How To Motivate An SEO

by on March 17, 2011 | posted in SEO Theory

Tigers, Lions and Pandas, oh my.

Sometimes I feel like I have motivation down. I would say, pretty confidently, that I work harder than 95% of people. But I’m competitive, and I also feel that I’m behind the ante a lot of the time – meaning that I feel some angst any time I find someone younger than me that has done more, is further along in their career, has created better things, or has overall accomplished more than I have. So that means I’m pretty feverishly working towards accomplishment, which means late nights, lots of written content, and not much television, movies, or anything else.

That’s OK – I love what I do. I really, really love it. But I’m human, and at a certain threshold building links and plugging in an e-mail can burn at the retinas – especially with SEO. This is because SEO is a long term thing, and sometimes you can go a month without movement in the SERPs, and as such, sticking the nose to the grindstone can be somewhat draining as it comes to motivation.

We’re human – and we need little drips of salience to keep us going. I feel pretty connected to the idea of optimal motivation, enough so that I once wrote an entire guide on it – and as I said before, I feel as though I have a pretty good grasp on the idea in general. But it can always be improved, and I feel as though I made that jump tonight.

On Tuesday, I released a post on a link building model I had been gesticulating over. I spent a lot of time on that article. The day before, I spent the majority of the day writing a Search Engine Land column that will go out next week. The day after, I did consulting work all night after a full day in-house. After Monday was over, I was certain that this day, Tuesday (I’m releasing this on Thursday), would be one I would take off and relax – because I had to. Because I was physically and mentally spent.

But here I am, writing. And I’ve also jumped around to other bits of productive work throughout the night. And how? Tonight was to be the night I was going to recharge, sit on a couch, and do nothing. But that, now, is definitely not the case. So – what changed my course of action?

The perfectly timed interjection of perceived progress.

Dichotomizing Constant, Measurable Progress and SEO

This week, things went well as it came to my personal brand and blog. I had the two highest traffic days for this blog since November, I gained a good amount of followers, and I got a lot of really kind feedback in regards to what I wrote. This feeling, this interjection of perceived progress – gave me an additional jolt that allows me to write, now, and be productive, elsewhere. The thing – the important thing – about being an SEO is this – generally –  is not a normally timed event for us. It is extremely difficult for SEOs to find these blips in time where progress can occur – especially on a regulated schedule.

These blips of motivation, for an SEO, will come intermittently with new potential client e-mails, signing up those clients, and then feeling the benefit of improved rankings along the long SEO timeline. These things are in our control if we continue to do great things, but their predictability is also outside it. I frequently hear SEO cat calls of “when it rains, it pours” – meaning that their potential client requests come in droves, and when things go well, things all seem to go well – not in perfectly timed bursts that inform our motivation.

This is a clear deterrent to our productivity. It sucks that we can’t directly connect production to immediate results as SEOs. Sometimes, we can grind 24 hours straight and let our eyes bleed and work until lactic acid floods through our index fingers. Other times, we can hardly roll out of our bed. And I am very confident that this iridescent pattern of motivation, for SEOs, is directly connected to this non-predictable timeline of progress our careers have defined for us.

Yes, if we work super hard, progress will happen. But we don’t know when. This means that the grind can sometimes wear on us.. that slogging away can sag on our eyelids. And that sucks. Why aren’t SEOs collectively known as the same group of unadulterated worker bees as those programmers on Hacker News? Why can’t we be? Is it because we’re any less motivated? Or is it because our circumstance has pre-determined our intermittent drains in ability to grind towards success?

Wine, Work Ethic and Continuous Vertical Growth

Gary Vaynerchuk, wine video blogger and social media superstar, is frequently heralded for his unconquerable work ethic. If we think about my thesis in this post, we can see many of these perceived progress effects at work with Gary, as it comes to his constantly increasing number of Twitter followers.

When he started, he created daily content, that, as released, would provide immediate feedback and traffic. He would quickly see return on his effort, as much of the push was towards social actions, such as liking him on Facebook or following him on Twitter. Every time he went to Twitter search to find people talking about wine to grind out new followers, while also creating content on his blog, his follower count would sprint upwards, one by one, immediately.

If his content was great, it would of course create more of a viral effect, and if it was mediocre, only somewhat. However, all input would create a direct, measurable output – and as it comes to Twitter – an output that always feels like a perceived progression, because it will continue to grow at a significant rate. Traffic numbers can slog off if you do nothing, but on Twitter, if you are active at all, the metrics will grow somewhat or at least, not tail off – it’s just the rate it grows that changes. This perceived progress can be a real burgeon for motivation, and it undoubtedly helped fuel an already motivated man to an unparalleled ability to “grind” – that one day may carry him to a purchase of the New York Jets.

A Solution

What I’ve realized is that us, as SEOs, have to find ways to generate progress in sequential fashion in order to maintain systematic, sustained motivation. Programmers have the ability to push code constantly, or, with a good product, see the ticker constantly ramp upwards based on the viral contagion, or otherwise, continuous growth. SEOs don’t have it so lucky, and as such, the drips of dopamine we get that can channel our motivation aren’t as constant.

So, what predictors can we set in motion to channel a constant stream of motivation? Humanity. As crazy as it seems, the Google algorithm isn’t as predictable, or rewarding, as a math equation might make it out to be.  However, humanity, at scale, is pretty predictable. If we create great stuff, and we’ve already built up a certain threshold of acceptability (meaning: a decent following to push our content to) – people will react rather predictability.

AND, more importantly, their signs of progress are more obvious – and instantaneous – as compared to the Google algorithm. Even if Google is a math equation – and humanity is chaotic, and more susceptible to random minutiae – Google is not as giving as it comes to showing constant signs of progress. And it is those signs of progress that will energetically push us forward in our careers, and also, towards harder work as it comes to generating more of those intermittent signs of progress from the Big G.

So, we need those things. Even if we know this, we are still never totally convinced the next ranking improvement is coming. We can’t be. Big G can be a real dick sometimes. But creating great content, and pushing it out constantly to a human audience – means constant returns we can feel. And that great content will make everything else feel good, and make us work even harder than ever before.

What that means, specifically, varies depending on where your career finds you as an SEO.

Independent SEO Consultants/SEO Agencies

If you’re an SEO consultant or work for an SEO agency, you have an easy answer in the form of blogging, because this can create real, definite returns for your business - so you know it will also create measurable improvements in the future other than intermittent drips on a Twitter counter.

Put forward a hell of a lot of work towards creating a great piece of content, once a week. Release it at the likely apex of your “drain” – when you are more likely to feel  impaired by the grind of your day to day work. Those dopamine pulses will help push you forward for the next week – and the week after.

If you don’t time this intelligently, it’s likely you will feel “drains”, and thus not hit your maximum levels of productivity as it pertains to working the hardest, being the best, and ranking as high as you can.

If you aren’t a blogger, you have other solutions. Run contests, or develop strategies to time out “pushes” of things that will likely push up the number of Twitter followers your account has, or Facebook likes. Leverage your own skills to improve the spread of content others create. Make videos. Do somethingFind metrics that rely on a human or immediately determinable metric, and not on a math equation that can only show results once every two weeks to a month.

In-House SEOs

Things can be tougher in house, because blogging isn’t always a solution that makes sense, and also, it might not be your skill as an SEO. So, I suggest that you become a Linchpin, as defined by Seth Godin – someone who exists outside their job title, and finds other ways to drive traffic to the business. Yes, I’m an SEO, but my day to day also involves finding measurable ways to increase profitability through things like retargeting ads, improving conversion, and development of miscellaneous other revenue streams.

These other “non-SEO” avenues allow additional ways for me to find motivation, because they offer immediate, direct feedback according to my personal recommendations. By jostling both my normal job title and being a “linchpin” – I become more valuable to the company, have more fun, and generate additional sparks of motivation that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred because I set myself up for dopamine drips in the form of constant, immediate feedback for the strategies I recommend. I also have this blog and consult on the side – which means I have plenty of opportunities to feel bursts of perceived progress.

And if your current gig doesn’t give you the flexibility to be a “linchpin”, quit, because your job sucks, and you deserve better.

I think.

Motivation Isn’t For Everybody

If you read through this and still find yourself longing for a solution to your mid-week drains, maybe success – or SEO – isn’t for you. It’s also possible that you’re okay with mediocrity, just getting by, and rolling out of your bed at 70 without having done anything worth a damn. That’s perfectly okay, it’s your decision and I’m sure all of those people have no regrets and wouldn’t do anything over if they had the chance.

Have a great weekend.

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  • Domenick

    “Yes, I’m an SEO, but my day to day also involves finding measurable ways to increase profitability through things like re-targeting ads, improving conversion, and development of miscellaneous other revenue streams.”

    That’s real talk, think you wrote this for me, appreciate it :-} Think the fact I started out as an affiliate marketer has actually help me become a better SEO, especially when it comes to using different verticals to achieve better traffic, rankings, branding and conversions.

    As always good ish.

  • Fraser Cain

    As webmasters, we measure our progress by events which we can’t manage directly. If we got a good Adsense day, or made some product sales, we feel good. If sales are down, it sinks our motivation.

    The trick is to tie your feelings of self-worth to your actions. If your plan is that you’re going to write a great article every day, or personally respond to 10 twitter requests, then you should measure your self worth by how well you met those daily tasks. If you hit your daily goal, you should mentally reward yourself. And if you fail to reach it, that’s when you need to up your game.

    As long as you keep working on the core activities that your business requires, all the other stuff – like revenue, twitter followers, and publicity come along naturally.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Right – as a webmaster you have that stuff caked in, so a good sales day will naturally put a smile on your face. In the consulting space though, it’s not as easy to feel good about those things. But I agree about everything else you said – thanks for the comment!

      • Fraser Cain

        Well, as a consultant, your client’s success is your success. If they’re making money hand over fist, they’re probably going to want you to keep doing what you’re doing. You get a double whammy when the client isn’t doing well, because they only think in terms of that daily revenue. If their money isn’t coming in, they have trouble justifying the money they’re paying you. It takes a very wise client to understand how the ongoing tasks translate into revenue, and have the patience to see it through.

        It’s why I don’t do consulting any more. :-)

  • tomharari

    Ross – your timing couldn’t have been better on this one. Not sure about others, but for some reason hardcore rejection or failure always seems to give me a crazy boost in drive and determination the day after.

    It may be just conditioning on my end, but no use in sitting around whining when you can use all the built up energy/anger/frustration to go on a tear. Anyways, that’s what happened to me this week and I’ve had some of my most successful moments following that bitter pill. Thanks for this post!

    • Ross Hudgens

      I agree Tom – I used to get slighted by a “name” SEO early in my career – surpassing that person is still something that drives me to this day. Sorry to hear you had a reason to be angry – but glad to hear you channeled it well!

  • James Svoboda

    Awesome post Ross! The SEO motivation roller coaster can be a real bit@# sometimes and often leaves us with no choice but pick ourselves back up and and ride again.

  • Rebekah

    Thank you for the excellent post. As both an in-house SEO and consultant who is always busy, and at times lacks motivation – I can almost feel as if this was written for me specifically. While I feel bad that you didn’t get the day of R&R you needed, I do appreciate you posting this :)

    • Ross Hudgens

      Don’t feel bad Rebekah – feel happy I didn’t need the R&R! At least that’s what I thought. :) Thanks for the comment!

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  • Sujan Patel

    Great post Ross. Your post on motivation motivated me :)

  • Kush

    Not that I need any motivation at the moment but I really appreciate this post and bookmarked for future reference :)

    love this quote:
    “And if your current gig doesn’t give you the flexibility to be a “linchpin”, quit, because your job sucks, and you deserve better.”

  • Kelvin

    Totally understand how you feel. Sometimes it is like one step up and 2 step back.
    Thanks for the motivating post!

  • Christophe BENOIT

    So true.
    As an SEO consultant, I feel the same up and down and a lot of motivation and self discipline is necessary to continue working because results are not immediatly correlated to efforts. And that’s one of the trickiest part of this work.

    • Ross Hudgens

      I really thought the ghost of Chris Benoit had posted on my blog when I read this comment, then a did a doubletake. (R.I.P. to him BTW). Thanks for the comment.

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  • Jim Rudnick

    …sigh…every time I just about get to the bottom of my ‘must read printed blog’ pile…something comes along like this piece — the second in a few days, from Ross.

    printed this. will read it and then somehow try to “glean” how I can help motivate myownself, towards more SEO success. as an ‘old school’ networker I’m very plugged into my community and it’s IT sub community…but yes, as Ross points out, sometimes getting back “up to speed” and “doing something” is a chore. not always, thank god…but once ‘n awhile…

    and this piece will help me in that it appears I’m not alone, eh! I too love what I do…and can’t wait to get up each and every day to get started again…so I’m in that same mindset like Ross….which is good to know too, eh!



    • Ross Hudgens

      Thanks for the comment Jim! Glad to be of help. Love your comment style too BTW – I’m pretty sure I could read it anywhere w/o the avatar or “Jim” and know it was you.

  • Ahmad Rahim

    Nice post Ross! Let’s all stay motivated!

  • Steve

    It is the motivation that will separate the good SEOs from the ones that fail. SEO, as you said, is a long term project. It is very easy to get discouraged in this field, but with perseverence, your hard work will eventually start to reap its benefits.

  • roey

    you are right
    people is everything
    please don׳t forget it!

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  • Kieran Flanagan

    Russ, this is an excellent post. I love the way you write. I was actually in the middle of a post along these lines (well a little different) after an extremely busy month (all for the right reasons): – I included a link across to your excellent article. There are a couple of things you said that are near identical to the way I think, it’s quite comforting to know that :) especially about getting competitive in relation to other peoples achievements. I really feel the people who want to be great are built this way and manage it in the right way (it spurs them on)
    Keep up the good work

    • Ross Hudgens

      Kieran – besides calling me Russ ;) – I am very flattered by this comment – thanks for dropping in and spreading the link love. I totally agree with everything you say – I think it’s impossible for someone be “great” and not be built that way internally.

  • Mike Haydon

    Great article, Ross. I’ve been doing some of these things without realizing how much they helped my motivation. Things like blogging on motivation and time management lol. But it does lead me to an interesting line of thought on why in the past I’ve started linkbuilding projects and couldn’t keep them going. Interesting. Thanks!

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  • Ravi Kumar

    Thanks Ross for this motivational article. I was searching motivation in the morning and feeling to nice to read this article. It is enough to boost my confidence and rejuvenate myself. :) :)

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