Updated: November 5, 2022.
Imposter syndrome in SEO is a thing. Here are my thoughts and the thoughts of other SEOs on it.
In this article, you will:
- learn what imposter syndrome is
- be able to ask yourself a few self-diagnostic questions
- learn about other SEOs’ experiences with imposter syndrome
- discover ways of dealing with/overcoming this phenomenon
- get to know my imposter syndrome story a bit better
Let’s get started.
As you’ve probably noticed, I produce a lot of content about SEO.
However, it took me more than 8 years to start sharing my knowledge publicly. Even after now 10 years, there is still a weird pattern going on…
Every time I post a new article, I proofread it countless times and fact-check everything. I always doubt whether it is good enough and competent enough.
Should I go into more detail and provide more examples? Should I add more of my own insights and commentary?
Am I only scratching the surface while other SEOs are really doing awesome in-depth analyses?
What am I even doing here? Should I remove my website and close down all social accounts before people notice what an incompetent fraud I am?
Well… That’s not me speaking, fortunately. That’s imposter syndrome.
Disclaimer: I am not a therapist, and I am only sharing my thoughts in this article. This is by no means formal advice.
What is imposter syndrome?
Below is a very accurate definition of impostor syndrome from Wikipedia:
Impostor syndrome is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon do not believe they deserve their success or luck… they may think that they are deceiving others because they feel as if they are not as intelligent as they outwardly portray themselves to be. Impostor syndrome can hinder individuals from achieving their full potential in their fields of interest.
Does it sound familiar? It sounds very familiar to me.
As you can see, impostor syndrome is quite a serious condition that can negatively impact your entire life and your career.
I had been dealing with it for a couple of years before I even realized that this was indeed a thing.
My hope with this article is to help you:
- realize that imposter syndrome is just a psychological phenomenon you can deal with,
- believe that you are NOT a fraud.
Is imposter syndrome a thing in SEO?
Based on my experience and my observations, imposter syndrome is a thing in SEO.
I feel the need – again – to tell you why I am qualified to talk about this topic.
I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. All I am is a mostly self-taught SEO.
I’ve not done any statistically significant research, but I think I have a lot of valuable insights based on the fact that:
- I’ve been dealing with imposter syndrome for many years.
- I don’t come from a G7 country and – especially in the past – I felt inferior because I come from a post-communist country.
- I’m a woman myself and the SEO industry is still dominated by men.
- I am not a native English speaker.
- I’ve been a victim of the situation where my free content that I did not dare monetize was stolen and was being resold.
- I’ve worked with many women and men who suffer from imposter syndrome.
- I’ve been trying to help fellow SEOs overcome imposter syndrome.
- I genuinely want to help you.
- I’ve recently started offering SEO mentorship and noticed that one of the main challenges my mentees face is impostor syndrome. Many start SEO mentorship because they feel they are not good enough. Most if not all are super smart and definitely good enough.
- I created a Google form and asked you to share your experiences with impostor syndrome. I was amazed by the results. You can see the quotes in the further part of the article.
- I ran a poll on Twitter and its results were pretty obvious.
Wait… Am I explaining myself right now that I am competent enough to share insights on imposter syndrome?
That’s how impostor syndrome works! 🤯
Is imposter syndrome only a women’s problem?
No! Based on my experience, women definitely experience imposter syndrome more often than men (at least in the SEO industry). However, men by no means are resilient to it.
I’ve seen both women and men devalue their achievements and doubt their skills. However, in the case of women, this is almost always stronger.
Here is a small anecdote.
I know at least a few males who – as soon as they heard about SEO – started teaching others, sharing their knowledge, or creating their SEO businesses. In some cases, after a few months of learning SEO, they started to earn big money.
If only women were the same…
I know lots of women who have been in the SEO industry for many years and have been doing amazing things. They are afraid of even creating their own website and sharing their skills with the world. They do magic for their employees but keep a low profile themselves.
I really wish I could change it.
How do I know if I suffer from imposter syndrome?
Of course, everyone may be experiencing the impostor syndrome differently but answering YES to some or all of the following questions should be a red flag for you:
- Do you often feel like a fraud? Note that real frauds usually don’t feel like frauds.
- Do you feel that you still need to learn 100 new things (or 10 more years) before you can share your knowledge with others?
- Do you feel worse and less qualified in comparison to your SEO peers?
- Do you doubt your skills?
- Do you think you can attribute most of your achievements to luck?
- Are you afraid of being criticized?
- Do your friends and family think you are a high-achiever but you don’t really feel like one?
- Do you strive for perfection because you fear people will criticize you or think you are not competent?
- Are you overwhelmed by the fact that you still don’t know everything about your area of specialization?
- Do you feel that you are not intelligent enough or simply not born with the right skills?
- Do you feel like a fraud because someone helped you in your career once or twice?
- Do you think you don’t work hard and long enough? Even if you work 70 hours per week.
- Do you set very high standards and very difficult goals for yourself and become disappointed if you fall short?
Unfortunately, I can say YES to most of these questions. However, I no longer let it stop me from taking action towards my goals every day (i.e. building & growing SEOSLY). I am aware that this is just a psychological phenomenon.
What SEOs say about imposter syndrome
As part of my questionnaire about the imposter syndrome in SEO, I asked fellow SEOs about whether they think they suffer from imposter syndrome and why they think that is.
Again, I received awesome responses that can help you shed light on imposter syndrome and realize that you are definitely not alone in that.
Some of the interesting things I spotted in their answers are:
- Some people simply feel deep down that they are frauds and are not qualified no matter how experienced and qualified they indeed are. This is I think the most serious form of imposter syndrome often present in women.
- Some people ascribe their impostor syndrome to the unpredictability of the SEO industry. We can do everything by the book and the site still can get hit or not grow. That’s the reality of SEO.
- Some people developed an imposter syndrome after some negative events like being made redundant. If you have been fired, you should thank your boss that you now are fee to explore other & better opportunities. You did not belong to that place.
- Some feel worse because they are not native English speakers (just like me). As long as people are able to understand you and you can understand them, you are OK. Most SEOs use their first language. You use your second. Kudos to you.
- Some feel intimidated by these huge 7-figure success stories from other SEOs. This is I think a classic example of the “grass being greener on the other side”. I have fallen victim to that many times. Remember that you can be as successful as those SEO stars are. If they did it, that is great news for you. It means it is possible, and you can do that too.
- Some people feel like frauds because they applied the SEO strategies someone else shared and were successful with them. That is OK. We are not here to invent a wheel but to intelligently use the knowledge and strategies that are freely available. You did a great job.
- Some people feel ashamed and are afraid of saying “I don’t the answer to this”. It is perfectly OK to not know the answer and admitting that you don’t know it. You are not Wikipedia.
Here is the question and some of the answers I got from fellow SEOs.
Impostor syndrome is always there, in the background, trying to find the moment you are in self-doubt or too tried to fight it back… However, there is always someone who can do it better and who can do it faster. Hence, we feel like failures.Faizan Fahim from faizanfahim.com
I did suffer from imposter syndrome for a little bit when I first got into SEO. I always thought “could I really bring traffic to a website? Can I offer a service and actually get paid for it?” I spent a lot of time reading and studying SEO. It wasn’t until I got my first job in SEO, got some light results, and saw the fruits of my work that my imposter syndrome started to go away.Addisson Lacroix from addissonlacroix.com
Yes, even though I’ve got over 13 years of experience in SEO I still can’t say I know everything. Our industry is so unique; every strategy and site is different and because a lot depends on Google, we can never be sure what’s going to happen. Another thing is that very often it takes time (weeks or months) to see the change in rankings and I always ask myself a question “what if the results don’t improve”.Jarek Siekierski from datgrowth.com
Sometimes, especially in front of big and unknown audience. Or in case I am the only female in the room and feel an unfriendly atmosphere.Martina Zrzavá Libřická
… imposter syndrome is just that crappy friend that tags along with you. For me, imposter syndrome is those spiraling insecure thoughts like “you’re not good enough and you don’t know what you are doing”. Those thoughts will replay in my mind over and over again until I not only fail to believe in myself but also feel sick to my stomach from hiding this huge secret that I’m just a fraud. Thankfully, today I have them under control (most of the time).Dora Jonsdottir from dorajonsdottir.com
Sometimes I feel like I suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s hard to describe exactly, but I can sometimes feel like all of my experience, the websites, and the projects I’ve worked on count for very little. That SEO is so fast-paced that what thought leaders are talking about now is far beyond anything I have ever worked on or implemented. Of course, this isn’t true, no doubt SEO has undoubtedly seen large-scale innovations and changes over the last ten years, but at its core, it has remained somewhat the same.Charlie Morley from movementseo.co.uk
I suffer from the impostor syndrome all the time. I do a lot of things together when trying to rank a page – change that title, throw in some links, add/ edit content, and do all sorts of possible optimizations that make sense to me at that moment. Once the page ranks (or doesn’t), I do not have an answer to what caused that. This lack of clarity gives me that impostor syndrome. Makes me feel my efforts are guesswork and if I get a good result, it is a fluke. I see solid advice from SEO influencers, and they all are great, but I often feel how can they be so sure of what they are posting.Mahesh
Yes. I do. As most SEOs don’t agree with one another, sometimes, I feel that I am lacking something or I am not good enough… I always try to improve myself, but there are people who make me feel like I don’t know anything. And this happens especially in office settings where people judge each other’s skills heavily. To summarise, this feeling is present everywhere and I guess everyone must have felt that at some point in their careers.Preeti Gupta from packted.com
Yes, I do. For many years I felt that I did not deserve success and that everyone around me was mistaken about me and sooner or later would realize that I was ” imposter”. It is difficult to accept praise, did not feel on equal terms with colleagues. Seems that all successes are just lucky coincidences. And the constant feeling that soon everyone will see my “true value”, understand that I am a non-professional, and fire me.Jevgeni Mihhailenko
Organic search is constantly evolving. The SERPs rarely stay the same and one thing that seemed to work for one website may not for another. This uncertainty can often make me feel unsure and when I’m asked something I have little to no experience with it’s difficult to provide a best answer.Daniel K Cheung
I think I do, mostly because I’ve been in SEO for a little more than 12 months and I rely a lot on LinkedIn and Twitter as the main source of learning and discovery. Needless to say, you can see everyone doing amazing stuff except for you.Simone De Palma from seodepths.com
I want to speak in public, but I already know in advance that my level is far from being a speaker (not a native English speaker). I have a lot of experience, I could teach people and share knowledge, but there is always a thought – what if I don’t know something? Or am I unable to answer the question? Or will people think I’m not good enough as a professional?Oksana
Definitely, I think it’s because I’m too hard on myself.Sara Taher from Sara-Taher.com
Mainly because of low self-esteem & I’m a recovering perfectionist – as I’m self-taught, I often feel like I need validation that I’m doing a good job as I tend to doubt myself. I don’t think it helps that there’s a lot of conflicting information from SEO gurus that think their way is the only way to do things so it also makes me question myself.Aimee Griffiths from www.virtuallyaimeelee.com
From time to time. I had a small break from the SEO world when I was made redundant due to the pandemic (worked in the travel industry). Even though it was just a small break, I felt like my knowledge would be really outdated and it made me lose confidence.Pip from pamarketing.co.uk
Yes, definitely. I feel like I suffer from this because after I accomplish great project results, I sometimes feel like it’s because I’m copying the strategies of other great SEOs.Manny Diaz
I used to suffer from impostor syndrome. When I joined the SEO industry, I felt guilty whenever I didn’t know something. Over the years as I gained more and more experience, I started to feel more confident. Funnily enough, as a beginner, I used to feel ashamed whenever I couldn’t answer a client’s question on top of my head. Now I feel confident enough to admit that whenever I’m unsure about something, and I believe this honesty and transparency make me more professional. I myself would rather work with someone who’s able to say: “Look, I’m not sure, but I will find out and get back to you”, rather than someone who would mess up a project before admitting they have no clue what they’re doing.Agnieszka Podemska from agnieszkapodemska.pl
Yes. I think imposter syndrome is just a fancy name for doubt, and every human suffers from doubt. Whether that’s doubting someone else or yourself, it’s a natural behaviour. It’s also difficult to not buy into the lies of this modern day curated world that LinkedIn or Instagram feeds us. Contrary to what those feeds show us, not everyone is making six figures, becomes an instant overnight expert, or has hundreds of clients begging to work with them. Those are lies specifically catered to feed the curation beast. Those only feed that imposter syndrome.Landen Melton from meltonsolutionsllc.com
I always feel like I’m not good enough at my job and I don’t know enough to be successful.Sylwia Balasy
How to deal with imposter syndrome
There are different possible ways of dealing with imposter syndrome. Some may be more useful for you than others. I strongly recommend trying them all and choosing the most effective ones. You may also consider getting formal help.
Here are some of the things you might want to try and that I find quite effective:
- Learn SEO every day. Reading even one article a day will make you feel way better. You will feel that you are gaining knowledge and moving forward.
- No matter your experience or knowledge, create your own website and start doing SEO for it.
- Connect with other SEOs. This is an extremely friendly and supportive community.
- Openly share your doubts (I know this may be hard to do).
- If you are a woman, join the Women in Tech SEO community and follow Areej AbuAlu. This is a must.
- Listen to SEO podcasts and consider subscribing to my new SEO podcast. This is really an awesome way to stay updated and in the SEO “loop”. Again, you will be crashing your impostor syndrome because you will know that you keep learning new things and not missing out on anything.
- Take a break when needed & practice meditation.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Compare yourself only to your past self. Not to your peers who are in difference situations or circumstances.
- Realize that you can take as much or as little time to accomplish certain tasks. It is up to you.
- Know that it is OK if you don’t know something or don’t know they answer to the question.
- Realize that this is just a phenomenon.
This was from me.
Here is the question I asked fellow SEOs and their answers.
One of my ways to deal with impostor syndrome is to zoom out from feeling bad about myself because someone is being successful. This is only one aspect of that person’s life, and I don’t know their full story (and its context). I stop and instead go work on my own website.Faizan Fahim from faizanfahim.com
My favorite way of dealing with imposter syndrome was proving it wrong. I started and grew a couple of websites and worked a few consulting gigs that I got some exciting results for. I always recommend to SEOs to start their own websites so they can see what they can truly do when the website is 100% under their control. Every single impression, click, and ranking you can be proud of!Addisson Lacroix from addissonlacroix.com
Talking to other SEOs and realizing that others also have doubts and thinking about SEO as an ongoing job instead of having to constantly deliver awesome results.Jarek Siekierski from datgrowth.com
Trying to enjoy what I am doing. Reminding myself that nobody is perfect and the worst thing that can happen is I will do or say something “embarrassing”. But I learned that it is often in my head and others perceive it differently.Martina Zrzavá Libřická
Learning as much as I can about SEO. Reading tutorials (sometimes it turns out my process is the same of an SEO pro) and reflecting on similar tasks: how I completed them and their positive outcome.Ewe
I love asking myself a question my psychologist asked me “who doesn’t have imposter syndrome?”. By asking yourself this question you acknowledge that your imposter thoughts are creeping in and you take the power away from them before they spiral out of control. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easier said than done and re-training your mind is constant work, but it’s absolutely doable and so worth all the hard work behind it.Dora Jonsdottir from dorajonsdottir.com
Reminding myself of this and having the confidence to help others with strategies and approaches I’ve had success with, even if there is that doubt that other SEOs may view these as quite basic or not advanced enough for specific situations. Having this confidence also comes from surrounding myself with friends in the industry that I can talk to about industry and personal news, which helps me realize that I’m not the only SEO that can feel like this.Charlie Morley from movementseo.co.uk
Before making a difficult decision based not on previous experience or knowledge, I conduct an in-depth research of the issue. Gathering lots of evidence to support my decision or find facts against it. Taking courses with more experienced mentors during the lockdown helped overcome this syndrome – gained a deeper understanding of the subject, more self-confidence. Constant communication with colleagues in industrial Telegram chats also helps. It’s good to have someone to discuss a difficult problem with.Jevgeni Mihhailenko
Having a network of peers has been so so so instrumental to bounce my ideas and concerns with others. It’s great to know that I have others in my corner and for complex or novel situations, having a network to turn to is reassuring and allows me to be able to answer “I don’t know but I’ll find a solution” with confidence because I’m not alone.Daniel K Cheung from danielkcheung.com.au
… I’ve set up my own testing website. I research and test SEO with machine learning, which helps me join the race. However, it is stressful and frustrating, so I’m not sure this is a cure.Simone De Palma seodepths.com
Thinking that we can’t know everything and it’s OK to say “I don’t know”, and trying to realize that you can’t be perfect for all the people in the world (and it’s not your fault if someone doesn’t like you/your approach or your speech)Oksana
Reminding myself that I don’t have to be perfect to be good enough. I’m doing my best and I’m doing great work and that’s enough🙂 I try to take control of my emotions.Sara Taher from Sara-Taher.com
To just take action & connect with others in the industry. It’s surprising how many people in the industry feel exactly the same. I remind myself that it’s ok to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone so I can grow & develop.Aimee Griffiths from virtuallyaimeelee.com
Discussing with other SEO professionals and enthusiasts on Facebook groups and LinkedIn. Reddit is a particular favorite of mine, as it’s quite refreshing to see so many people on certain Reddit groups such as r/SEO and r/seogrowth looking for advice and reassurance.Pip from pamarketing.co.uk
My favourite way of dealing with this is practicing mindfullness and reminding myself that I have worked very hard for years to know what i know.Manny Diaz
Staying proactive! Learning every day, whether it is by attending webinars, completing courses, exchanging ideas with other SEO professionals, or reading interesting case studies. Also, choosing a niche has helped me a lot. I used to feel insecure about my technical SEO knowledge, so I would do a lot of research and focus on improving my technical skills. This proactivity has helped me improve my technical skills a lot. However, I soon realized that content SEO is my biggest passion. In the past, I thought I should focus on my weaknesses rather than my strengths. Now I know doing what you love is a much better choice!Agnieszka Podemska from agnieszkapodemska.pl
Testing my practical skills, learning more about SEO and talking to people about SEO issues in a small SEO community 🙂Lola
My favorite way to deal with this is to understand that I don’t know it all. Humility is a powerful ally. I understand my limits but am perpetually trying to push those limits and learn more. I also understand and am clear when presenting objectives to my clients. They don’t want perfection, but progress, and as long as I’m continually pushing toward goals, and making progress, my clients are satisfied and I’m not fighting my own imposter syndrome. I know that I’m working within my limits but still producing quantative results for clients.Landen Melton from meltonsolutionsllc.com
I don’t even attempt to deal with it, it’s a part of meSylwia Balasy
Final thoughts & further reading on imposter syndrome
One thing I can say for sure is that imposter syndrome is a thing in SEO and women are definitely more prone to it.
I wish I could do more, but I hope that thanks to this article you realize that you are not alone and that you are not a fraud.
I will be happy to hear your thoughts. If you like this article, please consider sharing it with other SEOs.
If you want to deepen your knowledge about imposter syndrome (in SEO and in general), you may find these resources helpful:
- Dealing with Plagiarism and Imposter Syndrome w/ Olga Zarzeczna
- Imposter Syndrome in SEO with Sara McDowell
- Is Technical SEO A Female-Friendly Place To Build My Career? Ask An SEO
- How I Deal With Imposter Syndrome & The Core Belief ‘I’m Unworthy’
P.S. You are GOOD enough. I know it. Trust me!