In 1995, Netscape arrived, and the race to the dot.com boom began, driven by venture capitalists wanting huge returns in the fast-growing market and part of gold-mine investments like eBay or Amazon. Everyone invested in a sea of new start-ups, each considered to be the Next Big Thing. Not long after the ground-breaking Google IPO share values and the Henry Bloget emails, the bubble burst, sending many companies into utter oblivion.
Much of what perpetuates the successful operation of Internet-related industries (yes, even the SEO industry) are Moore’s Law of Connectivity, Metcalf’s Law, and (or course) the existence of the silicon chip. Moore and Metcalf theorize that the Internet is becoming exponentially more useful, exponentially larger, and exponentially more powerful as time moves forward. SEOs working between 2001 and 2005 truly understood optimization, not just through patent research, but real-life experience, testing, and producing SEO for clients while search engines developed. Businesses trusted our abilities because of that experience.
When blogs like SEOmoz, Stuntdubl, and SEOBook began giving away basic SEO information for links, traffic, and notoriety, our industry took an amazing turn. People called themselves SEOs even if all they had done was read a few blog posts. The money was very appealing, and the techniques seemed easy to understand and deploy. Although hired by companies that trusted their “experience,” the lack of true experience negatively affected clients, helping start a negative stereotype of SEOs. SEOs who had earlier helped make a positive name for our industry began offering conferences, classes, and training courses in 2005, but growth in the industry as a whole led to a market flooded with entry-level SEO jobs, and an SEO’s expected salary dropped.
As the Internet evolves, new strategies and marketing knowledge are blurring the lines of SEO and general Internet marketing. “SEO” is used more as an umbrella term these days, encompassing social media marketing, pay-per-click marketing, web design and development, landing page optimization, and conversion attribution — far beyond the original intent of the specialty. SEOs are now expected to do more than just SEO. Combine this with the lack of a widely accepted industry association to encourage standards, and you have a recipe for disaster. To add insult to injury, the industry is full of opinions, instead of measured, scientific facts, as I believe it should be. Sure, we can read and analyze search patents and we can take Matt Cutts’ word on what he says SEOs should be doing, but is this the right path?
With the recent recession, it will be increasingly difficult for new students to gain a solid foothold. The crisis may well bring about the bursting of the SEO industry bubble. As with other bubbles, this will help level out the industry, encouraging the separation of qualified and unqualified SEOs. Companies will have to look at those responsible for SEO in their organizations to ensure they have the knowledge needed to justify the expense of the position. At the same time, the relative strength of online — even in a recession — underlines the importance and necessity of SEO for every single corporation, whether through an on-site industry specialist or the use of an SEO agency.
As with other bubbles, some will perish. In the long run, however, the industry will be stronger for it. The problems of decreasing salaries and the saturation of the marketplace will take some time to overcome, but as the dead wood is removed and the true practitioners pull themselves up from the ashes, SEO will emerge as an occupation attracting more respect and ultimately more value.