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Search Engine Marketing and the 4 stages of competence

In a recent conversation with a client about introducing  a search engine marketing strategy she made the comment “I’ve paid a lot of money to optimise my domain” which triggered some concern in me as we typically don’t optimise the domain as such, it tends to take care of itself.

Turns out the situation was a bit more nuanced, work had been done to setup things like Google My Business, Social Media channels and the like, but it got me thinking about how a client’s understanding of search engine marketing, often referred to as SEO, aligns with the four stages of competence, and what that means when positioning, and ultimately devising, a search engine marketing strategy that will deliver their business outcomes.

My client is a successful, highly competent individual, with a great product, so the context of this post is around competency in relation to search engine marketing and how that level of competence, and understanding, can influence the decisions, expectations, and commitment to engaging in what can be a complex, but rewarding, process.

The four stages of competence are;

  1. Unconscious incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Conscious incompetence – you know what you don’t know.
  3. Conscious Competence – you know what you know.
  4. Unconscious competence – you don’t know what you know.

Unconscious competence

When we look at this stage in the context of a business owner who has, or is planning to have, a website, anticipating that the site will generate more leads and revenue, we have a delicate situation where expectations can be way out of whack.

The site owner is blissfully unaware of the intricacies of search engine marketing, and may not even know that a carefully executed strategy is necessary to generate traffic, that is any traffic at all.

This is the position where difficult conversations like “I spent all this money on a website and nothing happened…” come from. It’s also a risky position for a site owner as it exposes them to marketers promising unrealistic outcomes.

Conscious incompetence

At this point the realisation occurs that there’s something a little more than magic that happens in search engine marketing.  The site owner learns there’s a need to understand the various components that make up a strategy,  the reasoning behind them, and how that all comes together.

Once you become conscious that there is an area of knowledge, and potentially expertise, that you need to be across, that will align you with, or put you in front of, your competitors, the journey of discovery begins.

The risk, at this stage, is you still don’t know anything, only now you know you don’t know. You may know there’s a need to engage in a search engine marketing strategy but any reputable provider will be faced with the burden of educating you to the point where you understand what’s happening, and the investment required. The business owner in this stage is still quite vulnerable to unscrupulous offers promoting unrealistic outcomes.

Conscious competence

It is experience that gets you to this stage. You’ve either learned through the school of hard knocks, or you’ve been patiently guided every step of the way, or likely a little of both. Your entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to engage with competent service providers has served you well.

You understand the fundamental role of the search engine (tip: it’s not to promote your business), you know the distinction between organic and paid search, you understand keywords, the vital role of quality original content both on your website, through your social channels, and through PR campaigns. You know how to use search marketing to establish yourself as an authority in your market.

Most importantly you’ve learned how to convert that traffic into sales.

Through all of this it becomes apparent that the three key ingredients of successful search engine marketing campaigns are;

  1. Budget
  2. Time
  3. Perseverance

You also realise that to become good at it, to reach the stage of conscious competence, means devoting a considerable amount of time over a long period. Time, as a business owner, better spent working on your business. You also realise that the only real promise a service provider can make is to simply, and competently, do the work. The results will speak for themselves.

Unconscious competence

This is the stage of mastery of the craft. If you’ve reached this stage it’s likely that your business is search engine marketing as to get here you will have devoted your working life to achieving great results for your clients.

It’s also unlikely that you will maintain this state consistently as the search landscape is constantly changing, algorithms change, new platforms emerge, meaning its constant effort to stay on top of the game.

Where’s your level of competence, how can we help?

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