TMCnet Feature
August 21, 2019

Is Your Digital Marketing Career Future Proof?

Like most digital marketers, your career is either exclusively focused on or heavily dependent on SEO. You might oversee your company’s internal SEO efforts, or you might run your own SEO agency. Either way, this is how you make money, and how you plan to make money in the foreseeable future.

But what about that future? Is SEO a career that’s future-proof? In other words, can you count on the SEO field existing for years, if not decades to come? And can you guarantee your place in that future as a valuable professional?

Let’s take a look at some of the potential threats, and evaluate whether or not they’re worth worrying about.

Machine Learning and Automation

Machine learning and automation pose a threat to many jobs, across many industries. One study from Oxford Economics suggests that by 2030, robots could take over more than 20 million manufacturing jobs across the globe; but it isn’t just manufacturing jobs at risk. Already, machine learning is creeping into fields like journalism and pharmaceuticals—areas previously thought untouchable by artificial intelligence (AI). So is your SEO career under threat?

Jobs exist on a spectrum of replaceability; jobs that require many repetitive, predictable actions are highly likely to be replaced by machines. Jobs that require significant creative input, those with challenging technical demands, or those that require human interactions are unlikely to be replaced.

In the field of SEO, there are certainly some repetitive, predictable tasks that can be automated—and many of them already are being automated (like setting up Google (News - Alert) Analytics to automatically update you with new reports). Tools like SEMRush offer marketers the ability to simplify their jobs by handling most of these low-level tasks automatically.

However, most positions in the field of SEO require at least one of the following skills, each of which increase your resistance to replacement:

  • Creativity. While there are some objective and repetitive elements to SEO, there’s also a creative element, which would be hard to master with an automated algorithm. For example, you’ll need to come up with innovative ideas for new pieces of content.
  • Technical knowledge. Technical SEO isn’t something that can be learned overnight, nor is it something you can execute in the same way for every business. For now, only experienced human beings are capable of applying this high-level technical knowledge.
  • Interpersonal skills. Someone has to sell business owners on the idea of SEO, and report and explain the results of your campaign. Automated reports are decent, but for the foreseeable future, there’s no replacement for a live conversation.

Accordingly, it’s unlikely that SEO positions will be jeopardized by machine learning or automation.

The Death of Search Engines

It’s also conceivable that someday, search engines could become obsolete. And without search engines, search engine optimization doesn’t hold much value.

However, this possibility is hard to take seriously. Search engines arose as a way to organize and filter an internet that was rapidly growing beyond control—and that was 25 years ago. Today’s internet landscape is so complex, it would be nearly impossible to navigate without some kind of interface designed to distill, curate, and filter content.

That’s not to say that search engines couldn’t undergo some massive, transformative change. Google has been the dominant player in the market for more than 20 years, and it seems unlikely to be dethroned, but that doesn’t mean some innovative new competitor could rise to the occasion; after all, even somewhat obscure contemporary competitors like DuckDuckGo are pulling decent traffic, with DuckDuckGo recently reaching 30 million searches per day. Search engines as we know them currently may also evolve, presenting a new type of interface so new and innovative we can’t conceptualize it.

Even in these situations, some fundamentals will still be in place; there will exist some “middleman” platform designed to help connect consumers to the content they want, and that platform will depend on a system to categorize and prioritize content accordingly. Even if it’s called something different, this fundamentally functions as a search engine, and can feasibly be understood by search engine optimizers hoping to take advantage of it.

Skill Decline and the Half-Life of Knowledge

There is a potentially more pressing threat, and one that relies on fewer futuristic predictions: the half-life of knowledge in the realm of SEO. Compared to most other industries, SEO has a knowledgebase that evolves rapidly. The tactics you could have used to climb to the top of the rankings back in 2011 could get you penalized if used today. And though high-profile, game-changing updates like Panda and Penguin seem to have fallen by the wayside, algorithm changes are still frequent and significant enough that you need to pay attention to them.

Your future in the field will depend on your ability to learn and adapt to these changes. Basic skills, like knowing how to analyze web traffic and conducting experiments, will always be relevant. But if you can’t keep up with the changes, you may find yourself unable to keep up with the latest industry needs.

In SEO, you cannot count on your job being indefinitely future proof, since our collective knowledge is always changing and the future of search engines may present far different challenges. However, there will always be a need to help companies become discoverable through whatever tools the general public is using. Accordingly, there will always be a need for your foundational skills, provided you’re adaptable enough to keep up with the changes.

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