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

Corey Northcutt    By under SEO.

I have a confession.

When I began doing SEO 15 years ago, I noticed an "us and them" dynamic. It divides the "talkers" and "doers". It's taken me a long time to even begin to understand the other side.

But I'm certain of this: there are two 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". And I see people that are masters at either craft. Smart, honest people whose work I really enjoy. And it's not about "white vs. black", "in-house vs. agency", or any of that.

It's just always seemed.. separate. Others must see it, too, because I took a poll:

So what's the difference?


When I read a digital marketing article, I can almost immediately guess where that person spends their time.

Talk Do
Spend time increasing their own influence. Spend time 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.
Use attention-grabbing language. 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 are small and rare.
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. They're different industries.

Another example: every few years I go to MozCon 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 none of the problems that I do.. and vice-versa.

Are there exceptions?

Definitely. The world isn't black and white.

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.

two seo industries

That's a great point. This does happen in other industries.

Maybe not on the same level, but it happens. Yet, when it happens, brands usually send their sales staff. Sometimes founders, but if that's who goes to speak, it's not their full-time gig. And if it is, they're almost assuredly selling infoproducts instead of services.

The attention that they attract is different and one side (talking/doing) still dominates the company's vision.

There's a good reason for it. Speaking circuits are competitive and they're driven by ratings and crowd sizes. Quantity over quality of exposure.

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 a small crowd... how many decision-makers at large, qualified organizations with budget can there be? Quality over quantity of exposure.

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

Alan Bleiweiss

Many do cross into the other world at times. And some do manage to make a name at doing both. But it's rare.

There is so much to keep a handle on in SEO.

In my experience, between our fact-checking, auditing systems, outreach systems, content strategy, and quality control, it takes absolute level of obsession just to stay at the top of the "doing" game.

We just can't all master everything.