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Create Your Own SEO Serendipity

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Sometimes you have to make your own luck. You don’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. You won’t win a marathon if you don’t get out of your chair.  And you don’t make friends if you don’t communicate with people. We’re wired to grab at opportunities that seem obvious, but we don’t typically pause for serendipitous moments.

SEO serendipityThe more SEO evolves, we find ourselves stretched thinner and thinner.  There’s a lot of noise – it grows faster than the tools we create to carve through.  Our focus is rarely pinpoint, while our attention span needs to be wider.  It can get scary and overwhelming.  It’s the fright that drives a bigger swarm of rabid land-grabbers to the same obvious relationships.  Whether you’re a link builder or in PR, you know you’re fighting in a mosh pit of like-minded peers after the same prize.

I love networking.  Not necessarily through the traditional kind of awkward meet and greet, name-tagged, stuffy network events.  I’ve always liked digital networking.  Since I can remember, semi-anonymous communications to people on Myspace, mIRC, chat rooms, Listservs, BBS, etc., was always more comfortable for me.  Like most of us, I used to hide behind usernames before truly branding myself.  I’m a social butterfly though only on the web.  You can imagine why I’m a Twitterholic.

I get many calls for consulting work.  If I were consulting full time I wouldn’t be hurting for clients. Many are from old co-workers, old client referrals, current client referrals, and friends I’ve made on Twitter or LinkedIn.  By being helpful, being generally kind, and not being afraid to give something away for free, I’ve seen returns.  I’ve created great friendships just by chance communications on Twitter.

A relationship that sits above the business deal is huge.  I know for a fact some major agency deals are made because of past relationships and current friendships (I’ve been in the room!!!). I’ve seen companies go through the whole RFP dog and pony show as part of procedure, when in actuality the vendor was already chosen based on prior relationships.  Keep and eye out for luck and you have this:  Serendipity > New Contacts > Nurture > Friendship > Opportunity.  You define friendship.

Twitter is amazing for this.  I respond to everyone who ever sends a note to me.  It’s not that hard because I don’t have a Rand or Danny following and schedule (now that would be difficult!). I’ve blogged about relationship nurturing on Twitter, and how the SEO industry should maintain the practice of supporting each other without labels/levels/titles or any other ego.  But I also think the same friendly quality should go to everyone you communicate with on Twitter and Linkedin (or any other digital network), including those outside your industry.  You’re creating more luck.

Example 1

Here’s a recent case where the serendipity could have worked for someone in our industry.  I was working lightly with a client who needed a specific function of SEO, something I just didn’t have the bandwidth to handle.  Concurrently, I followed an SEO who occassionaly tweets about this niche.  I sent him a few tweets to feel him out.  They weren’t, “hey – are you free to take this client?”  It was more of me trying to jump into the conversation where I thought I could add value, and just see what kind of warmth I would get.  I got no response, while I was looped out in the continuing conversation.

Another topic came up a few weeks later and I tried to add some color again with the same SEO. Still no response.  Eventually, since I was still thinking about him for this opportunity, I sent a public tweet directly to him asking him a question related to his niche.  Still no reply.

Takeaway: Perception Is Reality    

There was a chance for this SEO to strike up a conversation with me, to where I probably would have DM’d him with the opportunity.  For whatever reason, he didn’t take the chance of communicating, and I lost interest in him.  Later when I was pruning my “following” list, I apparently made a semi-conscious decision to cut him.  Now he’s completely off my radar.

I don’t know if he’s looking for work or not, but it’s still a missed opportunity.  And I have the perception of him as a “not so warm and fuzzy” guy because he didn’t get back to me.  True or not, perception is reality.  This is where some people say, “it was never meant to be.”  That statement drives me crazy.  Of course it’s not meant to be if you don’t nurture serendipity.

Example 2

I was looking for information on creating a firepit in my yard.  I thought a homemade firepit might be fun to build, so I hit Google.  I found an article on a website that I wouldn’t normally visit, but it was coincidently a niche my client serves in.  While reading the article (and enjoying the warm tone of the blogger), I decided to write her a note telling her I liked the article, asking a follow up question, and then giving a subtle link pitch.  We had about 3 emails back and forth before the link pitch was reintroduced.  Not only did I get a link, but I got a glowing review, completely unprompted.  I also found out she has some other sites I was interested in, and that she and I grew up in the same town.  I added her on LinkedIn, and sure enough, got a surprise SEO referral from her 2 weeks later.  All because I squeezed everything I could out of a firepit post.

Takeaway: Take Time To Learn What A Person Has To Offer

When you come up to someone’s front door with a vacuum cleaner in hand, you look like a vacuum cleaner salesman.  The door won’t open. Understandably serendipity isn’t scalable, but you’ll get things out of it that the other land-grabbers are probably not getting.  Once luck hits, I like to romance the connection.

Example 3

1n 1998 I started hanging out in a local record shop.  The owner wanted to take his music shop online (which back then mainly meant selling through eBay), so I offered to help him out for a couple bucks while I was in college.  One of our customers wanted a direct connection to get first dibs when new CDs came in.  I didn’t mind sending him emails when something I knew he liked came in (I could have blown him off).  I did this for years, and we started having great musical discussions through his prodigy email address.  It turned out he worked for Atlantic Records, and started getting me backstage passes to shows when they came through Philadelphia.  With all the access to rock stars, I got inspired to interview them and post it online.  Two years later I had an online music magazine, amazing experiences, and was introduced to search engine optimization. I wasn’t seeking any of this initially.

Takeaway: Good Will For All

My SEO career started by chance because I was a music fan, and was willing to look into an opportunity instead of sitting on my ass.  I took chances, tried things without worry that I wouldn’t like it, didn’t sit around thinking too hard about everything, and just positioned myself for opportunities.  By putting myself out there and doing favors, it paid off and led me down a path I’m incredibly thankful for.

Hopefully this gives you something to think about while we all do this SEO thing together.

Update: 9/25/2012 - Mackenzie Fogelson (who you should follow) let me know about 2 other recent posts on the topic I had missed.  Check them out one by Rand Fishkin and Jason Fried.

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    1. Allen MacCannell
      September 24, 2012

      I will often do a quick check for the same person on LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora (where they will be if they are really a pro), Google+ and Facebook. Then I will +1 and Like and Favorite or Retweet what I honestly like. I assume a pro will know that I looked at his or her LinkedIn profile so I won’t necessarily try to connect as a stranger (my having 1671 contacts there says I’m no coward, however). All this helps create serendipity often enough.

      Incidentally, over the summer I forgot the word serendipitously and twice tried finding it on Google by typing in almost-synonyms like coincidentally and fortuitously. No such luck. Nobody else considered the word I wanted to be even close to lucky, fortuitous, coincidental.

      Finally I was introduced to someone named Sarah and, wham, I remembered the word serendipity. =)


    2. Joel
      September 24, 2012

      Life is what you make it. It’s one of those cheesy, pseudo-inspirational quotes, but it’s 100% true. It blows my mind sometimes when I think about how small, seemingly minor actions have completely changed my life in this moment. I wouldn’t be in SEO if I hadn’t had met my friend Jon, who invited me to apply. I wouldn’t have met Jon if I didn’t switch my major to Entrepreneurship. I wouldn’t have known that major existed if I hadn’t had opted to “take business until I figure it out”, and I wouldn’t have had any draw to that major had I not arbitrarily decided to start a business putting on local shows with a friend. I would have had any interest in putting on local shows had I not been in a band myself, and I wouldn’t have been in a band myself had I not met the guys I wound up playing with when they offered to go skateboarding around the city when I was just 16 years old.

      The further back you trace the line, the more you realize that even the smallest decisions to be involved or to DO something can domino into a completely new set of outcomes.


    3. Tom Gregan
      September 24, 2012

      Loved this post. Ive had countless examples of the blind luck of nurturing serendipity, including discovering seo. In a time of “attracting links” over mechanically building them, nurturing relationships ought to be embraced wholeheartedly; regardless of apparent payout there and then


    4. Nick Ker
      September 24, 2012

      Funny how music leads some people to SEO or other inbound marketing. In my case, I have been in dozens of bands, some of which were moderately successful. The non-musical skills I picked up along the way like understanding the importance of name recognition/branding, always being on the lookout for promotion opportunities, and doing cool things for others like helping out of town bands when they come through, letting them crash on your floor, or spending your last $5 on a round of drinks for the other band on the bill at some out of town dive – all translate well into social networking and even link building.

      Had I worked in a record store, I would probably be all about content curation now.


    5. Jeremy McDonald
      September 27, 2012

      Hello Bill,
      I read the post by Rand a little awhile ago but agree with you both totally. Giving things away and doing favours is a great way to build relationships, which is essential in this industry. It was interesting hearing about how you got into SEO, especially when you piece together this with when you the Alessa Maydeyski “meet your SEO” article.

      But most interesting for me was to hear how much you use Linkedin, I didn’t realise people used it as so much of a resource? thought everyone just went off twitter…


    6. Jason
      October 19, 2012

      I really like this post Bill, especially the fire-pit example.

      It’s amazing to see the kind of opportunity the internet provides for expanding your personal network and you really never know what one random connection can end up providing you down the line.

      Also – one point that stuck out with me about that specific example was that it was relationship first, link second.

      This wasn’t a link building campaign or a planned pitch, it was a connection that turned into a mutually beneficial action.


    7. Thomas
      May 22, 2014

      Great post.
      I like the fact that you choose to emphasise the fact that you made friends through social networking. A lot of my friends don’t believe me when I go out with someone, either a great friend or a beautiful girl, and I tell them we’ve met through Twitter. But when you are open to it, great things can come from social networking.