Being a Big Voice in SEO

How do you get to be a big voice in SEO (define)? A series of blog posts offer advice, which I’ll recap below. I’ll also offer my thoughts on the topic.

Some Blogs’ Advice

5 Tips to Make it in the SEO Community” from Andy Hagans at Search Engine Journal puts it down to sucking up to the right people, getting a good niche, publishing, blogging, and befriending rivals (i.e., saying you love something even if you don’t). All this guarantees you get a speaking slot at one of our Search Engine Strategies (SES) shows within 20 years. OK, he’s sort of joking.

Andy’s advice prompted Todd Malicoat over at Stuntdubl to do “SEO Community Advice from Andy Hagans – 2nd Generation SEO.” It’s basically a thank-you to the first-generation search optimizers who gave the second generation a start.

Rand Fishkin gets in on the act with “SEO A-Listers & B-Listers.” He discusses how to move yourself onto a list: have a sense of humor, be self-depreciating, even-tempered, friendly, and thoughtful.

OK, so Rand puts me on his A-List, plus I’m entering my 10th year of actively writing about SEO. So I’ll chime in with some of my thoughts.

The Generations

I think we’re into a third, if not fourth, SEO generation. I place myself in the first. When I first began covering SEO and search in 1996, there weren’t many others. WebMaster T was out there, I think John Heard did stuff for Planet Ocean, Northern Web had a now-defunct set of search engine tips, and maybe Fredrick Marckini had his e-book going then.

Not long after, maybe 1997, we had the I-Search mailing list. Detlev Johnson certainly made a name for himself moderating it, as did Marshall Simmonds. Shari Thurow was a regular participant who grew through that. Cat Seda, too. I think both Jill Whalen and Heather Lloyd-Martin were also active, but kicking off their RankWrite newsletter helped grow their stature. And Chris Sherman in his pre-Search Engine Watch (SEW) days was plugging away at the Mining Co/

I’d lump all these people into the first generation. The second generation probably came about with the emergence of search engine forums, such as JimWorld and WebmasterWorld, around 1998-2000. Many active forum members were developing names for themselves based on the quality of their advice.

Brett Tabke, the founder of WebmasterWorld and a long-time search optimizer, is a great example. His voice came out as his forums grew. Moderators such as Greg Boser or Todd “Oilman” Friesen are just two of many.

Note some second-generation people may actually have done SEO in 1995 or 1996. They may have been first-generation optimizers, but they were second-generation SEO commentators or educators. Forums made it easier for anyone to publish.

But that wasn’t the only way how people got going. Mike Grehan jumped in around then and grew his rep through his e-book and newsletter. Andrew Goodman did Traffick and his e-book on Google AdWords.

The third generation sprang from blogging. Like forums, blogs made it easier still for people to share, comment, and get noticed in the process. Andy Beal’s a good example. He started blogging early. Earlier, he really wasn’t regarded as a search commentator.

Barry Schwartz is another good example, as is Philipp Lenssen. John Battelle, while not really an SEO commentator, developed his reputation in search by blogging about search issues, not through his book which only published recently year.

The Many SEO Communities

It’s also important to remember if we do have A lists, B lists, and so on, no one will ever really agree on them.

Some people at WebmasterWorld look up only to those in that community. Pick another forum and you’ll find the same. An “A lister” wading in won’t necessarily carry the A-list reputation earned elsewhere. She’ll either earn it anew, or gain it because some in the new community will talk her up to others.

Beyond this, there are people who have never visited a search forum at all, yet are successful search marketers. Life doesn’t revolve around forums. You’ve also got people who haven’t attended to a single search conference or read a particular blog, newsletter, or whatever.

Overall, there are a variety of SEO communities and leaders within each.

My Advice

My advice on getting noticed as an SEO commentator? Share. Share interesting, unique things especially. Share however you like: on forums, in newsletters, and especially in blogs. Surfing that wave remains very effective.

Suck up, as Andy says? I’m sure that helps in some quarters. But it’s not a foundation for success. I’d say reach out instead. If you’re doing interesting things, don’t think it they’ll naturally be discovered. Reach out with some of your best stuff to those who read. Give a heads up.

Get a niche? Great advice. If you get a niche and write about it, stick with it. Too many blogs over the past year promised to do good niche search coverage and stumbled. You get one or two chances to make an impression. Make it a good and enduring one.

As for befriending rivals, I completely believe in that. I could run a site on which I never link to anything but Search Engine Watch and ClickZ material. A better site is inclusive. It points people to the best stuff, wherever it is. Being a good guide in pointing is as important as being a good guide in doing your own content. Only a fool believes he knows it all.

Bad advice is scratching someone’s back for something that undeserving, and figuring “dumb readers” won’t know it. I think, or at least hope, many readers see through that type of stuff. Those types of patterns are glaringly obvious to me. When I see it happening, my respect for those doing it begins to drop.

Meet Danny at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.

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