Are SEOs Still Seen As Snake Oil Salesmen?
Search Engine Optimisation

Are SEOs Still Seen As Snake Oil Salesmen?

15th January 2015

In days gone by we digital marketers may have referred to ourselves as SEOs. Obviously SEO is a fundamental part of what we do, but the term is just not broad enough to encompass everything we need to do these days to build successful campaigns and reach our goals. As we have changed and adapted, has the public perception of the industry changed?

At the start it was easy, and for many years SEO stayed relatively uncomplicated for the average optimiser. Staying up to date with what worked and what didn’t, spamming your Meta data, following the competition, and paying for as many directory links from anywhere and everywhere pretty much covered the basic. Then content became more of a thing, so we focussed a bit more on that too. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling what we did, and there were plenty of other practices for improving your PageRank and so on, but life was simpler back then.

The downside of this of course was the large number of cowboys out there charging huge amounts of money for very little effort, producing poor results and generally giving us all a bad name. These slippery-cold-calling-cliché-spewing-exclamation-mark-loving characters continue to diminish in number as practices get harder and more genuinely talented marketers appear. However, their population is still strong, and they continue to jade the layman’s view of what we do and why we do it. As their army of cold callers marches on with promises of instant page one results, our reputation as an industry continues to struggle.

Or does it?


In February 2014 SEL published the findings of a SEMPO + eConsultancy poll, which indicated that almost 70% of agencies surveyed expected client SEO budgets to increase in 2014. Only 47% of in house SEOs expected an increase in budget.

Recently The Drum posted a similar piece aimed at 2015, based on figures from Gartner. Once again digital marketing spend is expected to increase, on average by 17% this time.

Love us or loathe us, we’re doing something right. A good digital marketing strategy is fundamental to any business, and SEO is a fundamental part of a good online marketing strategy.

Public Opinion

I went to the doctors last week. She asked me what I do for a living, and when I said ‘digital marketing’ her first response was ‘Oh. Do you call people up all the time?’ I was of course very quick to make a crowbar separation between us as an industry and any kind of cold caller or salesman. This got me thinking, so in a completely unscientific and vaguely relevant piece of ‘research’, I posted this as my status this morning:

My Status

Here are some of the responses I received:

Zan 1

Vicky 1

Sel 1

Sam 2

Nick & Isobel 1

Pete 1

Ray 1

Sam 1

Mae 1

Jason 1

Isobel 1

This last comment is from my cousin. I have no idea what she does but I know it’s very clever stuff, I think she studied Molecular Biology, and I’m pretty sure whatever she’s working on has no requirement for digital marketing. This technique, these desperate cold calling salesmen, seem to be a theme which immediately put us as an industry on the back foot with people.


Interestingly, we have a bit of a mix, though overall less negative than I expected.

So, in 2015 it seems that agency clients are expected to spend more on SEO, in house digital marketers are expecting more SEO budget, and opinions online and within my circles may be improving!

Then This Happened

Mark Wright Twitter

…and unsurprisingly the responses weren’t too positive.

Andy Status

In one swift move the winner of The Apprentice is set to bring the reputation of SEO back in time to around 2003. A salesman with no actual SEO experience at all, Wright claims that “no one knows more about SEO than me in the UK”. Kind of gives you the mark of the man. As does his online behaviour so far. He’s been on Twitter for a month, and this is his Google+ page:

Mark Wright Google Plus

With any luck the semi-enlightened and those in the know will bat this man-child away with the back of their hand and forget about him, like a mosquito or other minor annoyance. It’s those not in the know, and his potential clientele that I worry about. This post by @searchbrat  and the comments it has drawn echo my feelings, and I’m sure those of others in the industry.

It’ll probably all come to nothing, but the idea of this…person…tarnishing an industry which has struggled with its reputation for years because of people just like him chills me.

What are your experiences of the public view of SEO and digital marketing as it now stands?

What do you make of Mark Wright and his ‘SEO product’?



Written By
Laura is a Digital Marketing Consultant with Aira Digital & Advance Promotions. With search experience in a large number of industries both in-house and agency side, Laura has a strong interest in conversion optimisation and web psychology.
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