A Career in SEO? Bad Move.

If you find the world of search engine optimization (SEO) interesting and you are considering stepping into it as a career goal for 2008, you should really give it some serious thought beforehand. The profession is maturing now and is full of challenges that you may not find so exciting. After reading this you may wonder why I do SEO for a living. I guess I'm just a sucker for punishment.

First off, there are some powerhouses in the industry that make things look easy. These folks have achieved critical mass in terms of popularity and success and as a result have moved in to another class that, as a new entrant to the market, you shouldn't compare yourself to. Instead, consider the following obstacles that you'll have to deal with.

1. SEO is Moving In House
This is the biggest threat to SEO consultants. As companies wise up to the need for SEO, they are also seriously considering handling all of the tasks in house. When it comes to online publishers and owners of multiple sites this can make sense since there's enough work to keep full-time employees busy. Don't believe me? Check out SEMPO's recent “State of the Search Market 2006” where it's reported that almost two thirds of the companies survey plan to bring SEO in-house. As this trend continues, the big projects that SEO consultants really want are going to he harder to come by. And if you think the solution is to become an in-house optimizer, read on.

2. SEO is a Dead End
Some of you might think that being an in-house SEO is a good way to climb the corporate ladder, think again. The reality is that you're going to have an incredibly hard time going anywhere. The only person I know that is the exception to this is Marshall Simmonds, Chief Search Strategist of the New York Times. Marshall got in the game early enough to stand out from the crowd and was rewarded for it. Unfortunately, you'll quickly find that companies haven't put together a career path for those interested in SEO and moving up means not doing SEO. Part of the problem is that SEO is a blend of technical and marketing skills that don't quite fit in anywhere except in the basement of your company's building.

If you're looking to climb the corporate ladder, there are more direct ways to the top. If you're not interested in moving in to management, you probably at least want some respect, right? You may not get that either.

3. R-E-S-P-E-C-T
You'll get none. Ignoring the likes of Danny Sullivan who can command the attention of thousands, optimizers receive little regard to more established web professions (who I might add don't get much regard either). Web developers and web designers think those that do SEO are a bunch of hacks; traditional marketers think SEO is all about stuffing keywords in to copy and titles; and upper management can't wrap their heads around the idea that today's SEO activity may not show results for 3 to 6 months.

This lack of respect for the profession manifests itself in subtle ways. How? Your opinion about anything other than SEO will be ignored as if you have no insight on anything other than title tags; requests for hardware will be mysteriously held up by procurement until a hand-me down becomes available; and you'll probably be tucked away in the bowels of corporate headquarters which is really just another signal that your efforts don't require the kind of work environment conducive to thinking.

4. SEO Could Become Obsolete
The search engines created the SEO market and they can also destroy it. Not that I'm suggesting they would do so on purpose. Rather, as part of their ongoing efforts to improve their services they may change how their algorithms work so that SEO becomes irrelevant or at least so simple it isn't necessary as a separate task. Some people think that personalized search could be the first nail in the coffin.

5. No Barriers to Entry
Ignoring the silliness of whether SEO is rocket science or not, the reality is that anyone can eventually be good at SEO. If you're interested in the area, are analytical, and have familiarity with some of the technical aspects of websites, you can start a career in SEO from the comfort of your couch. Unlike other professions, there isn't a multi-year degree program for SEO offered by a school of repute.

The result of having no barriers to entry are twofold. First, you end up having to compete with many, many people who say they do SEO, but don't really have a good handle on the bigger picture. For example, copywriters oversimplify the process as having the right keyword density; designers figure having a blurb of text below their fancy Flash movies makes them SEO experts; and web developers conclude that since their code is elegantly written, the resulting website will be search engine friendly.

Second, anyone just starting to get into SEO is likely to underbid someone that has been at it for 10 years. So how does the veteran distinguish himself from the newbie? It can be difficult because SEO best practices change and knowledge from 10 years ago may not be perceived to be valuable. So unless you don't care about moving beyond your newbie salary, you better be prepared for a tough fight.

While this post may seem self-serving in that anything to discourage competition can only be good for me, trust me when I say that I'm not worried. I know most newcomers will be gone before I even hear about them. And I also have confidence in my abilities to grow and move beyond SEO should the need arise. So take what I've written to heart and if you choose to press on, don't say I didn't give you fair warning!

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  1. SEO is a dead end nowadays for most businesses. It has become really expensive (great content is expensive, good links are expensive, free quality links are a pain to get...) if you want results that are going to last and ROI has slowly but surely decrease. The whole situation is just a mess and first page is now a big company only area.

  2. Intereresting views Mario on the future of SEO. We are now in 2012. I see your article was written in 2008, when you thought that SEO maybe a dead end job and that search engines may make SEO absolute. These concerns may still be valid, the truth is that many SEOs have made fortunes between 2008 and 2012. Within 4 years, new SEOs - did not hear what you said - and went to make big businesses, built houses, and acquired investments with money they made from SEO activities.
    What is going to happen in the next 4 years? Who is going to make the money?

  3. Marios, I might be a "sucker for punishment" too. SEO is currently evolving quite a bit and I believe that people need quality SEO services now more than ever.

  4. Marios, some solid truths about the corporate red tape. However, the truth is... if an SEO's focus is gaming the engines then you are correct they will be out of a job at some point. But, if a person optimizes with the best interest of the website itself in mind, then there will ALWAYS be work. In my 10 years of SEO, both inhouse and with agencies, there are plenty of technical issues with websites (especially the BIG ONES) to keep a staff of SEOs busy. Its not about keyword density and meta tags, as most SEO newbies are quick to gravitate to, its about creating websites that are easy to navigate for bots and users, and feature organized, well structured content, oh... and lots of quality inbound links.

    Actually, I think you gave your real intention for this post away with this comment "While this post may seem self-serving in that anything to discourage competition can only be good for me".

  5. SEO is as much of a pain for Google as it is for companies who are trying to survive online. Google are full of taltned brains, they could care less for SEO's , the only reason why they are "supporting" them still , is to not give away a % of there market. From what most SEO point out is that google has "organic" search and "paid" search. How is the search organic if millions of SEO's sit in fornt of the computers and manipulate search results. The past month I have only been seeing crap on the internet because more and more people learn SEO. There are thousands of useless articles written, which makes me harder to find information I need, there are companies on the top with poor structures, in some cases don't see much security. I agree SEO won't die , but it is something which annoys me and probably others who are posting and are not actual SEO's here. It's a good way to rip people off , charge people for something thousands which is worth a couple of hundred $. I can keep going and give more solid arguments, but only people who are not SEo's would understand me so I won't. Anyways I jsut thought it would be good to share the other side of the story.

  6. Dear Marios Alexandrou,

    I dont agree with you on this, where I an from SEO just start to take place in the market and I am making it now as a career for me, which i was refusing before, now I am making a very good profit from that.

    My advice is to have an alternative business with SEO


  7. I thought I would chime in again on this post as I now have some perspective to look back on.

    As of the original date of this post, I had just started as an in-house SEO with hopes of great things to come. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered the reality of my situation. There was really no real commitment to my employer from the top and about a year later, I moved on to providing SEO to small business owners who could not or would not bring SEO in-house.

    This market is huge and growing. At a time when the economy could not look worse, my business has literally doubled. SEO is only just beginning to be understood by many small business owners and the demand for increased sales through non-traditional sales channels seems to be on fire right now. Most small business have relied on newspapers, radio and yellow pages to attract new business. That is changing BIG TIME right now.

    SEO has provided me with an income and regular business opportunities that no other field could, considering I never finished college. If you learn and prove you can do the job, SEO can pay you six figures easily working from a home office. The only in-house SEO I will ever do again is in my house. I do some on-site work locally but that pays even more.

    The best part is the chain of command is me.

  8. I don't want to give a lot of details to my identity, but I'm an in-house SEO at a Fortune 1,000 company and I can't AGREE with you more (on every single point). I know this is an old post, but it's at lest as true today as it was when this was originally written.

  9. SEO is part of Internet Marketing and internet marketing is here to stay. Lets be optimistic. Google wants us optimizers because in the end ethical SEO helps Google SERPs ultimately.

  10. Dear Sucker for Punishment,
    Please, do all SEO's a favor and get out of the field, and make room for those that enjoy a challenge. For those that enjoy marketing and gaining information to enable a concept to work. Those that use just as much of the right side of their brain as the left. How I see it you need to move on ...The real sucker is the one paying you to be there SEO- because anyone knows you can't do a good job with your attitude. If you want to climb the corporate ladder show the right determination then you will succeed. Respect is not something you get all the time in any field. If sitting behind a computer more than half the day never gets you the respect you want. Ask what the level of respect is in a corporation. Talk to the top executives ask them how they are respected in their field. Ask them if their boss tells them you have done better than anyone would've, or pat them on the back and say well done you deserve my respect. Oh, an at the same time not wanting more from them. I don't want to piss you off- I know what SEO's can do... and I respect that! But, stop crying in your soda water AND move on...Teach something that will benefit others and don't be pessimistic. For those that use the right and left side of their brain evenly there is a place for and it's not in the basement of a corporation. We are behind the scenes at the top making it happen and that's not a bad move!

    • Just curious - have you spent much time doing in-house SEO at a big brand company? It sounds like possibly not, but just curious (though this is such an old post that you may not reply).

  11. SEO is dead..? No way... I am contnuously working on SEO since last 6 yearas..and still learning new and new things as per google algo change. So there is no End of learning and no Point of SEO Dead.

  12. Well, I think SEO has developed the concept of quality designs and development, usability for end-users, quality content, quality websites. SEO has helped to upgrade the quality of websites.... I don't believe that SEO will end but yes there might be more challenges for SEO.


  13. Many SEO aspects that you revealed are true but even then i dont agree that SEO is going to be dead.

    After all constant efforts are required to explore search engines and their working in an ever changing environment.

  14. Hi Marios,

    Well old is gold, it won't ever die.
    Well SOCIAL Marketing is the future and SEO would be there still.


    Do u ppl think that optimization will be dead forever?
    Nah i don't think so.

    There would be changes, updations and Google knows very well that most of the money that are generated are through SEO guys :)

    Google has it monopoly so does other Search engines.

    Do u know how SEARCH ENGINES survive?
    If u get a correct answer to this u will come to know wat i m talking.

  15. Hi Marios,
    Great blogpost, although its quite pessimistic its an excellent wrap up of what other people think SEO is. I work in a traditional Marketing agency, having set up the Search department from scratch 3 years ago. All the crap I have been through to convince everyone SEO is nessasary and a must. Oh dear god have I felt like throwing in the towel a few times. The programmers thinks SEO is a joke, and all you need to do is have a tidy code. Ehm and they are supposed to be the clever ones. The designers think that if the site looks awesome traffic will magically appear. Ehm word of mouth, come on.....And not to mention project managers that referres everything as SEO whether its PPC or Organic. Aghhh..how many feckin powerpoints do I have to show them explaining the basics. It isnt rocket science! Yes it is very frustrating, BUT I really do think there is a future in Search, and I dont think personal search will destroy us. Naive, maybe. I will write a blogpost about it soon. Also I think the skills you have as an SEO, being the weird mix between techincal know how and marketing knowledge. This skillset will always be needed in online marketing! I havent had the please of meeting you, yet. But MOST of the SEOs i have met are highly capable creative ideas people, they will never be out of a job =)

  16. I think article good.But Every field for career point good & bad. If you have good skill in SEO, then I think it's beneficial you...

  17. Interesting perspective on the future of SEO. I started as an in-house SEO person and now I am moving into a freelance work outside of my "day job".

  18. It is interesting that the post is written about a service or industry of services could die and or a career in SEO would be a bad move.

    I think you should probably do a little bit more research or get a little more exposure before saying that its a dying industry.

    Having seen the inside of a large organization, the SEO is definitely in-house, but still to this day, consultancy firms and/or consultants are brought in for niche tasks. Also, for doing things like an SEO audit, etc.

    Finally, the truth is, the number of smaller firms that can't even do Web Design, let alone SEO in-house are still going to be around and those are a great market to tap. Granted, the services might not be as large and could be commoditized, but they will still be needed.

  19. As a relative newcomer in the industry, I can agree with you that it is a profession you can learn from the comfort of your own home. It is not easy though, and the rewards are few and far between. My guess would be only those truly interested will stick with SEO for more than a few months. As for the quality of the SEO...same as with any other industry..some people rule, others suck, some people work hard, others have talent...some have both. Thanks for the article.

  20. Excellent article Marios. :) I agree with many points, but overall, I'm with Todd on this one - I can't tell enough people to learn these skills.

    Problem for me? Nope - anyone starting today will never catch my years of experience, and when they reach THAT number, there will still be a thriving job market for the talents. (My guess, anyway.)

    Also, not everyone wants a corporate gig long-term. Knowing this stuff allows you to be fluid in your life's choices.

    I keep telling my wife - I've got a career wherever we find high-speed internet connections...LOL If there happens to be a beach handy, who am I to complain... ;)

    In the big picture, though, much of your advice should be required reading for folks new and thinking they hit the motherload. It's only a motherload if you develop the chops to get the treasure to the bank. Fumble along the way and you get a bruised rep and loads of drama. ;)

  21. The worst thing is web designers offering seo services and saying they will submit to 75,000 search engines and make great meta keyword tags.

    Most of what you say I disagree with, but the best reply has already been written.

  22. If you think SEO is just about rankings them yes you might think that is dead or dieing. For me SEO means much, much more like:

    shopping cart abandonment, analytics analysis, reputation management, PPC buying, etc, etc.

  23. Although I agree that SEO for consultants may be on the downward trend, I still feel it's a good career move. I've been in-house for almost 5 years (at different companies), and have found a number of your points to be true, especially the respect one, which is tough to take sometimes.

    That being said, SEO as an in-house title is evolving into many things; blogs, usability, video, images, analytics, etc. Companies, especially the larger ones, are finding the need to hire someone with ALL the talents, to lead teams that have specific areas of expertise. This is where the future growth is.

    My suggestion: If you can handle the politics, get an in-house position now, hold out for a great one that's halfway up the ladder, and plan on driving the bus in a couple years.

  24. I agree with Todd,

    I see SEM as being my flexible friend that lets me work as a consultant, work for an agency, work in-house or gives me the freedom to flap my entrepreneurial wings. Everyone has a dream and for me SEM provides the stability and vehicle to make that happen!

    Whilst I am supporting myself and earning a good keep through SEO/PPC, I am also building 'the dream' through SEO/PPC and guiding towards an entrepreneurial and independent working world - not a bad career move IMO!


  25. Larry & Sergei are smarter than 99% of the people who surfs the internet. If they were in Bio-technology..they would have developed some Bio-Rhythmic man.

    Make no mistake, Google will find you..If you are sincere, hardworking et all with your fundamental on right side of things..Google will find you.

    SEO is just turning the screw other way around and think one is smarter than Google.

    Google is coming with knol now, thats another billion dollar + move

    If an "Expert" writes about Toyota Camry Hybrid..Google will find it..Google finds everything thats sincere and right....but now with a need for revenue..Google Knol will KNOCK OFF ANY COMPETITION in content also.

    SEO will be around, but the work will get harder & harder..

    Knol is just the ad words in making but for organic results that's Google is trying to capture.

    SEO + Content .....Yes!

  26. Local SEO Guide,

    When you've been in these large and small companies was it in the capacity of an SEO consultant? If so, could that be skewing your view because the companies you're seeing are looking for help and therefore don't have an SEO team? My experience has been that a lot of big companies are looking to build in-house skills. They just don't know how to do it right.

    Scott Clark,

    I too have a Comp Sci degree. I started my work life as a client/server developer and then moved on to web development. I'm now in the SEO/SEM world and loving it, but I've taken specific steps to keep my career on track should the market change in unanticipated ways. The trick with being independent is that you can get pigeonholed making it difficult to do anything you haven't done before. I've been there too...

    Todd Mintz,

    I think you're looking at my post from the view of an entrepreneur. That's fair, but much of my article is actually geared toward the more traditional definition of a "career" i.e. working for a company and moving up the corporate ladder. In that regard I don't think my points are way off.

  27. Wow...I think you are WWWWAAAYYY off here...I would absolutely recommend anyone learn SEO...for one, there isn't any more entrepreneurial skill that I can think of and as for career path, there are so many ways that SEO skills combined with other skills that you've already developed can be used to advance yourself.

  28. One of my fav posts in a long time. Nicely done.

    My degree is in Computer Science, but have come up in the world of web development. Now, I am involved in SEM heavily. It was just a natural flow I think many of us share. So what is next for this large number of independents? Thoughts?

  29. Great food for thought. If you're a SEO guy there's definitely nothing wrong in diversifying your revenue sources to prevent you from becoming obsolete. That said I have been inside enough big and small companies to know that most of them will likely not have an in-house SEO team for several years. Either because they won't realize they need it or they don't want to make the effort to figure it out. The beauty of SEO is that it is such a strange competency that it makes all the sense in the world to outsource it. (spoken like a true SEO consultant right?:))

  30. While I agree you do have a point, Marios, I also believe that this industry is still growing. It hasn't even begun to reach its potential yet. As time goes by I think that being an SEO will evolve into much more than generating traffic through search engines (it already is becoming more than this).

    Social media has made it possible to reach people without Google and that is only going to become more and more apparent in 2008 and beyond. Blogs and online magazines are providing more traffic than they ever have before and I think if people want to get into SEO now, it's still relatively early in the grand scheme of things.

    But hey, maybe I'm a little biased since I've only been in the industry 6 or 7 months myself!


  31. You're right - definitely. I guess, like other web industries, SEO has reached a level of maturity. It's not as hot a topic as once it was, but individuals with SEO skills are as important as they ever were.

    I guess for a lot of SEOs the next "big thing" equates to the next major trend in search. It'll be interesting to see if that trend makes the process of optimization harder (personalized SERPS?) or easier.

  32. Bill,

    Describing SEO as an act of arbitrage is an interesting perspective that I hadn't heard before. It certainly makes sense to look at it that way.

    I think eventually SEO will lose many of its most popular members as it no longer is THE thing to do. There will undoubtedly be another big thing at some point though.

  33. I think I'd be pessimistic, too. SEOs are basically arbitrageurs, exploiting the fact that search engine algorithms and humans see web pages in slightly different ways. As with all arbitrage, the opportunities will be fewer as the two "markets" move closer together. That's not to say SEO will die out altogether, but as the engines become able to determine results more naturally, the gap in which the opportunities lie will become narrower.

    Like I said, that doesn't mean SEO is dead -- far from it. As long as web standards are in their relative infancy and pages can be coded in relatively free, non-standard ways, SEOs will be needed simply to make sure people don't inadvertently mask their site from optimal engine coverage. Even so, maybe now is a good time for SEOs to start diversifying and developing other skills.

  34. Terry,

    Yes, the same advice goes around and around. That's just the nature of the blogging world more than anything else. You see the same behavior with CSS tips and photography tips.

    There are some gem SEO sites out there though, but you're going to have to wade through a lot of junk if you're using a news alert to stay in touch with the industry.

  35. Sad but true.

    I have had "seo" and "sem" as Google comprehensive news alert for some time and it amazes me at the number of " seo commentators" who are posting the same old 10 year old advice while misspelling many of the words in their post.

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