How to Get from Here to There in the SEO Industry

by danperry on December 21, 2007

in Online Marketing

I received the following email today, and besides being a huge ego boost (I feel sorry for my wife; having to live with this), I thought it would make for a great post, so here’s the synopsis:

I found you through SEMPO and the SEMPO Institute group. I’m about 1.5 years into a consulting business and would eventually like to work as an in-house SEO or for a marketing company. So, seriously, how did you get to where you are? Was all of your SEO learning done through experience? How did you compile a list of qualifications?

Great questions. The short answer is: Some was luck, some was hustle, but there are takeaways for everything, so here’s how I did it. Hope it helps.

#1 Maximize Opportunities
I had a boring job at a factory (think Homer Simpson). For intellectual stimulation, I started screwing around online. I was asked to build a website and I said OK, without really having a clue. I taught myself HTML, built the site, and in about 3 months, I searched Netscape, and was on the first page for the term “Michigan golf”, and the light bulb went off. This was 1998.

Takeaway: Do it. Build a website. Learn HTML. Play with CSS. Start a blog. I rarely do web design, but knowing the tags and specifics makes it much easier to talk to the designers, and IT. SEO is a different language than most people are accustomed to speaking, so you’re going to need a bridge, and this is a great place to start.

Quote: Bite off more than you can chew, then chew it. Ella Williams

#2 Tempt Fate
I had built a few websites of my own, and was screwing around with the affiliate stuff and running a small consulting business. Within a 6 week period, I lost my wife, job, and house (which I built). Easy to read; tough to live through. It was the hat-trick of self-doubt. I immediately started looking for a job, and one in Chicago looked like a good fit. I applied, interviewed, and accepted a position that paid me less (than the job I just lost), but also got me out of my dismal situation.

Takeaway: Life threw a curve ball that hit me in the face. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, and getting “lost in a haze of alcohol-soft middle age” (anyone get the reference?), I looked at it as a chance to truly go a different direction.

Quote: You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. Walt Disney

#3 Drive/Hustle
The job ended up being the World Series of Internet Marketing. I was thrown into an environment where I was immediately in charge of over 100 websites, SEO, Analytics, PPC, Local Search, etc., and I absolutely loved it. I’d set goals for myself (and have them set for me), and I’d shatter them. I’d do whatever it took. I get up at 5 a.m. (or earlier) every day, and get online to take care of personal stuff prior to going to work; I’ve been doing it for years. It’s all about setting goals, and stomping on them as you go past.

Takeaway: It all comes down to passion. There is absolutely nothing I’d rather be doing, and if you can look in the mirror and honestly say that to yourself, then work your butt off. Get up an hour earlier tomorrow and use the time to reach that goal.

Quote: Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it. Author Unknown

#4 Parlay
I made sure to got the maximum benefit out of the position. I started submitting speaker requests at conferences, and have since spoke at fourteen different shows. I ran for the Board of Directors of SEMPO, and got elected. I joined all the industry groups I could (WAA, CIMA, etc.), and networked like crazy. I have profiles on most social sites, try to make new friends, continue relationships with old friends, etc.

Takeaway: SEO is all about maximization, and so is this takeaway. If you don’t put yourself out there, nobody will know who you are. Of the three options, which is better: Applying for dozens of jobs and waiting, picking and choosing, or finally, being contacted for positions? By maximizing all the available channels (and in this industry, there are many), I’m between #2 and #3, and there’s no reason you can’t be either.

Quote: Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential. Winston Churchill.

#5 Network
When I started thinking about a career change, I told a few friends in the industry. They ended up putting me in touch with someone at my current company. The job wasn’t even posted. I can’t think of a better example of the value of networking.

Takeaway: Start your blog. Comment on other blogs. Get in the discussion. Meet new people in the industry, either at a conference, show, online, social network, etc. Nurse those relationships. They may pay off in the future in ways you’ve never imagined.

Quote: True friendship consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and value. Ben Johnson

#6 Personal Branding
This is probably the easiest one, and goes hand-in-hand with Networking. In your view, which is better; Wal-Mart or Target? Both are (basically) after the same customer, but which brand do you like better? Now think of yourself as a brand. Are you a Wal-Mart or a Target? If I were an employer who interviewed you and two other equally qualified applicants, and went online to research the three of you, what would I think of your online brand?

Would I find positive and thought-provoking posts on your blogs? Well thought out replies on other blogs? Active participation on industry web sites? Or would I find you’re post ranting and raving over the shipwreck that the latest Google Dance caused (complete with obscenities)?

Lesson: Your personal brand is everything. Eventually, all employers (especially in this industry) will be doing this, and probably before they call you for an interview. Do a search for your name online. Are the results positive? If not, reference #3 above.

Quote: Perception is reality in the absence of experience – Tom Martin

What would’ve happened if I wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to build a website for a friend in 1998? I have no idea, but I sure am happy I took the chance, and believe me, you will be too. You’re never going to get there from here standing still. Now JUMP!

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