Why we can’t just be SEOs: A reply to Rand Fishkin

Image of a globe with the title SEO representing SEO practisesLast week I saw this interesting whiteboard Friday which talked about ‘Why We Can’t Just Be SEOs Anymore’ by Rand. Though he has raised some valid points, like ‘perception of SEO is hard to change’, I have to disagree with him overall.  Sorry Rand, you are missing the complete picture. 


SEO is not bigger than SEO

SEO is all about generating relevant organic traffic to the website through search engines. That’s it. SEO is not about email, CRO, UX, Social Media, Branding, PR, Reputation Management, Coding, Advertising, Customer Service …

You may argue that there are 200+ ranking signals so I need total control on everything which influences SEO. While it is true that they are 200+ ranking signals, don’t forget the 80/20 rule i.e. 80% of your output comes from 20% of the input. If you have worked in the SEO industry long enough, you already know what that 20% is that will generate 80% of the SEO results.

That 20% consists of basic on-page optimization, keyword research, content development and above all link building. We can tweak brand signals, social signals, authorship, Page Rank, markups and other weak ranking signals all day long but they won’t generate any considerable amount of organic traffic on our website. What really drives traffic is that 20% I am talking about.

If we talk about the real world (which could be very different from the blogging world) there could be unlimited ranking signals. For a start, your client is a very strong ranking signal for you. Without his support and cooperation you can’t make any change on his website. No amount of SEO is going to help, if the client is not responsive to your needs and demands. Poor product, bad reputation, poor customer service all are sort of ranking signals which are beyond our control. 

Just because something may impact your SEO so you must develop expertise in it or take total control of it is a wrong mindset. Here is why. When someone works as a marketing generalist who knows little bit of everything (well sorry but this is what specialists really think about him) he is eager to give suggestions to specialists (like CRO consultant, PR consultant, Community Managers etc) on how they can do their job better.

Since he is not a specialist, his suggestions may not be well received or align well with the recommendations of specialists. This creates disruption in digital strategies and work environment. So instead of creating synergy the marketing generalist could inevitably end up creating stress and chaos. 


The Perception of SEO is hard to change so we should change the job title

There are lots of job titles out there which have earned a bad name over time like car salesmen, lawyers, brokers, cold callers etc. There is hardly any industry left where you won’t find people who give the whole industry a bad name. Even in a profession as noble as Health Care you can find doctors who steal kidneys and are involved in the illegal organ trade. So have they changed their job titles? No.

So this argument of bad perception of SEO is not strong enough to drop the SEO title. 


We are selling ourselves short by not calling ourselves a SEO

That is true. When we say we do email, CRO, UX, Social Media, Branding, PR, Reputation Management, Coding, Advertising, Customer Service….all in the name of SEO or whatever titles we prefer, say ‘Inbound Marketer’, we are not only spreading ourselves too thin but are abnormally raising the expectations of our clients. With so many marketing channels being leveraged they will definitely earn tons of money. Won’t they?

We are also holding ourselves responsible for client’s sales ability as we are now in charge of CRO, UX, branding, customer service, PR etc. All of these are full time jobs in themselves. And if we have to do all of these jobs and practically run the entire business then a monthly retainer can never be profitable, partnership in client’s business and profit will be. While we can make SEO as big as we like, do as much volunteer work as we want, don’t expect the clients to handover their business to us just because we practice every marketing tactic in the book. At the end of the day even business development managers (who are specially hired to develop businesses) are handed over a monthly pay slip instead of partnership in business and profits, let alone SEO. 



  1. says

    Interesting retort Himanshu. I don’t agree SEO is SEO and should never change, if we don’t evolve and expand beyond our means then what happens if search dies and becomes social search – having nothing to do with semantics and your website just social … would seo still be seo then? nope.

    I wrote about this very item a few weeks before rand, one of my key points was “SEO is not like other industries. Let’s for a moment look at another industry, taxi driving. Over the past 3 to 5 years, as a taxi driver you will have used the same routes time and time again – its great nothing much is changing, maybe an additional road here or there, nothing hugely important. Let’s compare that with the SEO as an industry. Over the past few years we’ve seen great changes in many areas which require SEO’s to stop focusing on putting all their eggs in one basket and look at a bigger picture. A few of these changes include the ever growing social media impact on search, social media as a means to gain traffic and of course updates to algorithms such as Penguin and Panda from Google. So, as you can see, the routes which were once highways are now token footpaths. The world has changed and SEO as an industry needs to change too and offer more than just search rankings help.”

    – you can read the full post @ http://www.redstarcreative.co.uk/blog/digital-marketing-bigger-picture.aspx

  2. says

    Hi Andy!

    I agree with what you have said. But this change should not mean:

    1. Focusing more on the 80% which produce 20% of the SEO results. Lets be honest, we are more worried about tweaking social and branding signals than link building these days even when we know that link building is still one of the most important SEO activity.

    2. Giving up the SEO title

    3. Spreading ourselves too thin

    4. And above all loosing money by practically running the entire business for a monthly retainer.

  3. says

    You say we should focus on “basic on-page optimization, keyword research, content development and above all link building”. But SEOs never controlled any of that. We did keyword research, but the most important part of that is marketing research and strategy. And we did link building, but the most important factor in link building is whether our content is worth linking to – more marketing research and strategy. If your clients expect you to create their page titles and write their content for them, then you’re their marketing consultant, not their SEO, and your monthly fees should change accordingly. So should your job title.

    • says

      I totally agree. SEO has always been a part of a larger strategy, whether we liked it or not. Now we are forced to work much more closely with, and rely more heavily upon the success, of other parts of the strategy (like content targeting). This is all because SEO is much more difficult than it used to be, is more competitive, and requires that we all bring more skill and collaboration than ever before.

      SEO is still SEO. We just have to be better at it.

    • says

      As i mentioned above, we can choose to call ourselves anything we like but that wont make us any more profitable. We will just end up selling ourselves short and disappoint clients.

  4. shiv bhaker says

    Hi Andy & Himanshu ,
    i am long time listener and first time speaker.. i think link building can never be replaced by social signals… i know there can be social signals that impact SERP.. but its not sure every business have social requirement..there are a lot of business (specially manufacturing ) for that there is no buzz in social community… then its mean they can’t find place in serp? noo(i think).. at that palce what matter.. its link building.. (The Bone Of SEO)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>