“SEO is a profession with many more qualified people than I. Out there, there are people who know Python and create scripts in Google Chrome, and I at most know the basics of HTML and CSS... What can someone like me offer? Surely nothing.”
“Every time I attend an SEO event, I feel that the speakers are highly skilled and knowledgeable. I can't envision myself giving a presentation, despite my desire to do so. Why expose myself to being made fun of? Not a chance!”
Do you identify with any of these thoughts? Then it is very likely that you have what could be defined as impostor syndrome applied to SEO. Without a doubt, it is very common in our field and in digital marketing in general. But why do so many of us feel this way?
Today we will explore impostor syndrome in the field of SEO. Why does it happen? Is there a solution? Spoiler alert: YES. In fact, many of the SEO professionals that we know and admire have also felt this way more than once, and even still do today. They themselves acknowledge that this feeling does not completely disappear, but there are ways to deal with it and make it not affect you.
In this article you will discover what is impostor syndrome and how it affects SEO professionals. Additionally, we will explore its causes and how to combat it in order to continue progressing with confidence in our professional trajectory as SEOs. If you've ever felt like an impostor in SEO or have ever thought it would be better if you did something else, then this post is for you.
And as an extra, you will be able to read the testimonials of SEOs like Aleyda Solís and Lily Ray, who have shared their experiences for this article.
What is impostor syndrome?
To address a problem it is essential to understand what it is and what its causes are. To do this, we have interviewed the expert psychologist in anxiety José R. Martín, director of Centre InSight, who defines impostor syndrome as "a self-evaluation in different personal areas of fraud regarding oneself," with the workplace being the most common.
The person who suffers from this difficulty "tends to have low self-esteem and, as such, when facing a new challenge (such as a new job) feels that they will not be capable of performing it." Furthermore, they may think that they have deceived others "by appearing more valuable than they truly are."
According to the psychologist, this syndrome can cause a lot of stress in the person who suffers from it, as they will not feel prepared to face the new challenges of life that are ahead of them: "when you have low self-esteem, you tend to avoid situations in which you can be exposed to the judgment of others. Since the person has a very low self-evaluation and this causes them discomfort, they will try to avoid exposing themselves to situations that may confirm their hypotheses about their own worth."
In contexts where they cannot avoid this exposure, the person with impostor syndrome will experience it with a lot of stress, anxiety and in a very anguishing way, which can cause their performance to drop significantly or avoid exposing themselves in the future to similar situations, given the unpleasant experience."
As José R. Martín points out, in this situation two ways can be acted, "either by facing the challenge even if feeling not capable, or avoiding the situation." The latter response "could cause the syndrome to become pathological" and even incapacitate the person "when it comes to making decisions or positioning themselves in situations where they feel they are not valid."
All of this can cause a feeling of helplessness that can affect all areas of the person's life if not treated properly. As the expert points out, working with a psychologist and attending cognitive-behavioral therapies can be effective in treating this type of problem.
Why does impostor syndrome happen in SEO?
As we have seen, impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people doubt their achievements and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It is common among ambitious people, and SEO and digital marketing professionals in general are not known to be an exception.
There are several reasons why SEOs may experience impostor syndrome. These are some of the most frequent:
It can be difficult to stay up to date
SEO is a constantly changing and evolving field, and it can be difficult to stay up to date with the latest trends and best practices. This can lead to feeling like we never know enough. However, newsletters such as #SEOFOMO by Aleyda Solís or Search and Grow with Toni by Toni Navarro, as well as those from agencies like Go Fish Digital or Blue Array can make our lives easier when it comes to not missing any new developments. Did you know them?
The excessive use of “it depends”
It's our favorite wildcard when we don't know how to answer a question, yes. But its frequent (or even excessive) use can contribute to the feeling of impostor syndrome increasing, as saying "it depends" can be perceived as a sign of lack of knowledge. As we know, nothing is set in stone in SEO, and we also depend on many variables, so it is normal not to have all the answers.
The competitive nature of SEO
Impostor syndrome in SEO can also be exacerbated due to the competitive nature of the industry. With so many people and companies fighting for the top search results, feeling that you are not up to par with your competitors and other professionals is very common.
This can lead you to doubt yourself, even when things are going well and you have a lot of offers on the table.
How can an SEO fight impostor syndrome?
There are several effective strategies for fighting impostor syndrome in SEO. However, it is important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another, so experimenting with different techniques to find what works best for you is recommended. Some tips that you can consider include:
Accept your insecurities
The first step in dealing with impostor syndrome is to admit what you are feeling and remember that many other SEOs also experience it. Therefore, try to be compassionate with yourself; accepting that it is normal to feel insecure every now and then is an important first step in overcoming self-doubt. Try to remember that we all make mistakes and that no one is perfect. Instead of being hard on yourself when you feel this way, remember that we all experience a certain degree of insecurity from time to time.
Control your negative thoughts
Both in SEO and outside of it, impostor syndrome is often accompanied by negative and self-destructive thoughts. Although we may not be able to avoid them sometimes, it is important to bypass them and try to face our day-to-day life with optimism and positive affirmations. For example, instead of telling yourself "I'm not good enough to do this job", try saying "I have the skills and experience necessary to do it and I will continue to learn and grow, to become better every day".
Keep track of your accomplishments and everything you’ve learned as an SEO
This will help you remember that you know what you're doing and that you are a constantly evolving and growing professional. Additionally, it's important to remember that we all have different strengths and specializations. Accepting that you can't be good at everything and remembering that growth and learning are a ongoing process can also help you manage the insecurity you feel as an SEO.
Find your specialization and develop it
There are many specializations in the world of SEO and each one has its place and adds value. Some consultants specialize in technical SEO, while others focus on more strategic or creative aspects. Others may specialize in international or local SEO, while others may focus on SEO for media or link building. Whichever you choose, it is important to find your own specialization and work on it so that you can feel more secure, capable, and also stand out from other professionals in the industry.
Speak with other SEO professionals
Speaking with other professionals in the industry can help you feel less alone and gain a different perspective on any problems or doubts you may have. To do this, it is useful to join SEO communities; that is, groups on Slack, Telegram or Discord, for example, where you can meet other SEOs. For example, SEO Barcelona for SEOs working in Barcelona, Women In Tech SEO, an English-speaking community for women in SEO, or Mujeres en SEO, its equivalent in Spanish. But there are many more! In addition, remember that Twitter and LinkedIn are networks where knowledge is shared freely and for free, and where all SEOs, regardless of their level and experience, are welcome. If you don't know where to start, ask an SEO you know if they are in any group or community. They will surely be able to guide you!
Find a mentor
Mentoring with another more experienced SEO can be helpful in deepening your knowledge and combating impostor syndrome. This is a professional who will help you set goals and create an action plan to achieve them. They will also provide you with support and guidance as you build your career path, share with you their insights based on their own experiences, and guide you in identifying both your areas for improvement and your strengths. In addition, it will help you feel more connected to the rest of the SEO community and that you are part of it.
Go to SEO events
Both large events and small meetups, all of them are spaces where you can meet other professionals and gain confidence. Plus, it's a great way to learn and stay up to date. You can attend conferences or workshops, or even participate in panel discussions and webinars. Also, keep in mind that SEO events can also be an excellent opportunity for networking, meet other professionals and even establish some kind of collaboration. Even if you don't feel completely confident at first, attending these types of events will allow you to gain confidence and learn from other professionals.
Take your time
Learn to say "I need more time" and "I don't know." You don't need to have all the answers or know everything all the time. If you don't know something, it's okay to admit it and spend more time before making a decision or stating something. Instead of feeling insecure or inadequate for not knowing something, try to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. This can also help you to be more honest and authentic with yourself and others, which can improve your confidence and self-assurance in the long run.
Set realistic and achievable goals
It's a great way to stay motivated and feel more confident and capable. By setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound), you can make sure your goals are clear and easy to follow. This also allows you to measure your progress more effectively and see how you are progressing toward your goals. In addition, you also make sure that you are not overloaded or overwhelmed. If your goals are too ambitious, you are more likely to feel insecure and unable to achieve them, which can negatively affect your confidence and security. Instead, by setting realistic and attainable goals, you can take it step by step and feel more confident and capable as you reach them.
Ask for help and feedback
Asking for help and opinion from other professionals in the industry can help you identify your strengths and what to improve, and feel more confident in your work. In addition, this way you can also get a broader and objective perspective of your work and how you are progressing, as well as get valuable ideas and suggestions to help you improve and grow as an SEO. Remember that asking for help or feedback is a way to learn and grow, and it shouldn't make you feel insecure.
Learn to say “no” and manage your time efficiently
Sometimes impostor syndrome can be caused by overloaded work and lack of time to do everything we need to. Learning to say "no" to tasks and projects that aren't essential or don't fit into your schedule and manage your time can help you feel less overwhelmed and have more control over the situation, and as a result, more sure of yourself. This can also help you set limits and make sure you don't overload yourself. Also, it is important to remember that you cannot do everything and that it is normal to have to prioritize tasks and projects.
How do other SEOs fight impostor syndrome?
For this article, I have spoken with SEO professionals from all over the world who have shared their experience and advice with me. Having this valuable information has helped me gain a broader perspective and understand how other colleagues battle impostor syndrome in their day-to-day lives. I hope these tips help you feel more confident and capable in your job as an SEO too!
Aleyda Solís, International SEO Consultant and Founder of Orainti
I have also suffered from impostor syndrome, and I still experience it from time to time when in new situations/scenarios with new people, etc. The important thing is not to let it "paralyze" us, to know how to identify what we are suffering from and "rationalize" it to control it and move forward. I believe it is natural to feel insecurity in the face of the new, what we cannot allow is for it to control and paralyze us. Only then can we achieve things and achieve goals, and we always have to ask ourselves: "What is the worst that can happen, that it doesn't turn out 'perfect'?" Everyone always started with no experience and the key to achieving it is... Practice.
Lily Ray, Senior SEO Director & Head of Organic Research, Amsive Digital
I’ve felt impostor syndrome for a large part of my career! This is especially true when meeting other SEOs/developers with much deeper technical skills and concepts in which I am unfamiliar or under-skilled.
Throughout the past 5 or so years of my career, I've realized that I DO know a ton about SEO, and it's ok to not know everything! No one does. Surround yourself with smart people and bring people onto your team who fill in the knowledge gaps you don't have. And remember that it's OK to not know things. We are all still learning and it's impossible to know everything.
If you’re feeling this way, just remember that everyone is on their own journey of learning SEO, and there will always be knowledge gaps, so it's more than OK to not know things and to ask questions.
I feel impostor syndrome all the time, it never fully goes away. This comes from other people knowing more than you about other topics but it's important to remember that we're all in this together and can all help each other. You also know more than them about other topics, and it's not even supposed to be a competition in the first place! We should all use the opportunity to help each other.
Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant, Morgan Online Marketing
I started to feel impostor syndrome a few years into doing SEO, especially mid-career. In the early days I think I was naïvely confident, plus I was still early into my career and therefore still learning and new to everything.
However, the longer my career progressed, the more impostor syndrome struck. I think a lot of it was down to thinking: "I've been doing SEO for x years now - if I don't know the answer to a question, or need to ask people for help, will they think I'm stupid?" It's like the more my career progressed, the more I was scared to look foolish.
In order to overcome this feeling, I did a few things. Firstly, it's important to know that it's impossible to know 100% of everything - especially in SEO. I remember Cyrus Shepard once tweeting something like: "I'll only know 30% of all there is to know of SEO." I consider him one of the greats, so if HE feels that way, then wow... That really helped to put things into perspective.
Secondly, while I don't know 100% of everything, and some SEOs might be better than me at one aspect than another, I might be better at a different aspect of SEO than they are. This helped me to realise that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. There's someone I know who I look up to who is incredible at technical SEO, but she confided to me that she struggles with link building - whereas I've had some pretty decent success in that. So she probably feels impostor syndrome about that aspect of SEO, y'know?
Thirdly, it's important to remind yourself of your achievements. My (now often neglected) SEO blog has been nominated for awards, and once even made a 'top 50 SEO blogs ever' list (which - I'll be honest - blew my mind). My work has been a finalist in UK Search Awards and EU Search Awards. I have testimonials from happy clients. Some clients have been with me for years - and if I wasn't doing a good job, they would've fired me a long time ago. All this stuff helps to remind me that I'm probably doing better than I think I'm doing - and not to be so damn hard on myself all the time.
Yes, impostor syndrome still hits from time to time - although less so than it used to, mainly because of my third tip (reminding myself of my achievements). I'd recommend other people in a similar situation give it a try.
We all want to be the best that we can be. However, something like SEO is complex and ever-changing, and there's a lot of moving parts - so it's hard to be 100% perfect at it. I think half the battle of impostor syndrome is realising that, at which point you can realise and remember that while you're not 100% perfect at it, you can still be really good at it (and excel in certain aspects of it).
Veruska Anconitano, International & Multilingual SEO Manager
My experience with impostor syndrome is peculiar because I always experienced it when I had to present my projects, results, and ideas to a broader public within a company or a client I was working with, never in public speaking or during classes or any other kind of engagement. Only in a business environment because that's where it hits the most if you're a perfectionist, not used to celebrating yourself and what you do. The bigger the audience, the more complex the syndrome kicked. This meant struggling to focus when I was presenting in business, and anxiety kicking even harder the moment other people started to ask me questions.
Being an extremely relaxed and zen person helps a lot, so what I did was not bury it. If it happened, it happened. I've also learnt how to joke about it and always follow up with single people when I feel I missed something important during my presentation. By doing this, I found out that very often, I was the only one feeling the presentation went not as it should have been; instead, clients and colleagues thought it was good, perhaps not perfect, but definitely not to trash.
Everyone has a way to overcome or cope with the impostor syndrome, as long as it's not modelled on someone else's experience. The secret to making sure it doesn't become a burden is to find your way, never compare to others, and never follow and copy what others do and say. I don't have any advice to share; we are all different. For example, I don't particularly appreciate celebrating myself in public despite everyone advising to do it to overcome the impostor syndrome. Also, advice from others can be a way to trick impostor syndrome.
In fairness, feeling impostor syndrome never stops, and still today, it occurs. In my case, I think it happens, and it will always happen because I never feel I know enough, and I'm never 100% happy with what I know. And I see it as a positive thing because feeling a sense of full accomplishment with where I am and "being at the top" is not for me.
I firmly believe that everyone suffers from impostor syndrome, and somehow, this is a good thing because it pushes you to understand better who you are, what you want, and how you want to position yourself. I'd prefer having impostor syndrome instead than being a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. 🙂
Roxana Stingu, Head of Search & SEO
Every time I'm about to go on stage and present at a conference I get impostor syndrome and start asking myself why did I get myself in this situation. I have hundreds of questions going through my head from "what if I say something dumb" to "what if the projector dies and I have no slides".
In order to overcome this feeling, I go on stage and carry on with my presentation anyway. Seeing people in the audience have that "a-ha" moment when I'm explaining something they've been meaning to understand makes the impostor syndrome go away. It reminds me why I'm doing the presentation in the first place. It's not about me and how I feel about it, it's all about my audience who can benefit from my experience; it's about the knowledge I can share to help others learn something new.
You're your worst critic. Your thoughts about yourself are worse than the ones anyone else will have about you. Remember that next time you feel you're not good enough because you're, most likely, the only person thinking that.
impostor syndrome never goes away, it keeps creeping back every time I try something new but I'm getting better at transforming the negative thoughts into positives. For anyone else that's crippled by impostor syndrome, I recommend reaching out to your peers and asking for feedback - it's an easy way to see just how amazing others think you are and to help you understand that most of your fears are unfounded.
Yagmur Simsek, SEO Strategist
I started feeling impostor syndrome from the very first day I started working in the SEO industry as I used to work in the content side and had no background and knowledge about SEO. After I decided to move to the UK 2 years ago, language barriers have been added to this and I haven't been confident enough especially when it comes to presenting my ideas and strategies to my clients. Besides, I always wanted to give talks within the areas I have knowledge and experience on but I thought it would be impossible for me to do this abroad because of all those feelings and thoughts.
In order to overcome this feeling, I aimed to get more constructive feedback from the people I trust their expertise and ideas and I see as a model to me in the industry. I tried to stop taking some feedback personally and took time to think about what went wrong or how I can improve this.
I set myself short goals and also long term goals for the areas I feel are not good enough and my managers and the team I work with encouraged me a lot. I made myself more visible in the industry. Attended events, conferences, gatherings, took training; I also decided to apply for my first public speaking talk and I was accepted. It was a very fantastic journey and I had no idea about what to tell, just the topic.
Luckily, with the Re:signal Team, we had a confidence speaker training from Kirsty Hulse before that talk and she shared really inspiring stories and useful insights with us to overcome our nerves and stress related to our possible impostor syndrome too.
In addition, I also took 6 weeks coaching from Nese Ceren Tosun, Skills & Wellbeing Mentor in London. She supported me when I was getting prepared for this amazing experience mentally as well and together, we have planned every single part of this journey. From the feelings I had when my talk was accepted to the end, after my talk and feedback. Those all made me think more clearly and also be more aware about what's going on in my life and career, which stage I am at and what's coming next and more.
One thing that really helped me overcome impostor syndrome as an SEO was when I stopped comparing myself with other people in the industry. Everybody has different backgrounds, advantages and disadvantages of the environment they have or live in. I started using my other soft skills to help me cover the areas which I feel I am not that experienced enough, yet! Also, try to listen to other people's stories (there are lots of podcasts, videos and articles including failure stories as well.) The important thing is to see even a very well known and advanced level founder, SEO, or marketing professional had problems during their career journey. So, it's good to listen to them as it shows that we are not alone.
I still feel this way from time to time and this is for me a very long journey as it's not easy to get rid of our habits like this. My mind has been working in that way and it's really difficult to change the way it works. I think the reason also would be we are always looking for more, and think that there is always room to improve our skills and experiences which is not a bad thing from my point of view. However, we need to find a less painful way to follow this path and be kind to ourselves as we have already come a long way and are doing great.
Daniel K Cheung, SEO Manager, Optus
I felt impostor syndrome when I was working agency-side at my first SEO job. We signed household brand and I was the main point of contact. Early on in the project, it was evident that their implementation of client-side rendering was a strong symptom as to why their organic traffic had been consistently dropping. We raised this in our pitch and after they signed, I carried out further analysis. During the meeting, the stakeholder denied their single page application was causing issues, saying "There is no problem with our website".
For a period of 8-weeks, I experienced depression symptoms and was in professional survival mode. During this period, I questioned and second guessed if I actually knew SEO.
It took time to overcome this feeling. To be honest, the only thing I could do was survive day-by-day. To my boss and team's credit, I told them I could not be the point of contact anymore but could carry out analysis and project work and they supported me in every way.
By working on other client work, the feeling of dread and insecurity slowly faded. If you're experiencing impostor syndrome, work on things that you can do in your sleep. This will help rebuild your confidence. Confidence has a funny way of snowballing, but requires a lot of inertia.
But above all else, take care of yourself and your mental health. This means opening up and talking about how you feel to someone else. This is why having a network of people can really help because most people in your network will give you reasons why you're NOT a failure.
SEO is an evolving field. Nobody, absolutely NOBODY has all the answers. Even if we think we know the answer, the real world and SERPs tell us differently.
As SEO professionals, our team or clients do not turn to us because we know it all. They turn to us so that we can find the right solution to their specific needs at any given time.
As a result of my experience, I made a promise to myself to never feel so inadequate again. While I cannot control how someone else treats me, I can put myself in a stronger position by getting more familiar and experienced with technical SEO.
It took some time but from this experience, I created my own technical SEO checklist and had it translated into 5 languages to help others feel less overwhelmed with crawling, rendering, indexing and ranking.
As you have seen, you are not alone if you work in SEO and sometimes feel like an impostor. However, by accepting your emotions, understanding that making mistakes is part of the process and sharing your feelings with other professionals, you will learn to deal with it better over time. And as a result, this will allow you to excel in your work and achieve your professional goals more effectively.
As a final point, I would like to thank all the SEO and digital marketing professionals who have collaborated with their testimonials for this article: Tomáš Novák, Afra Prat, Alicia C. Cordero, Nuria Cámaras, Shauni Burt, Jessica Celiméndiz, Natalie Arney, Sonam Gulati, Corinna Vorreiter, Katherine Ong, Aitor Molinary, Jack Chambers-Ward, Steve Morgan, Navneet Kaur, Roxana Stingu, Helene Jelenc, Yagmur Simsek, Lily Ray, Mary Carmen Parra, Rachel Stires, Gerald Lucero, Andrés Ospina, Daniel K Cheung, Aleyda Solís, Veruska Anconitano.