Does the average SEO have ANY business acumen at all?

35 comments
Source Title:
Bob Massa on SEO's greatest weakness
Story Text:

Brian points to the ongoing thread at SEW, SEM Industry Biggest Growing Pains where SearchKing famed Bob Massa posts some provocative thoughts on the general lack of business or marketing skills amongst those that call themselves search marketers...

The lack of business acumen among search engine marketers. Far too many people claiming to be professional SEO's have no educational background or experience in any kind of marketing or business.

There is still a perception clinging to the industry that there is gold in them thar hills if you just learn to be an SEO. This forum is undoubtedly the most visited on the web by real SEO by anyone's definition of the term. Yet compare the threads about SEO ethics to the threads about investment, cost per action, estimating production times, scheduling, unemployment taxes, FICA, (anyone even know that what that stands for?)

The days are numbered, not for the search engine marketer who understands business, client acquisition, public relations, cost of goods and return, but for the sitting up all night in their underwear SEO, smoking three packs a day and bragging on a forum one day that he is number 2 for a VERY competitive term and crying on another the next day about being dropped by Yahoo when their site is obviously the best.

The more we as an industry learn about business and THEN search engine business specifically, the faster the industry will grow. Or more accurately perhaps, evolve.

I've talked to Bob about this very subject a few times in private, and have to say i fully agree - you only have to look at the general forum conversations seo's are engaged in, and what topics are NOT covered to see his point...

Comments

yeah but

a) while it's an interesting discussion with people who's business you have some knowledge of, much business management and client aquisition is specific to your circumstances, what works for me won't necessarily work for you and without a lot of facts and and in depth discussion it may hurt more than help.

b) if you want really fundamental business discussions there are other places to get it from. Like business forums. Courses. Your bank manager.

c) as soon as you hit financial/legal worldwide forums aren't generally the best place to get information which is appropriate for your country/state.

I agree with his basic point and I'm pretty stroppy with people who start a post "I've signed up for these six affiliate schemes can you tell me how to make money from them" but I don't see SEW or anywhere else is a realistic answer to that.

 

Growing pains? Comon guys. It reminds me of a bunch of spoiled millionare kids that complain about how hard it is to be rich. If you think growing is a pain then don't. If you don't like your millions please feel free to send them to me :)

No they don't

But they didn't have SEO acumen at first either. Let's face it, we're all flying by the seat of our pants in with this new-fangled Internet thingee. Those of us who love computers and love the Internet, and like to learn by doing have certainly lucked out these past 10 years!

Business acumen comes with time, just like anything else. I don't know about the rest of you, but I learn how to run a business and how to help my client's businesses by trying to understand as much as I can, trying new things, and learning from my mistakes. Every new client brings new challenges, but if you are constantly in learning mode, you can generally work things out.

I don't personally believe that an MBA gets you any closer to business acumen than trial and error. It all depends on how you learn best.

Agreed

"I don't personally believe that an MBA gets you any closer to business acumen than trial and error. It all depends on how you learn best."

Have to agree wholeheartedly with this comment. You can equip a person with every bit of knowledge in the world, but you need the common sense and ability to learn and constantly develop in order to succeed.

Agree!

> I don't personally believe that an MBA gets you any closer to business acumen than trial and error

Some of the most sucessfull people I know don't have a degree in anything. I Don't have any papers either and even though I wouldn't label myself as extremely successful (more kind of in the middle, I'd say) I still managed to make a living through this, and a 15 years career in a previous trade - both without any degrees in anything.

Getting a degree is one way to learn - but only one, out of many.

maybe but ...

having an MBA doesn't hurt, I know many people in the biz with are top SEOs that have MBAs, run multi-million companies, took companies public and now they are doing SEO,
the MBA will not get you a better ranking, but it will allow you to better understand the vendor side and get a better deal
/BP

 

>MBA

I have a BS (apropos, some say) degree in Commerce & Economics: http://williams.wlu.edu/about/

In my 2nd semester accounting course, we did 'simulated management team' case-studies used in MBA courses elsewhere and also were given big, fat envelopes which contained a year's receipts and payslips from (I still remember the damn name) the fictional Mack's Candy Company and told to reconstuct and BALANCE the books. I'd note that I wasn't even an accounting major ...they just wanted me to know this as background information before we went into the management stuff like 'Decision Theory' and 'Marketing 201.' So to say that a graduate-level program can't get you any closer to business acumen is a bit too broad a statement.

Still, judging by the other students in the C-school with me and ~today~ by those I know in SEO (and frequently travel with), I'd say that business acumen is largely in one's DNA and that field experience builds upon that.

The phrase "build it and they will come" is usually used to denigrate "content SEOs" - it's a far fairer reflection of many web-based business models, and it extends beyond search marketing to programming, hosting and design.

Since I've been active in this industry, I've been amazed by the number of companies who lack the common business sense and courtesy which is usual in offline commerce.

To the extent that it is quite feasible to possess a completely full order book just by doing what you said you would at the time you said you would do it.

Hmmp

From experience I have learned that Bob Massa usually is full of .... Hot air, as old door to door Kirby Vacuume Salesmen usually are.

If your talking to this guy Nick, hold on tight to your wallet and credit card... Just a word of advice from one of the many that have learned the hard way.

"we can't all be Doug, thank God"

Sometimes you need to read the source doc, not just the "thread watch".

That interview only took a few lines to get to the topic of "unethical SEOs". Perhaps that, and not a lack of business acumen, is the biggest problem facing the SEO industry?

When's the last time you heard of car salesmen calling other car salesmen unethical? When did a salesman suggest to a customer that you can't trust ... salesmen? In fact, when did any successful "industry" get there by pointing fingers at its members for poor ethics and bad behavior?

It is kind of funny really...

...that he is insulting his user base - well, at least a large percentage of it.

Business Acumen?

NW, you rarely fail to amaze me. You take lessons in business acumen from the man who took on Google in a no-win battle?

There are panhandlers in central london with more business acumen than that!

I suppose saying that makes me a troll, huh ;o)

that, and not a lack of business acumen, is the biggest problem

facing the SEO industry<

Couldn't agree more. This obsession with ethics and all that encumbent finger pointing going on is simply immature, self-centered, egotistical, a clear indicator of a fundamental sense of insecurity - and eminently self-defeating.

Also, in that SEW thread Mikkel pointed out that he didn't really see any big "bad reputation" problem around. Well, neither do I - it seems that the only people continuously fretting about their industry's "bad reputation" are the SEOs themselves. Talk about fighting windmills ...

From which follows that worrying about the industry's reputation isn't the solution but quite possibly a major part of the problem.

After all, clients couldn't care less: and as long as they achieve their goals and don't get burned in the process, why the hell should they? This is a service industry, for goodness's sake, nothing more, nothing less.

What would you make of a restaurant where the waiters are publicly yaking all the time about their colleagues' performance, warning guests of their "nasty tipping tricks", lamenting the kitchen's purportedly awful food and praising the wonderful victuals produced elsewhere, blithely ignoring what the patrons (who, after all, are paying for the show) may actually think about it all?

&nbsp;

Quote:
This obsession with ethics and all that encumbent finger pointing going on is simply immature, self-centered, egotistical, a clear indicator of a fundamental sense of insecurity - and eminently self-defeating.

Naval gazing in young industries appears to be the norm - bloggers, though not an industry as such are quite obsessed with ethics also....

&nbsp;

>follows that worrying about the industry's reputation isn't the solution but quite possibly a major part of the problem.

Yes, I've been considering posting 'biggest problem is threads like this' --but I'm trying to be a nice guy nowadays.

&nbsp;

When's the last time you heard of car salesmen calling other car salesmen unethical? When did a salesman suggest to a customer that you can't trust ... salesmen? In fact, when did any successful "industry" get there by pointing fingers at its members for poor ethics and bad behavior?

Erm .. yesterday, today and last week.

ALL Salesmen routinely tell you the 'other guy' cannot be trusted; they know their product is crap, so they are trained to 'build up trust' by slandering the rest. Restaurant staff routinely tell you the restaurant over the road has a dirty kitchen, and a chef with skin diseases.

Where do you guys live?

It happens throughout the business community, always has, always will (even my barber told me the 'other fellow' doesn't soak his combs for long enough.

And if they are telling the truth, all power to them - every industry has people who need to be exposed. Trouble is, like SEO, it's the bad ones who shout loudest, and it's the good ones who get lied about.

That's life; Mr Massa may think he's invented this stuff, but let me confide in you - he didn't.

Where I happen to live

people badmouthing their competition generally disqualify themselves by default: in my experience this is the hallmark of seedy bottom feeders who'll gladly sell their own grandmother for a fast buck, not of quality companies or individuals self-assured and confident about their own products and services.

So why don't quality people do it? Because in the end it hurts their own credibility and reputation. (And yes, I'm quite aware of the fact that there are many who will do just that - however, I don't seem to detect a lot of this going on at the top levels of any industry except, perhaps, in private, but that's an entirely different area.)

If my barber told me what yours is telling you, I'd drop him immediately - who knows what he'll tell the next guy about you?

&nbsp;

"This obsession with ethics and all that encumbent finger pointing going on is simply immature, self-centered, egotistical, a clear indicator of a fundamental sense of insecurity - and eminently self-defeating."

Don't be childish. Such an attitude is what dooms wannabees to that status. Mature industries have ethics, and understand that it is a central element of mega-success. Penny grubbers never get it, and always get passed by, just as is happening in SEO circles today.

Mature industries

are certainly not wasting their own resources on screeching how their competitors are "spamming, spamming, spamming" and how Big "Do No Evil" Daddy Goo (or Y! or whoever) will hopefully please please separate the wheat (them) from the chaff (all others) come redemption time. And they certainly don't confuse discussions about arguably useful technical standards with lynch mob calls and proto fascist vigilantism.

As as for "ethics" - I've stated more than once that this particular obsession with "industry ethics" seems to be an entirely U. S. American cultural hangup, and in actual real life practice hypocritical to a fault. So don't expect everyone else to subscribe to your specific brand of ontological parochialism. Some reflection on this might be in good order before you start calling other people childish.

"Standards" are just that - conventions governing (or at least recommending) technical procedures. Nothing moralistic about it.

---
Back to the topic at hand: Jill pointed out in another thread that her sister, having lost her company's good rankings, had to resort to other, more "classical" forms of PR and advertising - this is an excellent point because as we all know search engine rankings are nothing but fluff. They may hold well for years but they're certainly nothing to base a single business on exclusively.

And that's where SEOs' business acumen should indeed come in (or where many may have to
develop it in the first place): realizing that they can only be part of a larger picture and quite possibly not even the central one.

&nbsp;

You don't seem to have a clue about mature industries. Ethical business practices are a point of business acumen. Perhaps even just appearance of ethical practices alone, something Google has mastered to date, elevates businesses. The scorched earth folks being left behind can't grasp that ethics is what builds businesses, and industries, and they don't grasp it because they aren't trying to build businesses or brands or good will. They don't have that vision.

No one expects unethical short-termers to accept industry ethics. I personally only expect those who don't see ethics a financially positive business principle to continue to not succeed in this and most every other industry.

People with visions

should go and consult a psychiatrist.

And people with ethics hangups may find appropriate assistance within the religious communities. Plenty of those around.

Besides, as you're patently missing the point entirely, I'm not going to respond to this kind of rant anymore.

Not sure how we got back to ethics...

But at the risk of going too far off topic, I do feel that of course ethics in business are paramount, just as they are in life. I also understand that one person's ethics is another's something else.

Funny story...

I recently won a new client out of the blue because a so-called ethical SEO bad-mouthed me on the phone to this potential client. The client was so turned off by it, he called me and hired me. I am thinking of sending him a referral fee just to make him mad... hehehe

&nbsp;

>I recently won a new client out of the blue because a so-called ethical SEO bad-mouthed me on the phone to this potential client.

that is why you always use gracious tact on the phone. its almost better to give a somewhere in the middle rating instead of just calling someone crap.

first talk them in the middle or talk them up and then go "oh, I forgot, well there was the time that... , and the time that... . I probably wouldn't recommend them now that I think of it."

even when that journalist interviewed me about traffic power (incidentally 1P.com is somehow in Google now) I said that Traffic Power cold calls enough people that the serps for their name was valuable marketing space for many competing businesses, so there could be incentive to not tell the truth.

people will selectivly hear what they want though. the trick if you want to persuade somebody is not to offend.

Not to offend

without turning into an affirmative slime pot is exactly it.

And Jill's anecdote is quite to the point:

We get frequent inquiries asking for our opinion on competitors' products or services. It's almost turned into a mantra: "It is not our policy to trash our competition", etc. Then, I'll simply outline what we have to offer (not even mentioning that they don't - people are either smart enough to make that inference or they're not really interested in product comparison anyway.

I might just as well say that we simply won't waste our valuable time on denigrating competitors, period. Which would be just as true.

Because push will always come to shove (pure physics at work here: action + reaction). So better don't be pushy. If I badmouth you, chances are the client will (probably rightly) assume that I'll badmouth him or her at some later point, too. So they shy away from you rather than get your intended message.

Again - fingerpointing is an infallible sign of an immature and basically insecure character: not someone you would want to entrust with your search marketing campaign by any standard ...

made a couple t shirts

one quoting Fantomaster
and one quoting Nebraska

&nbsp;

One of the fundemental things any professional salesman knows is that you NEVER, ever trash the competition, not even backhandedly.

Noboby comes out a winner from that kind of silliness.

&nbsp;

"Again - fingerpointing is an infallible sign of an immature and basically insecure character:"

Which is exactly the nature of what you are doing. People who choose to do ethical business don't badmouth the competition obviously. They present themselves to be judged on their own merit. Of course, you have to be good at what you do to do that, which is why ethical businesses control industries why those unwilling to base their work on trust and quality end up hurling invective from the outside, and picking locks to try and get in to steal the silverware.

Just to review for those without vision, ethics is not just a way to run your life because it satisfies you as a human being. Demonstrating and emphasizing ethical business practices is good business. As we can see, people wanting to do business in the search marketing industry have no appreciation of the purely financial benefits of ethical practices, which goes to heart of the original question: "Does the average SEO have ANY business acumen at all?" I don't know about "average" but clearly many seos have an extraordinarily weak grasp on one of the fundemental bases on which the majority of very successful businesses are built. Too bad for them.

&nbsp;

demonstrating ethical business practises is good business

emphasizing ethical business practises is desperation marketing (imho)

&nbsp;

Agreed Gurtie, it always pains me to see TW conversatins hijacked like this....

&nbsp;

Like how?

back on topic

seriously this isn't actually an issue about whether SEO people specifically have any business acumen, but business people in general. Offline in the UK something like 60% of all startups fail in the first two years (not all because of lack of business acumen but it plays a part)

Since it's so much easier to set up a 'business' online I imagine that the proportions failing must be astronomical. If you're selling tangibles and you don't deliver or you have no marketing ability then that failure will be clear (no orders, no customers, no deliverables, no income, no company) but since SEO is, like any form of consultancy, so hard to define and so easy to market (esp to an online audience) then people tend to get by for a long while.

Slightly o/t - SEO only seems to be unique in the way it has it's scandles and arguments in public, not in the problems it has, I suspect everyone who's been involved in specific industries knows the stories of peoples past and who did what and which person has been 'let go' from every large player, SEO is pretty unique in that these conversations are (partly) held online, in front of everyone and with people chanting *fight, fight* on the sidelines.

&nbsp;

I think for the most part though that much of the "infighting" we have is in regards to tactics, more than anything personal. When one truly believes that tricking the search engines is bad practice, one wants to make sure the rest of the world knows it! :)

That said, I have no problem sending people who have their minds set on cloaking, to our good buddy Fantomaster. I mean, if they're gonna do it, they might as well do it in style!

Sorry off topic -

What amazes me is that this “ethical” thing has become such an issue. I do remember (as I am sure a few others here can) when this “SEO Ethics” thing all first started. Who would ever have guessed it would have become so polarizing and such a wide spread and diverse debate. It has turned one time friends into bitter enemies, it has made and broken reputations, business and threatens an emerging industry. All in all an interesting study in self promotion, self destruction and human behavior, I have enjoyed it. ;-)

Is it possible to get SEO marketing business training?

Quote:
The lack of business acumen among search engine marketers. Far too many people claiming to be professional SEO's have no educational background or experience in any kind of marketing or business.

This field moves so fast, that I if you started training on it at a 4 year college, to get a degree in 'online marketing', your training is obsolete by the time you graduate. This field changes. A lot. And so much of it is learning by trial and error.

I could see how basic skills in mathmatics and statistics would help you, but beyond that, so much of this is field experience, I don't know if an MBA would even matter.

I have to agree with RC:

Quote:
I'd say that business acumen is largely in one's DNA and that field experience builds upon that.

where I live

this is the hallmark of seedy bottom feeders who'll gladly sell their own grandmother for a fast buck, not of quality companies or individuals self-assured and confident about their own products and services.

Where do I live? Where Doctors don't badmouthing other doctors. And clergymen don't disparage other clergymen.

Okay so bottom-feeding scoundrels may do it, but unless you want to accept membership in the bottom feeding scoundrel society, I suggest SEO might aspire to a slightly higher standard.

As for getting an account because another SEO disparaged you or your tactics, I see the same thing. They want to win. If you tell them you'll work hard for them but not as hard as that other gal who pushes the rules of ethics (that unethical b*tch!), guess who they are going to call?

Is that the "business acumen" point being made? Oh, I get it now ;-)

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.