I’m Not Leaving SEO

A bit of a personal post today folks.

Let’s be honest. The last few months have been ROUGH on SEO. We’ve had Penguin to deal with, the iAcquire deal seemed to polarize the industry in unforeseen ways, and there’s been some seeming ill-will around the industry blogs. There’s been a shift towards content marketing and of course we’ve had the “SEO is dead” posts that won’t seem to…die. Pardon me, I couldn’t resist.

Through all of this, I’ve had some good friends who have declared that they are leaving SEO. First it was my (now old) boss Tom Critchlow, who left Distilled in favor of greener pastures at the Google Creative Lab. I’m happy for him, but his departure leaves a void in the SEO thought leadership space.

Next came my buddy Jonathon Colman from REI, who announced that he’s leaving SEO in favor of doing UX/IA at REI. While he’s phasing out of SEO, and will always be tangentially involved with SEO/inbound marketing because UX touches so much of what we do, he’s another voice lost.

Then last week came my buddy Gary Magnone, who announced his departure in favor of a Director of Marketing role at Code Relevant. Once again, an awesome opportunity, but another trusted peer in the industry lost.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget Scott Cowley who announced a few months ago that he also is leaving SEO to pursue a PhD and then to be a professor. Good for you Scott, but I’ll miss your voice in the industry, buddy.

I’m Not Leaving

All of these guys have left SEO for other opportunities. That happens, and you can’t expect everyone to stay in the same industry, even when they have created a good name for themselves. SEO is a tough industry, and sometimes you reach the point where you can’t move up any higher in your organization. Most SEOs are incredibly curious individuals (it’s actually a requirement to work at Distilled), and we’re all driven. We all want to learn new things and tackle new challenges.

But I’m not going anywhere. I’ve had a tough few weeks and I desperately need a vacation right now, but I’m committed to staying in our industry.

The SEO industry is maddening, to be sure, from time to time and I hate the name that has been given to it. But at the end of the day, it’s a wonderful industry with wonderful people who are trying to do wonderful things. Why would I leave that?

I’ve taken some shots on the chin recently. I’ve gotten beaten up in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. I feel tired right now.


SEO Energizes Me

Change within boundaries energizes me. I love that Google is a moving target and that we constantly have to keep altering tactics, but also that the time-tested truths of SEO stay the same (great content, engaged users, quality links). Some days I have to deal with how we produce content for 2500 or more pages. The next day I’m thinking about how to reorganize a client’s team to help them get things done and see SEO success. Then that afternoon maybe I’ll be hacking apart and back together a tool to use a crazy API to get data for a client who needs it the next morning. Then I’ll go home and write a blog post about it all.

This is fun.

You know what else is exciting and energizing?

Seeing traffic like this:


And seeing clients who got slammed by Google get back in their good graces:

And showing up to work and getting to work with these people:

Some days are rough. Some weeks are rough. But when times are good, they’re really good:

That’s it. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to keep writing, keep blogging, keep client Analytics and conversions going up and to the right, keep teaching, keep learning, keep wrangling data, keep making friends.
Join me?

24 thoughts on “I’m Not Leaving SEO

  1. Pingback: I'm Not Leaving SEO - Inbound.org

  2. It’s posts like this that prove why I stay in SEO. Between Distilled, SEOmoz and SEERinteractive I have a full blown team on my side. I love competition as much as the next guy (maybe more) but what keeps me in SEO is the community around it and the challenges we all face together.

  3. “There’s been a shift towards content marketing and of course we’ve had the “SEO is dead” posts that won’t seem to…die.”

    That’s the nicest way anyone has said “fuck you” ever:)

  4. I love your point about curiosity and how it’s a hiring factor at Distilled; I hope your next great hire is reading this post right now.

    It’s curiosity that made me think beyond SEO, but it’s also the same force driving you to dig deeper into it, yielding greater rewards and more energy. And while you don’t say it in this post, having met you I can tell that you’ve also clearly got a passion for servant leadership and real-world community building.

    These are character traits that would serve you well just about anywhere, but they’re especially useful for a field that changes every day, that involves dozens (hundreds?) of associated disciplines outside of its core, that is amazingly technical and yet so common-sense at the same time, that is constantly pulling the rug out from underneath you, that has a constant stream of new practitioners who look to you for knowledge and insight… SEO.

    Cheers on your continued success, for not letting the changes drag you down, and for reinvesting all that energy to make things better. YEAH!

  5. Hear hear.

    Thank you for the affirmation that one of the voices in this industry is going to stick it out and keep taking names. As the industry grows and shrinks at the same time many of the veteran’s are finding new homes (Tom, Jonathon, etc.) and the next wave of newbie’s is on the rise…

    I think it takes grit to stay with it because of your passion and energy for the way you do things.

    Cheers John.

  6. I think the fact that many prominent SEOs/thought leaders are able to take on new challenges in very different roles speaks volumes about how talented and diverse this industry is as a whole. When your job revolves around the uncertain and undefined, you’re forced to be creative and push boundaries.

    Great post.

  7. Hey John,

    I’m also with you & not leaving this SEO industry 🙂

    Why? Because I love the challenges we’ve to deal in this industry. We do something new everyday, we find something new everyday & we fail at something every day which makes me to dig deeper in this industry. The way google throw obstacle in our way & we bounce back with the same spirit to show them.

  8. Dear John,

    I appreciate it, that you have written down what we all feel from time to time. I think it doesn’t matter in what kind of industry you work on (online or offline) you’re batteries will lose power and energy and I think it’s so important to have several short stops or breaks to take a deep breath and get the power back. And of course don’t take the work or seo as itself too serious, we should try to have fun though working as seo, even when it’s hard to do. I can understand you feel a bit pity about seo authorities leaving our scene, but maybe it’s just the cycle of life. At the end we have to accept those personal choices and wish them all the best.

    Kind regards.

  9. SEO is an evolving industry, I don’t see these people has leaving – they’ve evolving through the industry and good for them.
    SEO opened doors for them and it’s done the same for me and probably for all of us.
    I left too but a few months into my new spot found out I didn’t leave! I’m still doing analytics and pushing good SEO practices on the front end side of things for and advertising agency.
    It’s great to see your passion for SEO, and glad to see it has such great people rocking through it including some of the folks who have commented here – you’re all doing amazing things for SEO!

  10. I will never leave SEO, I will evolve with it, but I will never leave it. In South Africa SEO is still very primitive and there’s huge growth potential, so I know that I certainly have a great journey ahead. I think the first time I dabbled with SEO was back in the 1990’s, when I started with affiliate sites, it’s been a long windy journey, but it gets more and more exciting every single day. Bring on Panda, bring on Penguin, it doesn’t matter, us curious people will find a gap and produce things that go UP AND TO THE RIGHT!

    The people you mention in your post, I’m familiar with them, I don’t get the feeling that they left SEO because it’s SEO, but rather to explore greater roles in life?

    Thanks for another great post John, you know I’m a fan and I’m thrilled to hear that you’re sticking around.

    PS. Got your email response, am working on questions, easy ones, because I know you need a holiday 😉

  11. Hey John, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Love your point about curiosity and guess, this is something we all have in common here in SEO-industry. Good to have your voice still with us.

    Cheers from Germany

  12. Great post John. I don’t think anyone ever really leaves SEO – unless you went to work for something that didn’t involve computers. It’s shaped everything I do, and will continue to have a massive impact on everything I do online, even if it no longer formed part of my job title one day.

    SEO led me to the importance of great content, giving users want they want, using CRO, and the importance of PR. It broadened my horizons in to many different areas, and gave me a lot of online marketing knowledge. SEO isn’t just SEO any more, and I still see it as an all encompassing beast with many different arms. Personally I don’t feel I’ll ever leave SEO, it filters through to pretty much everything online in some way, and even if it changes its name (or I changed job titles), the core principles will always be there.

  13. Just want to say that characterizing the iAcquire penalties as a “rough” time for SEO is evidence that you need to emerge from the SEO echo chamber. An SEO microcelebrity sold out for the wrong job, no big deal. The iAcquire penalties were a great boon to the ethical practice of SEO, and I wouldn’t shed a tear if they never recover.

    Critchlow leaves a thought leadership vacancy…in your office. You won’t fill it with posts like these.

    You are correct. SEO is fun, SEO is still important, what has changed over the last 10 years is that measurement tools, Google’s curation of optimized pages and customer’s expectations have all gotten an order of magnitude more sophisticated.

    Basically, SEO on an unoptimized site is easy, hardly worth talking about. Go download Rand’s book or read posts on Webmaster World and you are all set. That’s so 2004 compared to today.

    Moving the needle in a competitive landscape with a mature, optimized site, managing change in your ecosystem to maintain a level of organic growth, balancing conversion optimization with search engine ranking factors, optimizing across a network of sites with varied purposes for the user but boiling down to one ultimate purpose for the business; that is modern SEO.

    SEO isn’t dead, it’s just the conventional wisdom and seminar BS doesn’t cut it anymore. SEOmoz gets this fact, Rand’s Whiteboard Fridays should be watched by every lousy SEO blogger for tips on what their audience needs right now. Most of the other “thought leaders” decidedly do not get it.

    1. Hey man – thanks for your input. I agree that the iAcquire deal is a boon for ethical SEO, but I obviously disagree with you about an SEO microcelebrity selling out for the wrong job. You’re welcome to your opinion, and I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. I disagree with it (and since I know Mike and iAcquire guys, I’ll leave it up to others who to trust…). I just saw a lot of division of people following it, and that makes me sad.

      Regarding your (non-personal) points, yes, SEO is fun. Doing everything you said there is fun. I agree that Rand’s stuff is good. A lot of the stuff on Moz, Distilled, SEER, and SeoGadget is good.

      Have a good one.

  14. Ok, I am into SEO and I am trying to leave it the earliest .. because there is nothing left in SEO, I mean in Spamming .. so what is left in “Real”, great content and oh, yes Great content .. any thing else ????

  15. Thanks John for the inspiration,

    I’m not leaving too! This is the thing i love to do in this world and i never get tire of it. Leaving SEO would be my one of the worst idea. 🙂

  16. Dammit John… you beat me to it. I’ve had a post like this I’ve been slowly chipping away at for the last few weeks. Guess I’ll have to trash it 🙂

  17. Hey John,

    Awesome to read about your commitment to our industry. I’ve been following blog for a while, while lurking and just have to say I always enjoy your post and learn so much.

    Expect me to see me in your comments more often 🙂



  18. I’m an seo and hopefully at some point in time I will leave this – it’s a natural next step.
    More then that we are no builders – we’re like bankers, financial guys – chasing something and yes, there is skill involved but still – nothing after us – we build nothing. 🙂

    Congratz to all that had the chance and courage to move up, to move forward and hopefully you John will do that same in the near future.

    Now with a big responsibility on your shoulders in Distilled NY office there is much to learn but still – there will be a time and you will need to move forward. Hopefully you won’t be the next bruce clay 😀

    cheers !

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