SEO is a victim of its own hype

LinkedIn users who say SEO is part of their job description outnumber those with SEO in their job title 13 to 1 (24 to 1 in the UK).

SEO in job titles on LinkedIn

Delivering an SEO campaign in 2015 at any kind of scale requires input from people who aren’t SEOs in the traditional sense. The question is are they SEOs at all?

I’m not suggesting for a second that the old way of link building was better than the creative PR campaigns we do now, but SEO campaigns delivered better results.

This was nothing to do with the number of links we were able to artificially create compared to the smaller number that can be delivered naturally. It was because of a better understanding of how links fit into an SEO campaign…and a better industry-wide understanding of what else is required to deliver results.

The amount of search engine optimisation done by an on-page specialist – SEO Manager, Search Strategist etc. – is decreasing. We’re heading for a world where everyone is responsible for SEO but it’s nobody’s job.

I once heard applied futurist Tom Cheesewright say that the reason “SEO agencies came and kicked PR agencies arses” was because the PR industry was unable to keep its creatives, instead hiring more and more people who could “smile and dial”.

There is unbelievable creativity within the SEO industry, but the real reason why search agencies have the potential to consume the digital industry is because our clients don’t expect us to get coverage – that coverage has to deliver something.

We run the risk that the SEO industry is unable to keep its expertise and someone else will come and kick its arse.

We always thought that someone would be Matt Cutts.

But it’s the world we’ve created for ourselves.

Agencies are judged on creativity more than technical capability.

We’re more interested in knowing what our clients know about their brands than they are interesting in knowing what we know about how search works.

Every brand has employed a terrible agency at some point. We’re desperate to show we’re different and declare how much has SEO has changed at every opportunity. Realistically there are a hundred things more important than our first creative campaign but that feels like a massive anti-climax.

The skill set an SEO needs has diversified. There are very few people around who can implement Schema mark-up and use Google Tag Manager just as well as they can plan a creative campaign. So the SEO industry is experiencing a skills shortage.

From an agency perspective it makes sense. In theory any agency should be able to optimise a website – but only very few agencies in the world are still able to deliver large scale link building campaigns.

The question has become “can we still build links without getting penalised?”

It should be “can we still do everything required to deliver results?”