SEOs: Do You Suffer From “Imposter Syndrome”?


Introduction

This week, I wanted to talk about imposter syndrome in the SEO world. 

“Imposters” are people who feel like a fake; people who may be doing their job just fine but feel like, at some point, they’re going to be ‘found out’ as a fraud or as someone who shouldn’t hold their position.

I first experienced imposter syndrome when my (amazing) teammates congratulated me during my first month at LSG. They said I was doing a great job with SEO, but I felt like I was just doing…my job, not going above and beyond in a way that warranted praise. “Surely,” I thought, “I’m getting away with something. It’s only a matter of time before I’m found out as mediocre.” And yet… I wasn’t. Two years running!

Imposter syndrome is common among people who are new to their jobs, but you’d be shocked at how prevalent it is even among people who are “experts” or have been doing SEO for years. Here are a few experiences some of my co-workers have had with imposter syndrome:

Interview 1: Tessa Voecks, Director of Project Management

When did you start experiencing imposter syndrome?

T: “I’m a perfectionist and have a ton of anxiety, so I think part of imposter syndrome will always be part of me. I just never feel good enough no matter what I do, or I reach a goal or get close to reaching a goal and then one up the goal…so I never really reach my goal…It’s not healthy.

I think it started at the job before coming to LSG. It was due to being made to feel I wasn’t good enough. I was constantly put down for being a woman in a man’s industry, and was constantly told I might know marketing things but I’d never ‘understand’ my employer’s products or dev work because ‘it’s really a man’s product/trade’. 

I was constantly belittled and put down despite running small but really successful SEO tests. I’m mad at myself for not sticking up for myself at the time, but they’d put me down in a way that was ‘nice’ and not obviously mean/rude. Hindsight, I wish I had the confidence to present my case and not take no for an answer.

Now, I have imposter syndrome more, but for different reasons (like poor self-confidence). I feel I’m fairly intelligent, but since meeting so many more people in SEO as well as working with my brilliant co-workers, I feel like I don’t belong…I just feel plain dumb at times. It just causes me to shut down for fear of judgment. It’s for sure something I’m trying to work on though. I remind myself daily that being wrong is an opportunity to learn not to fail.”

What do you think brought on your imposter syndrome or made it worse?

T: “In the first case it was poor leadership, poor treatment of women, and an environment that refused to adapt but rather than explaining why not, they’d just put people down.

Now, it’s just my own lack of self-confidence, anxiety, and constantly comparing myself to other brilliant SEOs in the space. These are really hard things to overcome because they are just part of me. Regardless of counseling/therapy/feedback, it’s just who I am. Trying to listen to the ‘good voices’.

Do you still suffer from imposter syndrome?

Yes. I just lack the self-confidence to feel equal to or smart enough to compare to my peers. Fear of being excluded and not fitting in is also part of it. I just feel like there’s no way I’m able to be as smart as other SEOs, even though I know if I put in the work, I sure could. Self-confidence. It’s something I’m trying to work on, but it’s really hard.”

What kinds of things have you done to relieve those feelings?

T: “I think part of me will never recover, and I’m okay with it. It keeps me driving and wanting for more. But to try to combat some of it, I’m trying to stick my neck out there and interact w/ people in the SEO space on Twitter and other forums/blogs about non-SEO related things. Seems weird, but it’s given me the confidence to fit in before I toss out my own SEO thoughts. 

I am also trying to be just overall more brave about voicing my opinion. At least once a day I take a ‘risk’ and speak up about something that makes me super nervous. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong, but either way, I’m reminding myself daily that being wrong isn’t failure, it’s a way to learn. But it’s HARD!”

Interview 2: Wesley Anderson, Local SEO Analyst

When did you start experiencing imposter syndrome?

W: “When my boss at my old agency told me to figure out SEO and made us start selling it before I had even started to see results. Ever since then I have felt like I had to play catch up. It was a bad way to start for me.”

What do you think brought on your imposter syndrome or made it worse?

W: “Reading blogs on SEO sites that seemed like everyone else had it figured out with their data and apparent ranking changes, when I didn’t really see that on my end.”

Do you still suffer from imposter syndrome?

W: “Here and there. Being at Local SEO Guide has shown me that SEO doesn’t really have set rules, and everyone has to figure out what’s best for the website. Though there are a few things that are important: content, links, and technical SEO.”

What kinds of things have you done to relieve those feelings?

W: “Talking to other people in the industry! Learning that everyone is doing their best to figure it out. Once I got past the conference speakers and the blogs that seemed like everyone had it figured out, it was easy. There’s a whole SEO world where everyone is sharing information and trying to help each other.”

Interview 3: Dan Leibson, EVP of Search

When did you start experiencing imposter syndrome?

D: “Basically as soon as I started working with Andrew (Founder/CEO). 

I basically went from being a behind the scenes SEO operator (who just had to get shit done) to working with someone who, in their words, was a ‘C-Grade SEO Celebrity’. So I started comparing myself to those types of people, which is never good for self esteem.”

What do you think brought on your imposter syndrome or made it worse?

D: “It was a major shift from being a behind the scenes SEO operator to being in the ‘SEO Scene’. You think everyone has it going on or knows everything, has some special secret, etc. Spoilers, they don’t.”

Do you still suffer from imposter syndrome?

D: “So, I was just talking about this with some speakers at SMX (Search Marketing Expo). I think that, in general, my imposter syndrome has finally gone away, though it pokes its head up here and there when I am doing something new.”

How have you recovered from imposter syndrome?

D: “Just focused on getting stuff done here at LSG. Also, power posing (the Amy Cuddy type). Kick my feet up, do victory arms, etc. Remember, no one knows everything, and this space is just marketers marketing marketing.”

Interview 4: Zoe Sterling, Local SEO Analyst

When did you start experiencing imposter syndrome?

Z: “I think it was after my internship ‘ended’ by Dan calling me to hire me. I was kind of like…’You want to hire me at 19, as someone who knows barely anything other than what people have taught me?’

I don’t think I really understood how the whole company worked because I had never experienced a remote job (let alone any large scale full time job) and so I was kind of feeling like I wasn’t supposed to have this job.”

What do you think brought on your imposter syndrome or made it worse?

Z: “I think Nick W. brought up imposter syndrome on a group call after someone praised him for something, and since I’ve never worked (outside of retail) I had no idea what it was. And then I looked it up, and I was like, ‘If my coworker feels like that, then how should I feel?’”

Do you still suffer from imposter syndrome?

Z: “No. I feel like I’ve kind of gotten the idea of this whole world of SEO, and I realize that there is a skill set level that is required, but as long as you use resources almost anything is able to be figured out. After going to Search Marketing Expo I really was, like, ‘Okay, I got this. I’m where I’m at because I can do this.’

Also, I think after meeting everyone at the conference I saw how nice and supportive they all were, and that they’re all here to help me. I saw that I’m not fighting a battle alone, and that I didn’t have to isolate myself so much by thinking that I didn’t belong in SEO.”

How have you recovered from imposter syndrome? 

Z: “I think I recovered on the last company retreat when I met everyone and realized that they’re just humans and not computer wizards (even though they kind of are, still!). 

Once I had an idea of most things that people were doing in the company, it made everything seem less foreign to me. I felt like I was helping out with everything, and that they needed my help.”

Interview 5: Nik Wright, Director of Content

When did you start experiencing imposter syndrome?

N: I don’t think imposter syndrome can be relegated to an exact moment in time. For me, it’s situational. It can arise at any time, with varying intensity.

However, after about 10 years of working in journalism and publishing, a familiar industry, I made the jump to SEO and content strategy. Within a few months, I had all sorts of people asking me SEO questions that I had no qualifications to answer, compared to you and our coworkers.

For example, 3 months after I started here, one of my grad school professors asked me to deliver a guest lecture on SEO for journalists. I got the deer-in-headlines feeling when the request came, fearing that I’d end up babbling some incoherent, hand wavy stuff about title tags and topics. It ended up being fine. From that talk, I still get questions for advice, lots of thanks, and even a few client leads for our company.”

What do you think brought on your imposter syndrome or made it worse?

N: “I think for most people, imposter syndrome is the result of overconfidence being in debt to underpreparation. And a little bit of debt is OK and healthy — it keeps you on your toes. If you’re somewhat prepared to deliver a talk, take on a job, leap into a situation you’re rusty at dealing with, having confidence in yourself will inspire others to be confident in you, too.”

Do you still suffer from imposter syndrome?

N: “Every day, to some degree. With more experience, small wins, and trust of others, it goes away bit by bit.”

What kinds of things have you done to relieve those feelings?

N: “For me, I mitigate imposter syndrome by asking lots of “dumb” questions, and being honest about my abilities and knowledge.

One trick I’ve used to really help is called “Inversion,” which my old college pal James Clear writes about. It involves imagining the worst case scenario for anything. Thinking of all the ways something can go wrong. Then avoiding all of those things.”

Conclusion

Have you experienced imposter syndrome while working in the SEO world? Tell us in the comments what it looked like for you and what you’ve been doing to overcome self-doubt.

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