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Own Your Role In SEO

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Driving in today took a while.  First snow in Philadelphia and the state hits the brakes – literally.  

It forced me to stop my world, momentarily.  I was thinking about this post I read last night; moreso, the comments.  Instead of being about strategies or tactics, the work we do, running a business, or managing clients, this post was a commentary on our industry.   

We’re a digitally grown industry (one of the first!) with our classroom in forum boards and blog posts.  We’re going to be a little sideways sometimes.  If you’re not completely engulfed, and can get a bird’s eye view, try it.  We’re kind of absurd sometimes.  But absurd is fun and educational.  I also consider myself quite lucky to be making money in this industry. 

smack some sense into meAs a collective, we spend plenty of time telling each other how we think this industry should be.  Every SEO convention in 2012 had the virtual banner of “change or die.”  A very popular, very bright SEO asked me after Mozcon, “this was fun, but I’m still successful bumping up rankings the way I’ve been doing it.”  It grounded the entire 3 day event and equalized the hype that had been somehow hypnotizing me.  It was a useful smack.    

Own It

I stand by my statement: SEO has a lot of definitions, all of them are right.  This industry is the United Nations, and always has been.  It’s pretty evident this will only grow.  And I don’t mean simply regarding your area of expertise in SEO, but your agenda as well.  

Maybe you have one, none, or many of these traits or experiences:

  • Humble beginner.
  • Conceited ego.
  • Want to be personalities or popular.
  • The love helping others.
  • Like to share.
  • A marketing background.
  • Like to be first.
  • Want to be linked to higher profile SEOs, network with the elite.
  • Black hat tendencies but claim to be white hats.
  • SAAS developers who sell tools to clean up their crappy links.
  • Comedian.
  • Writer who know very little about the technical side of SEO.
  • Obsessed with link building.
  • Just like to argue.
  • Algorithm chasing.
  • Desperately trying to find their voice.
  • Affiliate.
  • In-house marketers thinking about making the leap to consulting.

Maybe none of these apply, but you probably could come up with your own list.  What can we learn from you?

All We Need Is Value

Despite who you are and why you’re in this industry, what are you really giving us?  Why are you blogging?  Why are you presenting?  Why are you speaking out on Twitter?  

I’m a musician.  I’ve always had disdain for the artist who says, “we play what we like. If others like it, so be it.”  I don’t buy that for a second.  If public-facing musicians who say this were telling the truth, they’d never leave their garage.  They’d never want to be performers.  This is just something they say to sound profound (ahem, Pearl Jam).  

If we’re striving to be heard in this industry, we obviously want to be a performer (or, insert your word here) on some level.   I’m referring to the bloggers, the speakers, and anyone who uses any medium to be heard.  I’m not referring to people who have casual conversations on Twitter or blogs and forums.  

Think about what you’re adding.  Think about your words that are being immortalized.  Even if you’re wrong (everyone from SEOmoz to Search Engine Land has been scrutinized for some comments that simply didn’t wind up making sense), at least you’re driving at value.  Putting something out there allows for our own form of socratic method, and leads to a more centralized answer. 

Get Out Of The Echo Chamber

It’s distracting.

To repurpose a comment I left on Jon’s post (this post is really an expansion on that comment anyway):

Size doesn’t always matter. Posts and articles are like music compositions. The memorable songs uniquely mix themes, ornamentals, and emotions.

So here we’re talking about our industry; for our clients maybe there is value in a long-tail targeted rehash if you already have the presence of mind. It’s possible (again, no rules to a composition). But in the deeply psychological world of marketing (for those SEOs who consider it marketing, it’s not all of us), thought pieces are really valuable. A certain kind of composition proves to leave more behind.

It’s a problem where some of us crank out posts. It’s a problem where we curate things that are rehashed because a bigger SEOs name is on it (something has gotten better with) or because the headline was sexy. It’s also disrespectful of our time. I don’t have the time to read all day so I focus on those I trust. How many articles have you bailed out of already today? I’d like to learn from other unique viewpoints and experiences, so for our industry, considering Jon’s advice going forward would be a great thing for many like-minded writers/SEO/marketers.

Want To Help The Industry?  

Before you publish, audit yourself and think about how you can “optimize” your contributions.  You may have a point of view, but do you have any value?  Or did someone say it better – curate that. Wait for your moment to share something that really matters.  

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    1. Joel
      November 27, 2012

      Perhaps we’re all better off living in our skin and not trying to be the next Danny Sullivan, Wil Reynolds or Rand Fishkin. For me, my role is pretty cut and dry. I entertain. I question. I make a fool of myself asking some things that should seem obvious to veterans of the industry. I get cynical. I offer up the “yeah, but.”

      And a lot of the time I question that role because I feel like I’m annoying people – like people will get sick of my cynicism or get tired at my sometimes poor attempts at humour.

      But every time I vocalize this, the feedback is always “keep doing what you do. We need this, in its own way”.

      Well thought out, Bill.


      • Iain
        November 28, 2012


        I’ll admit there are times I read things you tweet and think “what a dick”, but I always smile straight after because I know your intentions are benign at worst and the way you approach things is actually pretty endearing.

        I think the things that are important in our day-to-day interactions with people we meet are the same things that are important in this business. Be yourself, but more than that be the best you that you can be; be genuine and honest; and be generous.

        Like I’ve said elsewhere this week, it doesn’t take much to kill the enthusiasm of a nascent blogger and even indirect criticism can do it. We might want to see more of a particular type of writing, but complaining about it isn’t addressing the problem.

        Therefore, I applaud Bill’s position and endorse it wholeheartedly. We should be the best we can be and encourage others to follow our example. It might just work.


        • Joel
          November 28, 2012

          It’s good to know that at very least you’re interpreting it as not-quite-as-dick-like as it appears! Hah.

          Oi, to be careful…

          I think the point you made is an important one – be genuine, be honest, be generous. I think at the end of the day, you need to contribute as well and not just be a detractor. Something I’m constantly trying to balance – something we all need to grapple with.


        • Dan Shure
          November 28, 2012

          To add to this… the second I met Joel in person, it changed my whole perception (and enjoyment) of his tweets.

          Interesting we have one impression of the “tone” of someone’s voice in our head and then it’s totally different when we meet them.


    2. Jonathon Colman
      November 27, 2012

      Thanks for continuing this conversation, Bill. To me, John Doherty summed it up in a tweet several months back when he said something to the effect of “Always provide value.” (I’m paraphrasing). And that’s something you echo at the end of your post here.

      I think we’ve got this idea in our head that tactics always provide value. Sometimes they do, sure. But sometimes they’re low-quality or duplicated or spun or irrelevant.

      “Always providing value” is harder than it sounds. But your tips about auditing, optimizing, and at least asking the question itself are good steps in the right direction.


      • @billsebald
        November 28, 2012

        I’ve been on a bit of a tear with these topics since late last year. Like this and this for example.

        Thanks for your comments as always. I’m happy that it’s also being discussed.


    3. Anthony Pensabene (or Content Muse when dressed in costume)
      November 27, 2012

      “because the cadillac sitting in the back, it isn’t me..i’m more at home in my galaxie.” Hoon


    4. Dan Shure
      November 27, 2012

      Hey Bill

      I appreciate that your list of traits is diverse. It seems like you get that everyone’s got a different perspective, different goals, different values – that we all bring to the table, yet we’re all still “SEO’s”.

      As far as musicians who say “I play what I want and don’t care if anyone likes it…” I totally agree that people who DO say this, are echoing a watered down, twisted version of “I play music that’s in my soul (I’m being myself)… and therefore… it will resonate with some people, but not all, and that’s ok”

      There are examples of musicians who (I think) play EXACTLY what they want with NO compromise – Keith Jarrett, The Roots, Ben Folds… they’re just (ironically) not the ones out there claiming to “play music I want to, and I don’t care… blah blah”.

      -Dan (Desperately trying to find their voice, Love Sharing, Love helping others, Always Humble Beginner’s Mind) :-)


      • @billsebald
        November 28, 2012

        I love this so much! I knew we’d connect on the music parallel.


        • Gerard
          November 29, 2012

          Following the music parallel and for those like me working in a SEO team: we are like bands, I cannot play drums but I’m good at the bass. So lets just play together and make the most out of it!



      • Annalisa Hilliard
        December 1, 2012

        I would consider myself a humble beginner, does that negate the humble part?!

        I will have been in the industry 2 years this coming March. I spent a while getting a framework for what I was supposed to be doing (which I found to be ever evolving).

        In the last couple months I’ve found out how to listen to the community & have learned a lot. I love how there are so many perspectives/backgrounds. It really makes it interesting!

        I think that’s what makes it feel like a community, because when you listen you’ll find people are willing to have conversations where they might not agree, but where everyone can take something from it and get better.


    5. Morgan
      November 27, 2012

      I appreciate this post, I think the rules of thumb regarding posting frequency hurt brands more than they help them. If you only contribute value once a month, then do that.


    6. Jonathon Colman
      November 28, 2012

      I’m of two minds about this, Bill.

      I spent most of this year pushing Agile Marketing, which is all about delivering something RIGHT NOW, dammit — perfection be damned! What matters is getting some value, any value, out to your customers as soon as possible.

      But on the other hand, I wholeheartedly agree with your final statement about optimizing your work before you hit the publish button.

      Guess I want to have it both ways. Or maybe I’m conflating software/campaign development with writing articles and blog posts.

      Either way, increasing the diversity of what one consumes and contributes is probably a good step forward.


    7. Alessio
      November 28, 2012

      Nice one, Bill!
      as for myself, I just write about thing I’m passionate about, and sometimes I write them not in the nicer way possible, becoming even rude. But that’s what I am actually, and I think that people should be more focused on what they TRULY are rather than being asskissers or write something just to have 100 votes on inbound so everyone is saying “good stuff” (just for that day anyway, next day your “fame” disappears!).

      thanks for sharing Bill!


    8. Jeremy McDonald
      November 28, 2012

      The way I’ve started to look at my own contributions are whether I can use them as an internal resource. If a colleague or trainee couldn’t read it and learn from it then there is no need to publish it.

      The one downside of this is that the draft count in my wordpress is on the rise.


    9. paul baguley
      March 18, 2013

      Thanks for sharing your input with this post.


    10. Marzena
      April 19, 2013

      Great article indeed! Nowadays, you can fill almost every role in this not-so-little industry. You have plenty of great content to learn from (even this article) and many great, modern tools to use ( such as )


      • Bill Sebald
        April 19, 2013

        Did I just get spammed? I’ll allow it because that tool looks useful at a quick glance.