Are There Two SEO Industries? (Talk vs. Do)

on under Search Engine Optimization.

I have a confession to make: when I began doing SEO (now 15+ years ago), I noticed an "us and them" dynamic in the industry dividing the "talkers" and "doers". It's taken me a long time to even begin to understand the other side, but I'm certain of one thing: there are two entirely different bubbles.

Let me clarify. I don't mean to throw one side under the bus as being "all talk". I see click-baiters that ruin the "talk" and hustlers that ruin the "do". I also see people that are masters at either craft, whose work I really enjoy. And I'm not talking about the "white vs. black" comparison that many of us have read a million times.

It's just always appeared.. separate. And apparently to others as well, because I took a poll:

So what's the difference?

Basically, everything. When I read a digital marketing article, I can almost immediately guess where that person spends most their time. We're going to need a table for this.

Talk Do
Spend all time focused on increasing their own influence. Spend all time focused on growing the brands of others.
Test tactics in the SEO industry. Test tactics in "weird" industries.
Focus on the creative, "style point" tactics. Focus on systems that are reliable at scale.
Generally use attention-grabbing language. Generally use analytical language.
SEO dies often. Everything changes every week. SEO has slowly and predictably evolved since the 90s.
The only agencies that exist are those that speak. Agencies that focus on speaking scarcely exist.
The "major agencies" are all tiny.. 3-50 employees. The "major agencies" employ thousands.
Credibility based on speaker lists. Only speakers here. Credibility based on results/studies. No speakers here.

Again, it's not to say that one side is wrong. Every few years I go to MozCon, for example, and really enjoy it. I enjoy hearing about the most creative ideas and the skill that a lot of the keynoters have with presenting some otherwise sticky ideas.

But I always catch a speaker take a step back, and talk about "our industry". My reaction is the same every time...

What are you talking about? You have virtually none of the same problems that I do.. and vice-versa.

Aren't there exceptions?

Absolutely. The world is not black and white. I have two wonderful examples.

Martin McDonald has transitioned from a heavy speaking role (at which he was quite good) to managing SEO at Orbitz and focusing on how all this stuff actually gets applied. He chimed in when I was taking this poll.

two seo industries

Martin makes a great point. This does happen in other industries. Maybe not on the same level, but it happens. When it happens, brands designate a dedicated conference/speaker crew. I've often noticed that the doers in the organization may as well be working at an entirely different company. Typically because their goals are not in alignment.

Speaking circuits are competitive and they're driven by ratings and crowd sizes. This runs counter to an agency's goals, which (if they're a good agency) are to only attract clients that are a good fit for a practical solution that's reliable to deliver. That's usually a very small crowd.. how many decision-makers in $2M/year+ organizations can there be?

Here's another. Alan Bleiweiss, who I belive deserves credit for helping pioneer both industries, chimed in:

Alan Bleiweiss

This is some great insight. Most (if not all) cross into the other world at times. And I think that few do it as well as Alan.

But there is so much to keep a handle on. Speaking from experience, between our fact-checking, auditing systems, outreach systems, content strategy, and quality control, it takes absolute level of obsession to be great at even one of these things. By a full staff of very dedicated people that own a number of very specific crafts.

We can't all master everything. There are only so many Elon Musks to go around.

What do you think? Does this exist? If you agree, what are more examples?