SEO Skills: Use It Or Lose It

This week is going to be a little bit different than some of the posts I do here.

Instead of an update about how to up our marketing or fix your site, this one is directed at all of you marketers out there, digital and otherwise but especially those of us who have been doing SEO for a while. This week, we’re going to talk about something that can happen to even the best of us – getting rusty.

Why Are You Talking About This Now?

Well, I’ll get the whys out of the way first because that’s easy:

I recently had a conversation about SEO with one of the best SEOs in my area – and honestly, I walked away from it feeling dumb as shit.

Keep in mind, it wasn’t due to anything the other person said or did, in fact, if anything they were super helpful, it was literally all me.

You see, due to my day job and it’s current technical limitations, I haven’t been actually able to do literally any proper SEO in about two years. It’s a long story as to why but let’s just say the site was built on the ultimate caveman platform where we can’t even access the code to make basic changes never mind pulling server logs and whatnot, the migration is taking way too long due to reasons and other stuff. Due to this, I’ve focused on other channels – email, content but mostly paid social.

I’ve been doing paid social hardcore for two straight years whereas before I started at this job, I had never done it before. Not even once. In fact, even though I was certified in Google’s PPC, I had never done that, either. Paid was not my thing.

Nope, before then, I was strictly organic traffic – Local SEO and then eCom focused. Granted, I was never the most ‘technical’ of all SEOs out there – you’d never mistake me for Jamie Alberico or another super technical SEO who can rip your code to pieces and build it back together again like the six million dollar man, but I knew my stuff to a certain point.

I mostly focused on on-page SEO content writing and I kept my personal tech side of things to your basic redirects, schema/JSON-LD creation, canonicals & other tagging, page speed stuff, etc. – you know stuff like that. I knew my way around everything in a screaming frog report but I damn sure wasn’t the guy who was gonna write you a python script to parse it.

What I’m trying to say is that it did the job – back then.

Then, I wasn’t able to do ANYTHING in SEO a little over two years.

As a result, my SEO skills got wrecked.

Yes, my skills in literally every other aspect of digital marketing increased because I had to fill in the gaps but meanwhile SEO moved on and I was left behind.

So why am I writing this now?

It’s simple. It’s a warning to those currently on my path AND a way to give others who might be in the same boat some hope.

I know a lot of jobs these days expect a digital marketer to do everything from writing white papers to setting up email automation to SEO and honestly, HR people, if you ever meet someone who can do literally all the things well, introduce me because I’ve never seen it yet.

So while hiring managers are trying to shove square pegs into round holes (which is a whole other topic I’ll probably cover another day), if you’re an SEO and want to continue to be an SEO – DO NOT LET YOUR SKILLS FALL OFF.

This warning goes TRIPLE for in-house marketers because it is all too easy for us.

Blogs & SEO Twitter Aint Gonna Cut It

So I knew this would probably be a problem in advance. If you can’t do SEO, you’re gonna have to stay in touch with that world somehow, right? Most of us reading this use either blogs and/or SEO twitter to do this.

I read Search Engine Journal and Search Engine land every day, I never miss a Whiteboard Friday from Moz, I’m constantly on SEO twitter talking to people and doing SEMRush and Digital Olympus chats.

I do it, I love it but take it from me, that is NOT going to keep your skills from going to waste if you don’t do SEO on a website every single day.

Here’s the progression of how SEO Twitter went for me after not being able to do SEO for a while:

During the time I was doing SEO every day in an agency setting:

  • This is awesome! Holy crap, I’m really talking to people I followed and read articles by all the time! I learned a lot from these people and now I can interact with them! This is great!
  • Wow, I’m actually in professional conversations with these people! I must really know my shit because they’re not laughing me out of the room!
  • Oh man! Did XYZ really just follow ME, too?? I’m a wizard now, Harry!
  • I’m learning so much from all these SEO chats and I think I’m helping a lot of people learn from me too!

After 1 year of not doing SEO and focusing on Social, Email, etc:

  • Wow! This is cool, I can answer other people’s questions about other channels in relation to SEO! This is great! I’m actually contributing more because I have a new skill set!
  • Oh look, now I’m able to get into social media twitter chats and have valid opinions on things and I actually understand a ton of what they’re talking about in there now!
  • ….what the hell is this whole ‘Angular JS’ thing now in the SEO chat? I’ll have to read up on that!
  • Wait, I have to know Python now, too? When the hell am I going to have time to learn that? I’m still learning how to write Facebook pixel custom events.

After 2 years of not doing SEO and focusing on Social, Email, etc:

  • Yeah…haha…cool…Python, PHP and server logs. Ok. I’ll Google that.
  • Featured snippets and position zero are definitely getting bigger. Do I even remember how to write schema?
  • Cloudflare workers…yeah, I’ll have to look into that – man, I’m listed under marketing, IT ain’t giving me access to Cloudflare.
  • Yo, do I need to change the name of my blog because I don’t think ‘SEO’ applies to me anymore – well, shit, someone in the middle of nowhere already calls themselves Smokehouse Digital.
  • Man, I’m about ready to go back to tech support – I ain’t got time to learn all this back end dev shit.
  • I have no valid opinions on anything SEO related anymore because I’m not a web dev! – wheee!
  • Yeah – I don’t know wtf I’m doing anymore. I give up.
  • Screw it, I’m a social media/branding/content/email guy now. Guess, I ain’t part of the cool kids club anymore…

So there you have it.

This is what happens when you don’t actually DO SEO for whatever reason and rely on blogs and social networks to stay updated.

Sorry, y’all, it doesn’t work. This is definitely a ‘use it or lose it’ thing.

If You Don’t Already Know How, You MUST Learn to Code. Period.

If you think SEO is just tags, page speed, content and links, you’re wrong. I mean, it never was just about those things but now it seems you basically have to be a web developer in order to even get a bit ahead.

Don’t ask me how you’re supposed to do learn every coding language under the sun while you’re also supposed to spend 90% of your time doing email marketing, social media ads, PPC, rewriting content, setting up the marketing stack, branding, social media listening and more while IT looks at you like you’re some kind of jagoff for asking for Cloudflare access and server logs because you’re in the marketing department – but again, these are work force issues.

But work force issues are real life issues and in reality, you need to learn coding. Also, the basics of coding just aren’t seeming to cut it anymore.

Back in the day, if you knew HTML, CSS, JS, Schema and JSON-LD that was usually good enough and if you had questions or things went beyond that, you could leave it up to actual web devs to help. These days, however, especially in agency environments, you almost have to be a web dev yourself.

Whether it’s because people already know that most IT teams are going to give an excuse about why they can’t implement a suggestion from some guy in marketing or some firm somewhere or because people are expecting more for their money, if you have a suggestion, you’d better know how to implement it and you’d better know what the possible ramifications are if it goes sideways. I mean, that’s good advice in general but it’s simply not enough to know ‘some’ coding – especially if you want to actually get anywhere in this industry.

Me, personally, I ain’t got time to learn Python, Angular, R script, etc. – I got people who actually want to see me when I get off work but I mean if you can learn it, do it. The best way to learn is by doing so get you some tutorials and a website and get going.

Recognize Career Paths Can Change

Have you heard the saying ‘fight the ocean and you will drown’? I have, great saying, I think I learned that one in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Anyway, it’s true – doubly true for digital marketing these days.

There’s just too much to keep up with on every channel to try to be everything to everyone, at least in my opinion. It’s good to know a little about all the channels but, and even though some HR reps and hiring managers don’t want to hear this, there’s nothing wrong with specializing in one channel and being a damned wizard at it.

Also – and I’m going to say this right now: Career paths change.

Maybe you started out in email marketing and ended up a chef. Maybe you went from an engineer to a yogi. In my case, I went from an SEO to apparently now an ‘everything but SEO’ digital marketer.

Guess what.

This is ok.

In fact, a career path change may be the best choice for you at that stage in your life personally and professionally.

If everyone had the same career paths at the end of their careers as they did at the beginning, there would be a TON of fry cooks, grocery baggers, and those people who return shopping carts from the parking lot.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these jobs but as your skill set changed, so did your path – just like moving from specializing in one channel and into another.

Maybe it’s also time to stop trying to be ‘everything to everyone’, regardless of what these cheap ass hiring managers are asking for and realize that people specialize in things for a reason.

Ever see that ‘just OK is not OK’ commercial on TV? Well, if you try to do every single channel, you’re gonna be ‘just OK’ at all of them. There’s literally no way one human being can be a master at every single channel plus a web developer, plus a branding expert, plus a campaign story teller, plus a graphic designer.

I’m sorry every job description out there, it just wont happen.

The Bottom Line

Now I’m going to say something I discovered after like an entire weekend of feeling like crap about myself:

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH LOSING ONE SKILL SET AND GAINING ANOTHER.

Of course, ideally, you’ll want to retain your old skills and build on them but you can’t keep up with everything, so don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re a human, you can only do so much.

Another thing I want to say right now:

SEO IS NOT THE ONLY LEGIT DIGITAL MARKETING CAREER PATH.

Yes, we have ‘rock stars’ in SEO but let me ask you this:

Did Rand Fishkin become any less of a rockstar because he stopped doing SEO and founded Sparktoro?

Of course he’s not.

Is ‘SEO’ Neil Patel a better marketer than Mari Smith because she does social media?

Of course he’s not.

Are people like Hank Hoffmeier or Joel Klettke not ‘rock stars’ because Hank does email and Joel does content and not strictly SEO?

Of course they are.

I love my SEO brothers and sisters but, realistically, – and they’ll be the first to tell you this – they are not the end all and be all of marketers.

SEO IS JUST ONE CHANNEL OUT OF MANY AND THEY’RE ALL NECESSARY.

If you’re sitting there thinking your company will survive on SEO alone or social media alone or email alone or any one channel alone, you will be in for a rude awakening one day.

That being said, take it from me, the only way to keep your skills sharp is to practice with them every single day.

Wanna be an SEO? Then DO SEO.

4 comments

  1. Interesting as always. Perhaps a bit self-judgmental. Business is increasingly complex, and there are only so many skill sets we can individually manage. In my web development work, I am increasingly front-end. I know enough back-end to make sure nothing is broken or outdated. That’s OK. I suspect that the tech worker who is brilliant at everything is mythical. Rock on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I gotta say Chris, this article moved me deeply. I was never a big technical SEO nerd, but having moved towards a more general digital role, I’ve almost completely gotten away from it as I’ve moved more towards content. Personally, I enjoy not having to specialize, my personality is one that likes being more of a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none type of worker, so I’ve really enjoyed learning a host of new skills, and probably will move towards coding as you are the latest in a string of people who keep showing me how essential of a skill this is turning into, across a host of languages.

      In my opinion, it is imperative for HR personnel and managers to recognize what they need, a specialist or a versatile. Agree that if you can find one that can do both, I would love to see it, but the truth is that either type of employee is incredibly valuable if placed in a situation where they are given the tools to achieve the needs of the hiring company. I can only imagine how annoying the backend is on your end, I just know that ours (I work on the Acom side) is pretty bad, and I’ve heard yours is far rougher to use, still I think that our respective skill sets as both learners and doers are incredibly valuable in today’s digital efforts, and aren’t always recognized in environments that are operating decades behind and frantically trying to catch up in a variety of frustrating ways.

      Best of luck, great post, and keep learning good sir.

      Liked by 1 person

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