A GeekWire article, "We Need More Startup Marketing Minds (a.k.a. Full-Stack Marketers)", muses that the startup community needs more "full-stack marketers." That is, more marketers who can live comfortably throughout the marketing stack rather than those who are specialized:
…And that’s exactly what’s missing with most marketing folks who want to join a startup. You have to know (nearly) it all. You don’t have to be good at everything, but you have to have enough exposure and experience at all levels of the marketing “stack” to be able to make good calls on how to spend your time, money and other startups resources in order to maximize the value you bring to the table.
I think there are some interesting parallels between the kind of well-rounded marketer an early stage startup needs and the skillset an SEO professional needs to make them most likely to succeed. Arguably, this is true to an even larger degree in the SEO industry than in the startup world.
In a traditional job, a worker is usually very specialized. I work in marketing, or I work in finance or I work in IT, and within my chosen field I typically have a fairly specific specialty, like search marketing or events coordinator.
In a startup, things can be more diverse. Employees often span across multiple specialties but not across disciplines (e.g., a marketer who is involved in all aspects of marketing, but not other disciplines such as tech).
If you are a marketer working at a startup, today you might be strategizing about a new campaign, and tomorrow you’ll have to go open Adobe Illustrator and change the copy on a flyer that you’ll send to be printed at Staples later. In the morning of the next day you might be trying get a hold of the editor of the lifestyle section of the Seattle Times and in the afternoon you are creating seven ad variations for a Google AdWords campaign, and that same night you and the CEO will be having dinner with the VP of Marketing of a large consumer company and you’ll be discussing a two-year strategy roadmap and bringing product vision ideas back to the team the next morning.
The SEO Professional Skill Set is Both Specialized and Broad
An SEO professional’s skill set, however, must span across both the specialty (e.g. marketing) and across disciplines (e.g., marketing + tech).
SEO professionals live at the intersection of technology, marketing, and sales. Most successful SEOs operate with one foot in technology (working with XML sitemaps, sourcing technology solutions, etc.), another in marketing (promoting content, researching keyword terms, etc.) and a third in sales (evangelizing SEO in the organization, recruiting guest posters, etc.).
Looking at this in a slightly different way by comparing SEO to other online marketing disciplines, SEO spans across departments in the organization involving tech, product management, communications etc. while other disciplines such as paid, email marketing etc., do not, or at least not to the same degree.
SEO Success Relies on Cross-Functional Abilities
A close look at responses from Conductor’s recent joint survey with Search Engine Watch of 616 search marketers suggests that SEO professionals themselves are very much aware of the unique cross-functional intersection they occupy. When asked about their top natural search goals for the coming year, responses were spread widely across the spectrum with a broad representation of goal types across marketing, technology, and sales and little separation between the top responses.
What Does it All Mean for You?
There are definite benefits to developing yourself into a "full-stack SEO." If you are a small operation, you will be able to easily pivot from one element of SEO to another. If you are in the enterprise and have specialized SEO professionals working for you, you will be better able to prioritize their efforts, giving you the maximum value from what they do. And a broader skillset and more intelligent resource allocation will equip you to better respond to algorithm changes.
If your mindset isn't already geared toward developing yourself as a "full-stack SEO," consider making the adjustment to do so.
Start by shifting your thinking and then focus on the vast educational resources the web has to offer, from understanding the business of SEO itself to learning what other goals and challenges other SEO professionals face.
Don’t be afraid to tinker with new techniques and tactics that you pick up – the best way to learn is by trying. The benefits of being a well-rounded SEO professional will surely bear fruit in the long run, both in your strategic and tactical practice.