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There’s little doubt that the field of SEO is rapidly changing. 6-8 years ago, SEO was simple: get as many links to your site, put your keywords in title, and wait for Google to rank you. Now, tactics like guest blog posting will land you in Google purgatory. But it’s not just the rules of SEO that’s changing: the way people are consuming media is as well. Social media platforms like Pinterest are growing in popularity, and the majority of people are consuming content in mobile devices. Some say it’s only a matter of time before SEO becomes extinct.

I thought it would be useful to get a sense of the fears, insecurities, and anxieties that search marketers are experiencing. So, I decided to ask 40 search marketers to name their greatest fear that keeps them awake at night (with the exception of babies, insomnia, and their favorite sports team losing).

These are all people who are actively working in the industry, and whose livelihood depend on what they do (no arm-chair marketers here). Here’s what they all said.

 

Fear #1: Google is becoming a destination site

What scares me the most about where the industry is headed, is that Google is increasingly making itself a destination site, rather than just a directory of links. With changes such as Google Now, Knowledge Graph, Google Glass, etc. users can increasingly get the answers to their queries without ever leaving Google. Google’s CEO Larry Page has even said that he wants to make Google a “Knowledge Engine” rather than just a search engine. While this is all good and well, it ignores the fact that most of Google’s “knowledge” comes from the content produced by webmasters.

In the past, webmasters have made their sites freely accessible to Google in exchange for search traffic, but if Google is just going to scrape the “knowledge” created by third-parties without giving anything in return, then the exchange becomes unbalanced. As a content producer and search marketer, this is a worrying trend.

- Takeshi Young, SEO Team Lead at EntirelyPets.com

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Fear #2: Google is dominating our everyday lives

As long as one understands that the only thing constant is change, there is no reason to lose any sleep. As the search engines and searchers themselves become more sophisticated, so must our digital marketing techniques. The paradigm shift away from gaming the algorithm to delivering something useful, with real value, has already taken place.

That said, I think everyone should be concerned about the power that Google has over the internet and our daily lives in general. Look for Google Plus to grow and the new YouTube comment system to be expanded across the web. Google Glass has implications far beyond what the average consumer realizes and they aren’t all good. Mobile is the present – no longer the future.

- Chuck Price, founder of Measurable SEO

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Fear #3: SEO alone is no longer enough

I don’t really have a fear about where the industry is headed, however the breadth of knowledge and skill that is now necessary to “get results” is pretty incredible. We used to be able to “do SEO” and get results. While SEO may still be the dominant factor, there are many other skills that are now necessary to truly succeed online. To get solid traction a site must understand how to effectively write, publish and socialize content, engage with their audience online and develop a site that provides a superb user experience.

SEO alone no longer works and all of these areas must be in play. The problem arises when you realize that all of these are just too vast for even a single person to be able to know and/or implement effectively. A team of individuals, each with expertise in a particular area of web marketing (SEO, content, social, etc.) is needed. All of these changes are truly great for the web, but makes the web marketing services needed to succeed much more vast.

- Stoney deGeyter, President of Pole Position Marketing

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Fear #4: SEO is now more difficult and expensive

In the SEO world, some items that keep me awake at night is that SEO is getting much more difficult, time consuming and expensive for small businesses. In the past several years bigger brands have gained a lot of advantages in the search engines. As the amount of social signals, paid advertising and voice search results increase in the search engines, I only see this trend continuing. The one spot where small businesses still have a chance to shine is local SEO. Small businesses also need to implement a multi-faceted digital marketing plan to compete now, instead of just doing several SEO tactics such as link building, optimizing web pages and buying an exact match domain to rank well in the search engines.

- Jeff Shjarback, Internet Marketing Consultant

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Fear #5: Clients are disregarding SEO

One thing that’s been on my mind a lot as of late that I find troublesome is the shift in client mentality. Because of all the Google updates and misinformation out there I am finding that a lot of people are looking for partners to help with content, reputation management and social media and seem to want to disregard SEO. They think they just need a partner to help them pump out tons of content and promote it, but seem to be caring less and less about building a strong foundation in SEO for their website. This is troublesome because all of these other things are great and definitely helpful, but if they don’t have a solid foundation to build upon it can limit their overall reach and effort.

- Mike Wilton, Internet Marketer and Entrepreneur

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Fear #6: Google is becoming less transparent

The thing I am most concerned about is Google moving away from transparency in the data it allows organic search marketers to access. This loss of transparency makes measurement more time consuming, makes programs less effective and creates a less predictability in getting results to rank. While I believe that Google ultimately wishes to choose the best results without any guidance or manipulation by search marketers, I am concerned that algorithms are imperfect and will turn ranking into a popularity contest as opposed to a meritocracy. This will ultimately favor brands, which is good for them and limiting to everyone else.

It takes more time and tools to establish a performance baseline, which takes focus away from the optimization process. Pretty much everyone loses in this scenario; website owners, searchers and even Google when searchers grow frustrated by less relevant search results.

- Jeff Sauer, Founder, Jeffalytics

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Fear #7: Delivering quality results

Right now the only thing that really keeps me awake at night is how to scale my business. There’s still a tremendous amount of need for smart search marketers and digital marketers. It’s about how to keep delivering quality while taking on the clients you really want.

- AJ Kohn, Owner at Blind Five Year Old and Author of Ultimate Guide to Google+ SEO

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Fear #8: You’re guilty until proven innocent, according to Google

What keeps me awake at night? Google.

I honestly believe that if nobody is scared by Google in SEO, they’re lying. Right now, we’re in an online world where it’s very much guilty until proven innocent with them. If they take a disliking to the way a website has linked to you, or even the website that has linked to you, you have to crawl through broken glass for forgiveness and even then it might not be enough. I look after some pretty big websites that attract some amazing links but what happens if Google turns around and says “You know what, some of those are dodgy” or “That link pattern falls in nicely with what we’ve seen spammers do” then we’re in a position where we then have to spend time trawling through our link profile to see what WE think Google dislikes and then try our hardest to get them removed.

The same is happening with guest blogging at the minute. Lets say years back, you’re ahead of the trend and you use guest blogging as a way of building natural links to your website. You scale it up because it works, you get exposure and engagement as well as great traffic. But now Google is saying that they’re targeting websites that use guest posting at scale. Is it my fault for utilising something that works? How can I be punished for being completely within Googles TOS one month and then the next it’s deemed unnatural and the website is tittering.

- Jason Dexter, Freelance SEO and Online Marketing Expert

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Fear #9: 100% Not Provided

I’m sure I probably worry about the same things as most search marketers. That being: What will we do when our analytics data hits 100% not-provided? How will we be able to show our clients exactly where we are adding value?

The problem we face now is that, where as we used to be able to account for every click, every keyword, link, ranking improvement/regression, we no longer can. At least, not to the extent that clients have become accustomed to. It would have been better to have never had it at all than to have had it taken away from us so coldly.

Search marketing was this magical pill that allowed companies to monitor and control every penny of their budget. It was implicitly measurable. That was its USP, its raison d’être. It still is to a certain extent, of course, especially when compared to more “traditional” forms of marketing. But I worry about Google keeping us in the dark and I worry about clients’ expectations.

Conversely, I feel this will lead to more creative and strategic campaigns, where the results are multi-faceted and more holistic. I’m talking about campaigns that are measurable even without using Google’s limited available data. Campaigns that contribute to a company’s branding and conversion rates, as well as improving rankings.

The search marketers who are most frustrated and “scared” at the moment are search marketers who became too comfortable with “the rules” too early on. There never were any rules, there were never any guarantees. Nothing has changed. I think we should be very excited about that.

- Ben Holbrook, Head of Content at Verve Search

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Fear #10: Preparing strategy pitches for clients

I still get super nervous before any strategy pitch. Anytime we’ve come up with a new plan for a client and are preparing to present it to them, I lose sleep over whether or not we’re making the right decision. This industry thrives off of pushing strategies and tactics forward, so making sure we’re always coming up with the next best thing is an amazing opportunity and challenge, but still SO nerve-wracking.

- Rob Toledo, Works at Distilled

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Fear #11: Generating campaign ideas

The only thing that keeps me awake at night is campaign ideas. We market our clients using creative content; games, graphics, interactive graphics and kick-ass written content so we generally find we’re immune to any negative impacts from algorithm changes. A side effect of this means that it is hard to switch off and I often find I’m hit with an inspiring idea at 1 am when I’m trying to sleep. My pro-tip is to keep a notebook on the bedside table to scribble down those late night flashes of inspiration.

- Nichola Stott, founder and managing director of theMediaFlow

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Fear #12: Keeping up with changes in AdWords

My biggest concern is how much Google is changing in respect to Adwords, and being able to keep up with the changes. The launch of the new Enhanced Campaign structure last year caused a great deal of upheaval in the paid search arena, because clients were forced to have to migrate to the new structure, which in many cases required campaigns to be rebuilt. And the strong focus on mobile is definitely a push from Google, based on their strategy, and what the market is moving towards. There are constant updates coming out, and it’s a challenge to keep up with all of the new enhancements, and determining how these changes will affect existing clients. We have an obligation to our clients to keep them informed of the changes, and ensuring that we understand the implications to them of implementing them.

- Diane Pease, Paid Search Director at Archology

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Fear #13: The SEO Industry’s Perceived Slimy Reputation

What really concerns me most is the state of the SEO industry. There is a plethora of bad advice – it’s coming out of people’s mouths on stages at conferences (“experts”!), there’s bad SEO advice published in books, and there’s probably more bad SEO advice online these days than there is good, considering a lot of old tactics are still out there. People are learning from this and spreading misinformation.

On top of that, inexperienced or just daring SEOs use practices that get their clients in trouble. When you have several high-profile cases of big brands being burned by their SEOs on top of droves of SEO companies that can’t deliver (incredibly common), the general public has grown to mistrust SEOs more than ever.

What keeps me up at night is dealing with the embarrassment of being associated with an industry that people think is downright slimy. It’s my personal plight to change this industry and it’s snake oil reputation by educating people correctly and leading by example. I get no sleep a lot of nights.

- Laura Lippay, SEOgadget

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Fear #14: Keeping up with Google and competitors

The thing that keeps me awake at night is the never ending task of keeping up with Google and ahead of our competitors. SEO changes quickly and it always prudent to achieve a wide variety of signals rather than focusing too much on old school tactics. Over the last few years this has meant continually evolving our service and incorporating additional skills.

One example of this has been evolving our link development department into a best in class outreach and PR team. Recruitment and training aside, now we’ve got a couple of years of experience and learned a lot from our mistakes. Being increasingly successful in that area has brought its own sleepless nights. As our clients trust us more and get adventurous with the work they’re willing to carry out for SEO, we find we’re doing more work beyond the internet. Running events, networking and developing relationships in the real world all come packaged with their own headaches.

- Richard Falconer, Head of SEO at DigitasLBi

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Fear #15: Clients not adhering to your proposed strategy

To me, there is nothing worse than when a client decides to ignore the strategy and direction their search marketing agency has provided them with to implement. This is by far my biggest fear and it has kept me from getting a good nights rest of several occasions. In order to have a successful digital campaign clients must adhere to the specific strategy and advice they are given. If they don’t their ability to succeed in increasing their online visibility is in jeopardy.

- Michael Kovis, Search Marketing Director at jWeb Media

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Fear #16: Google’s Monopoly

I’m not afraid of the next Google update or algorithm rewrite.

On the other hand I see that Google is continuously limiting the organic search as we know it. Soon enough they might stop showing organic results altogether and many people wouldn’t even notice anymore due to all the ads, sponsored results and pay to play Google services that replace SERPs right now. Google will also increasingly scrape third party sites instead of linking out to them. Ultimately Google is eagerly working on their own proprietary Web given the scare-mongering against open source hyperlinks and pushing of proprietary technologies like Google+, +1, authorship, rich snippets etc.

What I’m truly afraid is the unlimited power Google has already.

One day there might nothing be left beside the likes of Google. Right now they only monopolize the search traffic and access to information but a few years from now they might be running the whole Internet of things etc. They may monopolize not only markets but power altogether. Once the market breaks down and politicians will be compromised people will embrace any power that will keep them safe at night instead. Their Boston Dynamics robots may replace workers and security. Their Nest thermostats might control your home. In short it’s a truly Orwellian dystopia in the making. I may read a bit too much science fiction books you might argue but I like to be able to know what’s coming up in the future. I’m preparing myself all the time.

- Tadeusz Szewczyk, Blog, Social Media & Search Specialist at Onreact.com

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Fear #17: Google Rankings of Client Sites

When I first started out in Search Marketing I was kept awake by practically everything – from the kind (and number) of responses I was anticipating from an outreach email to whether or not I’d wake up to find that a client’s site had overturned a month on month conversion deficit. These days my campaigns are considerably better organised and planned out, so it tends to be the things that are more outside my control that make me restless.

It can be frustrating and draining when a site that you’ve taken care to market and promote in the most sanctioned ways possible is outperformed or outranked by an objectively – whether onpage, offpage or both – inferior site. It’s in Google’s benefit for them to provide the best possible sites, but I’d be lying if I said that the positions that some sites are taking up in certain SERPs doesn’t lead to a bit of tooth grinding on a evening.

- Dave Hellowell, Content Marketing Specialist at Blueclaw

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Fear #18: The battle between being creative and delivering results

One thing that worries me is the constant opportunity to learn new things, which can at sometimes be in direct tension with the ability to deliver consistant work. Some of the biggest and fastest growing digital agencies aren’t those doing the most interesting or innovative work. Being bigger isn’t always better but it does seem to me often who we think of as some of the most creative and inventive in our industry aren’t those seeing the best commercial returns.

- Kelvin Newman, Search Engine Marketing at SiteVisibility

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Fear #19: Content “Shock”

What worries me most and has been a concern for a long time isn’t actually related to the work that we, or other successful agencies, conduct. Instead I’m more worried about the rise in low quality content and negative practices used by underhand companies or those looking for very quick wins. Not only do these tactics cause fatigue for readers who will grow tired of the deluge of poor quality content and sites, but they also cause Google to clamp down on a tighter scale which more and more often is causing collateral damage to good websites.

- Mike Essex, Online Marketing Manager at Koozai

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Fear #20: Google relying less on algorithms

Honestly, nothing really worries or scares me with regards to the industry, the way we do our SEO is completely natural and in line with broader marketing strategies so we can sleep at night instead of worrying about Penguins and Pandas.

Having said that, there are a number of things that frustrate me in the industry and the general direction Google are going. One of the main ones is Google becoming more like an edited directory rather than a search engine lead by the algorithm, whenever something becomes human edited it becomes unfair, and with the launch of Google comparison, more ad space and the knowledge graph, the days of websites ranked by an algorithm are quickly coming to an end.

The uncertainty of Google and the mixed messages they send out is also a worry, but at the same time, that is what makes this industry exciting.

- Tim Grice, Head of Search at Branded3

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Fear #21: Losing perspective on life

I have no fears about Google changing or SEO dying. It is at the core of my personality to adapt … and Evolve :) I find it easy and enjoyable to switch paths, improvise or react to the needs of clients. Whether that means learn a new skill like “content audits” (which I’ve been doing a lot of) or even jumping industries (I was first a musician before becoming an SEO).

There are three things I DO fear though. Complacency, mediocrity and worse of all losing perspective.

The online marketing world, particularly SEO is full of the vacuum chamber effect. People tend to start echoing the thoughts and conclusions of others (I’m guilty) and especially with the vast amount of info flying at us every day: it’s hard to maintain your own opinions when you’re trying to keep up with all of the information.

I fear not being able to think for myself.

More information means less time to process that information. Less time to think deeply and critically about that information. That’s a problem we face everyday.

I’ll give you an example. Hummingbird was announced in September. But it wasn’t until a few days I go, I set aside a few hours and did my own research and my own thinking to dissect what this Hummingbird thing is all about. And I came up with an interpretation which is unlike any other I have heard. But it required a few hours of closing Twitter, shutting out the external voices, and doing my own research.

Worse of all I fear losing life perspective.

What I mean by this is, online marketing is a very two dimensional profession. Contrast this with being a musician (which I was for 8+ years professionally). In music you have mind, emotion, body and even spirit. In online marketing you have mind. Sometimes emotion (although not the same as “emoting” in the moment) and never body and maybe spirit if you know your values.

Music leaves you very in touch with yourself at a deep level. You feel connected to the creative power of the world. You are moving your body, expression yourself in the moment and hopefully doing this so others feel the emotion you are communicating.

In online marketing – you sit at a desk and type into a computer, point your mouse and think. Maybe you talk to people, get a little creative and collaborative which can be fun. You might give a presentation, write a blog post or give some training, which is the closest SEO gets to art or performance.

But I have found the online marketing world to be largely void of the rich, four dimensional word of music. I love SEO, but in many ways it’s been like always seeing in color (music) and going to black and white (SEO). When you go from experiencing life in such an alive way and then go to sitting at a desk all day – you always feel something missing. Something which I fear could go away forever.

- Dan Shure, Owner of Evolving SEO

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Fear #22: Adapting to change fast enough

The only thing that scares me about the future of search and Google is that people adapt to change fast enough. I thrive off of forward movement, so I love that we’re in an industry that’s constantly changing. But it’s clear that Google has an aggressive side, and Google will make examples of people to cause fear and panic to effect the kind of change they desire. So, SEOs can do three things- keep getting more cynical, come up with a “safe word” for Google, or find opportunities for their clients within the specific changes.

- David Cohen, Marketer and Team Lead at SEER Interactive

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Fear #23: The SEO skill set might soon be void

At the moment search is changing at a crazy rate, and its this uncertainty that is the most scary (and most interesting) part of being an SEO today. Google are moving away from query based search towards becoming a semantic, query-less assistant which will change the way we think about, strategise and operate in search. I’m excited about how it’s going but there’s a part of me that believes that the skill base of many of today’s SEO professionals will soon be null and void.

- Andrew Isidoro, SEO Manager at GoCompare.com

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Fear #24: False Information Spread by SEO “experts”

You know what really keeps me up at night? False information. The SEO industry is plagued by false information more than most. It comes from people who know “a little SEO” and write about it, by non-specialized but well-respected publications like The Guardian hailing the death of SEO, by SEOs writing overly-brief blog posts that simplify manners in order to publish a great volume content. Then you have companies distancing themselves from the term “SEO”, which is almost justified in this day and age, like Moz dropping the SEO from its name, or agencies being re-branded as inbound marketing or content marketing agencies.

This stuff comes back to haunt you, especially from clients. This puts us in a constant predicament where we have to justify our purpose as SEOs, compete against our re-branded counterparts, and explain unnecessary concerns to clients. I prefer to spend my time implementing quality SEO, rather than dispelling rumors.

- Paul Shapiro, Organic Search Manager at Catalyst/GroupM

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Fear #25: At the end of the day, it’s an algorithm judging us

To be honest, nothing SEO specific keeps me awake. One thing I do keep thinking about is the fact that Google is gathering a lot of data by receiving all the disavow files and reconsideration request. I’m really curious about how they process it, how they make use of that data to recalculate the outcome of their algorithms. Together with the changes named Hummingbird, I think in general they are doing a good job in leveling the playing field and have the “right” websites ranking for the top positions. In the end of the day it still is a mathematical algorithm which defines the layout of the SERPs and we should accept the limitations of that.

Another discussion I think about a lot is the way Google is publicly fighting against spammers. Matt Cutts is trying to show that they are putting effort in cleaning the SERPs, but definitely in the wrong way by making it personal. If I was Google, I would put that effort in redefining my algorithms to create a overall better user experience. Playing it personal is the easy way, which doesn’t suit a company like Google.

- Jan-Willem Bobbink, Online marketing specialist at notprovided.eu

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Fear #26: It’s becoming harder to do SEO

My instinct is to say that I sleep like a baby because for one thing, I work with enterprise clients who are much less susceptible to wild swings in rankings and traffic than say SMBs and small churn-and-burn MFA sites. On the other hand, it’s becoming harder to do my job as an SEO. Does this scare me? A little but for one thing, a little fear never hurt anyone, if anything it keeps me more alert and quicker to pivot when I need to get something done.

Today, to succeed at enterprise-level SEO you need to think outside the SEO paradigm (silo, vertical, ). Clayburn Griffin and Paul Shapiro created a funny yet poignant website called From an SEO Perspective where they talk about breaking down the silo and becoming full-fledged marketers. This scares me because it pushes all of us outside of our comfort zones. It challenges us to think on our feat and learn brand new marketing disciplines.

Is this fear justified? I don’t think so. I think it’s absolutely for the best that we learn new disciplines and expand our reach beyond SEO. Today’s SEO needs to be able to not only speak to the mundane technicalities of when to implement a “rel= alternate hreflang= x”, but also the intricacies of buying media on a competitors site when you can’t possibly rank for a competitive keyword – for instance salvaging some traffic is better than wasting time and money trying to beat out WebMD for disease-state keywords. SEOs need to speak marketing, not SEO – and that’s a scary thought if historically you’ve relied on link building with not-so-great articles on even worse blogs and providing basic on-page recommendations. What’s the future hold? A world of possibilities but one where we’ll be calling ourselves some variation of “digital marketer” not SEO.

- Yuriy Yarovoy, SEO Manager at Razorfish

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Fear #27: Becoming obsolete

What scares me the most is how specialized some of us are. That can be a good thing, because we end up being the very best at what we do, but it’s also scary because the chance of what we’re doing becoming obsolete is much higher, especially in the rapidly changing environment that we’re in. If for some odd reason Google decided that they weren’t going to be using links anymore, or even just for a lot of commercial queries, then my greatest skill set would be worthless. This is partly the reason why I’ve partnered on a few ventures to do more than just link building, or even SEO, but it’s still scary to think about.

- Jon Cooper, CEO & Founder of Hyperlynx Media, Inc.

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Fear #28: What works today may not work tomorrow

So much has changed as far as SEO for Google goes over the past year. It wasn’t long ago that guest posting was a safe tactic, but today that is not the case. We have seen sites lose rankings for getting too many guest posts. I can only imagine this getting worse in 2014. What is kinda scary is what works and is legitimate today may not be tomorrow. At McKremie we have been providing a lot of penalty recovery services. Some of these tactics were once valid but now companies are forced to clean up their act for the ever changing rules.

- Stuart McHenry, President at McKremie.com

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Fear #29: Your job can easily become irrelevant

I stay awake at night thinking about how to do things better (in terms of quality and efficiency). It doesn’t keep me awake out of fear or anxiety, but more out of excitement. I want to find a new and improved process. As a fear, though, I think a lot about SEO’s role in the big scheme of things. It’s an industry with a wide range of meaning. On one hand an SEO can be someone who writes title tags and cares little about anything else.

But an SEO could also be someone overseeing or coordinating content production and social media campaigns. This ambiguous nature makes SEO a volatile field to be in, especially for the bigger picture SEOs. Eventually “SEO” might not be what clients want and someone from Creative or Marketing might take over our jobs. So, I think it’s important to be well-rounded and stay innovative. You can easily become irrelevant or obsolete otherwise.

- Clayburn Griffin, Senior SEO Content Strategist at 360i

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Fear #30: Getting clients to listen to you

I think like many people who work in big brand SEO, the thing that keeps me up at night is the question “How do I get my clients to implement my recommendations?”.

So many big brands are mired by organisational structures that have been around for years, and hence are not set up for digital. Your client contact may be as excited as you are to make changes and improve performance, but the hoops that they have to jump through to get things done can often feel exhausting, and even the best recommendations get lost.

It’s important to remember that we’re on a journey with our client, that change doesn’t happen over night, and 10 years ago digital was only a small part of the marketing plans of even the largest companies.

Thankfully we’re starting to see this change, even traditional companies are adopting a digital first strategy, and restructuring themselves to make digital change happen. We’re seeing publishing models for ‘always on’ content, CMOs with a digital background, and mature use of analytics to inform business decisions, and that has to be good for SEO.

- Simon Bennison, DigitasLBi

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Fear #31: Stubborn SEO’s sticking to old tactics

I’m a very deep sleeper so there are few things but my kids that keep me awake at night :). As a (search) marketer I do have something I am ’scared’ for though. It’s not Google, it’s not changes in products, but actually the lack of change. Lack of change with some groups of SEO’s who keep focusing on ’traditional’ factors like ranking factors, links etcetera. I think the industry really needs to look forward into the changing world and always keep the searcher in mind first instead of the ranking.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many good SEO’s, (most better than myself ;) ) and there is also a big group that does indeed look in the right direction, but I’m afraid some won’t make the step needed to go forward.

- Bas van den Beld, Owner of State of Digital

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Fear #32: Falling victim to collateral damage

The one thing I’m afraid from future Google algorithms is that one of my clients (or myself) will fall a victim of being part of collateral damage. There are always sites that fall in that category – so far I was quite lucky.

Another thing that sometimes bothers me – is the data limitations and pushing their own AdWords agenda by Google.
The way that SERPs looks for some keywords these days (for example for ‘flights to las vegas) – you almost can’t see the organic results even on a high res large monitor.

Satisfying clients has a lot to do with training them and teaching them and managing the expectations. As long as they’re aware that their search marketing campaign that I manage is aligned with Google’s future agenda – and that their marketing goals are being met there won’t be any problems. Usually I saw clients change agencies because there were differences coming out of different attitudes or of an agency not being transparent enough.

Very rarely there’s a competitor that keeps me awake at night – but that only happened following a negative SEO attack :)

- Krystian Szastok, Senior SEO Manager at Jellyfish UK

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Fear #33: SEO being considered a “separate thing”

My fear isn’t of Google or industry-wide crises. I’m worried that SEO will continue to be considered a separate ‘thing’ – something you ‘do’ and then move on, or something that lacks credibility.

We have yet, as an industry, to change that. And many don’t seem to want to. If we don’t, at some point other disciplines, like web development, may catch up with us, and SEO as a craft may simply become a piece of those disciplines.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not really an SEO as much as an all-around marketer, so I’d love to see SEO become a more integral part of the mix. But I think SEOs need to manage the transition. Otherwise, critical components – especially onsite stuff – will be lost, and businesses will suffer for it.

- Ian Lurie, Internet Marketer at Portent Interactive

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Fear #34: Finding talent

As marketers, there’ll always be specific campaigns or projects on our minds. I don’t lose sleep that often, but when I do it’s generally when I’m up late pondering over recruitment! Finding the right people in this area is so, so difficult and at Tecmark, we invest a lot of effort into bringing the right people in. Recruiting experience (but those experienced in modern tactics) is incredibly tough and recruiting entry-level roles means a lot of applications and some tough choices (we got close to 400 CVs for an entry level role we advertised last summer). With so many talented people clamouring to get into the industry, it’s always really tough narrowing large volumes of applications down and there’s often big decisions to be made.

- Stacey Cavanagh, Head of Search at Tecmark

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Fear #35: SEO’s acting like snake oil salesmen

I think one of the things that still keeps me up at night when it comes to SEO is how many SEOs still act like complete snake oil salesmen when it comes to the work behind SEO. While some of them actually believe the BS that they’re slinging on their site and in trades, most of them just frame the work behind SEO as a type of dark art that no mere mortal can understand. If you ever hear an SEO describe what they are doing a “trick” or a “hack,” run for it because they are about to hurl some A-grade fertilizer your way.

Another real nightmare starter is the number of SEOs that just constantly abuse the word “test” when it comes to their insights into Google’s algorithm. There are millions and millions of web pages spread out across millions of websites, all triggered by countless numbers of search queries, yet, SEOs still make a single change on a single website and call the results a big find because it worked that one time. A good majority of the industry really needs to learn the meaning of “statistical significance” and then just realize that they don’t have the amount of data needed to make a call on an algorithm as complex as Google’s ranking system across as many pages there are indexed on the internet. Let it go – Google has told you a ton and you’re not going to figure it out on your own.

I guess I shouldn’t sweat it too much; I’ve made a nice career out of cleaning up their sloppy work and educating people on what SEO is really about and what it’s not.

- Jeff Ferguson, CEO at Fang Digital Marketing

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Fear #36: SEO is becoming more complex and diverse

I see the ever changing landscape of the industry as more of an opportunity than something to be afraid of. As we move away from the days of Google as a sole source of traffic, or of rehashing tried and tested methods to build links, we’re presented with a wealth of opportunities to offer integrated marketing solutions that really add to a users’ experience. While the unknown can be perceived as scary, it also keeps us on our toes and presents us with opportunities to learn, grow and develop our knowledge. Personally, I find that exciting!

- Jess Champion, Head of PR at Distilled

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Fear #37: Search Marketing becoming useless

My biggest fear is that Google will completely succeed in its seeming mission to provide *answers* rather than *search results*. If search queries result one day in showing only the ever-increasing Knowledge Graph and not organic search results at all, then that will render (unpaid) search marketing essentially useless.

At that point, the question to ask will be, “How can website get into the Knowledge Graph?” The subtext of that question: “How can my website provide answers and build a domain authority similar to that of Wikipedia?” So far, SEOs and online marketers do not have a really good idea of how to answer those questions.

However, I’m not that worried yet. For example, a lot of search queries are not for facts (“When did the United States declare independence?”) or specific needs (“Where is the closest subway station to my hotel in London?”). I’m not sure it’s possible to provide factual *answers* — and not search results at all — for a query such as “What is the best website where I can buy clothes?” Those queries and results are qualitative (not quantitative) and incorporate opinions based on what Google’s algorithm views as authoritative.

I doubt Google will have an answer for that — at least not anytime soon!

- Samuel Scott, Director of SEO & Digital Marketing for The Cline Group

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Fear #38: Lack of Buy-In From Clients

I’m really excited for the opportunities in front of SEO’s and digital marketers. I think that good SEO’s are evolving to have much a much broader focus. No longer are we focusing simply on optimizing title tags and whether a link is followed. While these are still things SEO’s should pay attention, there are many more disciplines that SEO’s should be concerned with.

These include (but not limited to) things like content, acquisition, and even branding. Between merging roles to have a wider sphere of influence and the increased budgets that digital marketers are seeing, SEO’s have a lot going for them. What scares me the most is that we won’t get buy in to push our companies and brands to do really cool digital marketing initiatives. This is really on us as marketers to create better pitches that show the value of what we want to do.

- Geoff Kenyon, SEO Consultant

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Fear #40: Google isn’t punishing enough people

To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot that worries me and as such as I don’t have too much too add – we’ve got solid strategies that are completely ethical and we are agile and smart enough to continual evolve. We focus on strong content and technical excellence which works perfectly. My only worry/concern is that Google is not taking as much action as it should against poor quality/paid links – they need to work harder to algorithmically detect and devalue these links.

- David Freeman, Head of SEO in Havas Media

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Fear #40: Creating value for clients

My biggest fears come about when Google makes a big change. It’s not so much a fear as a “how do we quickly pivot and create value for our client” feeling.

For example, the knowledge graph has provided users with information faster. That’s Google’s goal and it’s usually helpful for the searcher. It could be universities showing up in the knowledge graph, movies, city attractions, loan rates, etc and knowing how to pivot clients impacted by this is crucial.

The fear usually subsides when I rely on my team to help find a solution. Also, one comforting note is that Google continues to better itself which creates more dependence from users. So long as Google remains innovative, I feel very secure that the search industry will be around for a long time.

An actual fear comes around every so often when you care about your client’s site more than they do. THAT is a legitimate fear, especially if a number of people at that company are banking on the website to provide them with a job.

- Adam Melson, SEER Interactive

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Fear #41: Disruptive Changes


The main thing I think about is what will be the next disruptive change. The hits just keep on coming, and it is so important to be dynamic and responsive!

- Eric Enge

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  • http://www.martinwoods.me.uk/ Martin Woods

    Haha brilliant, I’m so glad I’m not on my own!

    One thing I would add to this list (it’s not new, but certainly more likely to give you a headache) in 2014 is the risk of getting a Google Penguin algorithmic issue, or a partial/sitewide manual spam action for the historical manipulation of links. This year has already started with some big penalties being handed out and it looks likely to gather momentum.

    • Henley Wing

      Good point, Martin. I’ve known people in the past who’ve gotten penalized for doing that.

  • Salih Alborno

    This article sums up the feelings in the SEO industry so far…My vote goes to:
    Fear33# SEO being considered a “separate thing”

  • Ian Roberts

    Re: Getting client to listen to you.

    I was chatting with a colleague about
    clients not trusting or giving the resource and budget to digital over other
    areas of marketing, that aren’t so measurable. Naturally, it depends on the
    business model (I worked for a business that was created in the height of the
    dot com boom who were set up for digital and didn’t trust offline methods) but
    my thinking is that it might take a while for some businesses to fully embrace
    digital until we see the people you hold the purse strings and run the
    companies who see digital as a risk, start to retire and be replaced by more
    savvy people.

  • Alexey

    The only actual fear I have is if Google disables Adwords keyword tool and there is no monthly searches data

    • http://www.clayton-nichols.com/ Clay

      I think this kind of fear would be more apt if it were “If Google makes Adwords to only be seen behind an Adwords Account Paywall” meaning you have to spend money with them to use it.

      That would be the quickest way to push people to spend incrementally just to use a tool that controls a lot of what people do in SEO, content marketing, etc.

    • jwblackwell

      I think this is unlikely to happen, although I could see them making it gradually less useful for SEO purposes and more for PPC.

  • http://www.springboardseo.com/ Springboard SEO

    Re: Laura Lippay’s Fear #13: The SEO Industry’s Perceived Slimy Reputation

    Wow, does this one ever resonate with me. When asked, I usually describe my profession as something other than ‘SEO’; usually ‘search/web visibility’. I’ve branched out my business model to include everything that goes hand in hand with SEO, and should now be considered part of it, from content strategy to usability testing.

    I should just start handing out my business card to those who ask what I do, so they can see for themselves what I offer, instead of immediately jumping to conclusions…

  • Carol L Hargett

    A lot of responses regarding a fear of change, that seems odd to me. I rather like the idea that a some “nobody” can show up, do a great job and shift balance of power just little bit. However, I am concerned with a monopoly power, that NEVER works out good. There are some other industries that want that monopoly power too, maybe that is where the focus needs to be, who will be running our future?

  • Joe

    #1 should be Google’s continuing assault on organic clicks. Every year, they announce that people are clicking on ads more than ever. Every time I hear that, I’m like okay, that sucks for SEO people.

  • Spook SEO

    These all posts are perfect and delivering the best things that we always need to focus and if we are doing good by changing the strategies with the chances in the market we have worth of our work but If you are catching fears you will be lost soon. no doubt we always need to be worried about the changes in the market but always there are some ways that help us to do better in what we are doing. So cheer up and think what you are doing in your strategies.

  • http://www.referralcandy.com/ Visakan @ ReferralCandy

    Hey, spotted a typo- #38, #40, #40! Other than that, great post. Lots of useful information.