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February 14, 2008

SEO’s Unite! our future depends on it!

The feds seem pretty hesitant to say th “R” word.

But between the sub prime crisis, the credit crunch and plummeting stock markets; you and I both know that it’s not a question of “if” a recession going to hit the US but “when?”

Recession is something that the search industry rarely talk about . . . most of us are currently experiencing a period of tremendous boom.

Our biggest constraint to growth is not finding new clients, it’s finding and training new SEO’s. Where optimizing a site might have cost $350 in the 90’s, now we see SEO’s charge $350 per hour, some even more.

SEO’s won’t be impacted by the recession


If our clients are affected by the recession then we will be too. Client decisions will be made using different criteria and this will impact us. But it won’t stop there, the industry as we know it is on the verge of a major shift.

Here’s how it’s going to play out…

The Good

A recession is going to drive increased demand for SEO.

It’s counter intuitive but it’s true. When a recession hits companies they respond by reducing costs. The first budgets to be hit are always Marketing and IT (remember the early 00’s?).

When Marketing budgets are decreased, executives will make difficult budgetary decisions based on metrics. All of those Clicks, Conversions and Measurable ROI that companies are currently experiencing with Search, is going to way heavy on their decisions. Much heavier than traditional marketing metrics of Impressions and Branding.

When faced with difficult choices, advertisers will shift their budgets to the mediums that they can measure.

When IT budgets are decreased, executives will trim IT budgets. Often this means an increase in outsourcing. The in-house SEO’s role will change from being the guy to “do” the work; to being the guy to “manage” the work (or the relationship with the outside vendors).

For the SEO shop, it means an HUGE increase in demand.

The Bad

A recession is going to drive increased competition which in turn will create a skilled labor shortage.

Traditional advertising shops are going to have to replace lost profits. Some will get into Search because the want to take control of the adversing dollars back. If they become the “search experts” they can minimize the growth and steer advertising dollars back to their comfort zone.

Others will have true vision. They will see Search for it’s full potential and embrace it. These forward thinking companies will help to grow the search industry.

For some it’s a natural fit. For others (lured into the lucrative search market merely as another way to grow) not so much… ergo, Walmart.

Regardless of motivation or sincerity, the result will be the same. An increased demand for experienced SEO Professionals.


there are no major barriers to entry into SEO.

Anyone can call themselves an SEO and there is no governing body (association) to dispute this. We have no formal accreditation process or certificates.

And this leaves our industry exposed…

The Ugly

Combine an increase in demand + a shortage in supply = a whole lot of bad SEO

What to do?

There are things that we can do as individual companies and there are things that we should do as an industry.

As an individual company we can

1) Take a look at our reporting.

If metrics are going to be a Key Success Factor in the near future then improving upon your reporting now is crucial. I’m not just talking about putting together a slick power point presentation. I’m talking about becoming an evangelist for reporting.

Insist that your clients use analytics. Insist on defining what a conversion is and then figuring out how to measure it.

As a Professional SEO Firm you MUST be in a position to differentiate yourself from the UGLY SEO.

2) Review our talent acquisition and retention strategies.

Growing talent in-house will be critical. Do you have a apprenticeship program? Note: hiring a bunch of green SEO’s is not an apprenticeship program.

What about training? Spending time training others takes time away from actually doing the work. Can your work flows absorb the impact of mentoring on your Senior employees?

Growing in-house can be a huge strain on resources. It’s not a tactical decision, it’s a strategic investment.

As a cohesive industry we should……

wait a minute, we’re not a cohesive industry. but we could be…

SEO’s have what it takes to be a cohesive, powerful industry. We support the new guy by mentoring. We help each other out. We brainstorm together when the algorithms appear amiss.

The search industry has the spirit of cohesiveness. We simply lack organization. We are many singular voices.

But this is going to change. Big Business has their toe in the door.

When they come all the way in, they are going to make rampant changes. They’ll organize us. We’ll get our accreditation, but it will it be designed in Big Business’s favor and will probably be designed to keep the little guy out.

The search industry must unite and organize itself because if we don’t, someone is going to come along and do it for us.

Author:  Jennifer Osborne writer and marketer for Search Engine People.