I was attending a social media panel discussion at the F5-Expo conference yesterday. One of the topics being discussed was Twitter, and one of the panelists had made a half-joking remark that those who follow several thousand people on Twitter were probably mostly “SEO spammers”. Accounts built for the sole purpose of spewing out links. The type of accounts Twitter bans within a few days of their creation.

Now being an SEO when I heard this remark I was for a fraction of a second a bit insulted. But let’s be honest, the statement is somewhat accurate. As every blog owner knows, the majority of their blog comments are probably spammy links if left unchecked. Even Danny Sullivan, has seen this personally and blogged about it. Some of you are probably saying “Hey, those aren’t SEO’s they’re probably just spammers…period!”. But that doesn’t matter because perception becomes reality. Folks who have a tertiary knowledge of how the online space works knows that links are important to SEO, therefore brand certain spammers as “SEO spammers”

I can also look back at my own experiences talking shop while at meetups and gatherings and have come across business people who hired an “SEO” who was promised quick results that didn’t materialize. I’ve also come across folks from various backgrounds who pass themselves off as an SEO as if it was a checkbox next to a job application.

SEO Has An Image Problem

And therein lies the problem of being an SEO in this industry. We’ve got an image problem.


  • Business people who have been burned by an “SEO” now paints all others in this field with the same brush
  • There are no barriers to entry to claim you’re an SEO, therefore as a consumer it’s difficult to tell if PR folks, writers, traditional marketers who claim they know organic search optimization really know what they’re doing
  • Crap links are being dropped in blog comments, forum posts and web forms. And SEOs get the blame for it.
  • Behemoth sites like WiseGeek.com that publish sub-par content to pull in as many search queries are polluting the net and can be perceived as an SEO money grab.

Being an SEO can be tiring sometimes because you can spend quite a bit of time dispelling  fear, uncertainty and doubt out there. Imagine you’re a psychologist and every 1 out of 10 cocktail parties you attended you had to prove that your line of work was legitimate. It gets old.

What Can SEOs Do To Help Improve Their Image?

First let’s realize that this problem isn’t isolated to our line of work. Building contractors, insurance salesmen, realtors and others have similar problems with public perception. They get by just fine, so can we.

  1. Don’t Undercut Your Value – I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past. Pricing has a definite impact on how much value is perceived in a given service or product. Stick to your guns and quality clients will recognize this; and hopefully eventually others will as well.
  2. Don’t Take the Impossible Projects – Projects with impossible expectations are doomed to fail. Have some integrity and turn them down.
  3. Demonstrate Your Knowledge – Share your knowledge online to show people there’s more to this thing than others might perceive. This kind of knowledge sharing helps deflect uncertainty and puts you above others who claim they know what they’re doing.
  4. Say “No” to Shady Link Building – Please, don’t buy links by the bushel. Your fellow bloggers and forum owners will thank you for it.
  5. Get Results – Happy clients don’t complain about SEOs.

It’s not all doom & gloom. Guys like Rand FishkinAaron Wall and companies like Enquiro and Distilledhave taken great strides in helping legitimize this industry. Well known brands are adopting SEO as a necessary marketing initiative. But there are still pockets of distrust and skepticism out there.

Will taking the steps mentioned erase everyone’s negative perception about SEOs? Most likely not.

But at least you can talk proudly at cocktail parties.

Hey there, I'm Marc!

I'm the Director of Growth Channels @Hootsuite. I've worked in digital marketing since 2000 for agencies, startups and companies like Electronic Arts & SAP. Thanks for checking out my site where I share digital marketing strategies on how to increase website traffic and generate more revenue.


  1. Michael Martinez says:

    Until the SEO industry adopts real standards, it will continue to have an image problem. SEO bloggers — no matter how popular they are within the SEO community — cannot fix the problem.

  2. Ani Lopez says:

    Nice article Marc but I would like to add my 5 cents here about one particular point: Demonstrate Your Knowledge.
    Demonstrate knowledge towards potential client is easy, so easy that quite a lot of charlatans pretend to sell SEO and that’s a huge problem for real professionals as you mention in your article but a very different thing is to prove your quality as consultant inside the SEM community and this is the place companies should take a look while looking for a pro.
    Something I could compare from Europe and Canada is there in the old continent professionals share 100 times more of information than here even being competitors trying to get a piece of the same market pie we collaborate a lot more to investigate SEO issues.
    In EU not sharing knowledge is like revealing your ignorance.
    The reason why they are not afraid of competition: knowledge is important but experience is crucial in any SEM related discipline.

  3. Christian says:

    It reminds me of when everybody was a web designer and companies sold web-sites-in-a-box. The difference with web design is that most people have an eye for what’s good and what’s garbage. Would a standardized test or SEO certificate help? Maybe. It might weed out the newbies, but as always experience is the best certification.

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