However, less discussed than those other factors is the role your bosses and other mentors play. For those working in a discipline as challenging, dynamic, and multifaceted as search engine optimization, the leadership qualities of the people guiding them can make a significant difference in their professional development.
What Does a Great Boss Do?
A great boss does more than just give you orders. They provide mentorship, the benefit of their own hard-earned experience, as well as an environment where you can not only use your strengths but expand upon them.
This is important for anyone working in SEO given the diversity of challenges in the field. If you’re just learning the basics of SEO, a great boss will use their experience to teach you ready solutions to solve a wide variety of optimization issues. This means that you can become fully actualized as a digital marketer faster than you could on your own — and faster than you would under a bad boss.
So what are the signs that your boss sucks at SEO? Spoiler alert: it’s not just their lack of SEO knowledge. Below are 10 major red flags that should cause you to update your resume.
1) Expects You To Guarantee Page 1 Rankings
Just as the best oncologist in the world can’t guarantee that you’ll recover from stage four brain cancer, not even the best SEO professionals can guarantee that they will take a struggling site to the top of Google’s search results pages.
As with many other things in life, SEO campaigns are affected by many things outside of a business’s control. A boss that doesn’t understand this probably doesn’t understand SEO or even basic digital marketing practices.
As a result, they will probably create a load of unnecessary and ultimately avoidable problems for you. What’s worse is, these problems are not likely to be the ones that help you become better at your job. Instead, they are likely to break you and even cause what useful skills you have to atrophy.
2) Expects SEO Alone to Save Their Failing Business
We’ve noticed a recurring pattern among a lot of companies that suddenly start hiring internal SEO teams out of the blue. Many of them hire SEOs because they are desperate for a cost-effective way to get new leads and they’re usually desperate for leads because they have a serious underlying cashflow problem.
Failure doesn’t necessarily mean that one is a bad boss or even a bad business owner. However, investing in SEO as a lead generation strategy when the business is already in trouble is. SEO is not magic and is unlikely to save a business with poor fundamentals. If they hire you because they’re desperate to save their business, then their desperation (and frustration) is likely to manifest itself in the way they lead.
3) Expects You to Complete SEO Campaigns Immediately
Just like housekeeping, SEO is a never-ending job. Bosses that don’t understand this probably lack fundamental knowledge about the practice and are probably hiring SEOs with the full expectation of terminating them after a few months or reassigning them to a different set of responsibilities that are completely outside their scope. If this is the case, you may want to look for other job opportunities ASAP.
4) Blames You for Google Algorithm Changes
A boss that punishes you for things that are not within your control is perhaps one of the most frustrating things to deal with. However, this is especially common in the world of digital marketing where the people calling the shots may occasionally ascribe success and failures in search engine optimization to the wrong causes, often in a way that’s little different from superstition.
If a boss blames you for things that Google just did to its algorithm, ask yourself if you were hired for psychic abilities. If not, consider developing prescience, educating a boss that obviously doesn’t value logic, or finding a new job.
5) Assumes You Know Everything About SEO
SEO has come a very long way since the 2000s. Back in the day, the bar was comparatively low so more people could credibly claim that they were proficient in all the important areas of SEO, including technical SEO, content marketing, link building, web design, and so on.
However, this no longer is the case. While there are a few incredibly exceptional individuals that can do it all, they are just that — exceptional. So exceptional that they are unlikely to simply work for a run-of-the-mill boss for peanuts. Even then, they are unlikely to beat a team of specialists that have developed intimate knowledge within their specific areas.
If your boss doesn’t get this, either they don’t understand contemporary SEO practices or they are trying every trick in the book to save a buck. If so, ask yourself if this is the kind of situation you want to stay in.
6) Assumes You Can Work Without Support
Today, SEO is a labor-intensive, multidisciplinary practice. There isn’t enough time in the world for a single person to become a top-level expert in every single field related to SEO.
In addition to proficiency in foundational areas like technical SEO and content development, the “perfect SEO” would also need to be an excellent coder, UI/UX designer, social media expert, graphic designer, data analyst, search engine marketer, traditional marketer, salesperson, and operations manager. Though there are a few people who can manage just fine in most of these areas, there is literally no one on the planet that can do all of these things at the very highest level.
And this is OK. Proficient or above-average generalists can be of great benefit in many situations, provided that you understand what you’re getting in return. However, bosses that want a “do-it-all” SEO are often incredibly cheap people who are unwilling to invest slightly more resources to ensure better future growth.
What’s worse is that many of these bosses will gaslight younger SEOs by putting them in a variety of situations they’re not trained for or briefed on, claiming that they’re broadening their exposure. While there may be a grain of truth to this, in most cases they are simply using you as an easy way to meet a desired labor input and they have no interest in developing your SEO skills in a structured way. If this is the case, get all the experience you need and get out.
7) Expects You to Do Everything Their Competitors Do
A lot of business decisions made by highly-paid executives are not based on data, logic, or even empathy. In many cases, it all just comes down to a fear of missing out.
If a bad boss is not already dominating search results pages, chances are that they will obsessively check what the competition is doing. If they’re feeling extra-insecure or lack originality, they will probably have you imitate what the current leaders are doing.
At some level, this strategy does make sense. After all, why develop a new template for success and risk the business when your competitor is already showing you what Google wants?
However, there is a fine line between being competitive and having your competitor make your decisions for you. If your boss just wants you to do what the competition is doing and is not interested in taking reasonable risks needed to win, chances are that you will not grow in that company. If anything, your ability to conceptualize and implement creative SEO solutions may even deteriorate over time. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, you may want to consider checking for new job openings.
8) Puts Too Much Faith in SEO
It’s great that more business owners today understand the value of SEO for driving organic traffic and conversions. However, they may not understand the many practical limitations of SEO. In fact, you might even find that many of them don’t realize that their competitors are probably doing SEO as well.
If you’re working for a boss like this, chances are they will be disappointed no matter what you do. They probably have an unrealistic idea of what SEO could do for their site and this will influence all your future interactions.
If this is the case, see if their expectations can still be managed. If not, don’t worry — there are plenty of great SEO agencies and digital marketing departments out there that would be happy to have you.
9) Forces Unpaid and Mandatory Overtime
This is less of an SEO industry issue and is more of a wider problem in the tech and marketing industries. It’s not uncommon for bosses in these fields to be slave drivers for a variety of reasons.
The first reason is a lack of empathy — a red flag in and of itself. They drive themselves hard and they don’t understand why their employees won’t make the same sacrifices.
The second reason is culture. In collectivist societies like the Philippines, individuals on the lower rungs of the societal chain like employees don’t want to be seen leaving the workplace before their boss does. So they do overtime, even if it’s actually unproductive.
Of course, in most instances forced overtime is illegal. However, the kind of coercion that causes employees to “consent” to it is in a legal grey area. It’s common for bosses to give employees unrealistic workloads that could only be met with extra hours along with threats of bad performance evaluations.
Ultimately, whether or not you choose to do frequent overtime is up to you. However, you should know that not everyone is fit for that lifestyle. Doing unsustainable amounts of work could lead to burnout and may even permanently end your SEO career. If you want to grow and have a long career in digital marketing, you have to make sure that you can sustain the lifestyle you choose.
10) Disregards Seasonality
Seasonal demand is one of the most basic concepts in marketing. In fact, it is so basic that even street vendors understand it. If your boss doesn’t get it, chances are they will be constantly pestering you for increases in organic traffic and conversions during times when growth would basically be impossible.
Christmas lights are a popular example of a product that’s affected by seasonality. However, there are countless other products and services that display seasonal demand. For example, in the US, the demand for barbecue supplies of all kinds tends to peak in summer and taper off by fall. Different home-care items also tend to follow seasonal demand curves as well. Even services like insurance, gym memberships, and haircuts may follow a seasonal pattern.
If your boss demands constant growth even when their offers very clearly follow a seasonal demand curve, it means they either don’t understand their own products or they are trying to justify not giving you what you are due. If this is the case, what do you think your options are?
Fortunately, most bosses you will encounter won’t be as bad as the ones we described. Even if you did find yourself working for a nightmare boss, resigning is not necessarily the right choice. No one is perfect and all bosses and clients will have some lapses now and then. If you can educate or meet them halfway, you might even contribute to each other’s growth as marketing professionals.
However, if these issues continue to be a problem months or years into your job, you have to ask yourself whether the downsides of staying on are worth it. Things like family, professional growth, and even health are, over the long term, probably more important than your current job. If you aren’t being compensated enough to deal with all these problems, the least you can do is see what other options are out there.