How Many SEOs Does it Take…?

Updated September 18, 2010

Doc Sheldon

Don’t worry, this isn’t a time-worn light bulb joke.

I was talking with a friend of mine, and the topic of SEO came up (imagine that). He said he wondered how many SEOs there were in the world. I thought for a moment, and said it was hard to say exactly, but there were certainly at least 97 million that speak English. His mouth fell open in disbelief, and he said he was certain that it couldn’t be even a fraction of that number. I explained my logic, thus:

The current estimated population of the world is around 6.7 billion. Approximately 2 billion of them have internet access. Around 20% of those speak English, while another 7% speak Spanish. That makes 540 million with whom I can converse.

If I do a quick tally of the number of people I “know” on-line, and divide them by the number that are involved in SEO-SEM, I find that 18% of my on-line acquaintances are in the business.

Extrapolating that logic a bit, that would indicate that slightly more than 97 million of the English speaking world’s people are SEOs.

Now, that’s good enough for me, but not for my buddy. “Totally inconclusive!” he bellowed.

Fair enough, I said, let’s look at it from a different perspective. 18% of the 6.7 billion people in the world happens to be 1.2 billion.

“So?” he cried. “What’s your point?”

I then pointed out that the current population of India is almost exactly 1.2 billion.

He had no further argument.


I don’t particularly relish the idea of being pigeon-holed alongside shysters, used-car salesmen and snake-oil peddlers.

My well-hidden point is, nobody has any idea how many people out there are calling themselves SEOs. And even worse, if we knew, we still wouldn’t have any idea how many of them are complete charlatans. Popular estimates, among some people who I consider credible, run in the vicinity of 90%. While that’s not a very kind estimate, I honestly can’t challenge it. In fact, I’m dismayed to say, I think it’s a viable estimate. Certainly, the logic is more sound than mine, above.

Some people think that a standard is needed… perhaps even a certification of some sort. I agree that it’s needed. However, like most, I also think it would be next to impossible to implement and maintain such a certification system, and hope for any level of credibility.

So we are left to try to sustain an acceptable average, against nearly overwhelming odds. And of course, as in any range from which an average is drawn, some clients will receive exemplary services, while those on the other end of the curve get minimal value, if any at all.

As in any other market sector, those that got great service will remember the individual or firm that served them well, and possibly recommend them to their colleagues. Conversely, those that got screwed, will remember only the profession that screwed them. They will also be vocal with their colleagues, of course. The message, however, will most likely be an attack against SEO in general, rather than against the perpetrators.

Something better than the status quo is desperately needed. I certainly don’t know what it should be. I’ve heard some ideas that seemed worth exploring, but invariably, upon deeper discussion, they didn’t hold water.

I don’t particularly relish the idea of being pigeon-holed alongside shysters, used-car salesmen and snake-oil peddlers.

So, how about a little brain-storming, people? Let’s hear YOUR ideas. How many SEOs does it take, to come up with a workable solution?


  1. I donโ€™t particularly relish the idea of being pigeon-holed alongside shysters, used-car salesmen and snake-oil peddlers.

    I know that like me you have worked in a lot of industries over the years.. I don’t let this particular worry bother me because every industry I have worked in has had its fair share of shysters and con artists.. Short of a nunnery, I think you would be hard pressed to find an industry where this wasn’t true..

  2. True enough, Steve – the SEO field isn’t unique in that regard. We deal with the frustration, and the fact that it makes our job harder. But I still think it’s worthwhile to try to address even the deficiencies that may take years to correct. At least someone will eventually benefit from our efforts.

    The alternative, of course, would be to go out once a week and find one of those jack-legs, and stomp a mud-hole in their chest. May not do much for the problem, but there’s something motivating about a little satisfaction now and then. ๐Ÿ˜‰