Compared to its ultimate impact, the beginnings of an earthquake are actually quite small.

 beginnings of an earthquake

Likewise, in terms of scope, the Penguin algorithm update was relatively miniscule, affecting only 3.1% of queries. Its impact on the industry, however, was far greater, as the de-emphasis of thin content in the SERPs drove SEO professionals to place a renewed emphasis on creating — and marketing — quality content.

In its aftermath, the industry has struggled somewhat to define what an SEO has become. Is he/she now a content-creating machine? What about the practice’s well-rooted origins in data analysis? Has that taken a backseat to content creation?  The upheaval in the industry has left many SEOs with something of an existential crisis, scratching their heads asking, “What am I?”

The SEO Lives At The Intersection Of Liberal Arts & Technology

Now, aside from more cat pictures, certainly the last thing the Internet needs is more comparisons to Steve Jobs and Apple. But, in searching for the best way to get across what I think an SEO has become, I’m going to commit a cardinal sin of lame article writing and make just such a comparison.

At Apple’s WWDC event in 2010, Jobs famously said that, “[Apple] has always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.” By that, I think he meant that Apple products are born from both creative-based and science-based thinking.

I think this is the place that SEO has arrived at. For many, pre-Penguin SEO practices were tipped in favor of the technology and data side, heavily focusing on tactics like link-building while content took a back seat. In a post-penguin world, the practices have become more evenly balanced, with a focus on both content and the data/tactics.

steve jobs liberal arts and technology

What Does this Mean for You?

There are many theories about how the brain operates, but a persistent one is the logical vs. creative schema. Ehrenwald’s Anatomy of Genius: Split Brains and Global Minds describes most people’s mind styles as either dominantly rational/logical or intuitive/artistic.

Intuitively, this makes sense when we consider the people we know and when we think about how our own brains operate — we can probably classify most as dominantly thinking in either a logical, data focused manner or with a creative bent.

Given that people tend to tack to the approaches they feel most comfortable with, there is a possibility that as an SEO, you or your team may be giving the most time and attention to either data/tactics or content, depending on your dominant mental schema.

If you buy the argument that the most successful SEOs now live at the intersection of technology (data) and liberal arts, any singular-focused approach may be detrimental to your natural search success. (And, given that much of our mental programming operates outside of our conscious awareness, careful consideration may cause some to discover that this mental ‘work-with-what-I-am-most-comfortable-with’ schema has been operating outside the confines of their awareness).

So, if you buy the post-Penguin “liberal arts-technology intersection” argument, the implications for success are that you (individual or collective) must be giving sufficient mindshare to both liberal arts and technology. In many ways, the two are separate — building content people want to link to and share and optimize on page factors, etc.

In other ways, the data side is supportive of the liberal arts side such as tracking how the content is resonating, discovering new opportunities for content creation, assessing the competitive landscape etc.  In this regard, it is a true intersection, the place where the liberal arts and the technology come together.

searchlight keywords view

What An SEO Professional Has Become

To come full circle, and answer our original question, “what is an SEO?” now, post-Penguin, the modern-day SEO is an organic search professional positioned at the intersection of liberal arts (content) and technology (data). This means you, as a practitioner or organization, must be aware if you are tacking too far to one side.

It may no longer be enough to outsource the liberal-arts side to content creators, internal or otherwise. Now, it is too critical to your natural search visibility that you have to get involved and start driving the creation of excellent content. (And, please don’t say that you don’t have the budget — see this excellent piece on creating content with no budget by John DohertyProducing Great Content with No Budget.)

On the flip side, it may not be enough to put content out there without both support of on- and off-page tactics and without sufficient visibility into how content is driving links and shares, as it would ultimately impact your natural search visibility.

As we enter the new year, make it a resolution to at least evaluate where your SEO practice is relative to the liberal arts-technology intersection; what you discover may alter your practice for the better.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO

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About The Author: is Director of Research at Conductor, Inc, an SEO technology company in New York, authoring insightful research on trends in the natural search industry.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://twitter.com/JohnBarlowe JohnBarlowe

    Get involved? Drive the content MYSELF? Come on, Nathan, I don’t really want to have to work. Seriously though, appreciate the article… made me use all 3 sides of my brain: left, right, and the part that control my urges to smack clients who don’t get it. Recent client to me: “You’re a dreamer, and I don’t have time for that sh%$. Give me facts and results.” This was after I initiated a content-based strategy that was going well, but, hey, it was early. Since results did not materialize in days, he began to bark. Much fun for me.

  • Lisa Kuhn Phillips

    Good read, as we will move towards the intersection of efficiency with content and data. Yet the real success will occur when it becomes personally understood (2-way), and interactively (rather than assumed) approached.. Turning to —> context and information flow. Interdependent intimacy, if you will. Otherwise its just dollars and sense, rather than real golden value derived.

  • http://twitter.com/Nathan_Safran Nathan Safran

    haha. Sorry for making you work :) And, I think I have the same three sides of the brain :)

  • http://twitter.com/Nathan_Safran Nathan Safran

    yup, there will surely be a move towards context (Google Now, Glass etc)

  • Kate Kowalsky

    Great Read @twitter-16425669:disqus. This is an important intersection to reach as a SEO, even if you decide to tilt / balance as you see fit once the concept is clear. And yup, John, it’s just as crucial as it is for any SEO to have that third will-power brain side..if not more! Haha

  • Steve Haldi

    It’s this intersection of art and logic that makes me appreciate the encouragement and support from my parents when I wanted to learn piano at an early age. Playing a two-handed instrument forced both halves of my brain to work together. There’s a certain logic to reading and writing musical notation. Mechanically, it’s possible to teach that skill to just about anyone. But adding finesse and musicality to the written music is an art form. In music, in life, and now in the Internet marketing/SEO field, being able balance art with logic is important.

    I grew up in a school where they offered music every day of the week, and I’m glad for it. Support the arts…

  • http://twitter.com/MultiPucci1 Peter Papucci

    Being master of both? Well then, the two would become one
    and that would leave only one more piece of many riddles to solve…one
    being: When thy eyes, be single? Such is the flight of men to discover such secrets,
    let alone, master them ….hummmm?

    On another note, Tran’s humanism seems to be where
    technology is pushing men. What most don’t realize is that those behind the
    power, who are the real power behind men, have suppressed/hidden technologies far in advance to what is now
    understood to be the cutting edge, insomuch it is more advanced at least by 50
    to 100 years than what has been allowed to be disseminated thus far.

    Nonetheless, they will never come to acknowledge within themselves
    that they are ever learning, yet never coming into the knowledge of the truth.
    Their technology compounding exponentially far surpassing even the conceptualization
    of the assimilation of the Borg mind, in Star Trek even that, is at hand and
    now, is at the door.

    Great technology once was already, for there is nothing new
    under the sun that was not once before. A warning to heed of its implications given,
    as it was in the days of Noah………

    Its best that men be wise than to fear and be afraid of what
    is coming and already here!

  • http://twitter.com/jillwhalen Jill Whalen

    Those of us who’ve been doing SEO since the 90′s have always known it was a right brain left brain thing. Funny that newer SEOs are just figuring that out now!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kissmarketing Deirdre Cavener

    No kidding … I have always said it is 1/2 Science and 1/2 Marketing … :-)

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Right. Agree with the article. Just not sure how it’s new.

  • https://plus.google.com/117516344939694258760/about Trond Lyngbø

    You make some good points here, Nathan. Good read!

  • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ Dave Young

    We’ve been looking for good SEO pros who know the technology side but cringe when thinking about the content creation. If you have clients who are genuine subject matter experts (SME), we have a great system for extracting content from them. Combine your keyword research with our outlining tool and any SME can quickly have a huge list of topics for content. We use interviewers to painlessly and professionally pull that content from them. We convert their spoken words to professionally edited written content. Let’s work together!

  • https://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.stefani Dharmamitra Jeff Stfeani

    I couldn’t agree more…in fact, you’ve stolen one of my golden nugget insights from my CV/Resume/LinkedIn Profile! (I’m joking about the stolen, but %100 serious about how I’ve been marketing myself on this very phenomena) I talk about this exact comparison, and use it to explain why I love the new Post-Penguin generation of White Hat SEO, and why I personally welcome the evolution of Search Engine Updates. One man’s downfall is another’s salvation.

  • Rob Bradley

    There are not many small / medium sized businesses which have the resources and time to invest into their own seo and marketing programmes, so I will be interesting to see how 2013 will unfold whereas many diy campaigns can be pulled off, the ability to write compelling content with good seo factors is much more difficult

  • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ Dave Young

    In my experience, for firms who are big enough to get in the game, time is the scarcer of the two resources. It’s exactly the problem we’ve solved for our clients. Being able to produce weekly, relevant, focused blog content with a time commitment of under an hour per month for the expert is our standard. Focusing it on technical SEO is done at the brainstorming stage. When an interview-sourced article is being created, we simply have the business owner write the keyword on a sticky-note and put it on his monitor as we record him. The note reminds him to say the phrase several times in the 5-minute interview and we keep the phrase in the copy through the transcription and rewrite phases of our workflow.

  • Fabian Linge

    Hey Nathan,

    great article. I couldn’t agree more. Just producing content for content sake just isn’t enough. People and business need to wake and understand that they are more than just an online business but a publishing platform.

    There is a lot of opportunity for businesses small or big and all it takes is a little bit of time and effort on a continuous basis!

    Cheers,

    Fabian

  • http://twitter.com/Nathan_Safran Nathan Safran

    Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/Nathan_Safran Nathan Safran

    Thanks Fabian!

  • propools

    Great article Nathan. It reminds me of something I first
    learned after getting out of college which is, “The Customer is King”. I have
    always been reminded of that mantra and have tried to apply the same to our
    site but with one simple twist.

    When at my first Webmaster World conference in Florida, I had a chance
    to talk with Matt Cutts from Google and he mentioned “Content is King”. To
    which I simply smiled, agreed and then instantly the comment of “The Customer
    is King” came out. We both laughed as I started trying to twist those two
    concepts together in my mind.

    It’s the integration or the twisting together of these two concepts
    which drive our site content today. It’s the recognition of trying to provide
    relevant information as to why the user is sitting in front of their desktop to
    start with.

    I think today we can transform the concept into “Relevant Information
    is King”.

    Concerning the web, information can be split into two areas,
    user information and search engine information. It’s how we present this data
    to either party where many, including myself can find themselves running over and
    sometimes through hurdles.

    Thanks again for a great article.

 

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