I have been in the Search Engine Optimization industry for a number of years now. Throughout that time, I have always had trouble when people ask me what I do. For a variety of reasons. One is that no matter how hard I try, I can not elocute the phrase “Search Engine Optimization” well enough that I don’t have to repeat it twice. I don’t have an accent or a speech impediment. People just aren’t used to hearing those words in that order. On top of that, I use the term at least 5 times a day so I have to slow down and pronounce each syllable slowly. But not too slowly that I offend the person. It’s a delicate balance.
When I started in this industry and someone would ask what I do, 91 times out of 100, they had no idea what SEO was (and I want to emphasize was because SEO then is not what it is now after Panda, Penguin, Florida, and all the other updates). I even had a tagline on my business card that said “I’ll make you famous on Google” to try to help them understand. Things have improved somewhat since then. I would say that 40% still have no idea what SEO is. 30% have heard of it but still know very little outside of what it does. And 30% have used/are using an SEO company or at least are more familiar with it than just what the acronym stands for.
The last 60% are generally business/website owners who have gotten dozens of spam emails (I get 3-4 a day) promising first page rankings for <$300/month. You could liken this to the days of door to door vacuum salesmen. They come to you, tell you how they can improve your life with little effort on your part, and make you wonder how life went on before they showed up. The difference between these two analogies is that the vacuums worked. The snake oil salesmen who hound these business owners have never, in my experience, delivered on their promises. Either they do nothing but collect a paycheck for a couple months or they use blackhat tactics (unsavory strategies that search engines actively work to weed out, nullify, and punish) that get the site flagged or sandboxed (taken from the search results entirely). Honestly, first group are the better of the two because at least while they do no good, they do no harm either. And then there are the groups in between that are a little of column A and a little of column B. I have seen pretty big, publicly traded companies that promise the moon and do minimal work while charging a hefty monthly fee. It’s like telling someone you’ll drain their pool for $100/day. And then showing up with just a spoon.
The problem is that these aforementioned groups, with their spam emails and sales teams, get into the public’s ear before legitimate, ethical SEO‘s. So by the time I tell someone that I do Search Engine Optimization, they have already created an opinion that we are all flimflammers looking to con them. Which is not a great first impression. I don’t want to name names but I feel the same way when I meet people who are part of a Multi Level Marketing program.
So along with having to repeat myself slowly and deliberately, and possibly explain what I do, there is also a decent chance that the person I’m talking to will write me off as a con artist and quickly walk away clutching his wallet.
Which is why I have started telling people I’m an astronaut.