You — a young and bold SEO longing for rank-climbing adventures, clandestine penguin fights and military disavow campaigns — are quietly having dinner with your parents, when suddenly a familiar voice breaks the silence:
Tell me dear, what’s your job about? I always forget it…
Your mom is smiling at you with a hint of concern, waiting for an answer.
What to do now? You’re facing a critical juncture: hiding behind the usual “Hm, working with computers, you know…”, or taking up the challenge to explain to your parents the real nature of your job?
In the unpleasant event you choose the second path, here’s my illustrated* step-by-step guide on how to describe your SEO profession to someone who neither understands a thing about the internet, nor gives a damn about it — like your mom.
1. What SEO is
Start with caution. Never, ever go technical. Pronouncing the word “SEO” is ok, but don’t go into the details yet. Something like this should be fair:
My job’s about SEO, that is search engine optimization. You know when people have questions and look for answers on the internet? Search engines are the machines that provide those answers. And I am the one who struggles to convince those machines that my answers are better than those of the others.
A long yet very simplistic definition indeed, but — I hope — understandable even to your adorable parents (maybe a little too egocentric in its last part, but your mom will overlook this). If it doesn’t fit you, rephrase it and create your own one: mine is just a simple tip on which might be the best tone to use in taking the first step of this arduous challenge.
2. Why SEO is a big deal
If your explanation of what SEO is holds your mom’s interest, you’re definitely on to something. Don’t be in a rush though. Take it slow and keep it generic. You can introduce some numbers here but, again, omit technical details. They are not necessary for the purpose of this hard second step: to make it clear to your parents why SEO is such a big deal.
You may want to rely on some data.
- More than 1 trillion searches per year on Google
- 70% of website visitors come from organic or paid search
- 91% of search engine users are satisfied
- $18.10 billion of gross revenue for Google in the fourth quarter of 2014
- Google is a verb
Quite impressive, huh? And you can find other cool stats like these around the web to impress your mom even more.
Now comes the hard part: how to explain what these numbers mean for you? Think about it. If search engines are a big thing (as data tell), then SEO is a big thing too, because it influences directly the search engines’ capability to work properly and their primary function: helping people. If you create valuable content on the internet and you are skilled enough to rank it on search engines, you control how a (little) piece of knowledge is conveyed on the web. In other words, your job determines which resources, instruments, and informations are accessed and used by a lot of people. Not bad, is it?
This may sound somehow romanticized, but it’s simply the sweet part of the truth. Would you rather say to your parents “I make money tricking Google, that’s my big deal”?
3. Why SEO gives you a stable job (aka why you like SEO)
SEO is dead. Oh God. Does anyone seriously believe such a nonsense? SEO is an energetic adolescent in puberty who is facing many rapid changes, and the best is yet to come.
Web companies put their trust in SEO more and more, search engines are constantly evolving to provide the most accurate results, SEO itself is now a multi-faceted discipline that requires the deep knowledge of many different marketing activities. A huge industry revolves around SEO and its size can only increase.
Your mom’s main concern will be appeased soon: is your job solid, stable, and well set for the future? Yes, it is. Your confidence in this should be enough to reassure her.
So… do you really like your job?
Yes mom, I like it because it’s an ever-changing game. It’s an everyday challenge that forces me to be always up to date and open-minded. It merges technical tasks and creative activities. It gives me the opportunity to work with developers, designers, public relations, editors, partners, clients, agencies. I like SEO because it’s always fresh and engaging, and you never know what’s around the corner.
4. Why SEO could get you fired (aka why you hate SEO)
But SEO can also be very cruel. Google is the big puppeteer of us SEOs and it couldn’t care less whether we live or die. It simply plays its game and gets bigger day by day, without regard to the consequences. Our job could be destroyed overnight, anytime, and we’ll have to clean up that big mess all by ourselves, even if it’s not our fault (and often it’s not). It’s our responsibility though, so we can only humbly get to work.
Google is not sadistic, it’s just pursuing its own interests: to provide the highest-quality services and to maintain its almost-monopoly. In doing so, sometimes it comes to unfair decisions and undertakes actions that displease many people. Strike one to educate one hundred. Fear, uncertainty, doubt. Expressions you’ve likely heard regarding Google if you are in the SEO field.
So… don’t you like your job anymore?
No mom, I don’t like it because it’s kind of twisted. I’m nothing but a puppet and Google — the most used search engine by far and one of the biggest companies in the world — is pulling the strings. I do what it tells me to do, and still it’s a wild guess. I never know what the outcome of my work will be, no matter how big my efforts. Clients’/bosses’ expectations are often too high compared to the available time: they ignore that this is a marathon, not a sprint. SEO is frustrating.
5. What SEOs are becoming
What will you do when you grow up?
There are no right or wrong answers to give to your parents, it depends on you and on how you think SEO is going to change in the coming years. Do you want any suggestions?
- I will rule the world wide web [ironic/optimistic]
- I will run my own SEO agency [serious/optimistic]
- I will always be on Google’s leash [ironic/pessimistic]
- I will keep on doing the same things for quite a while [serious/pessimistic]
- I will sell ice cream [plot twist]
Jokes aside, let’s stick to the facts. Semantic search is growing fast; the value of keywords and anchor texts is decreasing; local SEO is a huge topic; user experience and engagement are more important than ever; Google’s pets are running free around the web. SEO, on the whole, is no longer an isolated system (well, it never was): it is fully integrated in the complex marketing ecosystem, where it lives and grows thanks to the connection with every other element.
And we are no longer SEOs in the traditional sense of the word: we are — we have to be — creatives, managers and information architects, who go far beyond keywords and technicalities to find the bigger picture and to create their own magic recipes for winning the SEO game.
Tell it to your mom: maybe she won’t understand completely, but she’ll be so proud of you.