SEO

Are We Putting Ourselves Out of Business With All These “How To” Blog Posts?

Out of Business Are We Putting Ourselves Out of Business With All These “How To” Blog Posts?I was talking with my business partner, Diane Kinney, today about all the people in this industry that have told me that business has come to a screeching halt recently and others telling me they are merging businesses with friends. Diane pointed out that with all the “how to” blog posts many people think that they can follow the directions/tips on the blog posts and do their own SEO / Social Media / WordPress / Web design work themselves.

I think this is a very interesting perspective. We all write blog posts for rankings, traffic, industry respect and often, hopefully, new business. It is what this industry does, but we need to think about what impact our posts have on small-medium sized businesses. Are we giving them information that will help them make informed decisions or just enough information for them to hurt themselves?

There are many businesses hiring in-house employees to do their SEO and Social Media because they feel they can take the info they find on the Web and give it to their employee and the job will get done. They believe they can educate an employee and save money in the long run. Therefore, many smaller SEO/Social Media/Web design companies, and consultants, are getting less work. This is not good.

I use to write about what businesses needed to know and understand, but didn’t give away what I did because the process was too complex to even start to explain in a blog post. Those type of blog posts were not respected in our industry at the time; people wanted the point-by-point “how to” information. Those that gave it all away were respected and considered knowledgeable and many bloggers wanted that respect…everyone started giving away the bank.

I know it is very possible to educate without making readers feel they can do what we do. My goal has always been to write enough that the reader understands I know my stuff, but not give them enough information to attempt it on their own. This was for their safety more than my own.

This is Our Fault

What readers (outside of our industry) and many businesses do not understand is that although blogs are giving good tips those tips might only equal 2.3% of the information needed to succeed in any marketing effort; there is still 97+% of information we haven’t provided that must be understood to make things work effectively. They also don’t understand that often are posts are aimed at others in our industry that have extensive knowledge on the subject already and can add these tips to their arsenal.

It is not the reader’s fault that they think they can take the information and do it themselves. It is our fault for not pointing out that there is a heck of a lot more that people need to know to do well.

What I Feel Needs to Change

We all need to make it clear that we know what we are doing, we are experts in this field and if you want to attempt to do all of your online marketing yourself to remember that you get what you pay for. We need to change the angle of our posts a bit before we put many of our friends out of business.

I think many of us need to start explaining what businesses need to understand instead of giving what might be perceived as point-by-point instructions. Or, point out that the post is aimed at those that have the knowledge to successfully identify the tips that will work and which won’t. Some readers believe if they follow all the tips and instructions they will have success and they don’t need to hire anyone to help them.

There is a false belief that what we do is easy and can be quickly learned by reading what the experts write.

I know that with personalized search many felt that they had done their SEO just as well as any SEO company could. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen utter astonishment when I showed business owners that they were, in fact, not #1 for whatever amount of phrases.

I have seen businesses small to large believing they are succeeding in social media because they have 20,000 followers, yet they follow more people than follow them. I have seen people start “social media” companies because they have a Facebook account with 3,000+ friends or likes. Who says a follower count equals success?

Both Diane and I consistently (weekly) have people asking for help with WordPress, plugins and Web design because they thought they could do it themselves. Creating a good WordPress site is not easy and cannot be learned after reading the Web for an hour. They might think their site is good, but they don’t have the knowledge to truly evaluate anything.

People offer top 10 plugin posts all the time, but no one explains that there are so many plugin compatibility issues that cause problems all the time. Without experience you don’t know what your options are, where problems begin, what problems to avoid, which themes work with which plugins and what hell you are creating for yourself.

If you offer tips you need to offer true facts as well.

We MUST Stress Quality & Knowledgeable Services

Very Close to Extinction Are We Putting Ourselves Out of Business With All These “How To” Blog Posts?

Close to Extinction

Many of us have read and studied our industry for years. We have lived it, tested, failed and succeeded. We know so much information. We need to find a way to point this out in our writings because readers need to understand that people can’t do what we do after reading 3 or 4 articles on a subject.

We need to establish ourselves as experts and we need to make sure we do not drive this industry to near extinction by giving away the knowledge we have all worked so hard to attain.

There has to be a differentiation between the experienced and those just learning. We need to build each other up as well so people can trust those that do have the experience. We need to support each other in this effort.

Let me also say that I am all for educational articles/posts that can help people learn this industry, but we have to make it clear who these articles are aimed at and basing a company’s future on substandard work is not recommended. Substandard work typically comes from ignorance and we don’t want to contribute to that ignorance.

 Are We Putting Ourselves Out of Business With All These “How To” Blog Posts?

Melissa Fach

SEJ Editor - Melissa is the owner of SEO Aware, LLC. She is a consultant and trainer helping companies make the most of their content marketing and SEO. She specializes is the Psychology behind blogging and content marketing. Melissa is also an associate on the Community team at Moz, an associate and writer at CopyPress and an editor at Authority Labs. She is a self-proclaimed Star Wars and Internet geek and volunteers with big cats at BigCatHabitat.org.
 Are We Putting Ourselves Out of Business With All These “How To” Blog Posts?

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49 thoughts on “Are We Putting Ourselves Out of Business With All These “How To” Blog Posts?

  1. I totally understand your point. I’m so glad you took the stand to point this big elephant in the room that everyone in the industry is ignoring. Thumbs up to you my friend.

  2. Has this post ever been a long time coming! I couldn’t agree more with you Melissa. Blog posts and articles are written using swiped headlines and formats that are “proven to work” to increase traffic and boost rankings, but they are misleading and, in the long run, not helpful at all. Then SEO companies end up having to re-educate our clients on why things aren’t working and why they need professional help with their websites. There are more hours spent cleaning up messes than on doing things right. Thanks for this. Consider it shared!

  3. I doubt you will put yourself out of business with these “how to” blogs. They are very interesting, and yes some will attempt to do it themselves.

    But most simply don’t have the time and so will always use an agency. Seo is not technically hard, but it does take time to learn.

  4. I’ve seen an increase recently in people writing blog posts about SEO which are misleading or often completely wrong in the information they provide. Many people do take the approach of sticking buzzwords together, and I agree that misleading headlines are a pain. Social media in the mix is also confusing the issue where it should be very straightforward.

    However, even people who know about SEO will hire someone they respect, so good SEO posts (even how tos) help to position consultants as an authority and a go-to person rather than cutting them out. I have literally never advertised anywhere and yet I have to turn clients down because I have too much work. The industry is still growing and I believe it hasn’t reached its peak yet.

    1. Jenni, I agree to a point. There is a lot of business, but there are also parts of the country that have been nailed by the economy and they are seeing a major drop in work because many people believe they can do things themselves just as well as we can.

      1. I guess how I approach this is, if they really can do it themselves, more power to them. However, what I have observed is that a) they can’t really do it themselves and they end up screwing up and then hiring a professional to fix it or b) they may or may not be able to do their own SEO, but, at any rate, they don’t have time, so they hire someone.

      2. Matt, I agree with you. We see a lot of “A’s”, but there are times we have to just say no or start over because they have mucked it up so bad :-)

        I do think there are those that can do it on their own, but they are a small percentage.

  5. Great topic, Melissa. There is no doubt a segment of readers do exactly what you fear. One thing about SEO, especially in the last year or two and certainly over the next — it is changing profoundly and rapidly. For that reason I really value how-to posts, because they help keep me up to date on best practices. And because some “experts” put out bad information, the conversation around these posts are valuable as well. What we should do is put expiration dates on our how-to posts, so amateurs get fair warning that SEO takes a lot more than one or two quick reads!

    1. Right on. All anyone has to do is look at one of the many “timeline” posts showing the history of the Google algorithm updates to recognize that SEO is an occupation of constant adjustment — on all fronts :)

  6. Great points, Brad. I would “hope” that people would at least look at dates of posts before they follow the information, BUT we all know that those that really have no clue would never even consider that information changes month to month or year to year.

    How-to posts are great, but we have to tell people that they offer only X% of information needed and those with experience can actually take the data and use it effectively.

  7. There have always been DIY resources…for marketing, business, auto-repair, just about everything.

    If a company isn’t already sold on the value of hiring professionals, I don’t want to deal with them AT ALL!

    This is a non-issue – IMO.

  8. Great post. Many blog posts do make it look easy. And shouldn’t they? You know what they say, a person that truly knows what they’re doing can speak about it in a way that helps those that don’t know what they’re doing. On the other hand, sometimes it does make it look TOO easy, which discredits the profession.

    I think the truly interesting (and scary) phenomenon here, though, is that typically when you see a tutorial that looks super easy (think Pinterest) and you try it yourself, you will quickly find out whether its within your skill set or not, no matter how straightforward and easy the steps appear to be. With SEM, it’s not that way, unfortunately. Sometimes those people that don’t think they need a professional never realize otherwise, and they will go on paying way to much for a click, and failing miserably at SEO best practices because they think they have it under control.

    On the same token, I have photoshop and I like to play around with it although I’m not proficient by any stretch of the imagination. I can complete tutorials but its way more time consuming than it would be for an expert. Unless I absolutely had no money to be able to outsource those types of things, I would not take on that role. It just wouldn’t be efficient – and I think many people realize the same thing with SEM.

    1. Amy, I get what you are saying. I do think there are people like you and many in our industry that have the type of minds that can learn some things fairly quickly, but we know our limits.

      It is those that don’t seem to understand that they are limited that are the problem and create problems for those they choose to work with in the future (or they make it darn easy for the SEO’s working for their competitors :-).

      I like your points and I appreciate that you understood the point of the post.

  9. When it comes to SEO the reason for the lack of interest is not the blog posts about the who to but maybe those posts that explain why SEO is simply no longer relevant:

  10. The biggest issue that I see is that the average person does not know that a lot of content has a bias – it may be written strictly for traffic, or may be tied into the promotion of a friend’s product, or just a good old fashioned affiliate promotion.

    Surprisingly to me, many non industry people believe what they read online quite adamantly, with no consideration of the author’s credibility or timeliness or the possible bias.

    1. Diane,

      I believe you are right, but only for those who are smart enough to understand what you are writing about , and the next levels below it; e.g. personas, keywords, metaphors, links, landing pages. A bias, always, because that essentially what humans are – prewired, just add water.

      From what I have concluded, for viewing 10′s of thousands of sites, and blogs, is the 80/20 rules is alive and well. The 80 who can read and write believe if they put a bunch of shallow words together, with stock pics on the home page, they’re in great shape. These are the one’s who are still cold calling to drum up business, or more likely wait for the emails to “pour in” or the phone to ring.

      The 20% who do get it, and are eager to learn will weight the cost/benefit ratio of doing or having it done, carefully, so as to save capital. I believe those in this group will keep the industry fed, while the others struggle.

      Finally, I hope you will agree that it’s best to give base ideas of concepts to improve their business with examples and ideas, but NOT give away the “how”. If this idea could be spread in around, it would certainly improve things a bit; stop the how. Maybe a friendly phone call to a business who’s doing a lot of good or bad “hows” might help, but being careful to not accuse – just plant a seed.

  11. Great article Melissa! This is my first time commenting on one of your articles but I just couldn’t let this one go. Something really clicked for me when I read this. I can’t tell you how many potential clients have suddenly told me they were just going to watch “how to” videos on YouTube. It reminds me of what we web designer/developers went through in the early 2000′s when companies started off shoring. Now people are coming back to us because of the language barrier and poor copywriting/spelling.

    A YouTube video does not a blogger make and while companies are perfectly right to hire in house SEO/Social Media Content Managers, I agree that those candidates need to come from a pool of people that UNDERSTAND it – not just ~think~ they understand it based on a few blog posts and how tos!

    Thanks for verbalizing what has been bugging me for a while!

  12. Well thank you very much, Michelle. I am happy that you got what I was saying. And I do remember the off shoring and all the absolutely horrendous websites and copy that resulted from it.

    I completely agree with you :-)

  13. Great post Melissa, well said.

    I have said (and told clients) for many years that “Just because you read a book about anatomy, it does not make you a surgeon”.

    I hear some crazy things and read some things from proposals that clients have sent me from other agencies. The most recent being “all you have to do is add the keyword to the first paragraph and then bold that keyword and you will rank”. Which I am sure was part of some content creation 101 thing about keyword usage that was then flipped and exaggerated into “that’s all you have to do”. #SuperFrustrating.

    Malcolm Gladwell summarized it best when he said in his book Outliers, “it takes close to 10,000 hours of doing something in order become an expert or master it”. Which brings me back to my original statement “Just because you read a book about anatomy, it does not make you a surgeon”.

    @billross

  14. Hi Melissa, this is a very though-provoking post. My business partner and I have certainly struggled with this same topic and wondered how much information is too much.

    Granted, we have a slightly different mission than most Internet marketing companies, which is to try to empower very small businesses and non-profits who don’t have a budget for an SEO or Internet marketing strategist to at least understand and be able to implement the basics (like signing up for Google Webmaster Tools or claiming your Google Places page).

    However, I think you hit the head on the nail with your point about defining who your audience is. Are you writing for a webmaster or another SEO or a business owner? And how does the content vary accordingly?

    I was thinking about the broader topic just today as I put the finishing touches on a blog post about local search. To me, a lay person can make many important updates related to local search on their own, so I wanted to provide that information. But I left out things like how to optimize your website for multiple locations, several online directories, etc – and I tried to highlight that this was not an exhaustive approach. However, is this post going to cost me customers in the future?

    I don’t know… What I do know is that I have clients who kind of know what to do, but they’d rather spend their time doing other things. So those companies who aren’t large enough to hire a fulltime Internet marketing person and understand the concept of focusing on “core competency” are probably always going to be valid leads. At least, let’s hope so!

    Thanks again for bringing up this important topic.

    1. Thanks, Tabita. I know exactly what you are saying – how much do you give away and how much do you keep quiet while still writing an informative post? It can be difficult.

  15. You rock, Melissa! Seriously!

    I’ve been telling my readers and clients, for years, that they cannot learn what my experience teaches from reading a book or following someone’s blog feed. We spend every waking hour, continuing to learn and become better at what we do – to truly help those people in need of our services.

    It amazes me how many blogs I follow that give away the entire SEO house – including the kitchen sink. Diagrams and how to articles are flooding the media streams. This not only causes analysis paralysis but puts our potential clients in a hole. Businesses think they are armed with the information that will put them at the top of the search engines but, in fact, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

    We are giving so much detailed information out that we are actually hurting the people we want to help.

    Let’s stop the confusion and misdirection. And, of course, let’s stop writing ourselves out of the job we love.

    1. Shannon, you said it perfectly!

      “Businesses think they are armed with the information that will put them at the top of the search engines but, in fact, they are shooting themselves in the foot. We are giving so much detailed information out that we are actually hurting the people we want to help.”

      Thank you (and everyone else) for taking the time to read the entire post and get my point :-)

  16. Very interesting question…we all take advices about how to optimize our website and get more traffic from youtube tutorials and different blogs. I know that on the web is plenty of bloggers that just copywrite some info or somebody that just share their experience. But the point is that their experience cannot always work for our own case. Personally I take advices from SEO gurus but try to apply them according to my situation.

  17. How about everyone stops making it seem like SEO is some magical force that only the chosen few posess!

    I don’t mean to offend anyone here but there’s nothing special about SEO/SEM. It certainly isn’t brain surgery.

    I think you should ask yourselves what makes you better than other search marketing pros. Work on your two minute sales presentation.

    When I meet someone new and they ask what I do, i tell them, “I do Internet marketing and help companies make money from search engines.” They are usually very interested and curious about “how it works.”

    I break it down to the point where it makes complete sense to an 80 year old man. You know what response I hear the most? “Do you have a business card?”

    I think it’s great if they mention meta tags or “keyword density.” It tells me they’re interested. I don’t think to myself, “What a clueless loser!”

    Everyone here has benefitted from sites, like this one, where people share their experiences and information.

    1. Jake, I don’t think anyone has said it is a magical force, but anyone that has been in this business long enough has seen the damage caused by people attempting things on their own. While SEO may not be brain surgery, to meet particular goals and to have a real ROI you have to to know what you are doing. Also, please notice I mentioned WordPress, Web design and social media as well.

      Most of us that run SEO companies can also break it down so potential clients can understand what we are saying and I believe educating clients is key (in fact my business website actually says it) – but this post wasn’t about that.

      I think you have completely missed the entire point of the post. This wasn’t a post about anyone being better or smarter. There are plenty of people clueless about SEO that are a hell of a lot smarter than me. This was all about how posts are perceived and used by readers.

      1. Melissa, you didnt say SEO’s are magicians, but some people definitely act as if SEO is a stew of secrets. And that has been far more harmful to the industry than open discussions among practitioners and those curious about the tactics. That is why i addressed SEO specifically. There are a ton of poor developers out there, but they haven’t been classified as “shady” like SEOs often are.

        Your point about Customizing/integrating WordPress and Web development is exactly right. Pretty much anyone can set up a WordPress site. And there’s an absolute wealth of information out there on WordPress and all of thsese subjects. But is not putting any real development, design or marketing firms out of business. If anything, I think it creates an appreciation for the more skilled, experienced companies and individuals.

  18. Great points, Melissa. This makes me think of Hugo Guzman’s post today. He points out the differences of opinions re: Neil Patel and Seth Godin posts:

    1. Anthony, I see your points. I was talking more small-medium businesses and not so much brands; they typically have their stuff together and their priorities straight :-)

  19. Reading about a certain topic can give the valuable info. but knowledge comes only with experience and sooner or later people do realize this.

    I have come across these kind of personalities who get all the information from you by hiring you for an SEO project and at the end of the day proclaim themselves to be SEOs and one person even told me “I KNOW EVREYTHING ABOUT SEO” once we stopped working on his site.

    Just by reading about medicine or surgery and discussing with doctors and surgeons one does not become a doctor or a surgeon. There are years of study and experience that go behind it.

    A very good topic highlighted in this post… A good read..

  20. Many years ago, before the internet existed (yes, once upon a time, there was no internet!), I ran a computer training company. We were training Excel, Access and Word mainly and we also did so MS Access development work.

    We debated long and hard about advanced training, many would say “You should not teach them everything otherwise they will stop using you for development”. It was my view that no matter what we taught them, they would never reach our level so we taught advanced levels in everything.

    What happened was that people would come on the courses, often senior staff, and we would teach them advanced techniques, and even offer to help afterwards – “just give us a call if you get stuck”. They would learn, go away and try to write a CRM system (or whatever), get stuck, come back for more training, and in the end get us to develop for them!

    Not only did we get the training, but the relationships that we developed allowed us to win trust and further development work.

    I see the ‘how to’s in the same way – build relationships. This stuff is hard! it takes years to learn, the more awareness that is out there, the more work for us.

    1. Phil, I agree to a point. How to posts can bring in clients, but only if you write them the correct way. As I mentioned in my post I gave data, but not enough for them to attempt it themselves and then I got a phone call :-)

      I am a die-hard believe in training. When companies want to learn I will train as much as they want because those people really want to learn at a higher level and do it right.

  21. I completely agree with your point of view! I am also nerved by all these greenhorns that you can find nowadays everywhere on the web thinking they are experts after reading several blog posts or articles. Even tragically is the fact they don’t know even if the stuff they read is right or not and start spreading wrong ideas as certified values.

  22. Ok then – if a well meaning person wanted to learn the art of SEO correctly to apply within a business, where would one suggest you go to learn it correctly?

    I live in England, and there are so many SEO companies here, but also many who are in-house

    Thanks
    Rob

    1. Rob, I think someone wanting to learn will read at a much deeper level than someone just trying to get a quick explanation and then get back to their real work.

      I would say read the main SEO sites, but also read the posts that recommend other posts like Search Engine Land’s SearchCap. Find real influential people in this industry and follow them on Twitter and Google+. If they recommend an article I would check it out.

      Keep in mind sometimes people tweet as a favor to friends, but most of the time their info is great. Inbound.org is starting to offers some great info as well. I follow a small # of people on Twitter and I feel like they offer me the best info. So if you want to check out who I follow look at Twitter.com/seoaware. They are full of educational info.

      Lastly, create some sites of your own and test and test and test. Failure is fine because you learn from it. The best way to learn is to try things and then observe.

    2. You have to understand every web-facing content type, and what makes something good or bad.

      If you want to learn correctly, hire (INVEST IN) a reputable search marketing professional!

      Whether you want an in-house worker or a consultant, FIND A LEADER, someone who can be the quarterback of your team.

      SEO, is NOT a DIY hobby if you own or are in charge of a business.

      Melissa recommends creating some sites and testing. There’s no time for that in SEO. Yes, it’s a great way to learn some basics of development and how things are put together. Go ahead and setup a wordpress blog, start using Google+ for your personal interests but don’t risk your business or someone else’s just to save a few dollars in the short term. Because as people have mentioned already, it will come back to BITE you!

      1. Really Jake? No time for that in SEO. That is pretty funny. I have about 40 sites of my own out there making money monthly that I get to test and retest things to see what works. You don’t practice things on client sites and risk hurting them. Your perspectives are quite interesting.

        Rob was asking how to learn, not how to create a team.

    3. Yeah he wants to “learn SEO”…not as a hobby but for his business. There’s no time for testing!

      It’s irresponsible!

      So hire someone and learn from them. And maybe 6 months in, Rob will realize that his time is best spent on other things, while his investment in SEO is starting to pay off.

  23. At least your WordPress clients recognized that something was wrong and realized they didn’t know how to correct it. The real challenge comes from small business owners who think that what they can see is all there is. Many of these are just looking at the website appearances, and noticing that they aren’t getting many sales through the web.

    We have probably all heard (from prospective clients) the phrase: “In this business we don’t get sales/leads through the web, we get business through word-of-mouth, long term clients, … fill in the blank. Many times a quick look at their website, their ranks for important phrases, their competition’s links, SEO sophistication, etc. spells out why they get no sales through the web. It has nothing to do with the market niche — it has to do with the willingness to allocate some of their budget to hiring some expertise to analyze and solve the problem.

    Perhaps the best clients coming out of 2 categories 1) those that tried to do it themselves, failed (and recognized that they had failed) and 2) Those who have recognized that working with their customers and their production is a better use of their time than trying to figure out why their .htaccess files aren’t working.

    In business, the most important thing is “knowing what you don’t know.”

  24. Good point, Melissa. I thought about this as well when i started to write about SEO. But after a while i start to notice that not everybody has the time to do SEO. Business owners think of the internet as rocket science. They join the web because the competitor is doing it, but once they start to join they need to learn alot. It takes alot of time for someone to learn about SEO and linkbuilding. Besides its a boring task.

    Once they notice its to hard to do they start outsourcing SEO and linkbuilding. This is also the reason why there are alot of automated softwares avialable. I had a client who was an investor and he has a website. He said time is money as well. He can learn SEO but i would cost him a week or more to learn. However the cost of the SEO service he can earn that back in a day on the stock market. He has no reason to learn it. He would be trying to save pennies and would lose thousands of dollars.

    Since that moment i truly believe that writing how to articles will not damage your business at all.

  25. This is such a great point… We have written so many how to posts that almost all the information a client will ever need is public. The only thing that keeps clients coming is the simple fact that they dont want to do the work. Thank goodness for that!