Why the Search Marketing Industry Is Like an Exclusive Country Club (and How to Break In)

There’s something lurking behind the scenes of the search marketing industry that you might have noticed: it’s kind of club-ish. And I’m not talking the kind of club with drinks — wait, actually, it is kind of like that (if you’ve been to the conferences, you know what I mean) — I’m talking the kind of club that you need an invitation to get into, like a speakeasy or exclusive country club.

Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois

The search marketing industry is a unique one. I’m sure every industry has its stars, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find an industry in the business sector that has so many stars with so many fans.

Maybe it’s the nature of the beast; the search marketing industry was built on trying to understand and work with exclusive information kept by companies like Google. Those who are closer to the secrets of the Google gods are likened to prophets.

Or, maybe it’s the simple nature of our work; since we know how to build brands and market online, creating our own popularity is a lot easier than say, some expert in the hot dog industry.

But what’s the magic formula? Why do some online marketers garner a ton of popularity while others fall by the wayside?

Let’s take a look at some of the things I personally believe are part of the formula and how you can get your foot in the door.

Pay Your Dues

Sorry, folks, it’s sad but true that this first foot-in-the-door step is not something that can be accomplished overnight. If you really want to establish yourself as a thought leader in the industry, don’t quit after one year to follow your dreams of becoming a competitive eater.

Some of the most well-known people in the search marketing industry are popular because they’ve been in it for, like, ever. Does it mean they are the absolute best search marketers in the entire world? No, but they’ve stuck around long enough to build a name, and name alone carries a lot of weight in this industry.

Tenure doesn’t mean you have to stay at one company your entire career. The search marketing industry is fast-paced and full of nomads. People move around quickly, and it seems to be the accepted standard.

If you’re looking to build a name for yourself, go where the opportunity is. Take stock of who the popular kids are and form an alliance. Worked in high school, right?

You may have to work a wee bit harder to build your brand in the search marketing community if you’re doing in-house versus agency. Your industry may be completely disconnected from your craft, in which case, you’ll have to perform double duty.

Either way, choose your positions wisely as you move around in your online marketing career. Pretend you’re on the show “Survivor,” and position:

  • What jobs will allow you to apply your current knowledge and gain even more skills in online marketing?
  • What companies can you align with that will be a platform for you to build your personal brand upon?
  • What people in the industry can you form relationships with to position you better in the future?

Be Good at What You Do and Then Tell People

OK, so it’s no surprise that some of the most popular kids in the search industry are actually really good at what they do. That’s what years and years of experience will do for you. But what about those people who know they are really good at something, but not getting any credit?

Chances are they haven’t told people about it. You can be the most brilliant person in the world, but without shameless self promotion, how will anyone know?

It’s a sad fact that some lame-o who thinks he’s completely genius but really has no idea what he’s talking about will be the loudest person in the room. This, in turn, causes some people to think he actually knows what he’s talking about. And then you wonder how that person ever got so popular.

So the lesson here is: speak up. If you have great ideas, start your own blog outside of your regular gig, and start talking about them. Get on Twitter, for God’s sake, and start contributing. It’s like a mini party for search marketers every day there.

Try to nab guest blog spots or interviews with popular online marketing blogs to start building your voice. Whatever you do, speak up – you’re never going to get a dance if you’re acting like a wallflower.

What if you’re not an expert? There are those people who are really, really awesomely satisfactory at a whole bunch of things in online marketing but not really an expert in anything.

First, everyone is good at something – you just need to figure out what it is that interests you enough to make it your “thing.” Online marketing has many disciplines; consider choosing a path that interests you the most, so you can begin to become an authority on it.

And just because you choose to brand yourself as an authority on one thing, doesn’t mean you still can’t spend time nurturing your knowledge of other facets of search marketing. In fact, you have to. In order to be a true thought leader, you need to understand how they all work together for one end result.

Network Like Your Campaigning for President

No, that doesn’t mean asking Danny Sullivan to donate money to your latest venture, but it does mean getting to know people like Danny in the industry. Remember when I said Twitter was like a mini party for search marketers? That’s a good place to start interacting.

Then, solidify those online relationships in the real world. One of the best ways to do this is by attending and speaking at industry conferences and events. But, simply being an “attendee” of a conference not enough.

You need to put in the work – identify the people you want to meet with and make it happen. Go to the after-parties and mingle. Invite people to dinner. Start having people become acclimated with putting your face to your name. Now you’re forming real friendships.

If you’ve been chosen to speak at a conference session, the good news is that you’re kind of inside the circle now – kind of. It still takes work to maintain this nod of approval, so don’t relax just yet.

As a session speaker, you’ve already been given a thumbs up on being relevant, so that’s your first step. What comes next is taking the momentum of that experience and building on it, turning it into something bigger for your personal brand in the industry.

Remember, just as quickly as the search marketing industry accepts you, it can forget you, too.

Don’t Be Such a Suit

The search marketing industry is full of extremely driven, intelligent people; but you know what it’s not full of? People who take themselves too seriously. Yes, search marketers are a humorous lot. We like to get our kicks, and often.

This can come in the form of making fun of something or someone, references to trends exclusive to the industry, references to people, places or things with cult-like followings, talking crap about Google, not wearing suits, partying like rock stars, cussing on occasion and the list goes on.

If a marketer or agency comes off too corporate, it could work against them. Even the most accomplished marketers out there show their personality and don’t hide behind a corporate persona. They take risks, and people like them for it.

Now I’m not saying you have to be a comedian to make it in the industry (although that doesn’t hurt). What I am saying is let your individual and brand personality shine through in all your interactions, whether it be online or at an industry event.

This is one industry where brilliant doesn’t mean stuffy. Have fun with yourself and your brand, and it can take you far.

Like Google’s secrets, the popularity algorithm in the search marketing industry is a tough one to crack, and is a combination of many factors that few understand. But with a little time, effort and TLC, you’ll be sipping your (Long Island) iced tea with fellow members of the search marketing club.

Jessica Lee is the founder and chief creative for bizbuzzcontent Inc., a marketing boutique that focuses on digital content strategy and professional writing services for businesses.

See Jessica's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (23)
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23 Replies to “Why the Search Marketing Industry Is Like an Exclusive Country Club (and How to Break In)”

Great post, Jessica.

To build off of Dr. Pete’s observation, I think personally responding to most, if not all, comments left on a blog post is a very effective way to establish that you are sincere and passionate about the industry. Those things definitely help to build bonds. You’ve certainly done it here. I’ve noticed that Rand and the SEOmoz staff do a great job of that as well (I’m sure I am missing other examples, too)!


Great post Jessica! Well written.
I’ve been in the industry for a few years now and have no desire to go to the conferences. Our industry does have some fun people though. My business is an agency… do you think there are many opportunities to gain clients from these events? – Brian Greenberg

Or you can buy a lot of drinks and lap dances

Hmmm … I’m not sure I’ve been to one of THOSE search marketer parties yet. Is that how they do it down under?

It’s cliche, I suppose, but I think sincerity also goes a long way. I’ve found the A-listers in SEO to be incredibly generous with their time, if they thought I was sincere. If you just follow them around because you want to be famous, they can tell.

Good insight — thank you for adding that to the convo. :)

Hi Jessica,

Hope all is well. You hit the nail on the head. The search marketing nut is a tough one to crack. This post offers some great advice. My mentors always told me “Time will either promote you or expose you” and it’s never rang truer than in the search marketing niche. I think the most important thing is staying true to yourself. Don’t change who you are to try and impress the next person. I’ve found leaders in every industry tend to gravitate towards those who keep it real. So when the opportunity does present itself to make your introduction to someone you look up to in the industry, don’t treat them like they’re some sort of iconic mega star (no autographs please:-)) When you do treat someone as if they’re bigger than life it immediately puts you in the ‘groupie’ category. It’s like having romantic feelings for a girl but instead of making your intentions known, you get put in the “friend zone.” Once you’re there, it’s hard to get out. Being yourself is really what leaves the more lasting impression. Thanks Jessica! Awesome post!!

You’re right — groupies are out. Being real is part of the “it” factor. Great insight, Jeremiah, and good to hear from you! :)

Thanks for the article post, Jessica! Your post confirms me that what I am doing is 100% on the track. I am now working hard to get connected with few top people, Danny Sullivan, Matt Cutts, Bruce Clay as well. I am planning to conduct an interview thru emails in future after I get to know them. And to build their companies or themselves in Malaysia market and build my credibility in Malaysia as well.

You are correct, there is no free lunch in this world. We have to work hard for our goals, but internet does give people a lot of myths, people thought they can work less by using internet, which is totally wrong.

Kent — you’re welcome! You’ve been a really active member in the Bruce Clay community and we appreciate that!


Wonderful insight and a great post!

I have to agree with Nishant (as well as you Jessica) that one should be good at what one does and thus should then tell people about it. That is what makes the internet and particularly blogs, a more enriching experience. You are right, if everyone did “toot their own horn” a little more in an appropriate way, they’d find their promotional efforts more fruitful!

Thanks for your feedback, John!

Alan Bleiweiss

OMG Jessica

I laughed, did a lot of head-nodding, laughed some more… This is a spot-on article. Your understanding of how this industry works is amazing.

Thanks, Alan! It’s kind of like HS all over again — everyone has a second chance at being popular. ;) I’ve been knee-deep in the industry for a year now, and have been studying the species closely, glad my findings are accurate ;)

Alan Bleiweiss

Again totally accurate. I was a stoner/loner in high school, so missed out on the popularity bandwagon, and in turn, fame, fortune and freebies. So I get to have all that now. Okay maybe not so much fame yet. Or fortune. But I get a lot of freebies! :-)

I’m laughing, because I avoided cliques in high school. I determined to eat lunch with a different group of people almost every day. I’d rotate. The result, I became friends with a diverse set of people and learned so much that way.

Suggest people do the same thing in search marketing. Don’t just hang (write comments on blog posts) with the hard-core SEOs. You’ll learn more and have more contacts if you eat lunch (participate online with) the CROs and PPCers, maybe even talk with a black hat or two!

That’s great advice, Dana! Learning through diversity ;) There are SO many talented marketers out there who maybe don’t get as much attention as others, but have lots of interesting insight.

Or a first chance at being popular, for some of us ;)

Right! Have a good weekend, Dr. Pete.

Hey Jessica,
Really nice write-up. Personally, I’d love to visit one of those “clubs”, if time permits and geographical location changes :)

I liked the post and found it worth to be commented on. “Be Good at What You Do and Then Tell People”, found that one to be the most interesting point to talk about.

A lot of people start their own Internet Marketing company when they’ve hardly had their foot into the door of IM. After a few days, they fall flat on their face because their competition are way too ahead then’em.

Its important to know what you’re doing , and once you’ve got that straight, its important for others to know how good you are at what you’re offering.

Again, good job with the post.

Hi, Nishant! Thank you for reading and for the comment :)

I think a lot of people find it difficult to promote themselves, not because of lack of tools, but many people have a hard time tooting their own horn, so to speak.

But in this day and age, it’s so crucial, and especially in our industry.

Hope to hear from you again in the future!

Tweet, take pictures, write blog posts and ask a lot of questions!

Another way to break is it go to work for a well known company. :-)

Glad you’re not a “suit,” Jessica! Fun post!

Wow, Dana — that was the fastest commenting I’ve ever seen!

Great advice, too — thanks for that. :)

And I’m glad, too — I like my jeans!


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