Has the Courage of SEOs Finally Failed?

I’ve felt compelled to write lately about the state of Modern search engine optimization (SEO), and the future of SEO. To sum up why this has been on my mind:

  1. I spoke on a panel a few months ago, aptly titled, “The Future of SEO.” I put in a lot of research around it and I have been eager to share the lightbulb moments and insights I’ve had.
  2. I’ve been very contemplative lately. Really a little grumpy, if I’m being honest. I’ve seen some subtle yet critical changes occur over the past year in my business regarding demand for organic SEO services, and in my clients’ businesses post-SEO implementation. It’s critical I share what these changes mean for me, my clients, prospects, colleagues, fellow digital marketers, the bosses of my fellow digital marketers, and you, my valued reader. Thankfully, my grumpiness has subsided and I’ve come out with clarity and a renewed vision.

Has the courage of SEOs failed

Modern SEO Challenges

To borrow a line from Oprah, here’s what I know for sure about the challenges of Modern SEO:

  • SEO is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted marketing channels. A few years ago I laughed when a client referred to my SEO consulting services as “Black Magic.” The not-so-funny thing is, I still get people who use those very same terms (or close to it). That’s a little depressing. That we as SEO professionals have failed as an industry if people still think that what we do involves voodoo and mysticism instead of elbow grease, creativity and marketing 101 common sense.
  • When SEO doesn’t immediately work, people are quicker to give up than ever before. When done correctly, SEO at it’s core was designed to drive the right type of traffic to your website, and make sure your content was findable. That hasn’t changed. But because in the past it used to happen a lot quicker, easier, and cheaper, and because we live in a culture of instant gratification, many are quick to condemn SEO as ineffective if it doesn’t work the first time around and turn their resources and time to another channel that they more readily understand. SEO of course hasn’t gone away, but it requires more creativity, better application, and baking into the marketing and inbound mix.
  • SEO results aren’t as forth-coming as they used to be. I have experienced this on my own site, and seen this on clients’ sites. My rankings haven’t changed. In fact, they’ve improved over time. Personally, I think people look for SEO wrapped up with another service (content marketing, blogging, web design, social media marketing) instead of looking for SEO in isolation. Since I’ve always preached that you have to diversify how you get leads and drive awareness, this hasn’t affected me, and I teach clients the same thing. This is the day and age we live in. It’s noisy, crowded, full of short attention spans, and people research earlier and more often. A frequently-cited Forrester study shows that most people are 70-90% through the traditional sales cycle before they will ever talk to a sales person. And a Consumer engages with 11.4 pieces of content prior to making a purchase. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes before someone may ever reach out.
  • We SEOs have to constantly prove ourselves. A challenge for me professionally, that I really expected to have gone away by now, is that I’m constantly fighting against the stigma around SEO  and SEO professionals. I constantly have to prove that I am not a complete sleazeball just because I do SEO. A few months ago I started doing “Google Search Console/Google Analytics Diagnostic Lunch n’ Learns”  as free customized intro sessions for marketers as a way to show the value I can provide and to prove that I wasn’t sketchy. After one of these sessions, the marketer (now a client) told me, “This was great. I was nervous because hearing ‘free SEO Consultation’ is a little scary.” That was a lightbulb moment for me, because I realized that for a long time, probably forever, I am going to have to prove myself and differentiate in order to stand out from the other disreputable, or ineffective, SEO people out there. To continue on in SEO I just have to be ok with that.
  • You must differentiate and know your clients to a “T.” The truth is, if you haven’t gotten these two items down pat, you most likely will not be ready to invest in SEO. I fully embrace this statement I heard a colleague make a few weeks ago. “If you have an online personality that’s as exciting as cardboard you will never succeed in the online world today.” As I mentioned above, it’s super noisy and competitive out there. Also, Google is favoring authoritative social sites over traditional business websites and services pages for many lead gen core keywords. And finally, SEO requires active search for problems and solutions your products, services, and information solve. Can you tell me without a doubt that you have pursued terms that are known “wake up in the morning problems” that your market is actively search to solutions for? When you combine all those factors (and more), you’re going to find yourself (and your business) in trouble if your call to action, deep understanding of your target market, value proposition and messaging aren’t clear as day. I teach my clients today that it’s non-negotiable to pursue more keywords up and down the funnel and stick to the course of being the best answer to a prospect’s problem. That you have to be “findable” and use SEO in multiple places. Oh, and to show, not tell, that you really understand the plight of your prospects.

The Importance of Modern SEO

Interestingly, the challenges of SEO today underscore why it’s more important than ever to invest in SEO. While modern SEO certainly has its challenges, there are many reasons you can’t poo poo it altogether. Most notable is the fact that SEO takes a stand for your customer. SEO is all about THEM. Not YOU. Intuitive navigation, clear messaging, high-quality unique, valuable content, a whip-fast site, language that your prospects and clients use in their head and aloud to others….this is what SEO is all about and this is the part of SEO I’m so passionate about. Getting into the head of your prospect and using the keywords that represent the language of what’s in their head, not that cute little acronym or made-up word that you’ve used to describe your product or service in the marketplace.

SEO’s job is to bridge the gap between your prospects and your business, and that’s why it is still so crucial. Problems and demand haven’t gone away. And to survive in business and in the online world you have to constantly pursue ways to be discoverable, which is what SEO is all about.

It’s All About Me: Stubborn or Stick-to-itiveness?

So all this is fine and good, right? SEO and search is still important, yada yada yada.

But if this is true then why are so many SEOs deserting the field in droves?

I read a very sobering comment in an industry blog the other day that SEOs are not calling themselves SEOs any longer. (See my comment above about the sketch factor in SEO.) While some have abandoned SEO altogether, others still use their SEO skills on a daily basis but now refer to themselves as content marketers, digital marketers, or social media marketers. I really don’t know any who, like me, only focus on organic SEO and haven’t had to add a multitude of other digital skills to their repertoire.

I think this is partly because SEO is a harder sell than ever. Everyone knows they need it, and the demand for driving traffic to your site hasn’t gone away, but it’s more complex than ever before.

And we all know “complex” can be a euphemism for expensive.

And we also know that the value and return for SEO can be substantial, which makes it all worth it in the end. Even if it’s more indirect and attribution is harder to determine because of the multiple touch points it takes today.

As I’ve deepened my knowledge in organic SEO, had more client experiences, gained more clarity, and expanded my skillset, I’ve seen the need to increase the amount of auditing, activities and considerations that go into putting together an effective SEO strategy. My time put into even “simple” engagements has increased, and as a result, my costs have gone up. SEO is just a more expensive channel to jump into.  Not impossible, and still absolutely doable for DIYers, but it’s important to know what you’re up against and be realistic.

So I’ve realized I have to sell SEO differently than ever before. SEO is a bit in no-man’s land right now. It just falls in this weird place, and so here’s where I am:

I am still sticking with Organic SEO services, strategy, consulting and training. Because to me, SEO overlaps with many other areas I care about: social, copywriting, content writing, design, persuasion, conversion, data, influencers, outreach. And while I will continue to call myself an SEO, I know education is needed more than ever to combat negative perceptions and that I have to position myself in a way that better resonates.

So is the fact that I’m sticking with Organic-SEO-only sheer stubbornness? Or stick-to-itiveness? Only time will tell.

Your Thoughts?

I’d love to hear what you have to think on this subject. What are your perceptions about SEO? Chime in below.


Image Source: No idea sadly but I’d love to attribute credit and tell this person how happy this meme has made me over the years.

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.


  • Jenny, Yes you want to stick with SEO as it’s the most honest solution out there, although it all gets down to Google & what they need to maximize their revenue. Now that I’ve been at it & understand the basics, it’s amazing how much it’s shifting but … so far, content remains queen so keep going!

    • Jenny Munn says:

      Thanks, Tina! Yes, there is so much coming down the line that has to do with search. But great content has stayed a constant, so at least we can be thankful for that. 🙂

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