My daily evening ritual while riding Amtrak’s Hiawatha Line to my new home, is to scan my Google Reader feeds and several newspapers. One article in the Chicago Tribune caught my eye: Ashton Kutcher is reported to be in talks to replace Charlie Sheen on the CBS show Two and a Half Men.

As I read the article (,0,7581453.story), I was mildly amused by the reporter’s comment that Kutcher’s 6.7 million Twitter followers will help the CBS show stay atop the ratings.

But what really got me was the last paragraph of the article which mentioned that Kutcher tweeted: “I’m starting to become convinced that people put my name in articles just to improve their SEO…”

This reminded me of that old investing adage, “if your cab driver is offering you investing advice, it may be time to get out of the market.”

By no means am I saying that search engine optimization (SEO) professionals should abandon the field. But this quick tweet made me realize that SEO has gone mainstream! Traditional marketers are scrambling to master it, while every business owner and entrepreneur looking to the web demand it — without fully understanding what SEO truly entails.

Just as the mainstreaming of stock investments swamped the market with day traders and lay investors, the SEO industry and search engine landscape will soon be flooded with digital marketers dreaming of that quick score and the riches that come with a #1 entry ranking on Google. The last four years, however, has shown us the type of disaster that can be wrought when a tidal wave of easy money, unrealistic expectations and unscrupulous players inundate the market.

At the end of the day, the majority of those undisciplined and ill-prepared players were swept away, as were some old mainstays who should have known better. Left standing amidst all the rubble were the Warren Buffets, investors who understood the value of building for the long-term.

As we see more clearly what’s about to hit the market, we so-called SEO experts and professionals must ask ourselves whether we want to be the Berkshire Hathaways or the Bear Stearns of our online marketing industry.