Do-It-Yourself SEO: A Path to Failure


We live in a do-it-yourself culture. Despite the recent rise in the role of specialization, we Americans still think we are “one man armies” who can “go at it alone” and achieve results. We still carry the attitude of the loner cowboy, or the homesteader, who single-handedly confronts man, nature, and beast, prevails, and lives happily ever after.

Despite that ideal in our heads, modern life is way too technical for anyone to be a master of all trades. Recently, an Ophthalmologist friend of mine said that he went into that speciality because he wanted to fully understand and master a part of the body. Only later did he realize he would be referring patients to a retina specialist, a sub-specialty within Ophthalmology. He was reduced to being a petty generalist!

This is the way of the world. Greater and greater specialties emerge. And, our modern success is to specialize ourselves, get the monetary rewards of specializing, and then pay others to do other specialized tasks for us. This brings us to marketing. Is marketing a viable do-it-yourself option. The answer is yes, and no. Like anything else, you most likely have the intelligence to learn it and do it by yourself. However, the question is whether you have the 5000 hours to establish competency in the task. This is an estimate by academicians on how much repeated exposure our mind needs on one task before we fully internalize it.

I remember my first years in Internet Marketing and SEO, and it was amazing how much time I wasted going off in the wrong direction. The learning curve was steep. I felt like I was constantly hit by new optimization elements that I had previously not known about. Just when I thought I understood keywords I was hit with long-tail keywords. I was once happy identifying a couple main keywords per website. Now I create spreadsheets with thousands of keywords. I once saw each site as having a given set of keywords. Now I work on each page’s keywords as separate, yet interrelated.

Early on in SEO I was happy simply having a visible sitemap. Now I realize the greater value of an invisible XML sitemap. If you are a do-it-yourself SEO type you can add that to your list of things to know. SEO is intricate, and I would never recommend that anyone entrust the success of their business to their part-time marketing attempts. We in the business have a hard time keeping on top of the industry. We are constantly testing our sites, comparing our results to other ones, setting up controlled experiments, and then getting together with our online professional community to share notes. We are endlessly engaged in education. Not one day goes by without us learning new things that make our activities more efficient.  How can a DIYSEO type have any chance to compete?

It was once that a programmer was an all-in-one website maker. He would write the code, design the site (remember those horrible days?!), and would write the meta-tags. Then the split happened between the website programmer and the web designer. All became so pretty, but so ineffective for marketing. The heydays of that movement was when everyone ran off to build Flash sites that were all show and no go (in the SEO sense). These beautiful sites were slow loading (then), and didn’t show in search engine results.

Then the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) speciality arouse. This came into being because people realized that these sites weren’t just show pieces for existing customers, but rather were opportunities to get new customers through what we now call “traffic.” SEO is all about traffic. However, as sites got traffic, they realized that without getting conversions from the traffic, that the traffic was worthless. So, then we got attention on conversion rate optimization. This was when we awoke to the need to have a wider sphere of Internet Marketing that could coordinate all of these existing, and newly emerging, specialities, into one cohesive campaign.

So, view your Internet Marketing guy as something akin to your general practitioner (in Medicine). Let him check out your health, give you some advice, get you heading in the right direction to health and wholeness, and when necessary, he’ll send you out to the specialist that you need.

To connect with my last post that began this discussion, as for the world of interior design, the do-it-yourself attitude has similar results. My parent’s house was completed designed by Nate Berkus, of Oprah fame. The results are stunning. We even usurped his power in the lighting arena, and hired a lighting consultant, who usually does high end restaurants and five star hotels, to create an optimal lighting landscape. The results are impeccable. Everyone walks into our home and it all just looks and feels right. We NEVER could have done that ourselves.  Do-it-yourself has its place, but there is always a price related to it.

Moral of the story: think carefully about what you can do yourself, and don’t let your inner cowboy surface just as a way to avoid paying a specialist. Specialists are often much cheaper than mistakes and missed opportunities.

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