Keeping a Young Mind in a Fast Changing Digital Market Place

Keeping a Young Mind in a Fast Changing Digital Market Place

10th November 2014

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Last week I attended the UK Search awards. I have been involved in the awards since the beginning and it pleased me to see the development of this event. It’s growing, the entries are getting better (and the drinking stays the same 😉 ).

When talking to people I noticed some interesting things last week, which I believe show that the SEO industryis changing, or should I say the Digital Marketing industry as a whole, for the good.

We are old!

Many of the conversations I had were with old friends. And it seems like ‘suddenly’ these old friends and I have really actually gotten old. I don’t think I ever had that many conversations in which comments were made like ‘I used to know everybody here, now I don’t know so many’ or ‘I’m too old to keep up with those youngsters’ or ‘who are all those people?’ At least, I didn’t have these type of conversations at industry events before. But it’s a signal of change: the (SEO) industry is changing; it’s getting younger.

But not just getting younger, it’s widening as well. We are seeing many more young talents coming into the industry, many of them talented women, which is a very good thing I believe. We are also seeing the impact of that in the actual work done within search: it’s not a technical, tactical process anymore. We are actually seeing the silo’s being broken down. Content Marketing, Search, Social, Advertising, they are starting to live under the same roof.

When younger and different people are involved something happens with ‘older’ people find hard to get their grip on: things speed up, they change more rapidly every day. This means that the gradual changes we’ve been seeing are being pushed forward much harder because of the younger people embracing the opportunities. The ‘older’ generations will have to keep up with that, which in some cases is a challenge.

How are we handling these changes?

The question is, we’ve been asking for these changes for years and now they seem to be getting up to speed, how do we handle the changes?

I’d say we’re handling them in various ways, some bad and some good.

In the past few years we’ve seen existing entities trying to get a grip on the changes. SEOMoz became Moz, we ourselves went from State of Search to State of Digital and recently MajesticSEO became Majestic for example. These at first sight seem to be ‘just’ name changes, but the impact is much bigger: they speak to a different and larger audience.

There are different approaches to breaking down the silos. Searchengineland didn’t choose to re-brand but simply added a brand (Marketingland) and is not going to rebrand the SMX conferences from Search to something more general, but simply adds social conferences to their program. Something which happens with the creators of BrightonSEO as well: instead of changing the show, they added shows.

Others have a different approach. What works better? That remains to be seen. At the Search awards, and in the weeks before online, one conference that changes was being discussed specifically: SES. Or I maybe should say “ClickZ”. SES was the first and biggest search conference and decided to ‘widen’ last year by re-branding the conference to ClickZ, at least in the US, in London they haven’t changed it yet. It seemed like a bold move and a year after it seems like SES is the example of not being able to adapt.

The Chicago conference apparently had very low number of visitors and the conference organisers are slowly turning the search community against them by starting to charge agency speakers for the speaking slots. An idea which is not just bad because it turns the search industry against the conference, it will also hurt the visitors who will see less valuable sessions and more pitches. Yes, they will see the brands, but those aren’t all they need. They need the practical advise as well.

To me (and many others in the industry I noticed), this is the wrong way of adapting to the changing SEO (Digital) world. I truly hope SES comes to their ‘senses’ soon.

So how should we respond?

The big question off course is: how should we, the ‘oldies’ respond? Push through our ideas? That is probably a bad idea. The thing is: it’s not the people coming into the industry that have to adapt: it’s the people already in it that should adapt. This for example means we should start not only to understand our audience better, we should understand our peers better as well. Work with them and not against them. And try different things.

Let me try and explain what I try to do to keep a ‘young’ mind and how I respond to the changing world:

One of the things I have been doing personally in the past few years is trying to open up to new markets and new people. By speaking in different countries like Iran, Ukraine, but also Norway, Spain and Iceland for example, I got to know new people and though I was the one teaching most, I probably was the one learning most as well. I learned from other speakers but also, and especially, learned from other audiences. People in Iran give me different ideas, and so do people in Spain. But the ideas will only come if you are ‘open’ for them.

Us oldies should ‘open up’ to new markets and new people. That’s why I go to all these different places and try to get people to come to conferences in Holland for example. At the end of this month there is the ‘Searchcongres’, which has a different take on conferences than most. There are many ‘masterclasses’, which have experts teaching experts.

The keynotes I programmed specifically with breaking down the silos in mind. Sam Noble will make the connection between PPC and SEO, Hannah Smith will connect SEO with Content Marketing and Jose Truchado will add the social element to that mix. It’s what I believe conference organisers or programmers should do: don’t put up speakers for the sake of speakers, but connect the topics and try to make new talents and different talents blossom.


I know, I’m not putting up the ‘next generation’ on the stage as keynotes, but it’s a start, with 2 female keynote speakers, we are making progress. The young generation I try to help and learn from in a different way: I for example try to help start ups.

In the past year I have been a start up mentor for start ups around the globe. This is truly one of the things I love most of my job. You work with young people (mostly) who have fast new ideas. With my knowledge I try to help them move even faster and more efficient. And they teach me how their world works. What their views are. How they should be approached. How fast they are and how they look at things. Again, I’m not sure who learns most: them or me.

To me these are ways of integrating the old and new generations and of breaking down the silos: working with young people, trying to put the right combination of people on a stage and letting new people blog on State of Digital. You will be seeing a lot of new fresh and also some familiar faces here in the next few months, in an effort to do just that: making sense of the changing world.

It’s what I do to keep a young mind in a fast changing industry. And off course I’m very curious how you do it: how do you adapt? How do you help?


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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