Perfectionism in SEO: A route to self-destruction

At the start of my SEO career, I wanted to do many things perfectly. I wanted to be that person who:

  • Was in the office from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. 
  • Went through the day super energized, motivated, tenacious and with a huge drive from their daily successes. 
  • Highly impressed her bosses and teammates.
  • Was constantly promoted.
  • Delivered great work under ridiculously tight deadlines yet still managed never to miss appointments, conferences, talks and presentations, and dinners with friends.

I did try. But soon after, I suffered severe burnout – and I wasn’t even 30! 

I’m not alone in this experience. Perfectionism is a pervasive challenge across many industries.

Out of 464 SEO professionals, 30.2% consider themselves to be perfectionists, according to a Twitter poll I recently ran.

Perfectionist expectations can hold us back in our careers. Thirty percent of employees are considering leaving their workplace because of it, based on The Hardin Group research.

This article will uncover why we need to talk about perfectionism and how SEO professionals can overcome unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies.

Perfectionism in the workplace

Regardless of industry, young professionals tend to admire people who seem to have a “perfect” lifestyle and put them on a pedestal. We see them as the epitome of success and grant them the illustrious and glamourized title of “perfectionist.” 

The thought of finding issues on these characters to make them more relatable to our deprecated lives might just seem deeply ungracious.

We ask ourselves, “In this unstable and unenthusiastic world, what is the point of complaining about an overzealous pursuit of perfection? Besides, all I want is to be inspirational, right?” 

What could possibly be so flawed about striving for perfection in what for our internal demons is a mundane SEO task?

I’m not criticizing the efforts of those who aim to be perfectionists. In the SEO community, we are in the fortunate position of being the recipients of their amazing work. 

The concern here is the untold – and therefore unknown – effects of perfectionism on our souls and mental health.

The roots of perfectionism

Twitter reply by Joseph Mclean.

It is within our human nature to find attractive and glamorous what seems unreachable and, in some cases, unavailable.

In order to value something, it has to cost us.

What is free and accessible tends to be neglected and considered cheap (even if we know it is something of great quality or the best we can have). 

Perfectionism does not come from the love of seeing things always neat and making no errors. Its origins are far darker.

It is triggered by recollections of disapproval and emotional neglect by our parents or maternal/paternal figures we grew up with. 

Emotional neglect leads us to develop self-comparison, idealization, toxic competitiveness and the ability to learn to know ourselves on the inside and accept everyone else just for their highly edited outside.

Perfectionism did not happen as soon as we started working in SEO. 

Perhaps, it has always been within us and manifested dramatically at the start of our careers.

Why do we become perfectionists?

“For a perfectionist, the drive to an impossible, sky high standards and goals can only be an eternal self-defeat, leading to loneliness and depression.”

The Perfectionist Script for Self Defeat, David D. Burns, Psychology Today

Twitter reply by Edd Dawson.

We evolve into perfectionists when we try to beat an image we have built about ourselves:

Unworthy, a nuisance, someone who fails to meet expectations, ugly, someone once being told by a parent or figure of authority “you could do better.”

The inner feeling of inadequacy becomes so strong and appalling in our minds that we are ready to do whatever it takes to be validated and be a lot more than good enough.

Good enough? That is mediocre.

A perfectionist wants to “be the best” at everything in every angle of their life.

“Love me, like me, accept me, follow me” are subconsciously manifested daily in their actions.

The fact is that a perfectionist is not interested in producing flawless work. Rather, they only attempt to escape the belief that they are horrible individuals.

Work and social media are merely how they seek to become more acceptable in our eyes.

However, as the underlying issue of being a perfectionist didn’t start with work, then it cannot be the solution.

A perfectionist’s true motivation is not to achieve career success, but to feel like a worthwhile human being. 

Being accepted, valued and praised is not our employers’ or the SEO community’s responsibility. 

Once having given the best of our work with our perfectionism, the community will expect more, simply because people enjoy great content (this is only natural, with no sinister intent).

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Twitter reply from Ryan Jones.

Here are four tips to help overcome perfectionism.

1. Healthy channeling

We must identify what drives or triggers us to be perfect – and then try to channel that healthily.

It is equally significant to change the mindset that makes us work intensely under the impression that we are unworthy human beings if we don’t do so. 

Working harder is neither the answer nor the cure when we feel worthless or dreadful.

It’s important to be kind to ourselves and understand that we’re worthy of being accepted. It is never our fault if, for whatever reason, we are not. 

2. Self-compassion

Open a picture of yourself as a child. Look into that little face and ask: “Is it too much to ask to believe in yourself every time you send a report, apply for a job, or send a pitch to speak at a conference?” 

What would your answer be?

Working well and being ambitious are admirable goals. However, it becomes a sign of mental turmoil when it’s used to hide a desire to make up for lack of early affection.

3. Rest and self-awareness

We should book the calendar periods to do nothing but be with ourselves. 

This is a way to be kind to ourselves and allow all those feelings of anger to come out, acknowledge them, let them be and move on. 

4. Forgiveness and letting go

Remember that in most cases, those who emotionally neglected us as children don’t mean they didn’t love us. Maybe they didn’t know how to say it. 

Those who, in the name of “wanting the best for us,” made us always feel inadequate were probably living their lives through us and may have genuinely wanted the best for us. 

Twitter reply from Daniel K Cheung.

It is essential to learn to develop self-awareness, take responsibility, and let go.

The moment we start working on letting go, we start healing. 

When we start healing, we start caring more about ourselves and less about impressing or pleasing others. In ghastly words, when we heal, we master the art of not giving a f*ck.

Twitter reply from Selena Vidya.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Maria Amelie White works as Head of SEO at Kurt Geiger a luxury British retailer with concessions in luxury stores such as Harrods and Selfridges in the UK.
Maria is an MSc in Psychological Research from the University of Oxford and has worked in SEO for over 12 years, specializing in Technical SEO, International SEO, Local SEO and Digital PR.

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