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  • So What Makes a Real SEO ‘Expert’?

    There are often too many people in the search marketing and social media industry who proclaim themselves ‘experts’, but can any of us really justify the title?

    What is an expert?
    Image credit: Flickr

    Mashable noticed that there were 15,740 social media experts on Twitter and this was back in 2009.  In fact, with the prevalence of blogs and Twitter, it can be hard to distinguish between the writers with something useful to say and those simply filling space.

    The people I am most wary of are those who call themselves ‘experts’ but who have, all too often stopped learning. This is a fast-paced, changing industry and there’s no time for resting on your laurels or for laziness when it comes to keeping on top of new developments.

    Of course, it doesn’t matter much to me if a company’s SEO manager stops staying abreast of the sector; it’s only going to affect their own business and, eventually, their professional reputation. However, I do have a problem with ‘experts’ who continue to flaunt their expert status, and who offer advice and pose as authorities, but have stopped learning.

    There’s no time to stand still and admire the view

    In the SEO industry, I have to learn everyday. I never know how my knowledge is going to be used and so I have to stay on my toes. Perhaps none of us should call ourselves experts because we’re all still learning, by reading blogs and books, by attending conferences and by taking on new marketing challenges.

    Should I still be in this line of business when I am 74, I will still be learning because the industry will still be changing. If I ever stop learning then it’s time to leave SEO because I will have fallen into the trap of thinking I know it all. And no one person does.

    Of course, you could probably study the works of George Elliot until you know absolutely everything there is to know about the author – that’s a finite pool of information; you just have to soak it up and regurgitate it when you want to bore people at dinner parties.

    But it’s a very different skill to react to a changing online environment, consider a huge number of variables, interpret them and come up with a solution that works for an individual client.

    Running an SEO agency means applying my skills to different clients with different problems, websites, budgets and ambitions every day. If I stopped learning in 2010 then I can’t be confident I am doing what’s best for them in 2011.

    Context is king

    No matter what your experience and knowledge base, your online marketing solution has to be ready to change depending on your client. Every business is different and, if you can’t adjust your technique, your chances of success are pretty hit and miss.

    Even if you’ve previously achieved outstanding success at an agency or with a former client, if you can’t learn, adapt and evolve then you risk catastrophic failure next time. After all, those great tactics from 2003 may not hold much weight when applied today.

    At best, your career will start to wither as your successes start to drop.

    ‘Expert’ opinions

    What frustrates me the most are the so-called experts who have stopped studying but kept talking. It can cause real problems when they expound their ‘expert opinions’ online.

    Unfortunately, lazy and ill-informed pseudo-experts can keep SEO myths circulating long after they’ve been busted, simply by repeating them endlessly via blogs. They are all-too-often the inspiration for the bad practice I encounter in smaller businesses, which have relied on a small amount of online research.

    If you consider yourself an expert in any industry, but especially a fast-paced one like online marketing, then ask yourself when you last learned something new or really challenged yourself professionally. Anyone struggling to remember should ask themselves if they can justify calling themselves an expert in their field, or if their complacency has shackled their future success.

    Perhaps there are no real experts, just a bunch of students fighting to outrank each other in knowledge – and the search results.


    36 Responses to “So What Makes a Real SEO ‘Expert’?”

    1. rishil says:

      hear hear. The day I start referring myself to as an “expert” I better get a reality check.

    2. Very well said Kevin, put Guru into that profile and I want to poke you in the eye with something very pointy. We never stop learning.

    3. Doc Sheldon says:

      Great piece, Kevin! Experts, Gurus and Gods have no place in this industry. It’s a perpetual learning experience.

    4. seomax says:

      I totally agree with the “context is the king” stuff.

      Each business should have a different marketing mix.

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    6. Every time I read the industry news I am learning! Being in the business for the last 10 odd years has taught me:
      - all that experience is still valuable
      - if Im comfortable then Im not stretching myself
      - keep up with your industry reading
      - the minute you are an expert things have changed and you’re out of date.
      - Listen carefully to your client

      Thanks for your article – I agree! Straight after my last conference I was so buzzed I started looking for the next one!

    7. Moosa Hemani says:

      Nice Article Kevin, putting the expert title in front or after the name is very common no matter you don’t know a shit about what new is happening in the industry… i strongly agree with you!! and when somebody call himself expert then he better get a reality check.

      Dean Cruddace << Nice one!!

    8. Dave Durbin says:

      Well put. Love the George Eliot reference. With all the ranking factors, search engines, and ever changing market dynamics we are all just students of the game. The scientific “experts” would still have us believe the world is flat.

    9. EssexSEO says:

      Why we love this industry, you can never sit back and relax. No one should claim to be an expert or guru – I know who I trust in the industry and I can only hope to be as good as them one day.

    10. Barry Adams says:

      Shit… I need new business cards then.

    11. Rhys says:

      I always hated Ninja. Ninja implies that you are hidden & unable to be seen. Much rather be a Search Pirate. Pirates get Wenches.

    12. Very well said Kevin! Couldn’t agree more and I’ve had so many conversations about this with people in the industry who all agreed with you too. You can’t actually afford to stop learning in SEO – it may work for a while, but skills and experience will soon be out of date and the sliding results of campaigns will illustrate that fact. This is also the reason why we can never have a timeless book about SEO or qualification in SEO.

    13. I don’t think I have ever referred to myself as an expert, and due to the ongoing nature of continual learning in this industry, I can’t say I think I ever will. I have stopped arguing if others refer to me as one, but there is still so much to learn that its my perception of my ability to improve myself further that will mean I wont call myself that

      Ongoing joke in the office with people referring to me as a “Guru” can be irritating – but I think that if thats how other want to refer to me, well fine – but if I put “guru” on my twitter or linked in profile, I give you permission to mock me mercilessly

    14. kumar ramabhadran says:

      Every person has right to call himself/herself expert, just as every crow has right to call its kid beautiful. It does not mean everybody has to call it beautiful

    15. @Kumar – you have a point. To potential clients we need to come across as an expert – of course we do! You can’t expect to instill confidence in a prospect by calling yourself an SEO student and then expect to get paid for that. But I think Kevin’s point is more about the “egos” and “higher than thou’s” out there. Of which there are unfortunately a few :( Twitter is a great platform for us to all get to know where we all stand in that respect – those who get stuck in with debates and can handle occasionally being proven wrong are the best characters – they are willing to sacrifice their egos in order to learn and better themselves. :)

    16. Cpvr says:

      The fact remains a lot of people can “Teach” others about SEO, but that doesn’t mean they’re an expert. SEO is constantly changing and if you’re not up-to-date with it, then you’re going to lose in the long run.

      But, people call themselves an “expert” because it looks better, and can get them more recognization. An expert doesn’t claim to be anything though, he/she lets their work speak for them.

    17. kumar ramabhadran says:

      You are right. But I am questioning as to who will certify us as expert!! Whatever you want to be called it’s the work and results which is important

    18. James Dunn says:

      The problem is that when you go on job searches, you’ll always see “expert/guru” etc. I do call myself one on linkedin and that was only because it helps people find you (sometimes), otherwise I’m officially a technician.

    19. Thanks for all the comments! Good to see that there’s a lot of people who share a similar view.

      I’d agree with Pete in that if someone considers you an expert then great – but if you’re going around calling yourself an expert/guru then I’d be far more wary of that. I expect we’ll see a few more SEO pirates now too after Rhys’ comment :)

    20. Randy Kemp says:

      What really constitutes an expert? Great thoughts! About 2 years ago, I did a similar post for Social media. It’s entited Social Media Specialist Wanted! What’s that? at http://is.gd/AUeCUS.

    21. Shauli Zacks says:

      I agree with Kumar, you can call yourself whatever you want, but the work will speak for itself. In the SEO industry especially, because it’s very easy to check out someones work and see if they are deserving of the title.

    22. Jnoden says:

      I think it is vitally important the company or person that call themselves experts in SEO or social media are able to back up their claim. I believe clients should always ask for examples of successful SEO / social media campaigns. Also a good pointer would be to look at the ‘experts’ individual SEO and social media performance.

    23. Vlad says:

      Thank you! The Internet is FULL of “experts” and it boils my blood every time I hear these people. These people are also usually the people giving wrong advices, which frustrates me even more. The industry changes virtually every single day and it’s next to impossible to be up to date on everything, there’s only a hand full of experts out there and the everyone in the industry knows who they are so just ignore the rest of the noise.

    24. *insert applause here*

      This is an outstanding article as it is something I get more annoyed with each time I meet a “SEO expert”. Being a SEO and social media consultant takes a lot of hard work and education. Some think we are a bunch of people just throwing around keywords – and sadly 95% of “experts” out there are. That’s what makes the 5% of us different from the others.

      We few but true SEO and social media experts not only have a passion for our work but understand the work that must go into our passion.

    25. Ali Jee says:

      The fact of the matter is, there is no real “SEO expert”. You can find individuals and companies who may have tons of experience and know how to handle certain situations – however with the changing nature of the internet and search engines themselves, the expertise deteriorates and can only be sustained with research. That’s why I believe the most important point mentioned was the fact that “context is king” (as opposed to content is king).

      Of course one must not just be bogged down by “SEO” only and should leverage all other aspects of internet marketing as well. A review of the various internet marketing and SEO services that you should incorporate are briefed here and can be read through: http://www.9thsphere.com/services_marketing.html (reputation management is something many companies overlook).

      SEO is both a science and art and takes trial and error – continual testing. It’s important to understand the basics and best practices. Don’t do anything that you yourself know is not ethical. By optimizing your own websites over time you will learn and become a successful.

    26. Seo Queen says:

      It is true that teach business should have different marketing mix to have most our out their marketing, which will eventually increase their businesses

    27. Search Week in Review for Jan. 29, 2011 | vbcode.tk says:

      [...] So What Makes a Real SEO ‘Expert’? – SEOptimise [...]

    28. [...] So What Makes a Real SEO ‘Expert’? via @laurentbourelly [...]

    29. I agree, we’re learning all of the time. The more blogs I read the more information I take in can use. Learning is constant and when it stops I’ll want to stop doing SEO.

    30. I’ve met too many self proclaimed SEO experts who couldn’t even code a simple piece of HTML….

    31. sanji says:

      really like this one, I am too don’t call my self expert. Learning is such a wonderful thing we can do especially in this industry, everything is changing and we need to keep up with it. There is no such thing as SEO expert.

    32. Mike Glover says:

      Great take on the subject Kevin!

      I love the way that you focused on EDUCATION as a continuous process and not on the term “expert” itself. I am sure the same is true for ANY industry, ours I think simply gets more attention because of the Internet and because so many people feel like they have been taken advantage of by “SEO experts”.

      I love learning…I strive to make it a daily process. This just reiterates that we should all be striving to learn somehting new about our respective business to better ourselves and better serve our clients and industry.

    33. Pablo says:

      Great article, I happen to encounter so many of these “experts” at this point it is a joke. To call yourself an expert in the industry is absurd. Great read thanks.

    34. Joe Restivo says:

      Using “white-hat” search strategies defines a ‘TRUE’ SEO specialists. A real SEO expert will not use unethical practices, and will use only the highest quality links & content.

    35. mySMP Web Design Rochdale says:

      Couldnt agree more Kevin. Sometimes its the card that gets played :)

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