So What Makes a Real SEO ‘Expert’? |

So What Makes a Real SEO ‘Expert’?

By Kelly Barrass / January 24, 2011

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.

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