Every now and then I come across a daring marketing article title that just draws me in. Search Engine Journal’s “This 10 Year Old Girl Would Make a Better SEO Than You” recently did just that. The article opens with the tale of 10-year-old Zia, who despite being scared out of her gourd, is about to make her first ski jump. The author, Houston Barnett-Gearhart, compares Zia’s fear to those that often motivate search marketing decisions. If he wasn’t using a psychological study performed on children in the 1960s as the basis for his theory, I may be more willing to admit that I agree.

The gist of American psychologist John Atkinson’s study posited that in reward-based scenarios children can generally be broken down into two categories: those with a need for achievement and those who focus on their inevitable failure. In the world of SEO, the reward-based scenario often boils down to developing successful strategies that maximize ROI. The fear of inevitable failure changes from marketer to marketer, whether it is a good old case of FOG, or fear of Google, that motivates decision making or more mainstream fears of not being able to interpret or consolidate data effectively.

I know from having managed sites that get tens of millions of visits from search per month that fear is a good thing and serves as a reminder that SEO is as much about playing offense as it is playing defense. One of the basic rules of thumb for navigating through fear is to understand that we are inherently wired to make cognitive errors regardless of the actual decisions we make. We simply need to recognize what it is that we are afraid of and embrace it with this understanding in mind. The No. 1 thing search marketers should fear most is fear itself.

Leaders also need to recognize that what motivates employees most is not salary, but autonomy. Yet, in order for employees or search marketers to be more autonomous, they need to know that if they fail, they are safe. They also need to not be micromanaged, which really tends to reflect a leader’s fear that they are not involved enough. Once this fear-based dynamic is clearly understood by leaders and their direct reports, everyone is happier for it. And the results will show.

Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you believe a change may negatively impact search performance, turn to the data to seek answers. If fear prevents you from doing something, data is often the solution. Perhaps this is why I enjoy working at Adobe, a place where we have lots of data and loads of autonomy too.

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