An InHouse SEO’s story of feeling beaten down but always moving forward

always moving forward

Sometimes SEO isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You work your ass off, you do what you have to do to get things done, and you buy people drinks. Whatever the case may be, it seems like we are gluttons for punishment, we keep going back to the well. The work we do pleasures us so much, we are like a crack fiend waiting for their next high. People LOVE search and do SEO are possibly the most passionate group of people that I have ever met.

I never intended to be an SEO, nor did I intend to be on the marketing side of the business. I wanted to be a technologist and switched my major from psychology. I worked damn hard to make it in the industry. Full time during the week, school on the weekends, and even overnighters replacing servers or catching up on school work just to make a living and hopefully pave my road. But, never did I think I wanted to be a deceitful, sly marketer. Lo and behold, it actually was fun doing it and it fit my personality. For those of you that know me, you know I like to socialize and talk a lot. (p.s. sorry if I do!) Funny though, I went from wanting to understand the mind, to software and web technology, and now came full circle to leveraging the psychology of a user to influence marketing. Go figure.

At nights and on the weekends I looked forward to getting down to doing SEO work. I never really did the extremely shady stuff, because, at the time I felt like it was being deceitful. But, I did what I needed to do to rank, again, like a fiend looking for a hit. And, I did it constantly, my engineering work during the day just seemed like a way to make a paycheck. I got in, sat in my box or went to client offices and either managed servers, databases, or coded. It felt a lot like Fight Club, except it was SEO Club and I was much happier when I could start doing SEO work after my day job.

I continued doing other things, like taking on contracts to build internet products, SEO clients, and then went to work for PayPal. Still on the engineering side, but, I got to manage projects and programs now, rather than coding. The funny thing is, I think I learned the most about coding at PayPal thanks to Kimberly Blessing. Because of her I will always have a passion for web standards based HTML and CSS now. The cool thing about PayPal was that I was encouraged to share my knowledge about SEO and inevitably became an SEO evangelist of sorts. I made sure things like unique title tags were on pages and contributed to programs. But, was it enough? I wanted it to be all I did, I wanted to live it, eat it, breathe it. So I did, I was dying to be an InHouse SEO and that’s when Yahoo! came along.

This is where the nightmare begins.

I was pumped and excited because I had the opportuty to work with someone in the industry I loved, Laura Lippay, and I was able to work for a brand like Yahoo!. Furthermore, Yahoo! was still a top player in Sports, Games and Finance and at the time all I could think of was the amount of amazing content on Yahoo!. It was ridiculous and like an SEO’s wet dream. Well, yes, the sad fact is, there is a major but that I did not evaluate going into the situation. SEO traffic to Yahoo! felt like a drop in a river compared to 500MM unique users a month. Being an Inhouse SEO at Yahoo! caused me to question so many parts of being an SEO for a company like that. It was painful. I will repeat, with emphasis: it. was. painful.

After almost a year and a half, I packed my bags and headed up to San Francisco, again, to work for a startup. My biggest complaint about Yahoo! was almost all of the project I worked on to attempt to increase search traffic were left untouched. So, I didn’t want to go somewhere that my basic meta data changes would take months. Boy, did that not go the way I planned it. Don’t get me wrong, I learned more than I could ever imagine at BillShrink, so, it wasn’t a total waste like Yahoo!. As you can imagine, nothing ever got done there as well and that was the only reason I made the switch.

This got me think about how amazing it was to me that companies who rely on web traffic, don’t put more resources against this. To me, it’s simple, you need traffic to survive. You need traffic to prove value to shareholders, investors, etc. You need traffic so advertisers will keep coming back. Bottom line, every company on the web needs traffic. So, why is it that so many companies de-prioritize SEO projects? Why is that companies do not trust the people that can and will drive that traffic for them? Because of this, SEO has become a pain in my side, a pain in my head and most importantly a pain in my chest. It causes me to think about work when I shouldn’t and it causes me to loose sleep. Yet, again, like an addict, I keep coming back for more. You would think something unhealthy would eventually catch up to someone. The problem is that, I’ve learned, no matter how painful. I still enjoy what I do way more than sitting in a box coding. And, sure, I’ve also become a more rounded Online Marketing by running many Social Media programs and learned some paid traffic acquisition. I’ve even spent time on social design principles and how the affect products and marketing. But, I still love SEO and no matter what games they are playing, content farms they are blocking, etc. I am going to be doing it for a long time, and, I’ll likely enjoy as a whole.

Getting back to the point of feeling down and out. I went and still go through nightmarish times when SEO devours my life and consumes my thoughts and emotions. I go to work, watch projects get killed, watch things that are very important get pushed aside, and go home feeling extremely bummed. I can say that as I am writing this post I think about some days and I start to breathe heavier and get emotional. I start to think about whether I am going to have to quantify a title tag change or explain why a ranking dropped. I’ll still do it with a smile on my face, but, I’ll go back and feel down and out. I’ll wonder if it’s all really worth it. I’ll start to question things. But, at the end of the day, I’ll never let up. I can’t, it’s just not in my soul and it’s just not in my heart to do so.

The reason I am this way is that I am a passionate person and have become really passionate about what I do.

I think this is why I got into the industry in the first place. I noticed how much SEOs loved what they did. I noticed how much people in search overall loved what they did. No matter how bad things get, we are still doing the one thing that makes us tick. To this day, I see a term I’ve been trying to drive search traffic for start showing up in analytics and I jump up and down like a kid in a candy store. I’ve been known to blurt out the occasional “yes!!” when I see that. I know I’m a dork, I don’t care that these things get me excited and I’m okay with people making fun of me about it. I love what I do and can’t ever let up. I will get frustrated and I will voice my opinions. Because I am passionate!

When I am feeling down and out though. I take a moment of retrospection and realize it’s going to be okay. When I barely graduated High School, I wasn’t thinking about success, I was thinking about hip hop music. I went to a technical school and didn’t go to a big school and get drafted to Google like an NBA rookie to a team. I worked my ass off every single day up at 6, asleep at 1 A.M. I listened to the doubters and absorbed it all. It became my fire and has continued to be the fuel that keeps me going, just when I think I can’t do it anymore. Our past defines us and makes us who we are. Thank you to everyone that doubted me and said “you can’t do it,” you’ve made me who I am and one extremely driven individual.

When things get tough and we are feeling down, we should all do this. Think about the doubters and non-believers. It’s about remembering those that doubted you and using them as the fuel/energy to make you want to overachieve. Remember, it’s not about the good days or the bad days, it’s about the whole damn thing. It’s about getting knocked down and coming right back up to take another beating. It’s the experience and culmination of it all. The down and out moments keep us grounded and are a crucial part in that overall experience.

I know that I am the type of person that wouldn’t do something that I didn’t love. Right now, more than anything else, I love my career. I love the people, I love my job, and I love knowing that no matter how badly I get knocked down, I’ll push myself to get back up and take the hits as they come. We should all remember that.

We have to remember that if we care about something, we have to be willing to take the hits and keep moving forward. That IS how winning is done!

In case you don’t believe me, let Rocky Balboa explain it to you:



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  • http://www.lauralippay.com laura

    Just say it Tony, it was all for me. If I wasnt there, why bother? :) (seriously.)

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  • Don R.

    Tony,
    Thank you for writing this. At times I feel like I am the only one in our industry who gets knocked down. It is painful trying to get back up sometimes, but I do it because of the passion to win. This will help remind me that there is another drive, another quarter, another game to play. And if I want wins, I must get back up and take the field. Thanks again, mate!

  • tonyadam

    Don, trust me, I understand how you feel. Especially when I am struggling at work to try to get projects moving forward and then hear about startups or other website owners moving forward on things every day. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • http://upsmack.com Nate Schubert

    Hi Tony,

    I definitely agree with you in terms of finding frustration working In-House as an SEO. Not only that, but I'm also the Ecommerce Marketing Manager. We're a small company which means I also process our orders, and take care of customers who require pre-sales support or have questions. Two years ago (when the economy was good) I had a team I managed, and was able to focus 100% on Internet Marketing efforts surrounding Paid Search, SEO, Link Building, essentially anything that had to do with Internet Marketing. Today, my department consists of me alone and yet I am still responsible for all Internet Marketing related matters in addition to all sales/support related issues. Business has picked up but we've become more efficient, well, mostly. Internet Marketing has taken not a back seat, but definitely has less priority over the day-to-day things like processing orders. At night I go to school and I have a 11 week old daughter I barely ever get to see.

    It's frustrating when you identify things that need to be changed, but can't make those changes happen in a timely fashion if at all. I have been with this company for years and have no interest in leaving until I can conclude some of these projects that actually prove that I'm a good SEO, because I don't plan to take a step back in my career. I've been very frustrated in the past but things are finally starting to move a little smoother. So, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully this is the end!

  • http://twitter.com/lostbro1 Greg

    Wow…thank you so much. I really appreciate your words here…In fact I even got a little emotional as your words caused me to reflect back on my own similar experiences. It feels good to know there are those out there that have some of the same feelings as I do. I am only 25 years old and to most people I look like I am 16, until I open my mouth, :) then the first thing they ask me is…"how old are you." So many people have doubted my career choices and continue to doubt my opinions and comments when it comes to in-house SEO or any aspect of online marketing, even when I am hired as a consultant. Slowly but surely everything I have fought for is coming to view…I am finally getting others to see the vision I have for the different companies I consult for…the funny thing is that I've come to realize that now I don't even care what their opinions are anymore….and i use them, as you stated, for motivation. Now I, with confidence, continue to "get frustrated and…voice my opinions. Because I am passionate!" Thank you so much for this…it has really motivated me today and I can't thank you enough for this post. I will continue to be passionate and not let others doubts change what I feel is right for a company or my life choices and career paths.

  • tonyadam

    First and foremost, congrats on the addition to the family! I'm glad you posted your story an it's nice to know there are others out there that are going through these experiences with me. Keep pushing and know that it is all worth it at the end of the day.

  • http://www.joe-mangum.com Joe Mangum

    Thanks Tony. This was a great read. I feel you on a lot of your thoughts. I get people with confused looks on their faces when I tell them what I do for a living. It happens all the time. I even had one guy from my church, after explaining to him for about 15 minutes exactly what I do, ask me, "So… is that like a legit job?" I just laughed and walked away. It's things like this that keep us motivated though. Thanks again for your story.

  • garethjax

    Amen Bro!
    The answer to your more frustrating question "why is it that so many companies de-prioritize SEO projects" is an easy one:
    You may have the best team of SEO specialists and yet you can never, ever be certain of the results, because we don't know how the search engines work. We have hints, signals, traditions. In the eye of the people who WANT to spend money, we act like Shamans and Witches. Usually the person who has financial control in a company, need to report his decisions to other people like CEOs, Shareholders, Elder Demons (eg: goldman sachs). It's much easier to choose and justify a ppc campaign: if you screw up the ppc campaign, you blame google and/or the competition. If your SEO campaign doesn't work you need to shoulder the blame. So, which one is easier to justify ?

    That's it. And that's why the emerging economies are changing the world, slowly but surely: they have NOTHING to loose and all to gain. They accept greater risks.

    Do you want to push more SEO campaigns? Include in your team a professional Liar, somebody who can barely open excel but it's fully armed to speak in public. Yeah, you need a "politician". Make him the voice of the team.

    My friend, i think you are very similar to me, we get our satisfaction from a job well done, a quality job! Switch until you find your ideal dimension. Learn Spanish or Portoguese and look beyond the screen. The time spent looking for happiness is never wasted.

  • webconnoisseur

    Tony, thanks for shedding light on the pains of an in-house SEO. I had similar issues on a very large site. Didn't matter how many times I doubled their traffic (and the company valuation) – SEO still was an afterthought. Changes that should take a day could easily take an entire year. Piles of money would get invested into campaigns or ideas that saw little to no traffic, while the most I could get was an low-paid intern.

    Your story reminds me of one that happened early in my career: http://www.webconnoisseur.com/blog/general/seo-ca… As you'll read, from that point on I decided to always fight the good fight, even if it meant being fired (which never happened).

  • tonyadam

    Greg, THANK YOU for reading! I use to experience the same types of things when I Was like 22-24 about people constantly asking my age and it led to a lot of people not giving me enough respect to have a voice…and like you…it wasn't until they actually saw what I could actually do that they started to include me. I always let my work speak for itself.

    Rock on. Continue to push and continue to be passionate about what you do. It shows and people do respect it!

  • tonyadam

    Glad you enjoyed it and hope to keep everyone as motivated as I am!

  • tonyadam

    It's amazing how much we have to quantify in SEO that just can't be. But, I completely agree with your points and hope we can keep the good fight going!

  • http://twitter.com/LydiaFabry @LydiaFabry

    Tony – So nicely put. Not many understand that it is from the "passion" that we make our suggestion/recommendations/changes, not because we like saying someone else is wrong or saying that someone might be doing something incorrectly or ineffectively. We all want our clients, in-house or out-of-house to succeed like we know they can! It (websites, or anything else) can always be made better. That's what we know!

  • tonyadam

    Dustin, thank you for reading and thanks for your insights! I'm glad you are fighting the good fight, as am I…and we all should!

  • tonyadam

    Lydia, you are absolutely right, we are passionate about seeing our team and clients become successful. Great point!

  • webconnoisseur

    Well I haven't worked in-house for well over a year (consult only now), so the in-house SEO struggles may not be part of my life ever again. I suppose I will still get exposed to some of it from the outside.

    Definitely don't give up, you are extremely valuable to whatever company you work for & your skills are so coveted that you will always be able to choose where you work. Honestly, I'm surprised you stayed at Y! as long as you did – maybe you're a sucker for being loyal (a problem for me as well).

  • cre8pc

    If this were a petition for Fed Up SEO's. I'd sign it! The only thing that has helped me is to move on, keep refining my skills and hooking up with people and companies with open minds. What we do in marketing, from any angle we do it, is historically misunderstood and undervalued. Nothing wrong with loyalty. But nobody likes being used. Great post!

  • tonyadam

    Definitely understand the "being used" bit…don't know anyone that likes it! Thanks for reading and let's get that petition started ;)

  • http://twitter.com/echwa @echwa

    Hey Tony!

    I saw the title and dived straight on it. Your experience at having to quantify changes to title tags made me smile, a familiar recognition. It is strange, I have worked in a few companies now as an in-house and found many contradictions, just as you did.

    SEOmoz pumped out a telling graphic of 'How SEOs spend their time' – alluding to the reality of spending inordinate amounts of time convincing others. It holds true on either agency or client direct.

    Now that I am an in-house I reminisce working for an online agency – presenting a solution to one client, moving forward on another for a different client, lamenting tedious aspects of SEO only momentarily. It may sound silly, but I look upon those multiple meetings, the need to convince others as somewhat of a professional challenge, tempered with a bullshit meter – lots of stakeholders assume SEO knowledge which is just plain wrong.

    At it's core SEO is a system and systems always demand change, with most people fearing change it is up to us to fight through the SEO relationship curve pressing forward our expert view. We live with and thrive on daily change from multiple external sources, so if we can handle those we are surely tough enough, strong of spirt enough to handle anything!

    Keep on fighting Tony 'Rocky' Adams and in Rocky's words consider this: "Ya know they always say if you live in one place long enough, you are that place."

    Catch you up at Pubcon this year for a pint.

    Damien

  • http://twitter.com/mwilton13 @mwilton13

    You couldn't have posted this at a better time Tony. I have been feeling the pain for a few months now, having a huge project take off only to hit road block after road block along the way. Demands being asked without resources being provided. Ideas starting just to be stopped. As an in-house SEO and manager of a marketing team its maddening. At the end of the day I am left feeling deflated and wondering why I do it, but much like yourself I remember the passion behind what I do. Never in anything I have done, aside from maybe music, have I ever been as passionate about something the way I am about SEO and internet marketing as a whole.

    Glad to see I'm not the only in-house getting the crap kicked out of me most days and feeling like a crazy person at the end of the day for wanting to come back for more.

  • tonyadam

    Thanks for the tip on the graphic from SEOMoz, I hadn't seen that! I'll check it out now. Getting people to do things is a major chalenge and is secretly one of my favorites. Figuring out the psychology of getting tech teams to implement changes or change infrastructure is a huge challenge and when I solve it, I feel like I've solved a conversion optimization puzzle!

    Cheers Damien and see you at PubCon for sure!

  • tonyadam

    Matt, totally get what you mean about all the road blocks…Yahoo! was the worst offender as far as size for me. It was painful blow after painful bow, but, I leveraged it as a way to attempt to figure out how I could get things done. I then started to only work with teams that actually wanted to implement SEO right away. It was the only thing that kept me there longer than 3 months…that and Laura of course, she is amazing.

    Keep taking those punches, you'll start enjoying them like my masochistic self after a while.

  • Serena

    Such a great post Tony! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  • Ravi Narasimhan

    Tony – I had no idea that there was such a large, churning, emotional sea under that calm exterior ;-) Thanks for sharing. Super insightful. I've tried doing SEO on various small sites and frankly understand so little of how it works, often felt like I was taking a water pistol to a gun fight. Glad to see that I'm not alone…….

  • Susan bain

    Awesome post Tony! Just the therapy I needed! Thank you for being so candid and willing to share what so many of us InHouse SEO's experience. Thanks for reminding me why I do this and why I do love it as a whole. It's like a marriage in a way …."in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…" we can't part from something we love so much! :)

  • http://yoyoseo.com Dana Lookadoo

    Tony, I am soooooo glad you're an emotional, technical SEO dork who took the time to share. I relate as well as to many others. Enjoyed and am inspired to continue the saga. :-)

  • tonyadam

    Thanks Serena! And, thank you for reading! :)

  • tonyadam

    Extremely passionate and emotional Ravi and glad you found the post insightful!

  • tonyadam

    Thanks man, really appreciate the kind words…I don't think it was loyalty as much as it was making sure I was at a company for over a year and finding the right startup.

  • tonyadam

    Susan, we all need a little blog post therapy sometimes! I'm glad you were reminded why you do what you love…it's important for us all to know this!

  • tonyadam

    Why thank you Dana! I take pride in my emotion and passion. Thanks for your continued support, it's definitely much appreciated!

  • http://www.obiwankimberly.com/ Kimberly Blessing

    Tony, I'm honored to be mentioned in your post. You have always had passion for everything I've ever seen you do. You're a sponge soaking up knowledge. The awesome thing about sponges is that, when they do get wrung-out, they're just ready to soak up some more. So don't let the beatings keep you down — bounce back and be the awesome, enthusiastic individual that we all know you to be!

    PS: Love the Rocky reference! Come visit and we'll run the Art Museum steps together!

  • http://twitter.com/kristy @kristy

    I wish more people had your attitude Tony. Life never gets handed to you – you have to go out and grab it and so often that means you get knocked down in the process. But if you don't keep getting up you're only letting yourself down. This is a great reminder of that! Thanks for sharing!!

  • http://nuzu.net Travis

    Dude… anytime you need to chillax for a while, come visit us in Fiji. My team could learn a lot from you!

  • http://twitter.com/OptimizedMom @OptimizedMom

    Awesome post, Tony! I think the reason many companies de-prioritize SEO is because it's hard for a lot of people to understand the way it works and is often seen as a project (unfortunately). I appreciate your openness in this post – gives us all a push in the right direction. :)

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  • http://www.ranker.com Clark Benson

    we love you at the best Top 10 Lists site (Ranker of course) Tony!

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