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 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. Smart, honest people whose work I really enjoy. And I'm not talking about "white vs. black" tactics.
It's just always appeared.. separate. And apparently to others as well, because I took a poll:
Are there two SEO industries?
Talk: Paid to draw attention from the SEO market.
Do: Paid to get results for brands in every other market.
— ᴄᴏʀᴇʏ ɴᴏʀᴛʜᴄᴜᴛᴛ ✂️ (@corey_northcutt) March 30, 2017
So what's the difference?
When I read a digital marketing article, I can almost immediately guess where that person spends their time.
|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 virtually none of the same problems that I do.. and vice-versa.
Are there exceptions?
Definitely. The world isn't black and white. I have two 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.
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. It's not unusual for them to be selling infoproducts instead of services.
The attention that they attract is different and one side dominates the company's vision.
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:
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.
We can't all master everything. There are only so many Elon Musks to go around.