The Reincarnation of Apprenticeship

††† One night, from the only punk rock bar in Las Vegas, I gave a horribly long rant to RateItAll’s Lawrence Coburn. It was my take on the industry. It is hard to find those words again as that was a conversation at 2AM and my brain was competing with the Bouncing Souls. The rant went on and on about popularity, branding, reputation management, and so on. Ever since this conversation, I have been thinking about this concept of SEO and Internet Marketing being something I think must be taught and discussed. Ultimately, the industry lies within conversation and apprenticeship.

For my first article on the SEO-Chicks blog, I wanted to write about the importance of understanding this industry, but that has been done so many times, and I just can’t take another “What my dog can teach you about Social Media” post….No offense.

I suppose there should be some sort of prerequisite, especially to understand where Iím coming from in this post.

I decided that I needed to be in this stimulating industry when I recognized how much observation my band was getting from just our website, social media, and forums; not to mention fans, DayglowPR, and label interests. We built links, contacts, tours, sold merchandise, licensing deals, but we really weren’t famous or critically acclaimed (but in our heads we were!). However, we looked great online.

*FYI: the site no longer exists, the band dismembered= long story.

My silly little band acquired huge label attention just based on our social media sites. I then asked myself, what kind of ROI would a legitimate business with awesome products see?

I contacted as many people I knew in the industry, took jobs with websites; primarily selling products online- slowly making the switch to purely working online and getting to know the ins and outs of this amazing industry. Over the next few months I decided that I would try to encompass everything I learned, did and sell to the internet. Slowly but surely this strategy worked, (Of course this is a really long; but short story) and I developed great skills to work in online marketing, something that teaches me new tricks every day.

Having been to Pubcon, other social events, reading millions of blogs, and e-books, I have learned that in the industry the only way to learn the trade is to be an apprentice. So I latched on and learned, like other thousands of young SEO’s. Even in job listings, companies are looking for SEO Apprentices, because as we know, every SEO has their own style, so you would want to train your staff according to your own practices. As Sugarrae said at Pubcon, when she spoke about hiring staff; “You must be able to train them.”

Apprenticing, the “Original 4 Year Degree” is extremely important in the SEO industry; and sure, most people in the industry have learned the skill as an extension of web development, but will the practice die out just as it did for the chair makers in the Middle Ages?

Apprenticeship= A master craftsman entitled to employ people as an inexpensive form of labor in exchange for providing formal training in the craft. – Wikipedia.

Well, we are already seeing huge numbers of companies outsourcing SEO work to places like India, reading articles saying a career in SEO is a bad choice, and there are many new SEO, SMM, SEM and even Facebook classes in tons of Universities.

So will the practice of Apprenticeship live on in the world of SEO, or will it be replaced like it was in the golden days? I think that to be an SEO you must always be an apprentice. Learning the skill is never-ending… thus we have millions of SEO blogs.


  • If the practice is replaced by manufactured SEO’s, what will be better for the industry?
  • Aside from this ancient practice of training, are their better ways to become seriously skilled in SEO?

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8 Responses to “The Reincarnation of Apprenticeship”

  1. Good questions, Stephanie. I think that as with every ‘craft’, the basics can be learned from a manual (I use the term very loosely as it would have to be an electronic one that allows for changes all the time).

    The real mastership, however, can only come through practice, because this industry/’craft’ changes so rapidly, that no textbook, or manufactured course can keep up with the changes – we have to learn on the job.

    For the time being, my answer would be that, the best way to become a great SEO is to learn on the job, and never fall behind on the current situation regarding the skill.

    Later on, and who knows that day may never come, as the industry evolves, it may be that things slow down enough for academics to pin down SEO in a text book.

    Hard to imagine that any of us will conform though…

  2. Stephanie, that’s a fuckin awesome post! I love it! Such valid points and questions raised.

    I think that apprenticeship(jedi training) is very much valid still, and always will be. When I first started out in the industry I had no one to lead me, no one to learn from (poor little me lol) BUT I found my jedi master(s) through SEOmoz. I read every blogpost, commented, asked a million of questions etc. But I think THE most important factor of learning, anything, is having the PASSION! If you care about what you do and want to learn, you will!

    I came back from maternity leave 3 years ago and knew NOTHING about SEO, my company (Base One) wanted to learn more about it and put me in the position as SEM Manager and said off you go! I LOVE a challenge, and after sitting at home for 9 months changing nappies and going for “mother” lunches my brain was in DESPERATE need of thinking again. It didn’t take long before I got really interested in Search, and as soon as the passion for it kicked in….I was off!

    So in short I think learning from others are key, and having at least 1 person you can talk to and feel comfortable asking any ridiculous questions too is vital. BUT most of all you need to have the PASSION for it!

    Again Stephanie, brilliant post, you rock!

  3. Hey – fab post!

    And great to leave questions to be answered.

    I think that *ALL* jobs require on the job training. I have a specialised honours degree in psychology with clinical counselling and couples therapy as specializations but I still had to do on the job training before I could handle clients on my own.

    The same is true for SEO as it is for conference management as it is for HR as it is for everyone – on the job training is essential.

    I think that skilled courses will soon replace apprenticeships but on the job training will never go out of “fashion”

    BRILL post!

  4. Julie Joyce says:

    Not bad for a first effort (ahem)…seriously, well done Stephanie! And I totally agree with everything you say. I was also thrust into doing SEO without much of an idea of what it actually was, and I had to learn it as I did it for close to 80 clients.

    Considering the fact that this industry continues to evolve, even when you’re a fairly seasoned SEO you’re still learning and having to stay on top of things. No one in the field can afford to rest on his or her laurels. What are laurels anyway?

    Again, very nice job and welcome to writing here!

  5. Thanks so much for all your comments. What wonderful answers! I love hearing how people learned to be in the industry and through every story, I learn something new.

    @Anita- I am hoping the day will never come that the skill is learned through something so ancient like a text book. For myself, I read so many ebooks but don’t find the “goods” there.

    @Lisa- I completely agree, without passion, there is no survival here. But how can somebody doing this work not be passionate?! It’s so stimulating!! Or maybe that’s because we are geeks. But seriously, everyone I know in the industry is always excited about the 24 hour a day job we have..

    @Judith- I definitely agree that “on the job training” is essential in most jobs. I mean, what job can you walk into already having 100% of the skills? I had no idea you were a couples therapist? That must have been challenging…. but probably not as exciting as SEO.

    @Julie- I think Laurel was a girl I knew in Highschool. And what you said is right. Something I forgot to mention is the importance of attending conferences, and as we all know, this can run up bills big time (if you are self supporting)… but it is required for longevity in the field… The learning, the sessions, the networking…(ahem- Drinking)…it can’t be missed!!

  6. Julie Joyce says:


    I ran up quite a few big bills with my cranberry vodkas. I am not in a happy mood, looking at my credit card statement.

    I really do believe in the networking so I’ll suck it up and pay when I have to because THAT is when you meet the people who’ll educate you, and THAT is when you’ll make the friends that you can call on when you have no idea what’s going on.

  7. Ya – I’ve done a lot in my short life and things do continue to shock me!

    @Julie – I’m just putting together my expenses and I have no idea where I spent half this money!

  8. Nothing compares to on the job training. My professional background is very mixed but the latest incarnation has been as a librarian. I was trained in grad school to answer reference queries and became familiar with MARC21.

    Out in the real world I was so lucky to have an amazing boss who saw that I was more interested in systems and technologies and created a job for me based on those interests. Could not have asked for a more awesome mentor. Essentially what I ended up doing was very akin to SEO – without my realising that such a thing existed. My fantastic boss then encouraged me to move overseas and undertake further study in the field but more importantly to have the opportunity to network – I prefer to call it socialising as it inevitably involves a bar : )

    I guess I am a strange mix of having done some aspects of theoretical study in SEO (modules such as Web IR – purely search engine retrieval; latent semantic indexing and infometrics – all of which are viewed as being horribe crass and profit driven newcomers by the true library academics) and someone who also recognises that serving an ‘apprenticeship’ is the only way to truly learn any craft. In particular one as arcane and dynamic as SEO.

    SEO styled subjects are filtering through into degree courses yet as Lisa said without the passion they are just another module. It is that passion and curiousity which should drive those with a real interest to seek out apprenticeships and be continually learning through playing, failing and above all doing.

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