Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm
Years ago I was teaching a friend how to drive. She wasn’t feeling very comfortable pulling into traffic and making unprotected turns. In a moment of frustration she exclaimed, “I KNOW how to drive. I just can’t do it with all this traffic.”
I don’t recall how I responded at the time, but her statement got me thinking. Only later was I able to put my finger on why this didn’t sit right with me.
Now that I’ve set up that scenario, you can probably articulate immediately the conclusion I came to later.
Let’s compare notes after the jump.
Here’s the thing: Knowing how to drive is not about knowing how to operate a vehicle. Understanding how to make a car move and maneuvering it down a paved road is a necessary, but not sufficient, part of this thing we call “driving.”
Driving requires knowing how to react to other cars… yes, even if they don’t follow the rules of the road. You have to be able to gauge how soon oncoming traffic will reach you, when you should turn, how quickly you’ll need to slow down or accelerate, whether that car at the intersection is likely to pull out ahead of you. You should be able to guess what the speed limit probably is, even if you don’t see a sign. You also need to be able to drive on roads you’ve never been on before. Driving up and down the driveway doesn’t count.
Even if you follow all the rules, you still might get hit by some jackhole who isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing and your insurance rates will skyrocket through no fault of yours. But the odds of that tend to be lower if you drive defensively and don’t take unnecessary risks. On the other hand, if you are too conservative and are scared of driving on roads where you might encounter other cars, you may never get where you’re going (or not in a reasonable timeframe).
Does any of this sound familiar? Try replacing “search engine optimization” for “driving a car”. Now substitute “other cars on the road” with any dumb or even legitimate thing you’ve heard webmasters gripe about.
Part of being an SEO is understanding the consequences of algorithm shifts, dealing with the fact that competitors do shady things, pursuing strong ROI while also managing risk levels, knowing what pitfalls lay ahead and having some idea of what to do about them. Being an in-house SEO involves getting executive or company-wide buy-in and prioritizing tactics and resources. Being a client-facing SEO service provider also involves being able to convince clients to do things and, yes, even making sure they pay their invoices. Unless you’re an academic, that is part of being an SEO.
You might hear people say, “I KNOW how to do SEO and I’d be wildly successful except…”
Except Google keeps changing the algorithm.
Except my clients don’t do what I tell them.
Except my competitors engage in spammy paid link building practices.
Except I have an e-commerce site and no one links to commercial sites.
Except my crappy CMS keeps spitting out duplicate content.
Except blah blah blah…
If this is something you hear your SEO provider or colleague (or yourself) repeating regularly, perhaps you need to say: Dude, consider that perhaps you don’t know how to drive. (And then: But I still love you. Or: Get off the friggin road! — whichever is more appropriate.)
Image: “Traffic Jam” by K2D2vaca used under CC license.
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