Ch. 2 – Challenges – Critical Thinking



Every job has its challenges. They may not be obvious to the casual observer, but they’re there, nonetheless. That’s just as true for those of us working our magic on the Internet as it is for a cop, a plumber or a brain surgeon.

SEO practitioners have to be concerned with the internal politics of their client’s company, the Webmaster Guidelines put forth by the search engines, the dynamics of the competitive field in which their client operates, the constant changes in the ranking algorithms… the list is seemingly endless.

Just keeping a finger on all those pulses is a full-time job. Add to that the necessity of site surveys, exhaustive research, repetitive analysis, progress reports and attending the occasional conference, and it’s no surprise that many of us work 80-100 hours a week. There are a lot of challenges to face.

One of the greatest challenges for you, if not the greatest, is learning how to determine which of those challenges is the most urgent and which will bear the sweetest fruit.

The strategy by which you undertake your job should be driven by a blend of urgency, ROI and risk assessment. Put your energy where it’s most needed and will yield the best results, while ensuring that any changes, errors or unforeseen results do no harm.

Easily said, right?

We all approach things differently, of course. Sometimes it’s a matter of a different mindset, sometimes it’s simply because we’ve seen different levels of success in various methods. Our own testing will often yield the best guidance, since a perfectly valid technique for another site may not be the best for our own.

How we choose to face the challenges we’re presented with can determine the level of success we’ll enjoy. One thing is certain, though: regardless of the hype attached to any claim, the “silver bullet” that is promised by so many these days simply doesn’t exist.

We put this question to our contributors:

1. What do you believe is the single greatest challenge facing SEOs today?


Alan Bleiweiss

The need to understand an ever increasing set of factors at an ever-increasing level of understanding.  It’s no longer a case where someone can just “cover the basics” of social media for example.  Which social platforms have the most impact on SEO, while also maintaining the integrity of whether those platforms are truly the best for a particular business, is vital.

Just as vital is that while “building depth of engagement on Facebook” might be a very broad requirement, especially for Bing, exactly what does that mean?  SEOs need to understand (or collaborate with someone who does) what that means.  That it requires establishing the client’s brand as an authority on Facebook is becoming more and more relevant.  Or establishing a high quality reach on Twitter, for example. is another area that’s going to become required as an SEO methodology.  I predicted this when Schema was first announced, and had that prediction confirmed when I spoke one on one with Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s Director of Search, during SMX Advanced.

Knowing that Schema is going to be integral to how search engines go from evaluating words on web pages as nouns today, to their being able to evaluate them as verbs, as Stefan explained in a lead-up to the Schema announcement, I saw that the future of SEO ranking was going to become more granular than it is in 2011.


Andrea Scarpetta

Earning the trust of customers! Doing Seo is easy, you may find a lot of literature and even though some of the more advanced concepts are debatable, you can easily learn the basics and use them for a good profit. It’s quite challenging to pitch our skills to new prospective customers, because there is a lot of misinformation floating around…and “con artists” too. I try to be as informative and transparent as possible: if I’m able to teach the basics to my customer I know that I’m creating the basis for a long standing partnership and mutual understanding.

Andrew Bleakley

The biggest challenge juggling client expectations as their budgets shrink and the number of online marketing opportunities continues to expand. Too many clients are trying to spread

limited resources across more and more platforms instead of taking a more focussed and measured approach.

Anthony Verre

In all honesty I don’t think there is “just one” great challenge before us. It’s a combination and mixture of several problems; for example, still having to fight for the legitimacy  of search and internet marketing to a wide swath of businesses. From that single problem there are several threads that can be tethered out: market place saturation, non-standardization of credentialism, what quality really is (from a client perspective). And from the internet marketer perspective, how to earn fair market value for services and strategy, etc.

Barry Adams

I think it’s the fight for an appropriate budget. I’ve noticed that among our clients internet marketing is now – finally – taken seriously as a viable strategy, but it’s still way down in the pecking order to offline marketing channels. This makes it very hard to get effective results, especially in competitive industries.

We often need to work hard – exceeding our initial budgets and dipping in to our profits – to make an impact for the customer, before we manage to open their eyes a little bit to the potential of internet marketing and get sign-off on bigger budgets for more interesting IM projects.

Also, finding the right people to staff our organisation is a continuing struggle. A lot of people think they understand various aspects of internet marketing – from SEO to social media, to email marketing and web usability – just because they’ve read a blog post or two and dabbled a wee bit in it. But they’re far from competent professionals, and that has many negative effects, both for our recruitment efforts and for the overall public image of internet marketing.

Dana Lookadoo

Working with clients to ensure their overall online marketing campaigns are unified based on audience needs, wants and behaviours. For example, many clients approach SEOs with a goal of better rankings. They want to be #1 for a specific keyword phrase. That phrase is often “company speak” or an ego term for the CEO. The goal should really be multi-fold:

  1. To know more how their audience thinks, their needs, wants, desires, where they hang out, and more about their demographics.
  2. To attain online visibility across multiple channels with unified and customized messaging (ads and content) – SEO, PPC, social media, etc.
  3. To refine keyword phrases as part of the company messaging as a result of listening, having gained in-depth understanding of one’s audience.

Online Marketers need to help clients understand that ranking #1 and getting traffic is not the end all. Giving the prospect and customer content that is engaging and meets their needs, resulting in conversion of leads and sales and return customers requires a holistic approach, starting with a little psychology and good old-fashioned listening.

That was the long answer. The short answer is getting clients to take time to listen to their audience’s needs before developing messaging, writing content and advertising!

Danny Sullivan

Attribution. While we can track everything, there’s so much to track that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In addition, new technologies seem to make it harder to track some things as precisely without putting more effort into things. The days of the referral string doing it all are long gone.

Dean Cruddace

There is no literal translation of an internet marketer today, it has become so diversified in specialties, whereas a decade ago you would be a webmaster that would encapsulate everything from the domain purchase right through to handling the emails via the sites under your control as well as driving the traffic through organic and paid search.

The internet marketing industry has grown up today to be multi-disciplined and even those individual disciplines have evolved into full time positions within their own rights. The biggest challenge today is translating to a potential customer what each and every one of those disciplines are and how they fit into their marketing strategies or technical needs.

Debra Mastaler

Keeping up with and being able to react to the continual onslaught of new information and technologies.

Eren McKay

Internet marketing encompasses a whole range of things. There are several areas of expertise and different factors that influence marketing online.

Some would say that SEO isn’t internet marketing but I have to disagree with that perception. SEO is a branch of internet marketing and personally it’s the one I focus most of my attention on.  So I’ll have to answer this question from an SEO point of view:

The single greatest challenge would have to be the Google algorithm changes. You may think that because you’re following the Google webmaster guidelines, that the changes won’t affect you.

The fact is that even if your site doesn’t get hit directly, if the changes affect where your backlinks are placed, it will affect you in some way. You might receive less traffic referrals from a site that got hit. It might also happen that the link that was giving you more weight to rank, gives you less weight after the algorithm change. So for internet marketing professionals that use SEO as a part of their arsenal, the algorithm changes would be the biggest obstacle to overcome.

Gabriella Sannino

The greatest challenge is keeping your marketing efforts running smoothly, whether those efforts include social, newsletters, email lists or anything (and everything) else. There are various platforms and networks to use!

Garrett French

I believe the greatest challenge is – and will remain – connecting well with your audience in the channels they prefer with the content they require. Further to this challenge will be for Internet Marketers to see through their own “channel blindness” and get a better sense of their market’s content needs. I guess I’m saying “audience is king” and all marketers are publishers. It’s simple to say but I believe acting on this premise organizationally will continue to be enormously challenging.

Heather Lloyd-Martin

Keeping up with the opportunities. Back in the day, you put up a good site with good content, and you were set. Sure, there were other things you could do to drive traffic (banners, PPC) – but having a site was key.

Now, it’s not just building a site and calling it good. It’s building a Facebook presence. It’s mastering Twitter. It’s learning what Google+ can do. The number of ways we can engage customers is constantly growing – and that’s making it hard for some companies to keep up.  The key for marketers is to wade through the noise and discover the solutions that connect with their customers and work for them.

Hugo Gill

Fitting the ever growing array of marketing opportunities into one cohesive solution where each discipline work together in perfect harmony to achieve the ideal result for the client within their budget.

Ian Lurie

Trust. Our industry is very fragmented, with differing promises, levels of service and client expectations. It is very, very difficult to convince clients that you’re trustworthy, and you must continuously re-prove it.

I know you asked for ‘single’ greatest change, but there’s a secondary challenge: Valuation. What’s our work worth? The lack of client trust in our industry means it’s that much harder for us to establish that we’re delivering value.

Jahnelle Pittman

Egads! I have to pick just one? In all seriousness, there are multiple challenges – enough so, that it’s hard to pick the “greatest”. However, the first that comes to mind is how companies, especially big businesses, view internet marketing. You have those that think it will solve all their problems, and you have those that think it won’t solve anything. A few are somewhere in between.

The larger the company, the less they seem able to budget for web marketing. They see the website as an online brochure, and can’t (for the most part) wrap their minds around building relationships with customers.

Jey Pandian

At the moment, many marketers are heavily skewed towards their own discipline with callous disregard for other marketing disciplines. True marketing requires knowledge and the ability to work together and meld across all disciplines of marketing.

Joe Hall

I think one of the biggest challenges is aligning priorities with the right opportunities within a given budget. In other words, it seems as if there are LOTS of things you can do with Internet Marketing, but all marketing is expensive. So the key is to develop strategies that fit inside the client’s budget and get the most bang for the buck.

Joshua Titsworth

I’d have to say themselves. Rather than focus on getting the client the best possible results or bettering themselves as an Internet marketing professional, I’m seeing more people focused on making more money in a shorter amount of time by taking as many short cuts as possible without thinking about the long term results. This not only leaves a bad taste in the client’s mouth but whoever picks up that client next will have to deal with someone else’s reputation being cast on them.

Justin Parks

The single greatest challenge facing marketers today is, in my very humble opinion, the effective integration and understanding of social media.  With broad strokes, it’s actually the adaptation to any new media or technology that appears, and they are appearing with more frequency as time goes by, and I believe that the latest is social media.

The issue is that many marketers have not taken the time to really evaluate what social media means in the marketing mix and how it can be utilised to the most effective degree for themselves, their businesses or their clients. Too many have simply approached it with the same response or methods as previous incarnations of technology and this will prove to be fatal.

For example, many marketing professionals will always look for the largest market, the biggest impact and the most efficient way of automating the tools or systems at hand in order to spread the word as far and wide as possible. In social media, many continue this action without understanding the end result of this effort as they focus on the search aspects of integrating social media instead of approaching it as its own unique entity, and consequently, they force it into a box to prop up the search engine ranking efforts. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Formula 1 and NasCar are all cars, but they don’t race together and you don’t drive them the same way.

While it’s true that social media is being integrated to search and is having an affect, I believe that the challenge for marketing professionals is to focus and become aware that they cannot continue with the age-old methods that worked in the past, in a new medium. That will go for the next evolution of the internet as well, when we all have to learn something very different and very new again.

Lyena Solomon

Internet marketing is expanding.  There is a multitude of marketing channels and paths customers use to visit your website and buy the products.  They may have seen  a search ad, content ad, Facebook promo, then went to the website directly and bought the product.  The challenge starts when marketers want to determine which marketing channel is responsible for that conversion.  Moreover, did they all contribute?  In my opinion, the biggest challenge is to track the marketing efforts and derive actionable insights from the data to focus on the most profitable channels.

Michelle Robbins

I see maintaining a balance of focus within a discipline while keeping up with changes in the landscape as the biggest challenge to internet marketers today. Internet marketing is a huge field that encompasses multiple and varied channels and it’s impossible to be an expert in all of them. But to focus and excel at one or a few, means to risk being behind the curve in many others – all the more risky if one channel overtakes another in dominance, and budgets shift away from your own area of expertise. Networking, partnering and collaborating with practitioners across disciplines is key.

M.J. Taylor

Specialization. No one person can effectively perform all the tasks a small business needs. On page SEO, content generation, PPC, link building, traffic analysis, social media marketing … and that’s just skimming the surface. The other hurdle is convincing clients that they need to participate in social media. It’s not a wise move to hire that out.

Rand Fishkin

I think focus & prioritization is the most challenging part of a professional web marketer’s job. There are so many paths that can provide opportunity and so much to do, but it all requires time and resources that aren’t always available. Tools/software and knowledge/testing/sharing are a big part of what we do at Moz to make this easier(hopefully!), but I know it’s never enough.

Rebekah May

It’s very difficult to choose a single greatest challenge. I feel that there are many challenges and issues out there that affect the growth of this profession as well as those that work in it. One of the biggest issues is the ever growing amount of fraudsters, “snake oil salesman”, or those who are just plain ignorant and/or lazy.

I feel that individuals like this are unwittingly working to kill the profession as a whole by destroying its reputation. To help prevent this, I believe we should all take on an added responsibility in the role of educator, teacher and mentor. The more people we educate, the more we raise awareness about who the people are that can be trusted, what the benefits are, what to look out for when hiring someone, and so forth.

It’s also important to not only educate potential clients and customers but also educate the novice who is looking to get their foot in the door. Help show those new to the profession the right path and why they should follow it. Over time, with concentrated effort from all those in the community, we can clean up the stain on the name of “internet marketer “, “SEO” and similar titles.

I think another challenge is that many still do not see or understand the value behind internet marketing, social media or SEO. I believe that once more people begin to see the value in these services, the less it will appear as a fad or fly-by-night type of service offering.

Many old school marketers are simply neglecting to learn these new techniques and continue trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Others keep the same philosophy of direct “interruption” marketing and try to apply that to the newer, permission-based or inbound marketing techniques without success. They then find themselves spinning their wheels and jump to the conclusion that “this doesn’t work at all” or that “it takes too long” without fully trying to understand it.

Again, this is where our role of educator needs to come in to play.  I believe we should not only strive to educate people about how to avoid scams or find reputable individuals to work with, but also educate them in the differences between new and old and the benefits online marketing can bring to the table.

Steve Gerencser

Easily, educating clients. With the overwhelming number of opinions on how SEO is “supposed” to be done online, it is very easy for someone that does not spend their entire day in the field to become confused. Sometimes it is old information that has been made obsolete, and sometimes it is simply bad advice from someone that doesn’t really know what they are talking about.

The problem is, how do you convince your client that you are the expert that they should be listening to? You could document your plan, your decisions and the reasons why you chose them, along with sources to back up your plan. Not something I’d enjoy doing. I prefer to answer with results. Be diligent with tracking your analytics and demonstrating a solid ROI to your client and when you are challenged by a client with bad information you can simply point to the cash drawer.

S. Emerson

Keeping up with all the changes and sorting out the gossip and speculations to get to the facts is quite time consuming.  There is so much information floating around that unless you keep up with the search engine blogs yourself and the RSS feeds from the respected SEO authorities you will miss out on what changes are occurring.  It is amazing now much misinformation is floating around on wannabe SEO sites and forums.

Taylor Pratt

Distractions. It seems like every week there is a new toy, tool, process, algorithm change or even an upcoming industry that pops up and immediately gets everyone’s attention. They stop nurturing and building on the dozens of other marketing strategies they’ve been working on. It happens to us all, we get a great new idea for a site and only get so far with it because we get distracted by something else. Some of the best marketers in this industry are very focused and while they are able to stay on top of the latest trends, strategies and technologies, it doesn’t distract them from execution – which is a lot further than most marketers get. But that noise can be very harmful.

Thomas Fjordside

Keeping up with the ever changing landscape without getting carried away with every new gadget they see. A more specific thing is understanding how mobile users are different in their needs and intentions on a website.

Tim Nash

Probably the biggest issues facing Internet Marketers are themselves and the pseudo-industry which has developed. Internet Marketers can be exceptionally clever entrepreneurs looking to break into a new niche or industry. However the advice and content out there is mainly low quality, out dated or just badly thought out pseudo-babble from someone who misunderstood their MBA lecturer. Finding resources and communities within the industry which is right for the professional marketer is probably one of the hardest things you can do when entering the industry. The old adage it’s too good to be true is as true on the web as it is anywhere else, if not more so. A quick look at the underbelly of the web and sites like Digital Point and you will see large number of “get rich quick”, and “buy my ebook to learn my secrets” .

To make life more complicated, even the more knowledgeable communities still suffer from being insular and inward facing, especially when it comes to sales and marketing online. A good example: one of the largest marketing forums has an entire tool range dedicated to selling to its members for other members. The advice given is focused around advice that it works when selling to that community so must be useful outside. The community focus is now so insular and these practices so ingrained, that it is possible to spot these marketers’ attempts outside of the forum. Needless to say, when the external attempts fail someone, is ready to sell them a new tool.

It’s not all doom and gloom; using some common sense and a pinch of salt, as well as trying to reach across a broader community set, gems of wisdom can be found.

William Slawski


For many of us who ventured into internet marketing, we did so at our desks, with our monitors in front of us, chained to the office via dialup phone line or Ethernet cable. The sites we worked upon were intended to be viewed by visitors at stationary settings.

Small screens and smart phones weren’t something we anticipated, and marketing to the mobile isn’t something we often think about. For instance, we labor over building up someone’s presence in Google Maps without having it sink in that people using iPhones will often use the Apple Maps application instead of a search engine.

OK, so it’s not really phones that I’m worried about, but rather devices of all shapes and sizes that people can connect to the Web with, and applications that can bring information directly to them without requiring that they Google or  Bing something.

Even more, it’s a generational change that involves today’s young searchers and users of the Web who grew up with computers on their homes, computers on their phones, and more recently internet connected televisions and set top boxes.  Many of us internet marketers are wedged between a generation that might not quite grasp the many uses of the Web and another generation that might take it too much for granted.

Walk down the Main Street of a small rural town and you might see a Google Places decal on the window of a single shop, or a “join us on Facebook” poster.  Now walk through a college campus and count how few people don’t have a phone connected to their ears as they rush from class to class.

The Web is something that people are no longer just connecting to from within the privacy of their homes or offices, but something more ingrained in their everyday activities.  We are ever-connected if we want to be, tweeting and IM’ing to social circles filled with many people we’ve never met in person, announcing our stops at convenience stores and amusement parks and shopping malls to the rest of the world.

The World and the Web are evolving and changing in ways that we need to accept and anticipate and try to understand. That’s our challenge.


You can begin with Chapter One of Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO here.