How to Sustain & Stay Motivated: SEO Edition


Whether you work as a one-man SEO army or part of a team at a bustling SEO consulting company, it can be difficult to sustain, to stay motivated and to keep pushing forward. It’s natural to occasionally feel burnt out or spend way too much time staring at the orange wall in front of your desk (what?) when your brain is working out the same problems day after day.

But as Internet marketing professionals, we have to break through it. How do you sustain as an SEO so that you can continue to deliver for clients and stay at the top of your game day after day?

Darren Rowse helped tackle this issue from a blogger standpoint earlier this week when he created a Google+ discussion to share tips on sustaining as a blogger. But I thought it might be interesting to expand that and offer some tips for the SEOs in the crowd. Because, as much as SEOs may not want to admit it, they have a lot in common with their blogger cousins. We both put in long hours, tie our self-worth to our ability to get results and work in environments where we spend more physical time with computers than we do other humans.

As an SEO or someone in the marketing industry – what devices do you use to stay motivated and keep pushing through? I’ll share some of what works for me and then I’d love to hear your responses, as well.

Set Mini-Goals

One of the most frustrating parts of SEO, both for us and clients, is that it doesn’t matter how much our team ROCKS the work, we still need to wait for the search engines to catch up and for things to mature, especially when we’re going after competitive keywords or rankings.

To help combat this, I’m a big fan of establishing mini-goals. Goals that show we’re on the right track, even if we’re waiting for the engines to take us the rest of the way up the mountain. A mini-goal may be capitalizing on long tail traffic previously not targeted, getting a ReTweet or a blog mention from an influencer we’ve been scouting, or getting a link from the New York Times. These small victories are signals that the rest of the stuff is on its way, and we just need to keep doing what we’re doing.

Mentor Others

I’ve found that the best way to regain excitement for something is to teach it to someone else. Whether that “thing” is SEO, blogging or kayaking, by breaking it into the terms and elements needed to explain it to someone, you’re forced to remember everything it is you love about that subject or activity. You allow yourself to remember all the nuances about your craft that you really enjoy and maybe take for granted. I feel safe saying that it’s the mentoring aspect of hiring that is one of Rhea’s favorite parts about bringing in new team members. It gives her an opportunity to relive everything she loves about the SEO industry and have it all feel new again. It’s like explaining Christmas to a little kid. You’re able to see their eyes light up when they get something or come up with a great idea for a client’s campaign and that makes yours twinkle just a little bit extra, too.

Mentoring new people is also a great way to give back to the SEO community and help pass it forward. Chances are there was someone who took a chance on you when you were first starting out. Return the goodwill.

Create the Right Support Network

There are a lot of great people in the SEO industry. People who are full of ideas, life and positivity. However, like any industry, there are also Negative Nancys, Destructive Derricks and folks with football-sized egos. Pick who you spend your time with wisely and avoid those who are toxic. If it doesn’t save your life, it will at the very least save your sanity.

Remember Why You’re Doing This

It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day and forget that there’s a reason for all this madness. Whether you own the SEO shop, you’re working for someone else, or you’re doing it on the side to lead to something better – you’re in this industry for a reason.

When I feel my excitement waning a bit, I know that all I need to do is take a look around the Outspoken Media office to remember what we’re doing here. We formed Outspoken Media to offer something better to clients. And we’re doing that. But we’re also creating an environment where Rhea and I are able to support our own families and the families of our incredible team. Looking at them, how much they’re growing, and knowing everything we want to be able to offer them and our clients, that’s a pretty good kick in the butt to get moving again.

Working with people you’d want to hang out with anyway is a pretty good job perk.

Leave Your Cave

If you’re feeling uninspired in the SEO industry, get out of your cave. We’re so fortunate in this industry to have a variety of different search marketing conferences that we can attend to learn, network and commiserate with others in our field. If you don’t have the budget to attend one of the premier conferences like SMX, Pubcon, Distilled or Blueglass, hit up your local SEO or niche-specific meetups or grab a beer with the other members of your team or competing teams (you don’t have to tell your boss). Give yourself those moments to step out, to be human, and to get inspired by other people. It’ll help.

Create a New Personal Worth Formula

This is a big one.

The result of all of us leading more social media-focused lives is that we’ve tied our personal worth to how we do on these various social media channels. In Darren’s post, he talks about how easy it is to let your emotions be fueled by how many links you get, how many comments, who retweets you, who shares, etc. But it puts you on a dangerous and unhealthy roller coaster.

Many SEOs are guilty of the same thing. Their worth is tied to their ability to rank for a competitive keyword, to pull in a high 6-figure salary, or to get more links than the guy in the next office. Again, we allow professional success and the actions of others to guide how we feel about ourselves. You can’t sustain like that. Instead, do what Darren advises and find your self-worth in your personal relationships, your faith, etc. Your self-worth should not be tied to professional accomplishments, regardless of how much you love your work.

Take a One-Day Vacation

Don’t fail at vacations. When you’re off, be off. Disconnect. Unplug. Hide the electronic devices in the back of your closet. Brett Tabke tweeted a link yesterday of 21 things to do on a one-day vacation. Read that list. Live by that list.

The above are my tips to help folks sustain in this industry. What are yours? How are you able to keep coming back at 100 percent, day after day?

Your Comments

  • Dana DiTomaso

    Darren’s post yesterday really resonated with me – thanks for following up on it and relating it to SEO. As a one-person shop, keeping motivated is tough!

  • Dana DiTomaso

    Oh, and meant to say – what keeps me going is definitely getting out of the house and talking to other folks about what I do and coming up with cool ideas. The recent MozCon was particularly energizing, and I find speaking engagements helpful as well.

    • Lisa Barone

      I really loved Darren’s Google+ thread and appreciated him starting that conversation. I think it’s one we’re sometimes afraid to have in fear we’ll sound “ungrateful” to be doing what we’re doing.

      And thanks for mentioning MozCon, that slipped my mind when writing this (I haven’t been able to get to one yet!), but that’s another great event. I’m really interested in the MozCons and what Distilled is doing with their events. Hopefully my schedule will allow me to attend one soon! Rhea will be speaking at the Distilled SearchLove event next months and I’m really jealous I can’t make it!

      • Dana DiTomaso

        You really need to make it to one if you can. This year was my first and I learned something from every single session – all training, no panels, tons of energy. Loved it compared to search conferences that I’d been to in the past.

        I’m selfishly hoping that they book it at the same time next year so it won’t interfere with my wedding. :)

  • Joel

    I get motivated by watching the very best do what they do. When I hear what Reynolds, Hudgens, French, Briggs, etc are doing or I watch videos like those that come out of Distilled, it makes me realize how far you can take SEO when you’ve got the support, budget and expertise on your team.

  • Michelle Robbins

    Great post and topic Lisa! In addition to mentoring and creating a support network, I think networking across disciplines is incredibly important (related to leaving your cave?) There’s so much diversity of channels involved in marketing and no one will ever be able to know or do it all – so getting to know people you can refer or get help from is important.

    I feel incredibly fortunate that I can point people in the right direction when someone comes to me looking for help in areas that I’m not regularly practicing – and it’s because I’ve gotten to know so many in SEO, PPC, social, brand marketing, etc. Being able to hook up someone that needs something with someone that can help them is incredibly rewarding.

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s such a good point! Leaving your channel not only introduces you to other resources in side your company, but it also helps give more context to what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the other areas of the company you support through your work.

      Thanks for adding that, Michelle. That’s invaluable!

  • Mike Halvorsen

    Lisa – great post! I will definitely be following this to see what everyone else does.

    I am committed to the SEO industry because it keeps me on my toes. While some parts (most) of SEO are tedious and repetitive, what I like most is that there are always curve balls. If you get too comfortable with where you are, you’ll fall behind.

    I have been changing the way I handle consulting. In the past, I liked being in charge of A to Z with clients and tried to keep them in the dark as best as I could because quite frankly, I did not have the time to answer the long list of questions they had. Over the past year I have been changing the way I do SEO consulting. I am trying to help train and mentor my clients so that they are able to handle most of their SEO themselves. It’s nice getting a phone call from a client who has been handling their own on-page SEO and is seeing their work pay off. That to me, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

    As you mentioned, mentors are extremely important. I have a great support network that I reach out to whenever I need direction. While the SEO industry has a lot of bad rep as a whole, there is a community of us on Twitter who are nothing short of amazing. They share secrets and are always willing to help. I think I love SEO as much as I do because of the people I have met over the years. SEO is awesome.

  • Ross Hudgens

    I’ve personally jostled with this myself. The short answer, for me, is “the perfectly timed interjection of perceived progress”, which means creating areas of your working life where you can see progress easily and constantly, as in SEO that is tough to do.

    The long (and better) answer is:

  • Joshua

    Hey Lisa! Great article.

    When I’m feeling down and out I like to turn on some high energy music or just stand up and stretch or do a few pullups to get my blood pumping.

    Also getting on skype and talking with a friend or colleague who’s having a great day and have it rub off on me.

    And the one day vacations ARE HUGE!! It’s a bit difficult to 100% disconnect but I’m still working on it.

  • Brandon

    Lol, I loved the part where it says when your off, stay off and disconnect lol. It’s exactly what I need to do :)