I’ve had a rant stewing in me since I saw a TED Talk by Larry Smith on why you will fail to have a great career. The gist of his unpleasant talk is that you will fail to have a great career because you will compromise on what you are most passionate about. And if you don’t do what you’re most passionate about, you will never have a great career.
When I first saw the video, I said “Yes!” So much so that I posted it on my Facebook page. But after a few days, lingering doubts about it caused me to delete it from my Facebook page. These doubts have only grown in the interceding months. It took an interview with Martha Stewart in Parade magazine this past Sunday to inspire me to express these doubts in a blog post. She says:
My father was the smartest guy, he said: ‘you can do anything you set your mind to.’
I know you have all heard these words from your parents and teachers. And I don’t want to discourage you from pursuing your dreams. But I’m here to tell you if you insist on doing whatever it is that you are passionate about, you are more likely to fail to have a great career. Great careers are made by people who listen to what the world needs and who learn to provide those things. They are not necessarily made by people who create things they are passionate about and hope the world needs them. If you think that is the way things work, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
It certainly helps to be passionate about what you do. It is important to any happy career. And you probably can’t have a great career if your work makes you miserable. But learning to do unpleasant things well, and learning to enjoy success in things for which you are not gifted are essential to cultivating a great career. If you only do what you like to do and what comes easily to you, you are likely to fail. This is the gist of my rant against Larry Smith.
Since before I started this blog with my co-author Frank Donatone, I’ve been engaging in a long and fruitful virtual debate with a group of people I lovingly refer to as the search haters. My latest blog about this can be found on Biznology: “Five Critical Roles that Need SEO Skills.” Not that the group of search haters is organized or has its own user group. But there is a long line of folks who are willing to trash the practice of SEO on the basis of two facts:
- SEO has sometimes been practiced by unscrupulous agencies to try to gain unfair advantage for their clients, thus this is what most SEO amounts to
- Search results are sometimes wildly irrelevant to search queries, thus search is not all that helpful in providing relevant content to audiences
I write this in the hope that I might influence a few search haters into a more sympathetic understanding of SEO. As the above Biznology post indicated, I spend the majority of my time training folks on SEO. Much of this is in countering myths 1. or 2. above. If I can preempt some of this training by influencing a few people now, I just might be able to get down to business with new hires in digital marketing sooner.
You know I am passionate about digital marketing. But you might not know that I am also a baseball blogger. I am cmathewson at the Minnesota Twins blog Twinkie Town, one of the SB Nation sites that recently went through an unfortunate redesign. I don’t write there very often anymore, in part because of the redesign. But at one time, I was one of its most prolific contributors, when the baseball world was going through a controversial culture clash between insular scouting paradigm to one based on math. In the center of that controversy was Nate Silver.
I have been a Nate Silver fan for almost 10 years, when he developed PECOTA, a system that uses statistical analysis to forecast the performance of baseball players based on their past performance. At the time, what passed for baseball analysis was performed by “baseball men,” scouts who had grown up around the game and learned its nuances. Most of their insights were based on what they saw with their own eyes and their gut feelings. Silver was one of the young Turks of a sabermetric revolution among baseball analysts, people who used math to analyze players and predict their future performance, often more accurately than the baseball men.
Eventually, sabermetriccs became an established practice in baseball. Every team uses methods developed by Silver and others at least as a check against the errors of their scouts. Most rely more heavily on math, using scouts to fill in the blanks. Billy Bean of Moneyball fame is one such baseball executive.
Apparently, Silver loves controversy. When sabermetrics became an established practice, he set out to do to political analysis what he helped do to baseball analysis, with his fivethirtyeight blog in The New York Times. Political analysis has long been ruled by the scouts of the politics world, aka pundits–highly educated men (mostly) who glance at polling data and form intuitive opinions about them. Until the 2012 elections, pundits ruled. But in this election, Silver ruled, correctly calling all 50 states a week before the election and getting very close on the popular vote. According to Silver, the electoral vote would be a landslide for the President. The pundits called it a “tossup” using such mixed metaphors as “razor tight.” More pundits predicted a Romney win than an Obama win.
Some say there was one true winner in the 2012 election and it was Silver. No pundit in the history of political commentary was as accurate as Silver was on that night. I don’t recall an election in which the old guard pundits were so far off, either. The contrast was stark. He was so good, he managed to make his brand of analysis an established practice in less than half the time it took him to do the same thing for baseball. In fact, Silver’s success in the 2008 election influenced enough people that his models were in wide use behind the scenes in the Obama campaign. Future campaigns will take notice, and ignore the kind of analysis Silver performs at their peril.
Since Silver likes controversy so much, perhaps his next challenge can be digital marketing. Digital marketing is in the throes of the same kind of conflict baseball and politics have gone through. Mad Men on one side, geeks on the other. The Mad Men flaunt their experience using their particular brand of creativity to develop and push content on unwilling masses, hoping for a small percentage of them to engage. Geeks work to learn the willing audience in detail and target them with content that helps them make smarter decisions. I fall firmly in the geek camp. But I struggle to convince the Mad Men. Enter Silver, who could cut through their BS and transform digital marketing.
If you’re interested in how, please read on.
I told Kristina Halvorson on her 5 by 5 talk that our book is the only search book that emphasizes using keyword data from the very inception of content efforts. Now that I’ve read the second edition of Marketing in the Age of Google by Vanessa Fox, I can say our book is one of two that promote this approach.
Though the books complement one another, they have distinct points and purposes. Our book is more about search-first content strategy. Fox’s book is more about search-first business strategy. Our book has more keyword research and writing advice. Her book has more webmaster and development advice.
Rather than going into a detailed account, let me just point out what I like about her book and why I consider it a must read for digital marketing strategists. No book is perfect, however. By her own admission, her book leaves a lot of room for others to fill in the gaps left by its scope.
If I seem absent from this site, it is only because most of my work is published now by Biznology. In that blog, I am following a long thread about how to optimize digital experiences for Google post SEO. SEO as we know it is dead. But attracting an audience through Google is not optional. So how do we do it in that age post SEO? That is the point of my monthly posts at Biznology.
Occasionally, I find myself with fresh insights that don’t quite fit into the flow of that blog. So I will write them here. This is one such post. This one came about when I was in residence for a week at the IBM Design Lab in New York. In the course of my discussions with key collaborators there, I came to realize that the Biznology thread is a bit too narrow. There I have mostly focused on how Panda and Penguin have killed SEO. But these algorithm adjustments are only two of the six seismic changes in Mountain View that adjust the algorithm in ways one cannot reverse engineer. I’d like to highlight all six in this post.
First a bit of terminology. By “SEO” I mean the attempt to reverse engineer Google’s algorithm and build pages that will tend to rank well on that basis. Traditionally, this has been about learning the rules Google used to rank one page higher than another, all things considered, and trying to follow those rules. SEOs chased the algorithm by keeping up with how the rules changed–either new rules were added or existing rules were given different weight or, etc.
Well, in the last several years, Google has added other factors and filters that are not rules-based at all. It was never a good idea to chase the algorithm when it was rules-based. Now that it is ever less rules-based, chasing the algorithm is a fools errand. But as I say, ranking well in Google for the words your target audience cares about is not optional. So how do you do it post SEO?