrPete/Aaron/Barry] say to do that or endorse it?" SEO and internet marketing in general is all about testing, finding new information and how it can impact your company/clients. If we dont test, don't experiment we'll never know and knowing is 80% of the battle.

I read the celebrity blogs and books, watch the videos, follow the tweets and attend the webinars/seminars/drinking fests to discover new things to test. Not to find a boxed solution to slap on a project.

As a learner of HTML 1.0 when i was a teen I find it disturbing when new, wanna be SEO's dont understand the basic language of the internet.

I am scheduled to give a talk on SEO and internet marketing to my alma mater marketing students in January, I'll be sure to add this sentiment to the slide deck (and use that '12 yr schoolgirl' quote. lol)

October 26, 2011 - 5:48pm

Just an aside, but I 100% agree on your comments about testing. I love to see people doing their own testing and data collection, and I hope I'm never an argument for someone not learning by doing. I think the best SEOs are always learning and are willing to admit it.

October 26, 2011 - 5:06pm

Rob, thanks for putting together this piece! I think it's very important that the SEO community constantly evaluate where we get our information and how we formulate our opinions/theories/strategies.

At the risk of rehashing what has already been suggested in the comments, I do think that balance (to dr_pete's point) is the most important thing here. In addition to balance I think we need to be conscious of the context that this rising trend of "Certified SEOs" is resulting from. I'm a huge fan of quotes and one that has always rung true to me is: the greater our knowledge increases the more our ignorance unfolds" (JFK). Despite the fact that there are many tenured and well-respected SEOs, the industry is still fairly young and is evolving at such a rapid pace now that businesses are recognizing the importance SEO as part of their overall marketing plan. With growth like this its natural that the community will look to these "celebrities" for guidance and inspiration...and to be honest that's what they should be doing. These folks earned their reputations by investing themselves fully as innovators and have been one of the cornerstones to bringing our community to where we are today.

However, to reference my favorite line in your whole post, we should "Mentor young marketers, but let them make up their own minds." This does not mean that we discount the conclusions from these so-called "celebrities" but rather we encourage people to question, to test, and to improve on these strategies...that is what helps us evolve both personally in our professions but also as a community. And I don't think any of the high-profile folks in our industry would ever argue against the value of this type of questioning.

October 26, 2011 - 5:59pm

As a person who spent enough time in in-house and agency side of things on an enterprise level, all I can tell you is that brands see SEOMoz as an authority and not SEOBook. Why? Because SEOMoz asks the beginner questions and answers them with pretty little cartoons that a 3 year old understands.That sells them not only to the SEO crowd but also to the corporate crowd. Private communities such as SEOBook or SEO Dojo does not in its search engine indexable sections because they appeal to a more expert audience. A well known celeb who makes a lot of money only writes blogs not for charity or training but to appeal to the potential client who does not know anything about SEO. Both in my agency and in-house life I complained to SEOMoz to update the old blog posts as much as possible because I was tired of trying to disprove their old posts with their new posts. To be perfectly blunt though, just like this blog post blatantly promoted Ayima, I don't expect any SEO professional to do something for the sake of making their fellow professionals (who might or might not be their competitors) better equipped without getting paid for it. I don't know if either Rand or Aaron are the best SEOs as I don't know them personally but they sure are the best niche marketers in our field (one to the beginners, one to the experts).and there is nothing wrong with it.

October 26, 2011 - 9:29pm

Thanks for explaining the present condition of the SEO community. In compare to anyone who have participated in this discussion I am a total noob but yes I'm learning. I'm learning through reading blogs/ebooks, watching videos and by implementing those theories, testing , analyzing.. trying my best.
As i can see from the comments of some very experienced people up here, all of them have at least agreed to one fact that lots of changes have occurred in SEO sector and these changes are at pace, I would like to quote, BrettS -

"Despite the fact that there are many tenured and well-respected SEOs, the industry is still fairly young and is evolving at such a rapid pace now that businesses are recognizing the importance SEO as part of their overall marketing plan."

As a new generation SEO, I have to accept the fact that I do try to follow what celebrity SEOs say/do . But you can not blame the newcomers for that, because its obvious that they will follow those celebrities for inspirations and encouragement. And it's also true that some newcomers try to claim themselves as SEO experts after reading some blogs/eBooks without verifying their ability, but these kind people exists in every industry. As rjonesx said -

"Finally, I am not so certain that celebrities killed the SEO star; rather, they simply made a lot of people think they are SEO stars."

I really appreciate what you said in the conclusion -

"I plea to you, my fellow SEOs, to help fix this mess that we're in. Mentor young marketers, but let them make up their own minds."

We newcomers need mentors, feed us with appropriate information / theories so that we can test, analyze and find our ability as a SEO.

October 26, 2011 - 10:11pm

I think part of the issue is that in "some" cases and for "some" websites small changes that are covered in the first pages of any SEO book can make a huge difference in rankings, and in some cases, even relative traffic. Most businesses operate locally in easy to dominate niches with only a few real search engine competitors (this is of course slowly changing). SEOs can legitimately get by for years by offering sub-par services to businesses that want to rank for certain terms that don't actually yield traffic or revenue.

The issue gets worse when you take into account the fact that many SEM companies have established networks and relationships, which help their staff earn rankings for clients relatively easy, and often with no real grunt work. Their one-size fits all system and strategy is enough to meet their client's goals - for at least a few months/years.

SEM companies can exceed their clients expectations with inexperienced and uneducated help because some clients aren't educated (no fault of their own); maybe that's part of the issue - a lack of education on both sides.

Additionally, experienced SEOs are more expensive to hire, so setting up systems that can be followed by anyone with success (in most cases) is more profitable.

I have a feeling that time will provide you with more qualified candidates.

October 26, 2011 - 11:38pm

I agree to a certain extent with a lot of this, especially with regard to the certification issue. However, just like any other discipline, there need to be, and there are, some foundation language, concepts, etc, in order for any seo to communicate with another. Some of the examples of your interview process are both shocking and common. I mean h1 tags, really?

Unfortunately, it can be much more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Especially in light of this rockstar/celebrity stuff.

I'd really be interested to know more about your interview process. If you're willing to share, hit me up: gyi.tsakalakis@gmail.com

October 27, 2011 - 1:46am

I think there's also the perception that the big bucks are not being made by the folks actually doing the SEO. At least that's what it looks like in some agencies. The good SEOs are pushed to become managers of SEOs resulting in them moving away from seeing the nitty gritty details where many insights come from.

October 27, 2011 - 2:05am

To this day, in spite of Google trying to marginalize affiliates & SEOs, many of the top earning SEOs are affiliate marketers. Of course it is brutally competitive, but an affiliate site that makes 2k or 5k or 10k or 20k a month is generally far more scalable & profitable than an equivalent client account. This is even more so true if you operate numerous sites, that way you can push harder into promoting whichever ones are showing the best returns.

October 27, 2011 - 12:25pm

In general, at this point it is more profitable to do for yourself than to do for others.

October 27, 2011 - 1:19pm

...however, in a few years if they keep leaning into brand & coming from the top down with various Google verticals then at some point the ROI will be better in consulting. I know some pretty smart SEO guys like Dave Naylor and Greg Boser have already made the switch over to doing tons of consulting. If one desires to make that switch at some point then it is better off going over a bit early than a bit late. ;)

October 27, 2011 - 9:43am

Take a little bit of SEOmoz, mix it up with some SEObook and throw in the vital Web Analysis Ninja Avinash (Occam Razor) and I think SEO's will be able to find the middle ground when it comes to seeking knowledge. On the other hand, "expertise" will only come from getting your hands dirty with actual work.
Finally, to quote Seth Godin- "If being a Rock Star was easy, then everyone would be a Rock Star". So give the rock stars a break! :P

October 27, 2011 - 12:10pm

The first time i realized how little i know about SEO was back in 2006/7 when i first red the stuff posted on Blue Hat SEO. But since then a lot has changed. I see no mention in this post on the effects of personal or local search, Universal search etc. All these changes require a new set of skills SEO's didn't need 4-5 years ago. In many cases now, getting the results you want (for you or your client) is simply a goal not worth the money spent on it. The fact is Google are trying to kill this industry or at least make it is hard as possible to monetize from - even if you rank nicely for many keywords. My point being: very few rock stars are left these days, most of them keep their knowledge from others and the result is poorly trained beginners that scrape whatever they can find on open forums or blogs.

October 27, 2011 - 1:22pm

...he puts the bleed in bleeding edge ;)

I agree with you on Google trying to marginalize the industry as a whole. Also your point of people holding knowledge back from the public is true. If a person has to be as good as you are to beat you then there is little to no risk in sharing. However, if Google leans into brand & other such signals that cost millions of Dollars to build then the competition only needs to be 3% or 5% as good as you are to beat you...and at that point there is little incentive to share certain things.

October 31, 2011 - 12:11pm

The rock stars are LOUD and easy to hear, and the indie stars are all underground. As someone who is just entering the world of SEO, I find it extremely difficult to locate quality information to help me progress at my level. I visit all of the public communities and most of the topics are still a bit advanced for me. However outside of the basic on-page optimization lessons that are thrown around online, I can't seem to find the next step. It's as if the middle segment in the SEO hierarchy of knowledge has been completely removed. My attempts to find a mentor in town have been met with people who seem to know even less than me, or shout misinformation that I recognize now doesn't help. So, as an entry level person, I'd give anything to say more than just "content is king" and go through an SEO check list for a page. But the most I can claim are the basics - regurgitated mass produced lessons and ideas, and a drive to learn everything I can find beyond that.

October 31, 2011 - 12:38pm

links. links. links. ;)

Of course its the "how" part that is courses 2 through 99 :D

November 1, 2011 - 1:43am

Haha! I'm actually not bad with link building. Although my experience is still in novice territory. I like to deal more on a personal level with people (yay psych degree) rather than spamming companies with the same e-mail template. I'm just excited to learn about all this and be able to put it into play. I'm going to go play guitar on the corner and see about getting access to SEOBook, Haha.

October 31, 2011 - 7:46pm

I will always hire based on character. I want people who are willing to learn, who aren't awestruck by "celebrities." Skills can be taught or learned on the job. Character is much harder to come by.

November 1, 2011 - 2:45am

...we prefer to hire people who are fiercely loyal & driven. The other thing we <3 is lateral thinking skills, as it allows employees to keep setting the bar higher & exceeding expectations (which in turn creates more satisfaction & feeds into drive). If a person has those everything else falls into place.

November 1, 2011 - 4:16am

I've been in SEO since 2006. I spent 3 years working in-house for a publisher and the last couple of years part time on my own. I'm not an 'expert', or a 'guru', or anything else. In fact, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not in love with SEO like other's here are. I'm trying to get out of the industry. As a result when I started reading this post I was worried that it was going to reveal my weakness as an SEO, but as I continued reading I realized that this post is referring to people who don't know what an h1 tag is, and don't understand basic SEO. My question is simple:

Do you really mean to tell me that there are SEOs who don't understand basic html factors (e.g., h1/title/etc.)? These SEOs are looking for work with your agency?

It becomes increasingly difficult to judge my own abilities when I read articles like this. I consider myself to a be a decent SEO, but I keep reading articles like this that refer to SEOs who apparently don't know the first thing about SEO. Seriously? These people exist?

Anyone have any data, or general sense of the percentage of these SEO practitioners out there?

PS. This may be my first post on SEObook. (I'm not much for these SEO communities, sorry.)

November 1, 2011 - 9:28pm

...and others are all sales.

Most people are somewhere in the middle.

The thing with SEO though is one should never want to be anywhere near average, as it probably isn't worth the effort, as you still have to do most of the learning but only get a small fraction of the potential rewards. The only exception to that is if you work on a big brand website that Google is already promoting, because then you only need to be at best average and you can still fall over the finish line in first place (based on Google pushing the site so hard before any additional effort or strategy goes into the site's SEO).

November 1, 2011 - 11:58pm

How do you know when you're average? It appears to be difficult to judge when on the one hand you have SEOs who don't know what an h1 tag is and on the other hand you have agencies with loads of experience and large amounts of data at their disposal.

November 2, 2011 - 5:52am

...there is no point/purpose/value in being average.

The only measurement that counts is the search results. A business model is either profitable or not & as skills + budget increase one can chase larger & larger pies.

November 1, 2011 - 5:31pm

I love you Rob Kerry for writing this. My thoughts exactly. The new crop of SEO's are complete idiots.

November 1, 2011 - 9:15pm

Aaron, I don't know much about SEO but I really love how much value you provide in your blog. Everything is so well laid out and even though I don't understand everything (I have never been able to understand SEO :) ), I am at least able to understand the gist of what most of these posts mean.

BTW, I really loved the 6 images that you used in the post. Would you care to share where you got them?

November 1, 2011 - 9:25pm

Those images were from iStockphoto...it was an image set that was like 12 or 15 credits. The post wasn't edited in any way other than putting the author's name at the beginning of the page title & dropping the images in. I think the images made it look way nicer and was worth the 10 minutes and $15 extra. :)

Best of luck learning SEO!

November 3, 2011 - 6:46pm

I am new here, I am studying Internet Marketing at Full Sail University. I wish I had known about this site a long time ago. I have been trying to learn IM on my own for several years and got really tired of the hype and being misinformed. It is refreshing to come across real information with no fluff.

I look forward to learning as much as possible from this site.

November 8, 2011 - 12:49am

Great post, Rob. I totally share your concerns, and unfortunately the same problems exist not just in SEO. The big questions is: who and how can change the situation for better? What SEO communities you are asking to clean the mess? Do you think SEMPO can be one of organizations that can bring some order by introducing some kind of professional certification for SEO specialists?

November 9, 2011 - 9:30am

...they tried to promote paid search as *the* channel & sort of tried to brush off SEO as being spam. Taking promotional $ from search engines & being a badge that anyone could buy also sort of boxed in some of their prospects.

November 29, 2011 - 2:26pm

Doing SEO has get so complicated, and the worst is that we all think that the new update changed this or that, and some kind of factors can be penalyzed, but the reality is that we don't know the true about almost nothing, because Google won't reveal it for us, that makes it even more harder...

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