The SEO Dream is Dead. Or is It?
Lisa Barone has done it to me again. Her latest post on Outspoken Media’s Blog, “Why Bloggers Should Put Up, Shut Up & Pay Their Tax“, created another fever-pitch of comments. I’m not going to craft a reply post because, frankly, the comments on that post are all the discussion and reply anyone will ever need. But there was a very striking comment made by Alan Bleiweiss that resonated deeply with me: creating and building something out of the ashes.
There were a lot comments that suggested investing money into a business, putting your life-force into it, and grinding the pavement to dust were the true testaments to ensuring your business survived.
It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, having started a business last year. You can’t fight the entrepreneurial spirit, but there is always a time when you question the decision. Did I make the right choice? Can this business live, breathe, and succeed? After thinking about it, my honest, gut answer, is that the SEO entrepreneur is a lot like a restaurant owner; over 50% are going to fail within the first three years .
That SEO Dream is Dead, Kid.
Like it or not, it’s a reality. And, please don’t misunderstand, I’m am not saying SEO is dead. SEO is alive and well. I really do believe that the idea of an pure SEO shop is dead. Just look at the search marketing landscape a moment.
1) The Exponential Growth of SEO as an Industry
In the last three years, everyone is trying to capitalize on the SEO game. The market has exploded into stratosphere. So when I hear comments, that it’s all about passion, talent, and sweat-equity that will all but guarantee success, I have to shake my head a bit. Look, there’s is absolutely no substitute for those qualities. If you aren’t mentally prepared to dive in head-first, then turn around now. But the landscape is drastically different from where it was ten years ago. Hell, even five years ago, when SEO was just this thing “geeks” did.
Now a company is facing everyone and anyone who’s ever read a blog about SEO. Now a company is facing overseas outsourcing at a fraction of the cost. Now a company is facing traditional agencies building out “digital” arms of their business in order to cash in and feign relevance.
2) SEO Isn’t Enough Anymore
Another sad, but true, fact. Personally I think SEO is a lot more than just keywords and links, and that it is the core to building a great website that produces great content and converts. Something I’ve said for a long time now, an SEO must be capable and fluent in everything search marketing. Specialties are dead for the consuming public. They want one-stop-shops that can combine SEO, paid search, social media, and conversion optimization to create aggressive strategies. Whether they listen or not is a question unto itself.
Ten years to fifteen years ago, SEO lone gun men/women (Aaron Wall, Rae Hoffman, David Harry, Greg Boser, Meg Geddes (a.k.a. Netmeg), etc.) were the standard. Small, niche groups of people who studied and experimented to hone their craft. And, really, it’s all you needed. With the web making breakthrough after breakthrough, crushing barriers at the speed of sound, even the lone gun men/women adopted and incorporated the other search marketing channels.
3) Super-Groups: The New SEM Assassin
If you were lucky enough to get in on the first few floors of this SEM industry, then creating and securing a reputation was easier. I didn’t say it wasn’t ball-busting, grinding work. It’s hard work to convince people that you can help build them a better website that ranks better in search engines. Especially with something so foreign.
It was simply easier. Less competition. Less people competing for the bullhorn. A more connected community; warriors of the same ilk. It existed and so did they; an easy match. Fast-forward ten years, and everyone is a SEO/SEM expert. Shouting to be heard. Elbowing their way to the fifteen second spotlight, only to fade to oblivion moments later. Because of the proliferation of our service, our knowledge, profit-centers splinter thousands of ways now, instead of hundreds. No one can make any money.
Of course there are those that all the stars lined up and they caught lightning in a bottle. But that’s the absolute exception, not the rule. Much like that sweet American Dream: the true Horatio Alger legend; rags to riches. Instead of settling for a quarter of the business, why not get fifty percent or more by creating a super-group?
Expect to start seeing the most talented SEMs/SEOs in the game congealing to form a powerhouse SEM group. It’s already happening (i.e. Blueglass Inc. and Outspoken Media). These super-groups offer the best talent, a wide variety of specialties, and have an existing client base to ward off the new company doldrums. I have the utmost respect for those two companies and the people associated with them, but I have no illusions that I could compete with them. Economies of scale. More manpower to throw at something within days than I could muster in months.
It’s the next phase of the SEM industry.
Or Maybe It Isn’t Dead?
Maybe there is still hope for the small SEO company? People working out of one room buildings and in-home offices building respectable client lists and knocking out dynamite work? Maybe we all catch lightning in a bottle a few times in this lifetime and it up to us to know what to do with it?