I’m an SEO Faker

ShockedBefore you all start writing blog posts titled “Shock revelation of new SEO Chick” please let me explain.

When I first started out in SEO, I remember looking at the blogs, the SEOmoz comments & the Sphinn submissions, thinking that I wanted to be just like the people I was seeing writing there. They were doing amazing things, achieving great results, and working on exciting client projects that required huge investment and brought in massive returns. These people had relationships with the heads of marketing for huge companies, and wielded their power and influence to do good.

At the time I was an almost SEO, I was a sales person, an account manager first and foremost. Learning about SEO as I went along, learning from the great people I worked with and the sites I was working on. These were small businesses in the most part, or rather businesses with a small web presence and even smaller marketing budgets. The search terms were niche, but effective and the strategy was simply to get them found, it was all they could afford, and in most instances it was all they needed.

I can still remember reading Webmaster world and being bamboozled, It was a long time before I dared start posting, and when I did it was cautiously, and never challenging. After all these were people who knew far more then I ever would, who was I to challenge them.

After a couple of years learning the ropes, I decided I wanted to tackle something bigger, so I went in house. Suddenly I was working on huge accounts, with massive marketing budgets. I was telling the heads of online marketing for FTSE100 companies how to implement online strategies. I didn’t feel like I was a real SEO though. I still wasn’t doing the amazing campaigns that the bloggers were doing. I wasn’t doing mega projects, generating millions of viral views, or creating social media campaigns that would be talked about on blogs from here to eternity.

After a while I gained a little confidence & started participating on SEOmoz, talking to some of the people I had been reading for years.

This was where something strange happened to me. Slowly, once people started to recognise my name, they started talking back. Not like they were talking to someone inferior, or less capable, they were talking to me like an equal, like someone whose opinion should be taken into consideration and given weight. I took a chance and wrote my first SEOmoz post, I remember shaking while I hit the submit button. After all I wasn’t a real SEO like the other people on SEOmoz and Sphinn. I was a faker, just someone who was working, doing a job.

I can’t say that first post was given popular acclaim, but it was published, and seemed to go down well. and something very slowly started to dawn on me; Everything is a matter of perspective. From my perspective the people blogging and commenting, and more recently tweeting, were spending all day every day working on these amazing strategies. It seemed like they were able to take on a new client and immediately get everything on the website fixed, and move onto the “real” SEO and social media campaigns. It took me a long time to realise that they had just the same issues, frustrations and challenges as I did, they were doing the same work I was doing. The only thing they did that I didn’t was look at it differently.

552368895_513b5af425I realised then that even rubbish, viewed in the right light from the right perspective can look exciting and innovative. Most of what I was seeing was not great work it was a great perspective. Now I’m not trying to say that the SEO greats are just blagging it, far from it. You will never become an SEO “guru” if you don’t genuinely know your subject matter in side and out. It’s also helpful to get genuine results for your clients, and be willing to share the hard earned information you have with the wider community.

Truth be told, tenacity, a thick skin and a stubborn streak a mile wide will help too, not to mention the ability to drink like a fish until the sun comes up. What I am saying though, is that anyone can become a recognisable name, and maybe even an industry star, if you’re willing to try.

There is no one way to become known in a community (and this applies to any community) but, since realising that all the people I really admire are just people, I have looked more closely at what they do and how they do it, and i have realised that there are a few things they all do when they enter a new community;

  1. Watch and learn – I have to emphasise this point. Every community, online and off, has a different culture and if you mis-judge it, it could leave you with a reputation that’s hard to shake. Walk into a room full of master woodworkers and tell them they’re using the wrong drill bit and the won’t tell you when the next meeting is. Log into an SEO site and ask for links and you’ll be blocked quicker then you can say captcha. Watch and learn for a little while first
  2. Be conversational – for the love of Google, talk to people. I really can’t stress this enough, ask questions, respond back when someone talks to you. You’re the new kid on the block, you can’t afford to be “me me me” like other people might, you need to be the nice one, the likable one, you need to make the effort.
  3. Don’t differentiate – the people you see as being awesome cool, are still just regular people, and they really don’t think of themselves the way you think of them. In fact they may be just as keen to talk to you as you are to them. (it’s not an SEO story, but I was once emailed by one of the biggest names in the rat fancy (hmm a sub bracket, I’m sure the grammar police will tell me off for this one, but just wanted to say, yes you read that right, there is such a thing as a rat fancy, and it does have it’s own superstars), saying how sorry she was to have missed me at a show. I nearly fell of my chair, as I didn’t even think she knew my name. suddenly she wasn’t so scary and unapproachable any more). So don’t stop yourself just because of who they are, if you have something interesting to say they’ll be happy to hear from you.
  4. Don’t expect instant resultsSEO Rockstar Rishil was telling us on twitter the other day how he started out on SEOmoz in mid 2007, it’s taken him less than  30 months to become one of the most recognisable names in SEO. However, we’re not all that awesome, so be prepared to rise slowly, just like a good SERP.
  5. Get noticed - Speaking of Rishil, there is one thing that springs to most people’s minds when you think that name. Risrishilhil certainly made sure he was noticed, with the sexiest avatar in the business. Making yourself recognisable from one site to the next will help people maintain their connection with you. It also makes people think you are around more then you are, as they remember you every time they see you.

Since realising how everyone is just as normal as me I have enjoyed what I do more and more, and been more and more vocal about it. Without this realisation, I would never have had the confidence to enter the SEO Chicks competition in the first place (in fact I shook sending the entry email to Lisa just the same as I did when I submitted that first post to SEOmoz)

So I hope you’ll all excuse the self indulgent first post, but I wanted to show anyone reading who wants to increase their exposure within the SEO community, or any community for matter, that it’s not about having the right job or the right clients, it’s just about having the right attitude.

Photo Credits:
Shock-ed, photo by CarbonNYC
Dirty White trash (with Gulls) artwork by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, HE/SHE, 2003, Photo by Pashasha

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30 Responses to “I’m an SEO Faker”

  1. Really good post Sarah, and not at all self-indulgent. In fact I think you have been very altruistic in sharing your earlier trepidation so openly as it is something so many people can identify with (me incuded 100%).

    I think your ‘watch and learn’ point is the single most important, for anyone entering any industry or community. Everyone makes a mistake from time to time; however if we have some history and established relationship with peers the end result is a right old larf, rather than a discredit.

  2. Aww Rishi <3 to you too :D You were one of the first people I remember meeting.

    @Nichola us talking about our performance anxiety about our first real SEO chicks posts was one of the things that inspired the post.

  3. Dean says:

    Great first post Sarah, now all of those tweets last week make sense :)

  4. Fantastic first official SEO Chicks post. It so rocks that you shared this with everyone. I think it’ll give a lot of people a lot more hope and confidence. We all had to start somewhere.

  5. Tom says:

    Excellent post. I read a lot, and write a little, I do aggregate a lot of stuff from my favorite blogs into my own site so that my own clients can come to my site and read stuff from folks like you and become better educated about SEO at the same time. There’s an old rule from the earliest days of data processing, that the relationship between the programmer and the machine becomes predictable, so that a programmer could build on what he learned, that the programmer got better and better, building upon predictable, reliable results from the code into the machine. Unfortunately, SEO works counter to this, because a good programmer or web technologist has to crash on the rocks of unreliable, unpredictable results built into the SEO casino. This constant process of having to game the system, to learn which hacks, tricks and BS that one has to do to figure out what Google and others are hiding from those who truly want to achieve predictable, reliable results is exhausting. So, your trepidations about posting, the feeling of not knowing, the idea that an intelligent person “following the rules” will fail at the SEO casino without a long time in the game – believe me we all find it just as frustrating. Remember, the house always wins, so until the playing field is level, and one can build upon predictable, reliable results, and that the casino doesn’t keep changing the rules, we will all feel ignorant from time to time that what should be working isn’t, that somehow the game is not fair.

  6. Julie Joyce says:

    Excellent first post!!! You and Nichola should not be apprehensive!! Damn, I am now after reading how good the two of you are. Damn it. I have to work harder now.

    Regarding the bits about how people can get into the industry and, well, participate…you’re dead on that it CAN be done. There have been so many posts written where people whine that they aren’t taken seriously as newbies, they’re not in the right clique, etc. I think it’s all a load of crap for the most part. If you’re willing to try, people in this industry are going to respond to you.

  7. Peter Young says:

    Great first post Sarah and one which certainly seems to have a personal tone to it.

    Thought your points relating back to interfacing with the community were very good. Just because you are online relaly doesnt mean you should have to lose all those personal skills you have used in your day to day life. You wouldn’t go barging in to an offline conversation (and if you do chances are you may get blanked – as you would do online), and that applies across many of the other points you raised.

    PS. Keep up the good work

  8. Ruud Hein says:

    That’s one sweet (as in: good) blog post. And very, very true. I love how you’ve put this into words. I literally couldn’t have done it better.

  9. @Julie I think one of the reasons people complain about not being in the right clique is because they fail to realise (and this relates to @petes comment) that they have to think about it in offline terms, if these people won’t be your friend online, it’s probably because they wouldn’t have been your friend off line either. For whatever reason some people just don’t click.

    People do forget that people are still people when they go online, they still behave just as they would in any other situation.

  10. Cher says:

    I like it! Another fresh outlook from the SEOChickies!

  11. Lisa Myers says:

    Really good blogpost Sarah, well done :) I think one of the hardest things to do as a blogger is write from a personal perspective, but your blogpost is very much personable and identifiable (hmm that might not be a word, heck I’m foreign I can make up words).

    When I first started blogging I found it quite easy to be myself actually and had no problem saying what I thought, ehm ok so I still say what I think, but I find it harder to be personable now when I write as I have seen so much personal attack in the industry I’m kind of holding my breath waiting for it to happen to me. Which is really sad. Julie had some crazy women last year slagging her off everywhere, for no apparent reason. It can be a mean crazy online world out there. BUT one of the reasons I wanted SEO-Chicks to have a re-design and new bloggers was to start again, to get back that frank, straight to the point blogging, the personality back – and both yourself and Nichola have certainly revived us. I sure am ready to get that Viking hat back on and start talking from the heart again.

    “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”
    -Harvey Fierstein

    (I know, slightly cheesy but I really like that quote. In other words; fuck em, let’s blog!)

  12. Fuck ‘em, let’s blog! MUST go on the back of the t-shirts!

  13. Sarah, I love this.

    I think that the truth is that all of us are just trying to find our way… well, I am anyway :)

    Nice work lady, look forward to reading more from you.

  14. randfish says:

    I’m so glad you hit submit :-)

  15. [...] I’m an SEO Faker, SEO Chicks [...]

  16. As if to prove I haven’t really learnt my lesson, the words “Cool Rand Fishkin just commented on my blog post” just left my mouth!

  17. Brilliant Post and most definitely worth a mention. I think you have also now ackuired your first South African follower… Well I think I’m the first.

  18. DBlizzard says:

    Just got kicked out of 2 communities because I thought #2 read “be confrontational”. #3 says don’t differentiate so I went after everyone. I really need glasses. Thanks for sharing and pretending the rest of us really have a chance :)

  19. Nancy E. Wigal says:

    Great post! I’m just starting to do SEO full time, and you’ve hit on all of my concerns. I like the analogy of rising slowly to the top, much like SERPs.


  20. Rick Ramos says:

    This is a fantastic post. As a SEO newbie, I love running into advice and encouragement for those of us who are still trying to cut our teeth. SEO has a great, supportive community. I’m learning that more every day. I couldn’t be happier about the industry I have fallen into. :)

  21. It’s all about the right attitude :)

  22. Hyder says:

    Wow! Gr8 post Sarah.

    Well you hit the nail on my head. I was also like you..just reading and reading but not taking initiative to write down something good or something which people can appreciate.

    You know it hurts when someone deflate you..but we should take it as a positive reply and correct it on our own.

    I know it will take time to be famous in SEO world but its not impossible. Making some impact is always possible if we had those guts and confidence.

    Please write some more post like this.

  23. Keith says:

    Excellent stuff.

    I suffer from ‘Small fry’ syndrome too (no, not that type of small fry!) in that we are still a baby SEO company, and I’m still new to the industry, but it’s nice to get some inspiration from respected SEO professionals. It seems hard to fit everything in – I’ve not blogged for weeks due to a high workload (woohoo, proper work with clients!!!), and lots of studying, but I think a bit of time management is in order to enable me to get back into the swing of Blogging, Social Media etc.

    Apologies for poor grammar in that last paragraph, but I wrote it too quickly!

  24. Clarkson says:

    Well, 99% of blog posts are shit, and the comments usually degenerating to the to the same point where people are bitching about who’s better, MS, Apple, or Linux.

    Welcome to the 1% ! You have no idea how nice it is to read something thoughtful and insightful, that’s not a fucking top 10 list or similar crap. Sorry, I swear when I’m cranky :(

  25. Josh says:

    Excellent post. I’m glad to hear its not just me.

    As an in-house SEO with some decent rankings under my belt, I’m the SEO rockstar in my company, but I still go through the shakes when I write comments (like this one). Part of me worries that I only know enough to deal with the sites/products/niches I know.

    Outside of my “job,” the project budgets and aspirations have all been drastically smaller in scale…not big enough to attempt competitive keywords and give me the ego-trip I need to feel worthy of having my blog articles posted anywhere.

    Congrats on overcoming your fear! Keep the posts coming.

  26. Clare Brace says:

    Excellent post, and I am glad to see that your initial entrance into the world SEO is very similar to my own!

  27. andy says:

    Can only concur with everyone here – great post. Ive been there, done that, still there with everything you talk about.

  28. ady berry says:

    ‘Small fry’ syndrome is not really something you should emphasise or dwell on. It doesn’t really matter where you rank against the competition – what’s far more important is that you can show an increased ROI for your efforts.

    You may never be able to compete on a level playing field with major competitors but you may improve your ROI and carve a successful commercial niche for your business / client.

    Great post by the way and very true. I would say that the majority of real SEO guru’s are far too busy generating traffic to their money making sites to chat online in the forums…

  29. Sort of unrelated to the comments above…but those pictures made me howl with laughter. Loved them! Thanks for putting a smile on my face (and great article by the way).

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