Imposter Syndrome in the SEO industry and how this impacts client relationships
Imposter Syndrome is undoubtedly rife in the SEO industry and general wider digital marketing space. But why do so many of us feel like imposters? We’ll explore why so many of us feel like frauds and how this can impact our client relationships.
What is imposter syndrome?
Before we dive into industry specifics, it’s important we fully understand what imposter syndrome (IS) is and how it manifests itself in our day to day lives.
The ‘Imposter Phenomenon’ was first identified in the 1970s by two female scientists, Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, who originally spotted the behaviours in high-achieving women. They outlined in their research paper that women would often feel a sense of ‘intellectual phoniness’ and that they are “really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise”, despite a long list of proven accomplishments.
Fast forward to the 21st century and we know more about IS than ever before. Perhaps most importantly, psychologists have identified that it is not just women that can feel like an imposter; you can suffer from IS no matter your gender-identity, which is hugely important when we think about IS in our industry. VeryWellMind outlines that IS “can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise”.
In fact, studies have shown that up to 82% of us have suffered with imposter syndrome in our careers.
Imposter syndrome is the internal belief that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be and that you have ended up where you are through dumb-luck, rather than your achievements. Alongside this, there is often the paranoia that at any moment your peers or managers will realise you’re a fraud and think you shouldn’t be in the position you are currently in.
Typical IS thoughts and feelings tend to be very self deprecating and extremely unkind to one’s self. They exist to undermine achievements and explain away any perceived success.
Imposter syndrome personas
Scientists and psychologists have widely accepted and acknowledged that there are five different IS personas that typically present themselves in people who are suffering from imposter syndrome. It is important to note, however, that people can identify with multiple personas at once and it isn’t simply a one-size fits all approach.
- The expert never feels good enough despite being extremely knowledgeable. This person may feel like they are less experienced than their colleagues.
- The Perfectionist accepts nothing less than their absolute best no matter the impact on their mental health. They tend to set impossible standards for themselves.
- The natural genius struggles with perfectionism but also sets out to achieve lofty goals on their first try.
- The soloist has extreme difficulties asking others for help. They must prove their own worth through their productivity.
- The Superwoman / man may feel inadequate and continue to push themselves as hard as possible, regardless of the consequences on mental, physical and emotional health.
Why do so many of us suffer from imposter syndrome in the SEO industry?
- People are loud about their wins but quiet about their learnings, sharing really positive graphs and case studies on LinkedIn and Twitter but rarely showing plummeting data or a reduction in visibility. If we’re not seeing similar results, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy.
- There is pressure to be a thought-leader and being the first to spot a new trend or identify a new SEO tactic. IS thrives on competition and comparison in dog-eat-dog cultures and with so many people competing for the spotlight, it can easily become overwhelming and feel like you have nothing to contribute to the discussion.
- It is hard to stay up to date with industry news and trends. This one certainly doesn’t need much explanation, considering how our day-to-day jobs are mainly focused on algorithm updates rolled out by the big G. It is incredibly hard to keep up with industry news and discussions happening within the space. This is particularly overwhelming when starting out your career in SEO. It feels like there is a mountain of knowledge that you will never learn, continuing to see yourself as winging it through client calls and questions.
- Everyone has an opinion and they aren’t afraid to show it. If you finally do have the bravery to post something on twitter on LinkedIn, it is safe to assume that there will be a couple of people who disagree with your strategy. Implement something that is seeing great results? People may debate the effectiveness of it. Which, in the eyes of a less confident person, could be a sign that they should have kept their mouth shut.
- It is hard to know what works and what doesn’t when creating SEO strategies. In a sea full of information, news outlets and thought leaders it is really difficult to know what will work for your client and what won’t. There has to be a level of experimenting in an SEO strategy but knowing how to pick and choose the right deliverables is tough, and can lead to feelings of confusion and self-doubt.
How do these feelings of inadequacy manifest themselves in our client relationships?
Without a doubt, feeling like an imposter can have a direct impact on our client relationships, and the success of them. Below are a few examples of how IS behaviours can look in client relationships.
- We second guess the value we’re providing, often thinking that our clients would be better off without us or another account manager.
We doubt our recommendations and don’t push for implementations as hard as we should, often backing down when the client challenges the importance or predicted impact of the SEO changes.
- We stick with what we know works, often shying away from new ideas and reusing the same strategic points for multiple clients, despite the differences in the industries or site set-ups.
- We procrastinate and leave lots of work to the last minute.
- We work solo where possible, keeping our own to-do lists hidden from others and don’t willingly ask for help.
- We over-service and over-promise for our clients, leading to over-working.
- We keep quiet & out of the spotlight by not joining in on industry discussions and do not shout about our successes like others.
The above is not an exhaustive list and I am sure there are many other ways in which IS can impact our client relationships, but it is a good starting point when opening up the discussion of how the two are so deeply intertwined.
The close knitted relationship of the two is even more clear in the cycle outlined below. If you were to replace “imposter syndrome impacts work” with any of the previously listed behaviours the outcome would remain the same. We can clearly see that suffering from IS can result in a higher number of unhappy clients which would ultimately lead to client churn. This feeds back into our feelings of not being good enough as we now wholeheartedly blame ourselves for the loss of a client, making us feel even more like a fraud and we enter into a new client relationship with even less self worth and confidence in our own abilities.
Overcoming imposter syndrome
Of course, it is incredibly important that we address our own IS feelings in order to improve our client relationships, But beyond that, it is also important we learn how to value our own work and achievements because we deserve to be kind to ourselves.
To begin to address IS, it is important to differentiate between personal development and how to improve these feelings within the workplace.
Studies have suggested imposter syndrome can lead to a drop in job performance and job satisfaction while increasing burnout, so taking steps to change your feelings at work is hugely important to your overall career trajectory.
The most helpful thing I found when addressing my own imposter syndrome was breaking down big overarching themes into smaller, more realistic chunks. Rather than tackling ‘stop over-servicing’ I tried tracking my time honestly to benchmark progress. Crucially, rather than viewing it as an opportunity for my managers to identify where I was being unprofitable, I viewed it entirely as an opportunity to tackle it and prevent this continuing into the future.
To help track my tasks and actions, I found it really helpful to brainstorm ways in which I can tackle big ideas. I encourage you to do something similar!
When addressing your feelings at work, there are a few other steps that you can take to feel more confident in your 9-5:
- Shouting out the achievements of others when they are sincere and genuine might help you recognise the pure intent of praise you get for your work.
- Try to stop comparing your work to others. No two clients are the same, and so the work shouldn’t be either.
- Recognise we’re in a dog-eat-dog industry where these feelings are common. Fast-paced industries have a higher rate of IS so having these feelings is not a reflection of you.
- Remind yourself you’re good at what you do.
- Talk to HR! They’re there to help and you can work together to help address the feelings you, and perhaps the wider team, have.
Unfortunately, tackling these feelings personally is less of an actionable list and more of some suggestions on how to tackle IS. To put it simply, everyone is different so everyone will find something unique that works for them. Having said that, here are some things I found useful:
- Separate feelings from facts
- Find someone to talk to. A friend, a colleague or a therapist.
- Value your psychological safety. It is ok to switch off and to have an evening or weekend away from your day job. Try not checking your SEO social media account after 5pm, this is a crucial element in creating a healthy distance between you and your job.
- One of the first steps to overcoming imposter feelings is to acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective. Do you actually not know anything about the task or are you just telling yourself that?
- Be kind to yourself & show self-compassion.
The end result
Alongside the epic feeling of knowing you have embarked on a self-love and self-improvement journey to give yourself the recognition you deserve, there are also some huge benefits for our clients for combating your imposter syndrome.
If we have the confidence to push for website changes, or recognise the value we are giving to our clients for example, the end result will be happier clients who are seeing better results. Better results mean they are more likely to stay with you and your business. This extra confidence boost will feed into strategy planning for our clients, encouraging us to take risks and recommend new SEO ideas.
Of course, there will be clients who will leave for other reasons, budget for example being one of the most common. But working through your Imposter Syndrome feelings will mean you do not enter the next client relationship with the seed of self-doubt in the back of your mind.