SEOs live in constant fear. We tremble at the thought of birthdays, holidays, and family events. Some of us have tried before and failed; for others the first time still lies ahead. It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t get better with time. You will die inside again and again every time your grandma, while smiling and passing the cookie platter, asks you, “So what exactly do you do in this job of yours?”
In this article, I’m not going to give you an easy answer you can memorize and use at family gatherings. That’s because, of course, I don’t have one. I’m as scared of talking to my family about Search Engine Optimization as you probably are. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, in the history of humanity, encounters with the Unknown haven’t always gone very well.
If you don’t feel ready for a head-on confrontation just yet, here are some alternative solutions you can use to avoid it all together or just buy some extra time.
Change your name, address and country. Get some plastic surgery if you can afford it. Never talk to your family again. That should teach them to not ask such questions.
Pros: Permanent solution.
Cons: You will spend the rest of your holidays (and maybe even the rest of your life) alone.
Simply reverse the question. “What do YOU do at YOUR job, Greg?” or “You know, I’ve always wondered what being a doctor/policewoman/Walmart clerk means exactly.” Stare at them expectantly while they try to answer.
Pros: You gain control of the situation.
Cons: Everybody thinks you’re a jerk and maybe a spy (since you won’t talk about your job).
Tell Them to Google It
This is ironic, I know. Or direct them to Wikipedia.
Pros: You don’t have to explain it yourself.
Cons: There is a huge chance they still won’t understand and will be suspicious that you don’t understand it either.
Go with a Sophisticated Metaphor
I’ve seen it all: SEO being compared to a job application, gardening, a library, the real estate market and even fishing. You can choose from the ones I mentioned or unleash your creativity and try to come up with your own (for example, try comparing it to the medieval feudal system or mating patterns of the western honey bee).
Pros: If you do it right, it will sound good.
Cons: Your grandma will think and tell all her friends that you’re an internet gardener and there’s a huge chance you will never be able to change her mind on this matter.
Change your Occupation
Preferably to something more self-explanatory. This is a less hardcore version of the first strategy – give up on your dream of rocking the SERPs and settle down with the boring life of a drug dealer, rock star, Nobel Prize winner or president. On your deathbed, blame your family for ruining your life.
Pros: You won’t have to explain SEO to your family anymore.
Cons: You’ll waste your life not doing what you really love (and there might be some problems with the law if you decide to go with the dealer path).
Explain the Abbreviation
Pray that this does the trick: “I do search engine optimization. You know, it’s pretty self-explanatory, I optimize for search engines,” and laugh nervously, hoping they will buy that.
Pros: If you’re lucky you’ll get this done in less than a minute.
Cons: It won’t work, it never does.
Tell them it’s classified
You work for the Government and you would love to tell them the truth about your occupation, but them Russian/Taliban/Eskimo spies are everywhere. Then whisper “State Espionage Organization” and wink.
Pros: Your family will think you’re unbelievably cool.
Cons: Are there any? I mean, besides lying to your loved ones. But serving your country has its price.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Confronting Your Family
Okay, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to go with any of the perfectly fine solutions mentioned above. But if, for some reason I won’t even try to understand, you really want to try your best and explain your job to your family for realsies, I’ve prepared some advice for you:
To keep things positive, I’ll start with the Do’s – the things that probably won’t hurt you while explaining SEO to your loved ones:
- First of all, calm them down – it’s not a new drug, or an STD.
- Make sure they have at least a rough idea what the Internet is – and if they don’t, you can dodge a bullet by introducing them to this beautiful world of memes and kitten videos. Honestly, once they go online for the first time they won’t give a damn about what you do job-wise.
- Describe your daily routine – I find this one particularly helpful. Search engine optimization might sound weird and mysterious, but analyzing data, writing articles, or communicating with clients doesn’t. All in all, it’s not rocket science: an office job is an office job.
- Be patient – yeah, it sucks being asked the same question all the time (especially when you don’t have a short answer or any answer at all). But the people who ask all those horrible questions do it because they love you and they want to know you better because they care for you (or they just want to avoid the awkward silence at the dinner table between the main course and dessert). Either way, take a deep breath, stay calm and do your best.
Here are some things you should probably avoid if you want to make it to the dessert:
- Don’t go with the computer/IT aspect – yeah, SEO is a technical thing in many ways, but you really don’t want to end up as the person your uncle Greg calls when his Windows XP gets “frozen” from all the malware.
- Don’t make it sound too easy – especially when you’re sitting at the table with an aspiring blogger or a proud little business owner who has a website that could use some help with the rankings. First of all, it’s not the best idea to mix work with family. Secondly, they might get the idea that you can do some “internet magic” and make their website rank for the most valuable keywords overnight. Explain to them that optimizing a website requires a lot of time, effort and, well, money. If you can see that they’re really interested in it (not just make-me-first-on-Google interested) show them some resources to start with – for example, Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO or Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. Hell, maybe even some posts on our awesome blog?
- Don’t go too deep – they don’t need to know all the technical details and the history of Google updates. Pandas and penguins are cute animals (even though a bit prehistoric in terms of SEO), but seriously, trying to explain their impact on search to a person who barely knows what a search engine is (just because you told them that Google is one of them) might not be the best idea. Plus the elders might think you’re an internet zookeeper.
- Don’t try to put it in a nice wrapper – we want to believe that what we do is right and has meaning. Well, it doesn’t – so cut the crap. We don’t help people find the most valuable websites on the internet (which are, coincidentally, our clients’), we don’t make the internet a better place and we don’t feed the hungry. What we do is help our clients’ websites reach as many people as possible via search engines so that they can sell more products and/or services and make money. Yeah, sometimes we make the internet a slightly better place, but that’s a side effect, not the objective.
Last but not least – don’t worry. Eventually, they will get it. Or at least some part of it. Or they’ll get tired and pretend that they got it. And even if they never get it, it doesn’t matter. After all, they’re your family. So you will survive telling them about your job. It certainly can’t be more awkward than the time they told you about the birds and the bees.
Anyway, good luck. Heavens know we’re going to need it.