"So, what do you do for a living?"

Author: Steve McLaughlin on 04/23/2014

When I worked in the education field this was a really simple question to answer.

"I'm a PE teacher", I'd invariably answer. While my career in education was a short-lived and rewarding journey, it was also incredibly straightforward. That short sentence,"I'm a PE teacher", was a sufficient answer for anyone wondering what it was that I did during the day in order to put food on the table. These days though, I find that the conversation usually takes a bit longer and involves a few different things before I can fully explain what it is that I do.

Recently I was at a 60th birthday party and was catching up with several family members whom I hadn’t seen in a while. When the inevitable question arose asking what it was I did for a living, I balked.

I’ve been down this path before, the one where I answer their question with the straightforward answer “I work in search engine marketing.”

This is typically followed by 1 of 2 reactions. The first and most common is a cocked head and a smile with a quizzical look on the face of the individual asking the question, similar to the look a dog will give you when it seems confused. Depending on the generation that the person asking the question comes from I’ll either elaborate on the specifics on what SEO is, or I’ll tell them “I write for the internet.”

The second reaction is less frequent but much, much more intense.  In this scenario my interrogator will heatedly tell me about what a scam SEO is, how they know all about my line of work, and how they’re not going to fall for it. These people (many of whom I’ve only recently had the opportunity to meet) have typically had terrible encounters with people who refer to themselves as SEO “gurus” “ninjas” “rock stars” or some other sort of adjective which they think makes them sound knowledgeable but actually just makes their resume look like a Mad Libs for adults. After this person’s rant is done and I’ve been made to feel about as welcome as a TSA agent at a Libertarian convention, I try my best to define what it is that I actually do.

So what is SEO? What is it that I do on a day-to-day basis?

If we put all of the technical stuff aside, the basic things a good search engine marketing team should be doing on a regular basis in order to help your site rank well in search engines are the following:

  1. Identify how people are searching for your product or service. This can take up a lot of time and requires sifting through data which includes thousands of search queries, how often those queries are searched for, and how many other web pages are attempting to also incorporate those terms into their content.
  2. Ensure that each page on your site is optimized on the back end, including it’s meta data (or the data that indicates to web crawlers what your page is all about).
  3. Produce content for pages incorporating the terms you’ve deemed are valuable and highly searched for. This content can take the form of lists, articles, reviews, infographics, videos, or anything else that you think will make audiences want to click through to your site and spend some time there.
  4. Build links in a healthy and organic way (more on this next time.)
  5. Eat a PB&J sandwich, wash, rinse, and repeat until desired results are achieved.

There’s also stuff like monitoring Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics accounts, reporting my work to clients, being a Matt Cutts fanboy, and keeping up on industry news in addition to a bunch of other more technical stuff that I do. Those 5 points are really what take up the majority of my day though and they’re how I put bread on the table at night, or more realistically, how my family affords to eat Chipotle as often as we do.

In the same way that I formerly spent my time prepping students for exams, helping them succeed in their day to day work, and overall being capable of performing the standards set for them by the state I now spend my time prepping websites in order to ensure that they’re easy to use, navigate, complete purchases on, and overall are in line with the best standards set forth by major search engines.

Back to that birthday party I was at where I was asked what I do for a living, I was greeted with both of the reactions I’ve grown accustomed to, polite confusion and misplaced anger. 

So how did I answer?

“Actually, I wrote a blog about this entitled “What is SEO” you should check it out because driving relevant traffic to websites is kinda my thang.”

Yes, I really do typically pronounce the word thing as “thang” like that when I’m in public in order to sound hip, but no, that’s not really how I answered them. I realized that there was a technological divide between the family members asking the questions and myself, which would have meant a lot of explaining as to how the Internet actually works among other things. So I simply broke it down and explained to them that what I do now isn’t that far off from my former job of teaching and preparing students for success, except that now I do it for clients’ websites.