Riddle me this… If I asked you to imagine a picture of a stereotypical SEO what would they look like…? Glasses, buck teeth, bald, badly dressed… with suspenders holding up their pants…? Perhaps not quite. But the words ‘search’ and ‘geek’ have become somewhat synonymous over the past 10 years.
The search geek stereotype grew out of the tasks associated with old school SEO (ie. before Google). In the dark ages SEO’s were little more than page tweakers. Site optimisation typically consisted of meta tag stuffing, keyword stuffing & heading/title stuffing. And in the days before content management systems were widely accessible, who had the skills to edit web pages? Uber geeks. Thus the search geek stereotype was born.
Yet as the years slowly passed, the Internet and SEO evolved. And so too did the personality and skill set suited to the job. Off page factors gradually became more and more important. Google were the first to change the game in a big way. The advent of PageRank meant it was no longer enough to be a page tweaker. All of a sudden inbound links were vitally important. And ever since, the range of skills required to be an effective SEO has moved further and further away from page and code tweaking.
Indeed, the all encompassing role of SEO today includes a range of tasks that would downright scare most of your old school SEO geeks! Let’s take a look at some of the new skills the evolution of SEO has brought into the profession:
Let’s face it… most geeks are socially awkward. They’d rather spend time with their computer than with real people. Yet socialising is now a critical part of the job. Social media has had a profound impact on the industry, emerging as a viable secondary source of traffic. Savvy SEO’s have been quick to recognise the potential to reduce their reliance upon Google for traffic. Digg, StumbleUpon, Sphinn & Twitter are now among many SEO’s favourite haunts.
Yet playing in social media requires a user etiquette to be observed. Regular participation is necessary to maintain visibility, credibility and establish authority. Which is why daily submissions, voting & commenting are now part of the daily SEO grind.
And while ‘socialising’ from behind a computer screen may not seem particularly daunting, it is the additional ramifications of social media participation that takes many search geeks out of their comfort zone – communicating, creativity & networking.
- The production of regular content allows knowledge and expertise to be promoted (aka PR).
- Personal rankings establish a clear demonstration of skills and ability. Blogs are the ultimate search engine friendly platform to generate personal rankings.
- In order to leverage social media traffic, new content must be produced regularly. Blogs provide the most simple content management system to achieve this goal.
Thus, the art of copywriting was added to the ever expanding list of necessary SEO skills. And while competent writing skills are a good start, it’s going to take some real creativity to generate great results…
Linkbait is the new black. If it wasn’t already, Lyndon sealed the deal with his infamous money.co.uk piece. Linkbait refers to the practice of creating content with the purpose of generating inbound links. If successful, the tactic translates into increased traffic and superior organic rankings via inbound links. While unique & high quality articles can work as linkbait, sensational and controversial pieces are more common. Alternatively, humorous posts are also popular.
Regardless of the angle of the piece, the fact remains that real creativity is required for linkbait success. Writing something truly unique, sensational, controversial or humorous takes a lot of skill. Which means our typical ‘left brain’ search geek who digs facts, logic & maths now has to activate his creative juices. Yikes!
Networking is probably the area that strikes the most fear into the heart of your stereotypical search geek. But success in the blogging and social media worlds is dependent on the development of a strong social network.
Quite simply. modern day SEO demands regular interaction with real people. And despite the fact that the networking predominantly takes place behind a computer screen, the principles of real life friendship apply:
- Regular contact is required to maintain the relationship
- Mutual respect is essential
- Self centred people retain few valuable relationships
- Real friends support each other (think social media submissions, votes, links etc)
So unlike the old days, the modern SEO actually needs to have a clue when it comes to social skills and etiquette. The introverted ways of the old school search geek are a severe disadvantage on the social web of today.
The complete evolution…
Do the hardcore search geeks of the world still exist? Of course they do. But just like the Neanderthals, they’re getting left behind. They may be surviving, but they’re certainly not thriving. The new wave of SEOs are moving beyond the search engines to embrace new skills within social media, video and other alternate mediums gaining mass consumer popularity. And clients will follow them. In the meantime, old school SEOs will continue tweaking their code with a diminishing effect.
It’s not clear at this point how long the complete evolution of the SEO professional will take. Extinction can take thousands of years for some species. But one thing is for sure… with people like Rand Fishkin & Danny Sullivan blazing the trail for the modern day SEO rockstar, the days of the search geek are numbered.
If you liked this post, consider buying my book Design Fundamentals