Explaining Your SEO Job to
Your Parents

by on 8th July 2014

In a recent global survey of 16,000 parents, LinkedIn found that 35% of them confessed that they are not completely familiar with what their child does for a living.

Now from personal experience, I can vouch for this statistic (and believe that based on ‘confessions’, this 35% figure is probably much higher). When I transitioned from it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin email marketing, to confusing old SEO (that’s Search Engine Optimisation), I knew there was going to be misunderstanding and potential for arduous questioning about what exactly SEO is. Whilst my parents aren’t complete technophobes, it was evident when I announced my shiny new job with Builtvisible, that SEO was something totally unfamiliar and of the unknown.

The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: I’ve got a job doing SEO for a digital marketing company!

Parent translations…

Mum:  I am the CEO for a digital marketing company.

Dad: SEO usually stands for Senior Executive Officer.

Obviously I’m neither; that’s Richard.


From discussing this with fellow SEO-ers, it seems that the done thing is to tell your parents that you “work in marketing”, or as a colleague of mine does, tells people that he designs biscuits. Whilst I don’t doubt that Pete could design a fine biscuit, he is actually our Chief Technology Officer at Builtvisible, and can design much more than a biscuit. However, this is a fine example of how to avoid technical and lengthy explanations which often lead to more questions and further muddle.

If you do tell them your job is actually in SEO, your parents have probably asked you umpteen times what exactly you do for a living because they do actually want to understand, apparently. According to LinkedIn, 59% of parents want to know more about what their child does for work, with 50% of parents believing they could be of benefit to their child if they had a better understand of their career…

Whilst I thought this misunderstanding was mainly down to a generation difference in perhaps, search exposure, I’m quite wrong – considering that 25-34 year olds use the internet more than any other age group, it’s surprising how many people within these age brackets use search engines daily, but don’t know how they work. Working in digital marketing, I think it’s easy to assume that it’s common knowledge.

Either way, if you overhear your parents telling their friends that you work at Google, or that they think you are a CEO, it might be worth explaining your job fully, once and for all.

That stands for bewildered friends too – let’s help them out.

As you can see below, there has been a huge increase in Google searches for the query “what is SEO”, indicating that people really don’t know and are trying to get their head around it.

Google Trends

Let’s prepare for the questions you may be asked:

Some parent questions, with parent-friendly answers:

I don’t understand, what exactly is S.E.O?

Search Engine Optimisation is making sure a website can be found when you are searching, let’s assume Google, for words or phrases to find something you are looking for. Imagine the big people at Google get to choose who is top of the search results based on a kind of quality control.

Why do they need to be number one?

Because you usually click the first result on Google… It’s important for a website to be on the first results page because:


How does Google choose who’s number one?

Firstly, Google will send a search engine ‘spider’ to ‘crawl’ (or have a good look at) your website; it will make a note of all your websites pages and content and add them to an index or database. It will also make a note of all the links that you have on your website, internally (from page to page) and externally (to and from other websites), thus creating a ‘web’ and making sense of your website for future reference.

This is how Google understands websites before they will show in a search results page.

The search engine process SIMPLIFIED:

  • You type a search query into Google
  • Google search their index/database for pages that match the query
  • They pick out the pages that are most relevant to the query


How do they determine which websites are most relevant?

According to Google, relevancy is determined by over 200 factors…

One of those is a measure called PageRank – it determines the importance of a page based on incoming links from other websites to your page. Each link from an external site to your site passes value to your PageRank, and with value comes authority.

However, not all links are equal – a few links from websites with high authoritative value (such as The Independent) are much better than lots of links with low authoritative value. The better your PageRank, the more authoritative your website becomes, increasing the likelihood of a higher position on a Google search results page.

On the other hand, if you have lots of low authority, spammy links pointing to your website, the big people at Google will punish you; either you will drop past that first page of Google’s results, or even potentially be removed from Google search results pages. This is very BAD.

No Google results page = no traffic = no money = unhappy client

This is Google doing its quality control. Imagine it’s like a fancy party and you’ve taken with you some cheap alcopops and a bottle of White Lightning, whilst others bring bottles of Cristal and Dom Perignon. Assuming that the host has outgrown puberty/is rather shallow and a little ungrateful/has a taste for the finer things in life, those bringing the champagne will be the populars at the party, and you get to hang with the noobs. Or if the worst comes to worst, you may get asked to leave.

Google do this to make a better and more effective search experience for their users. When you search, you want to find the most relevant pages – the best results get favoured (in higher ranking), and the less relevant ones get shunned.

So what do you do in all this?

To help our clients achieve top rankings in search results, we optimise both on page and off page.

On Page:

Exactly as it sounds. We optimise the individual pages of the website, making it easier for search engines to understand them and check them against its quality control criteria.

For example, we optimise the structure of the website so that we present the important information effectively to both the user and the search engine. Also, we determine which keywords we would be able to rank high on Google for and which keywords are going to bring in the most conversions (taking into consideration our competitors). These are then used throughout the site.

Off Page:

Exactly as it sounds. We build the popularity of our client’s website to improve its chances of ranking at the top of search results pages. This is where, amongst other things, we try and increase our PageRank value by gaining links from other good quality sites back to our own.

We do this by creating useful, unique and client relevant content, either in the form of articles, infographics or interactive pieces – a bit like PR. It has to be something that people want to publish, people want to read and that gains exposure to the brand as well as gaining a link back to their website. Good quality links back to the client’s site are a signal to Google of authority and quality, and make your site more relevant to the search query, helping you closer to that number one spot.


Other Important People

Hopefully that’s friends and family up to speed, but what impact does this misunderstanding of SEO have on our clients?

In the Moz 2014 industry survey, they found that overall budgets for marketing tools are on the rise.

In 2012, one third of respondents reported monthly budgets of $500 or more. A year later, this rose to 54% spending over $500. It could be fair to assume that many business owners (like your parents, and your friends) also don’t fully understand what SEO is, but willingly outsource it as a business necessity (they were once told).

However, if the man with the money doesn’t understand the services, how can they justify their spending and understand the ongoing value of SEO? Not understanding the benefits or the ROI’s could lead to confusion, mistrust and potentially long-term harm from short term gains.

So help them out too – if the client understands exactly what you’re doing, you’re onto a winner. They will feel more at ease, and will be more inclined to continue using your services.


  1. What a great blog ( even if I am a little bit biased as she is my daughter ) it really explained a few things to me about how Google works and why I get the results I do when I search .Plus I now have an inkling of what she does for a living :)

  2. Thanks very much! The blog’s really important to us and Robyn (with the rest of her team in London and San Francisco) has done a terrific job looking after it so far. You should be very proud!

  3. This is fantastic! Thanks! Sometimes explaining this to my family and friends ends up in a lengthy, confused discussion. I may just direct people here in future ;)

  4. Problem #1 in SEO : How to explain your job to your parents/ friends. Next time they ask me, I will automatically lead them here. Thanks for posting this! It really helps me. :)

  5. For simplicity i just say ‘I help people get to the top on Google’ people understand what this means.

    My brother in law seems to think I work for Google.

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