Personal Brands in SEO: Stop Obeying False Idols

by on 03/02/2009 • 102 Comments | Branding

I apologize if this comes off as a rant.

Actually, no, I don’t. I’m in a ranty mood today and this is my blog. There will be warm milk after. You’ll be okay.

Todd Mintz had an interesting post today over on Search Engine People. In it, he talks about the self-branding of search marketers and how most branding in this industry is personal branding. It’s not about the company you work for, it’s about you. It’s your name, your personality, your skill set — it’s your image.

It’s powerful. The A-listers in the SEO community make good money off their branding. It gets them speaking gigs, comp’d trips, instant readers, bigger clients, etc. It’s like a drug. And Todd suggests you help feed that addiction. Grow your LinkedIn account. Become Facebook friends with people. Follow them on Twitter. Network, network, network so that you’ll grow your personal brand and you can feed off your connections should you find yourself in a mess. Let your network lift you up and walk with you into the hypnotic glow of SEO fame.

Dude, look away from the light! It’s freakin’ dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong. You should absolutely build your personal brand. However, more than that, you should be doing stuff. Stuff that will affect your brand far more than a blog entry or a thousand Twitter followers ever could. Building the Brand of You should not be your end goal. Succeeding at your craft should. Your goal is to learn and to be the best. Not to work your way into Twitter’s Suggested Users list.

The whole personal branding thing has created a bit of a mess in the SEO industry. It’s all people are concerned with. We don’t care about doing SEO and testing things. We care about attaching our names to concepts people like. We read SEO blogs and become dumber. All day on Twitter you have people’s personal brands smacking you in the face. Maybe I’m just feeling especially paranoid today, but some of the branding in SEO terrifies me. Like, keeps me up at night terrifies me. I see people speaking on panels, touting 4k Twitter followers and it makes me scratch my head. It’s like the Paris Hilton effect of SEO where people are famous for doing nothing.

It freaks me out because I’m arguably one of them. Why do 2,300+ people follower me on Twitter? I have no freakin’ clue. I’m not an SEO (though I don’t pretend to be). I tweet about knee socks, my frequent trips to the ER (shut up, I’m clumsy) and my daily fights with Michael Gray and Streko. Hell, yesterday I initiated a 20 minute Twitter conversation about baked potatoes and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Personal brands are valuable but you have to be conscious of what they’re based on.  What is the brand of you? Who are you? What do you want to be known for? And how can you build a brand by doing that instead of just talking about it? The objective is to be known for doing something, not known for being known. But that part is often forgotten.

Don’t support personal brands built on smoke and mirrors. Make people work for the brands they’re trying to create. Don’t let them scoble their way in. Don’t accept that someone is important just because they act like they are or someone told you they were.

  • Before you trust someone, find out who they are and what their motive is.
  • Before you retweet someone’s blog post, read it.
  • Before you sphinn someone’s article, decide for yourself if it’s worth it.
  • Before you follow someone on Twitter, make sure they’re not only tweeting about baked potatoes.

I don’t care how many followers someone has or how shiny their tiara is. Once you vouch for someone and their personal brand, you can’t take it back. Don’t be duped by fame. You may regret it later. Do your research.

Great. Now I sound ranty *and* bitter. I guess that’s my personal brand.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

102 thoughts on “Personal Brands in SEO: Stop Obeying False Idols

  1. Good advice. :)

    I had been return-following people on Twitter and passed the 4K mark last week. Then I noticed a lot of people doing the follow/unfollow thing for the 3 or 4th time and decided to stop following people until they sent an @ message to say hello first. You know, like introducing themselves. :)

    Over the weekend I’ve had about 100 new people start following me. Despite posting the ‘@ me and say hi’ message on my profile and Tweeting it a couple of times I’ve had maybe 3 people who actually have done that.

    There’s a lot more people using the automated tools to bulk add / remove followers on Twitter – so much so that it really calls all of the numbers into question.

  2. Here here! Except that sometimes if someone you trust vouches for something, then it gives it instant credibility. That’s why I started following you on twitter ;) But otherwise, I agree!

  3. Lisa – thank you for that breath of fresh air! I had written a long comment here but i just deleted it all, I think you’ve said it all!

  4. Amen, Lisa. I’m happy to see you say, “The whole personal branding thing has created a bit of a mess in the SEO industry. It’s all people are concerned with. ” I admit that I have gotten caught up in “follow me” craze (even though I keep my twitter profile low). We SHOULD be caring more about other things. At times, I get the feeling that half of the big names thrive on the publicity through social networking. I understand and agree with Todd, that personal branding can work well for self-preservation but, come on, its really lame when people are calling out others because they don’t have a 1,000 twitter followers or linked-in contacts. Much like Link bombed ranks, those numbers have nothing to do with the quality.

  5. Vanessa: Don’t start! I’m still craving a baked potato and I *still* don’t have one. I do have mayo though. Damn, Graywolf!

    Kenny: I think that instant credibility is dangerous stuff. I once vouched for someone simply because someone else that I trusted did as well…and it backfired in my face big time. Once you vouch, you can’t take it back. It’s made me really careful about who I’ll endorse. It’s sad.

  6. Lisa,

    If this was a rant then so what. You make a great point here. We exist in the “cult of personality” world that decides someone’s value based on their exposure. Of course, that logic falls apart when you learn about the people who are wildly successful, do great things for people and have a real life and no one knows who they are.

    I like the whole Twitter deal. That’s how i found you so we all agree that it works well when there is real data and genuine interest. It’s the degree of real and genuine that is impossible to gauge which then makes it hard for people to tell the difference.

    part of me wants to do something about it but it’s like trying to change the government; you get one vote then you live the best you can in the result. Same goes for all of this “blind following” in Twitter. i just need to choose how I will do it in a way that is best for me and those that choose to come along. Also, I have to be discerning about who I follow and look for quality and not get taken in by witty 140 character banter that is empty at the core.

    Thanks for the rant. I’m relieved you did it!

  7. Why is it that, just about when I’m almost popular, everybody decides it’s not cool anymore? It’s like the parachute pants incident all over again ;{

  8. Great Post. I think comparing it to Paris Hilton is a bit harsh, but I agree there’s a lot of fluff out there. The goal to being Twitter Elite is weird but like you said “It gets them speaking gigs, comp’d trips, instant readers, bigger clients, etc.”. That trifecta is hard to turn away from. It’s what pays our bills and makes sure staff get paid and don’t get laid off.
    As for you, good thing you’re a great content writer (the legs aren’t bad either) or else I’d never put up with yours, Vanessa’s and Michaels conversation about baked potato’s and olive oil on a potato before it gets wrapped in aluminum foil (truth is, I used to be a sous chef, so I got a kick out of that. Michael, unless you’re making your own Mayo, that’s just not right)
    You should take a poll and find out how many people have unfollowed more than 10 people in the last week. I think Rae is one of the rare ones that’s vigilant with her list (as she made very clear to a known SEO, Barry and his Twitter posts).

  9. Great post Lisa. I agree with Todd’s article and I agree with yours. Do work on your own brand, but do not work on it at the expense of developing real skills. Twitter has certainly increased the number of posers, especially in the social media space.

    Keep your eye on the ball, not the pretty new shiny racket your are wielding.

  10. Thank you Lisa for saying all that! It’s what a lot of people are thinking and I’ve actually spoken to a few people about it. There are a lot of big names out there, and while I have a lot of respect for them, I’d have even more respect for them if I actually saw examples of their work. But that’s actually quite rare. I know if I had to choose I would personally much prefer to be known for my work than my ‘brand’. Unfortunately, branding gets business and therefore will prevail. But having branding + skills is the strongest and most favourable position to be in. Too many (IMHO) go for the limelight and forget to showcase the latter.

  11. Great, great post Lisa. To be honest, I think the people who TRY to brand themselves are usually not doing that good of a job.

    There’s only a small group of people who have the skill to write or do something unique and be able to involve others in it in such a way that they care and start “following”, “reading” etc.

  12. I am so glad you wrote that. I am relatively new to the online marketing world and have noticed a lot of hypocrisy floating around. On one hand people are saying to use social media as a way to communicate and engage yet I see them using the format more as a way to broadcast their regurgitated messages.

    I will not re-follow anyone unless there is some communication upfront. If I am interesting enough to follow, then why not spend 15 seconds to say hello and maybe tell me either why you chose to follow me or why I should follow you.

  13. Thank goodness for your writing, this blog and Outspoken Media. Words like “expert”,”guru”, “rockstar” etc. are tossed around in SEO so often it’s almost funny. You know who’s a rock star? Bono. He gets sh*t done in the world. Saves lives. And sells millions of records.

    To your point about really getting to know people vs. believing the smoke and mirrors – this is the one thing that actually surprises me. In an industry full of marketers – people whose jobs it is is to sell/promote a given ‘thing’ – I’m amazed at the number of these folks buying what they are being sold in the visage of some of the other people in the social media space.

    It doesn’t matter what they’re selling…it’s what you’re buying [Fugazi]

  14. Dr. Pete: I really do think you’re one of the funniest people on the whole Internet. :)

    Olivier: I actually went through my Twitter list the other day and unfollowed a bunch of people. But I try to keep my list pretty small anyway. Otherwise there’s just way too much noise and I miss everything.

    But can we get this conversation back on track: Really, that whole mayo thing was just gross. Who puts mayo on a hot baked potato? Totally disgusting. :)

    Dustin: Twitter has done crazy things to the social face of the SEO industry. There are people speaking on panels who I have no idea what they do, who they work for, what they specialize in — I just know I see people talking to them on Twitter. That’s frightening.

  15. Lisa,

    Fast Company published Tom Peters’s “The Brand You” in September 1997. Our industry built itself on the principals of that article. It’s how we became a cohesive industry. As search marketing matures it appears inevitable that company brands will eclipse personal brands, though I am saddened by the thought.

    Now, on a more important matter, I most vehemently disagree that you are not an SEO. You are an SEO who specializes in copy writing. Nobody knows everything about SEO and few personally practice more than a handful of aspects. Even if you are not a full-blown supercalifragilistic SEO goddess, you are definitely one our search marketing community’s most respected professionals, and everyone adores you personally too. So there!

  16. Joanna: Totally agreed. I want to be known for what I say in my blog, for the contributions I make to my space and for my work. I think it’s only when people don’t have that to fall back on that, that we run into a problem.

    Joost. You’re pretty…

    Kevin: I just want to say thanks for refollowing me on Twitter and I almost promise to stop talking about kicking puppies. ;) It’s good to see you over here. I feel like Twitter brought us back together. :p

    Michelle: If I ever refer to someone as a guru or a rockstar and am *not* obviously joking, I want you to find someone to smack me. Because it’s obnoxious. There are no real “gurus” here. We’re all still figuring this thing out and working our butts off.

    Tom: Just because I’m likable (which, in itself, is arguable, hee), doesn’t make me an SEO. I think most would agree that I’m not an SEO, but I don’t pretend to be either. I just cover the industry and the folks in it. So, THERE! ;)

  17. Oh great, so now scoble is a verb.

    “There are people speaking on panels who I have no idea what they do, who they work for, what they specialize in — I just know I see people talking to them on Twitter”

    Deja vu. Happens every 5 years… it’s all about selling tickets.

  18. Well, sure, caution/moderation in all things is good. Don’t endorse someone just cuz… But that’s not what I got out of Todd’s article. What I got from it was that it’s important to develop a network who has your back in case the corporation throws you to the wolves. That in no way suggests to me that I should endorse people I don’t know enough about, nor does it even suggest to me that I should willy-nilly grow a huge network as the end goal.

    Maybe it’s just my personal take on things, but I think the relationships we build within our networks are important – and those relationships can carry us when we get kicked to the curb by whomever we might be currently employed by.

    Well, that’s what I got from it anyway, and it’s why I endorsed the article when I tweeted about it. :)

  19. Few comments here…

    (1) Lisa, damn good rant. Your writing is always enjoyable and enlightening, even though you are not an SEO. ;-)

    (2) Lisa, like you, I am a blogger. I specialize in blogging about SEO and have been doing so for almost 6+ years. I also have experience both with clients and my sites in terms of SEO. But blogging about SEO and my experience with SEO are actually a lot different.

    (3) That being said, when I am asked to speak and such, I typically don’t. Have you ever seen me speak at an SES or SMX? I have spoken at PubCon, but not about SEO.

    (4) I do speak about SEO to smaller groups including small conferences, small events, private seminars and to SEO companies. To my surprise, I am often surprised how little is known about SEO, even in some SEO companies.

    (5) Oliver, I don’t think Rae isn’t following me on Twitter because of anything SEO related. I think Rae is simply not interested in my automated twits from my personal blog, which often have nothing to do with SEO…

    (6) As an SEO blogger, I think I know a heck of a lot about SEO. I don’t know if it comes from blogging, working on sites or speaking to other SEOs. Lisa, so I would be surprised if you don’t know enough SEO to make you an “SEO.”

    (7) That all being said, I also don’t consider myself an “SEO.” (a) I dont sell SEO services, (b) and I like being called a “blogger” more…

    Again, outstanding post Lisa.

  20. Lisa: Just because you’re scarred doesn’t mean the rest of the world can’t function as normal. Personal recommendations & endorsements are how the whole world works. It’s part of life, we have to deal with it. We are social beings, our very existence thrives off the relationships that we hold.

  21. Barry, Sorry I wasn’t clear… I saw Ray’s answer and her issue absolutely was the automated posts and nothing else. Nothing to do with you as a professional and as a person. My Bad, next time I need to reread myself :-)

  22. It’s funny when you hit “post”, you lose ownership of what you’ve written.

    …What I got from it was that it’s important to develop a network who has your back in case the corporation throws you to the wolves.

    Donna correctly guessed the reason for my blog post. None of this other stuff every crossed my mind when I was writing it :.)

  23. I like that you mention “doing stuff” Lisa. What you are “doing” is writing hella good posts. Keep them coming. The branding of personal rather than company is wise, but as you said. What that personal branding is based upon is key.
    There are so many things in SEO and life (and buildings and bridges) that revolve around that issue. What is the substance? If your goal is to be create a personal brand, then by all means do so, but if that is what your whole life is about then you are in for a rude awakening.

  24. Todd, I was so intrigued by the discussion here that I hadn’t even backtracked to your original post. See what you mean. But I still enjoyed the unintended spinoff discussion. Nice job Lisa. I think you hit a nerve.

  25. I’ve been reading seo blogs for about a year and I see a lot of posts like this… I really find them utterly pointless. It’s easy, nonsense content and no one ever has the bravery to name names! DO something about the people that don’t deserve to be on panels or have X thousand Twitter friends because otherwise it’s just sort of whining, and those of us who aren’t really in the know are left thinking ‘so who can I trust?’ If these big boys are big enough, they can take being named by you. I have never seen one name dropped so you start to think that there are no real examples of this and that it’s jsut an easy whine with no substance that will get a lot of ‘yeah you’re right’ comments.

  26. I caught flak the other week for commenting on your new company, but it seems that at least one of my comments was a pre-cursor to this rant:

    “I just have come to think there is a ‘groupie’ effect in Internet marketing with a lot of people just wanting to ingratiate themselves to Lisa or Sugarrae, Danny, Graywolf, et al. without ever calling somebody out for fear of scorn from the ‘groupies’.”

    I think you are right-on. I quite often wonder when a lot people who Twitter/Blog/Conference/Self-Brand all the time do “real” SEO work?

  27. I’m with you and then… I’m not. I love that I “do” things in this industry but then I’m still not known personally. How many times have I been told that you gotta brand yourself, by you and others you know! And then I’m reminded that I have to look at that “light” occasionally when I find myself introducing myself as “SEOMom2 on Twitter” rather than simply “Lydia Mazorol”! Just because I don’t sign my work doesn’t mean I shouldn’t in some way. I should! You should – you did.

  28. I do my own SEO/SEM for my real estate website – I can tell you that most people visiting the website do not care about the agent behind it – yet most in my industry focus on the individual – that is fine with me. Also one danger of branding a single person is that it is harder to transfer that business later to someone else as so much of the reputation has been staked to the individual. The hard part come with social networking because it does then become about the individual – yes there are corporate accounts on twitter but aren’t the more interesting ones typically personal where someone’s personality is allowed to shine through. It is an interesting paradox.

  29. Curious: I don’t think naming names helps the cause. I don’t think calling people out publicly (which isn’t to say it’s not done privately) does anything but start flame wars and give trolls a hard on. I’d rather not doing that.

    Funny you talk about bravery and being accountable and then post a comment anonymously. ;) Seriously though, I think calling out issues is important. I don’t think calling out people is. [shrug] Me calling out Person X isn’t going to get them off next week’s panel at PubCon. It’s going to get them more attention.

    Dave: You didn’t catch any flak from me. :) I think I told you then I agreed with you, too.

    Lydia: I think you bring up an entirely different issue — that you don’t know how to brand yourself. Branding yourself takes a lot more than just being an SEO and signing your real name to your work. You’re an SEO? Great. A million other people on the Internet claim to be the very same thing. Who cares? And yeah, you’re not doing yourself any favors with that Twitter username.

  30. Lisa, did you just … A-hahahaha yes. you. did. Now I need to control my giggle fit enough to type.

    As someone who is definitely NOT involved in SEO in any way, I find “personal branding” obnoxious as hell. I can’t stand people who try too hard to be popular. It makes me want to kick them in the teeth. (But you already know this from my rant last week!) Personal branding should never feel contrived. If you’re going to do it, and sometimes you have to, be genuine. I think that’s the bottom line.

  31. Lisa, great post. If this is a rant, then please – rant more often. This is a reality check for the real world – I’ve gotten so many tweets lately about how to become a public speaker, how to publish your e-books on Amazon, how to monetize your twitter audience, how to build your personal brand, blah, blah, blah; enough already!

    With social media, aren’t we supposed just be ourselves online, verses inventing ourselves while online?

    I especially like your comment “I see people speaking on panels, touting 4k Twitter followers and it makes me scratch my head. It’s like the Paris Hilton effect of SEO where people are famous for doing nothing.” I did a presentation in front of about 85 members of the Greater Philadelphia Senior Executives Group’s Innovator’s Club last week, and I shared my story on how I’ve (@joestubblebine) used twitter to find customers and build our corporate brand (@jobcircle). I actually had a guy say, “you only have 200 followers? My tech guy has over 2,000!” I asked him if he had built lasting relationships or gained new clients as a result of his followers, and he kind of looked at me cross-eyed. Exactly.

  32. You speak for many Lisa. What puzzles me is how blind and stupid people are to invite people to speak on how well they market themselves as speakers and not on their actual expertise in their industry. I’m not meant to be a speaker but that in no way is a reflection on my skills. You didn’t mention the politics in the SEO industry but it exists and is the leading reason I have retreated. I do what I love and I’m damned good at it. I’d like to be branded for being smart, not entertaining.

  33. Don’t worry Lisa. No one that’s important knows who the hell you are. And no one outside of the incestuous internet marketing community cares, either. So you’re probably safe overall, although feeling the need to write about this makes it look like it’s all gone to your head a wee bit. Might want to get that checked out. Cool socks though.

  34. Think I like Kim Krause Berg’s comment most. Look at people who commented here, several incredibly talented individuals that get things done. Those in the know, know that’s the case. :)

  35. Once you vouch for someone and their personal brand, you can’t take it back. Don’t be duped by fame. You may regret it later. Do your research.

    Well said.

    That was a great read, and a rant at it’s best. I think Twitter can bring out the sheep in all of us, but it can also bring out other qualities, which makes it worth it.

  36. Lisa, as always, you take a subject that many would shy away from and through your humor and great writing style make a number of valid points that you label a rant, while everyone else scratches their heads and says, “You know…she’s right!”

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe anyone in this industry knows it all – and those who set out attain some sort of “fame”, rather than actually learning about search marketing, tend to know the least. For me “becoming known” in the “industry” has never been the point and if no one knows who I am, I’m okay with that.

    My goal in networking with other search marketers is to…wait for it…LEARN SOMETHING – not to pat myself on the back and say, “Oh, look how many people follow me on Twitter…” I stumbled into developing a personal brand quite by accident.

  37. You might have forgotten that behind my brand is a LOT of hard work. I’ve interviewed more than 1,000 people and posted those videos to the web starting in 2004. Even this week I will post 15 or more interviews. Just this week! So, if you want a brand maybe you should do some harder work! That includes you, you might do some research behind how I actually got here before you take my name in vain.

  38. wow @scoble still clinging to that legacy internet important status huh …

    OK what’s something noteworthy you’ve done in the past 24 months … other than throwing an ego based hissy fit because someone didn’t genuflect before your awesomeness … name one thing … I double dog dare you …

    one thing thats not ego based that made the world take notice of you or something you did …

    one little thing … just one

  39. Scoble: I don’t think anyone questions the work you put into your brand, especially back in the day. Today, I think you take a lot of crap for the bellyaching you do over things that simply don’t matter. Oh and maybe for your God complex, too. Don’t take your name in vain? Am I in church?

    Apologize for the scoble-ing.

  40. Take your name in vain? Are you the ** THE LORD ** ??

    I’ll be honest with ya; I’m older than dirt and have been around since before most of the people here were born, and I never heard of you until a few weeks ago. And it wasn’t your brand that was being discussed. 2004? Um, okay.

    One of the worst byproducts of this whole personal branding shit is when people start drinking their own kool aid.

  41. Wow, “take my name in vain…”…really? You know, I had a certain amount of respect for what you had accomplished with your online brand, Robert, until that “take my name in vain…” thing. Notice I said “had”. Do I hear a choir of angels singing in the background? How does Communion go at the Church of Scoble? How can you tell if someone is kneeling online? I have so many questions now…

  42. Have a look at Friendfeed. Twitter. People like the rock star attitudes. The way people worship some of these web celebrities is downright frightening. I met some real celebrities in my time to know that some of them are assholes. That means that some of these web celebrities probably are too…

  43. Lisa mocked Scoble. Scoble mocked Lisa. That part seems fair to me.
    I would just add that the term “Don’t let them scoble their way in.” would not have any meaning to anyone if there wasn’t a reason for it. Lisa used a term, but she did not create the meaning of that term, you did Scoble.
    There is a reason that “scoble their way in” doesn’t mean “work hard, help others, and earn trust”.

  44. Folks, folks. First lesson of the Interwebs is don’t feed the trolls! Let’s go back to the conversation that was going on before Scoble scobled in, yes?

    Lisa, love this post, particularly because I know how hard you worked to earn your place and your voice. Way to talk truth from the trenches.

  45. I reckon that most don’t follow what I do on twitter or my non-existent blog because I just do it. Perhaps this post will enable those on the fringes to share more.

  46. I just never got the Scoble thing. I followed his blog for several months a few years ago, because, well, because he was someone to follow. In that whole time not a single insightful post. Lots of meta-blogging (LOTS), lots of talk, lots of mindless crap about nothing of interest to anyone. I just don’t get it. Even his 8,232,103 interviews lack insight. He just shows up with a video camera like a goofy tourist, doesn’t ask insightful questions. I think he’s only famous because of two things: one, he started at the right time. Two, his volume – throw enough and something will stick.

    Hard work, yes. Quality work, well, you can judge…

  47. It’s important to clarify that I was not actually being a juvenile name-caller with the “self-absorbed douchebag” comment – making the point that it isn’t necessary to “lay low”, provided you’re not one.

    Okay, as you were – constructive conversation back on…

  48. Very interesting post. I’ve never really thought about my personal brand. I have just recently started blogging and I am involved in affiliate marketing and I don’t have any aspirations to become a public speaker, attend conferences or be in the lime light.

    Basically I just want to sit at my computer in my Orange County Chopper PJs and fluffy slippers and make money…quitely :)

    BTW I’ve been some of your articles and they have been very helpful and I love your writing style.

  49. Dearest Lisa, long-eared ones loved your note that “Building the Brand of You should not be your end goal.” How true. It’s so often a destructive goal, even if one should succeed. The Brand of You requires constant maintenance, measures of love, and hard work that can only, by definition, direct inwards.

    Building the brand of a selective “We” has fallen from grace of late, but not only is this a less selfish goal, it may be more healthy and a more profitable one. Choosing to work with and promote others You vouch for based on their productivity and quality – versus fame and ego – can make a better You.

    And you can still wear Orange County Chopper PJs!

  50. Best comment so far?
    “Still waiting for my warm milk.” from Melanie

    Back to the issue that Todd brought up in his post and Lisa spoke of here, I think we have in this very thread some great examples of Lisa’s point.
    I was around back in Scobles time, so were a few of the other commenters here, but not everyone who jumped on scobles case were.
    Lisa said in the post
    “Personal brands are valuable but you have to be conscious of what they’re based on. What is the brand of you? Who are you? What do you want to be known for? And how can you build a brand by doing that instead of just talking about it? The objective is to be known for doing something, not known for being known. But that part is often forgotten.”
    How many people jumping on Scoble here know what scoble does? or what his brand was?
    I think Scoble knows Lisa has been around awhile and taking her bumps, just as Scoble has.
    Would hate see this blog turn into a “jump on someone because everyone else is” type of place. There are enough of those types of places already.
    Are these comments adding value? Do they further the discussion on the topic? Are they helping others?
    A way to put Lisa’s point across would be to ask yourself what Lisa asked in the post “Who are you? What do you want to be known for? And how can you build a brand by doing that instead of just talking about it?”
    A good way to start doing that is to leave comments that help not hurt. That lead, not follow. That use your own examples to illustrate points rather than jumping on a train of others thoughts. Discussion is gorgeous because of different perspectives. If all this thread is going to be is a bash of one person (whoever that person is), then I am not very interested.

  51. Mark: >> Even his 8,232,103 interviews lack insight.

    Interesting, since I get many of my questions from people like you (I often ask on Twitter/friendfeed/facebook what you’d like to ask). With cell phones last year (I was the first to use Qik with a cell phone) I went even further — you could ask the questions of the person I was aiming the camera at, while I did the interview.

    I’d love to see your interviews, though. I’m sure I’ll learn something about how to do it right.

  52. I so agree with Patrick Sexton. On one of the affiliate marketing forums that I participated on a regular basis it became a waste of my time…since members were so verbally abusive to others. Luckily the owners took a firm stand, established some new rules and it stopped.

    I visit blogs and forums to learn something. Can’t we all just give peace a chance :)

  53. Good post. ( = I wish people would stop obsessing over the false idols in Hollywood. : /

    I think you are totally on target, “a little less talk, a little more action.” Value is perceived and created. Marketing ‘Brand You’ will only take you so far, if you don’t have something of substance to back it up (like a stellar product, talent, skill, proven successes). Brands built to last are a lot of work, combining stellar marketing and consumer experience.

    The online medium makes it seem easy to have an online brand, but it’s not. Anyone can get involved online through all the social media outlets, but not everyone is successful or effective at communicating the value of their product or service to the masses.

    On a side note, deep down I’m totally an idealist, so I think everyone is important. I do also wish people would obsess over their life & passions, their art… and not the amount of followers they have. ( =

  54. If you don’t position yourself as brand, you are not going to get clients. I think this all started to have more clients and in turn more revenue. SEO is such a unique field, that everything depends on person to person, so to earn more SEO clients, people behave like a GURU or EXPERT and when they can’t provide the result they damage their brand so badly that it never comes up.

    I think at the end of the day work speaks!

    Have I made myself clear or you are still confused like me!?!

  55. Haha, fair cop. The thing is that you ask for accountability in how people support their brand with their work but you don’t make yourself accountable for your rant. And It’s very easy to agree with what you’ve said when there’s no supporting evidence! And do you know what happens in offices of people you don’t respect, that they’re not doing great seo work that they can’t talk about for whatever reason, like NDAs, etc? I suppose I get these questions because I can’t decide who you’re talking about. I don’t even have the slightest idea aside from one of them being Robert Scoble now… Although he’s not an seo, so I don’t think that he was your intent.

    Still a very easy ‘no-brainer’ post to write in order to get a lot of ‘yeah I agree’ replies, imo, without really making a difference to your field, and that doesn’t enhance your own brand credibility a lot, sorry.

  56. Ummm… I’ve never spoke at a conference, in fact I’ve never been accepted when I proposed a topic or to speak. No one other than maybe a few people you could count on one hand have done SEO longer than I. You’d think my bubbly demeanor and willingness to not say shit when I’ve gotta mouthful would have me booked solid… but alas… I toil away in anonymity. Joyful in the outcome and the fact I learn something new every day! Luckily… that’s enough for me… the money and fame would be too much of a burden to endure as well!;-)

  57. Finally a smart post that will hopefully wake up the SEO industry. Guess what? Sadly SEO is dominated by who speaks the loudest…sure there are a few people who know wht they are doing but most of the “loudest” SEO’s are all smoke and mirrors. Just because you speak at conferences and have thousands of followers on twitter doesn’t mean you know what you are talking about.

    You know what SEO should be measured by? What you have done. I dont care if you blog and say you know it all – show me proof of what you have done. What competitive keywords do you own? I always wonder why if these “SEO Gods” are so brilliant at what they do why dont they just build their own sites and bring in some serious cash? Here is who i respect..people like @shoemoney, @sugarrae and those who actually DID something, BUILT something and then give advice. You know who else I respect? The in-house SEO people who are actually in the trenches doing SEO for brands and companies that matter. In-house SEO is not about the individual it is about what have you dont for the company. That is why I LOVE how Google is focusing on Brands – that is how it should be! You know who are the ones bitching and moaning about it? The SEO loud mouths who have done nothing but yap away through their blogs or at conferences….SHOCKER!

  58. Great post! If you are honest, open and friendly you will go farther too. It’s not about who is following you, it’s about creating informative, interesting content

  59. Here’s the thing about internet celebrity – people are only known within their rather narrow niches. If you’re not on Twitter you probably don’t know who Scoble or Guy Kawasaki is. If you’re not reading SEO blogs and going to SEO conventions you probably don’t know who Graywolf or Lisa are. If you don’t noodle around with CSS you probably won’t know me, Zeldman, or a bunch of other people.

    I participate in a number of different online communities and I’ve seen them all talk about these exact same issues. :) Back in 2001 there was an article called “Circle Jerks: Elitists, Link Whores & Other Web Menaces” that had everyone in the web design community gnashing their teeth about all of this. I’m sure in 2021 they’ll still be talking about it. :)

    We’re all super popular and totally unknown. It’s awesome.

  60. Stuart: People Like Guy have actually built things and been successful – he just happens to be a huge fan of twitter. HE is someone you should respect and look up to. When it comes to Scoble he brings out a wide range of opinions but you have to respect his ability to “brand” himself and the stuff he has accomplished.

    More on what Guy has done: http://www.guykawasaki.com/about/index.shtml

  61. I agree with Sean completely. It’s always about what you’ve done, what keywords you own. But I will add that while some of the SEO stars may be perceived as little more than loud mouths regurgitating best practices to big followings (lots of RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, etc.), some of them are actually doing some good work as well. Most of the biggest names are very cryptic about what they work on. From the very beginning our industry has been built on secrecy. There is an inner circle of the SEO world where the best information lives. That information gets disbursed in small amounts at designated intervals for the cost of a conference badge. In our business information really is power, so I can understand why I’ve seen @sugarrae blow up plenty of times at someone less known when they blog about a specific worthwhile tactic that’s currently in play on the belief that it will soon be worthless. And while I can understand her reaction, I also think that’s one of the problems with the business.

    I will also add that I doubt a lot of the top names work with big brands. The usual tone of the reactions from the “seo house of representatives” to changes with the engines lead me to believe that there is a lot of work with lead gen, biz-opp, ringtones, etc. Lots of affiliate deals. Big brand and in-house SEOs are generally reacting quietly to changes and perhaps are even affected less often.

    Last thing I will add is this. Without a group of people like these guys making noise about SEO there may have never been this industry at all. When I was doing this 10 years ago it was just another part of a new website launch. Now, it’s a separate line item with a separate price tag. There is a definitive sense of legitimacy to the practice of SEO now and much of that is due to the fact that a group of passionate people got together to bring attention to it in the first place. Even if they are loud mouths. :)

  62. @Sean: I’m not knocking Guy, Scoble, Graywolf, Zeldman or anybody. Scoble’s niche isn’t the same as Guy’s, so comparing them directly doesn’t make sense. You could look up to any of them depending on what it is you’re interested in.

  63. Kevin – Agree with just about everything you said. Except the part about there might not be an industry without the people making the noise. I think the SEo industry would be much better off without 90% of them. SEO is what it is because Google traffic is a key component of a businesses success – SEO would happen regardless of who is talking about. Granted the mroe people talk about it the more people realize how important it is – but I feel the “loud mouths” of SEO actually do the industry more harm then good!

  64. Wow, amazing you can come out in favor of doing stuff, and it actually is news. Such is the state of the social media / SEO fame game today!

    A few years back we had to set the record straight on our consulting website by putting up a shouty tagline: “We Do Stuff. Your Company Grows.” Lead volume definitely picked up!

    We may have to go back to promoting that. Doing stuff is such a novel way to gain respect. :) Yappity-yap-yap is fun, but not in and of itself.

    As for actually taking conference speaking as an inverse indicator of ability, I won’t buy into that kind of “so-called-expert-bashing”. Great speakers are *not* a dime a dozen and conference attendees do value people who can communicate… and value exponentially those who can communicate by backing it up with “chops.” Dismissing anyone’s accomplishment, whether it is as a communicator, practitioner, blogger, author, relationship builder, innovator, etc., is just a sign of insecurity. If you have “chops” and “anonymously” make money, then good for you… so why the need to say that so loudly and so often? Why the need to tear down others?

  65. I think your branding has been working very well on me. Whenever I see you and your name, it sounds and feels and seems to be synonymous to an image in my head with shorts and knee-high socks. :)

  66. @SeanOHaugh “You know who else I respect? The in-house SEO people who are actually in the trenches doing SEO for brands and companies that matter.”

    Thank you, I appreciate that comment. Being one of those people immersed “in the trenches,” it’s easy to miss the “unknown individuals” who are *doing* the necessary work to get the results clients pay for. I’m very proud of what I’ve learned and accomplished in this industry, thus far. The other “noise” in the industry just forces me to be more discerning about the information coming my way, and that’s not a bad thing. I’ll consume the data I find and if I don’t need it or it doesn’t matter, it slips off my radar.

    If someone is saying enough to provoke people to think and do their own research to come up with their own conclusions, then obviously that is still a good thing. This post accomplishes that. It’s provoked interest and has some thoughtful engagement on issues that matter from people in the industry.

    People new to the industry need to find a discussion like this, it will help them pave their own way. They can see what works, what doesn’t work and find more effective ways of reaching their goals. I don’t need to be aggreable, I get nothing out of responding, other than I, too, am always and still learning. (I’m not typically so great at ‘engaging’ in the blogosphere.) So, I still like the post.

  67. Do you have any thoughts/regrets about building your “personal brand ” on Bruce Clay’s dime? You were made an A-lister by Bruce.

    Your live blogging from conferences is why I will always be a follower of yours. You are “hands down” the best blogger out there when covering events. Entertaining and informative.

    I just don’t agree with you about branding.

  68. Dorian: I owe Bruce Clay a lot, but I don’t agree that he “made me an A-lister”. I think Bruce gave me an opportunity to do what I wanted to do and take control of my own voice. He gave me the freedom but he didn’t create Lisa. He didn’t create my brand. My brand is me.

    It’s worth noting that Bruce Clay had a blog long before I got there. But that’s not when you started reading it, is it?

    Oh yeah, and we’ll be liveblogging PubCon next week. Hope you’ll check out the coverage. ;)

  69. It’s worth noting that Bruce Clay had a blog long before I got there. But that’s not when you started reading it, is it?er… you got me there. I associated the bruce clay blog with you. And that is part of the problem with personal branding.

    Oh yeah, and we’ll be liveblogging PubCon next week. Hope you’ll check out the coverage. ;)I look forward to it. like I said, I enjoy reading your blog posts. That’s why I’m here and I’m Sphinn’ing your stuff, etc. Please don’t take this as a personal attack… It’s just that I totally disagree with you on this point.

    Look at the number of comments on the bruce clay blog. Look at the post about page views and readership down. Look at all the readers (such as myself) that followed you to this blog for smx coverage.

    If you would have been part of a blogging “persona”, and Virginia or Susan picked up on the writing after you left, they would have not lost as many readers.

  70. Thanks Lisa for writing this. The whole thing is absurd and I very much agree that it’s even worse when these so-called ‘experts’ start drinking their own Koolaid.

    We were badly burned recently by buying into this whole ‘cult of brand’ thing and everyone who has stated that at the end of the day it’s only your work that really matters is exactly right. We thought we were doing the best possible thing by bringing in the guru/expert who’s blog we’d followed, who we’d swooned over at conferences and who’s books we’d read. Very stupidly we never surmised going in how much of his time all that self-promotion actually ate up and our project suffered badly because of it.

    What should have been an iterative process turned into a series of long rant sessions wherein ‘Ego Dude’ wouldn’t so much present things for approval as condescendingly defend why he’d done what he had–it was nightmare. What should have been a 6 week engagement turned into more than 12, and at the end of it all we were bullied into paying 100% for was actually less than 1/2 of the agreed upon deliverable and told that we should have been thankful even for that.
    This wasn’t an SEO but a related sort of field and I so wish we’d been smarter and gone with someone who might have been more low profile but that actually acted with some professional integrity.

    And to any ‘rockstar’ out there reading this who does take on client work: Please remember that if you added us on Facebook and we follow you on Twitter it tends to burn a little when you rant off about how you’re slaving so hard on our long overdue project all the while Tweeting about your drunktastic good times in SFO.
    We’ve still never quite figured out if A. He’d forgotten how the whole ‘social media’ thing actually worked or B. He was just so arrogant that he didn’t care. :(

  71. @Dorian – re: “Do you have any thoughts/regrets about building your “personal brand ” on Bruce Clay’s dime? You were made an A-lister by Bruce.”

    … I’m assuming that Bruce gave her the blog as one of her job responsibilities. If so, then posting to it and growing it was indeed part of her job and was what she was paid to do. In building her personal brand she also raised the profile of Bruce Clay (the firm) both during her time there and after. This benefitted Lisa as well as Bruce Clay (the company).

    I’m not trying to jump to Lisa’s defense here at all. I’m just saying that if an agency has a blog that they are proactively marketing as a way to raise their profile (Bruce Clay, SEOmoz, etc.) than the people blogging are essentially doing sales and marketing for their employer when they blog. They gain exposure that leads to clients, premium pricing, etc. Do they often build personal brands in the process? Sure they do. Think Rebecca Kelley at SEOmoz. That said, I’m sure Bruce was happy that Lisa built her brand (much like Rand with Rebecca) as that was also a value to Bruce. Now instead of 1 “A-lister” on the team Bruce could sell the idea that there were two. Or three, and so on. Having employees who are recognized as industry figures helps an agency, as this way they are not reliant on just one name. This way they are positioning the company as a leader and expert in the field (Bruce Clay Inc.), not just the founder (Bruce).

    As many owners of small SEO agencies (myself included) will tell you, its pretty easy to book yourself full – to continue to grow you need to focus more positioning the firm rather than yourself. Rand did a great job of this at SEOmoz. He used to be the guy posting all the blog posts, now its more the SEOmoz blog rather than just “Rand’s blog”.

  72. Thinking on this for a few days and reading the comments, I find that it’s hard to separate popularity from achievement. Take my other field, usability, as an example. We have an obvious cult of personality in Jakob Nielsen. At times, I think that can be a distraction and too many people rush to idolize him just to please the popularity gods. On the other hand, Prof. Nielsen has inarguably added a lot to the field and deserves most of his popularity. Maybe it’s gotten out of hand, but his contributions had a big part in his success.

    You could say the same about Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, etc. Yes, some people have let popularity go to their heads and are resting hard on their laurels, but most of those people, at one time, worked hard to create those laurels. I might find Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop Tweets annoying, for example, and if he were a nobody I’d unfollow him in a heartbeat, but I follow him because he built his reputation on something legitimate and I know he occasionally provides real value.

    I think Rae herself has made this point more than once: sure, some people get extra credit for being popular, but there’s a reason they got popular in the first place. None of this is to completely argue with your point – I do think we get carried away and follow and trust people who we know nothing about. I just think that often that trust is rooted in something real, even if it occasionally gets out of hand. It’s up to us as individuals to be smart enough to make that distinction and decide who’s really worth trusting.

  73. Wow, I’m at a loss of how to even contribute to this discussion.

    I just want to say that this is an interesting rant considering that you appear to be one of the rising stars when it comes to personal branding. Dorian and others are commenting on your time at Bruce Clay, and suggesting that you might have taken advantage of that opportunity. What’s interesting is if you look back to 1 year ago, none of your Bruce Clay posts got more than a handful of comments. Right now this post has 90. I’m not sure if your writing is better, if your 2300 Twitter followers finally found your blog, or if something else is going on, but your popularity is on the rise – as it should be.

    There are downsides and abuses to personal branding, but sometimes it helps a talented person get their message out.

  74. @Anonymous brilliantly put!

    Cant wait for the “SEO experts” out there to start talking about how brands ARE important for SEO and should rank higher! Whatever – this is why I laugh at most of the big talkers and walk out of most SEO focused sessions at conferences. It is all big talk with no action…I was at SMX East last year and walked out of most “advanced” sessions due to being bored to tears. However, when I set up shop in the common area I sat with a few other people who felt the same way…in fact I learned more from these people who either worked in-house or for an agency then I would have from all of the SEO sessions put together!

    Here is a show idea – SES and SMX are becoming pointless for anyone with a base-line knowledge of SEO. How about focusing on a roundtable setup where you sit with other people and even “experts” and have true discussions on things that matter!

  75. Lisa; totally the best blog post I’ve read in quite awhile in this industry. Oh sure; I will stop in at sphinn about once a week to see what’s being voted up, but Most aren’t worth the click to the blog post. I’m glad I clicked to this one. I agree totally.

    Some of the many posts in this thread are right on as well. Nice comments in here. The funny thing is; I’ve been around almost as long as Terry has (above post), and Terry; some of us DO KNOW you, lol, and I have never read a single article by this Scoble guy and truly do not know what he does?? I’m sorry Robert as you may be the greatest and the nicest guy, but I’ve probably been around longer than even you, and I just don’t know what you do. Yep; I’ve heard of your name, but that is it. Please enlighten me about who you are as maybe it would help many of us in here. I’m being serious. I know you don’t know me as well as thousands of others, and that’s fine as being some kind of rockstar has never appealed to me. I LOVE what a comment stated above about how some “rockstar” didn’t do the job. I don’t like not getting the other side of things however, as helping clients for many years can be a pain in the butt. It’s best to hear both sides of the story.

    Lisa; One thing I disagree with… just one. I’m with the poster above who wants to see “evidence”. I loved what you wrote, but people reading who are not tied to the industry do not understand things unless names are put to the posts out there. This is a major problem with the industry on many levels…. NO accountability NOR standards whatsoever. Not only is personal branding out of whack, but it ties into the mentality of the industry not wanting to be accountable to the general public. The industry wants “everyone” included no matter what they do or how they do it.

  76. LOL

    “And to any ‘rockstar’ out there reading this who does take on client work: Please remember that if you added us on Facebook and we follow you on Twitter it tends to burn a little when you rant off about how you’re slaving so hard on our long overdue project all the while Tweeting about your drunktastic good times in SFO.”

    Let’s vote that paragraph as Comment of the Thread.

  77. @DougHeil You’re right–there are definitely two sides to every story and we can all agree that some clients are just difficult.

    Ultimately we’re as culpable as he was for what went down. In many ways it was lazy of us to just try and buy some cachet and not focus harder on the quality of our product on our own. I think we figured that by bringing in one of the Big Guns some of his prestige and ‘buzz’ would just magically drape itself across our product–which was a big mistake. It’s truly quality that counts, and in some cases that really isn’t something you can just buy.

    In no way do I think all ‘rockstars’ would behave as the one we dealt with did. There are lot of people out there (I’ll name @sugarrae as an example) who really DO know their shit and who I know have done solid work for people. I meant only to clarify how dangerous buying blindly into this whole celeb mindset can be.

    To be really fair, almost every day I employ things I’ve learned from following our rockstar’s work and it has served me well. Clearly he knows what he was talking about but given that we’d already read all his books and paid for all the conferences we could have saved ourselves spending further 10’s of $1000’s and just done the work ourselves. I suppose the one positive outcome of the whole situation was that I came away feeling a lot more confident in my own ability and level of knowledge. No more blind guru worship for us.

  78. I see you are being as Outspoken as the brand implies. I agree there is a lot of personal branding in this space… and I suppose I am as guilty as the rest – but what I do know is we are a very small industry.

    I love going to IAB meetings or events for mainstream media and have people ask what I do and see they have no clue about search. Most have not heard of Danny Sullivan or Rand Fishkin or Matt Cutts or any of us.

    They do know who Larry and Sergey are… they have created something. Many know Facebook, MySpace and Twitter even, but they use it to communicate with their friends and take little notice of the rest of us trying to brand ourselves.

    Robert Scoble is a journalist of sorts but is unknown outside our small space.

    Jason Calacanis is another well known in our space – hey he made some serious money being at the front of some technology but like the guy who created TV not too many people know who he is.

    I like writing – have an advanced journalism degree and actually worked for real newspapers – but also do actual client work. Analytics, PPC and SEO have helped me make money.

    Doing stuff is important – writing about it from reading others is just regurgitation.

    Great topic and good debate… we need to get over ourselves.

  79. You know I gotta say that, considering whose site / blog this is, I expected more defense from the SEO consultants (SEO experts) we are talking about here. I know they are reading this – so I guess all of our points are true? All talk no action?

    Now dont get me wrong, I do have an issue with the SEO experts who spend more time talking about themselves then doing work, however I dont have anything against them personally. As the saying going it is just business, nothing personal!

  80. Lisa I’m going to buzz this up because it’s good and I agree with it. The heck with branding. :) Thanks for saying the things I’ve been thinking but (unusually for me) kept to myself.

  81. Oh heck, I thought you WERE an SEO.

    Yes the Scoble moment at SXSW was kind of funny. I like the guy, but I could care less about 90% of what he tweets. So I don’t do Scoble.

    You nailed it with this quote, “It’s like the Paris Hilton effect of SEO where people are famous for doing nothing.” But it’s not really SEO at this point it’s SMM or Social Media Marketing.

    So at SXSW I propose we DO something next year. Rather than talk all the time, I want to launch and connect and do something for Good. What cha’ think?

    Cheers,
    @jmacofearth
    uber.la

  82. Hi Lisa,
    I really appreciate your message. One of my goals in working with companies and artists marketing themselves in “Web 2.0″ (or whatever you want to call it this week) is teaching them the importance of being authentic and genuine in everything they do online.

    Yes, it puts your butt on the line. Yes, some people will like you less because of who you are.

    But the people who like you and follow you and your business will actually like YOU, not some funky-ass image you think portrays you as the world’s biggest social media mogul on steroids — who wants to hang with those cranky whiny dudes anyway???

    And, if you’re tweeting about knee-socks and baked potatoes, at least you’re tweeting about things that interest you, and if you’re carrying on a twitter conversation, apparently someone else cares too…

    And John M, I go to SXSW every year (what a kick!), so I’m going to follow you on twitter in hopes of getting invited to whatever kind of get together you’re planning :-) Heck, I think I’ll follow Lisa too, even though I’m totally not into knee socks, in case she has more insightful comments about authenticity in the cyber world:-)

    Anny (@AnnySavvant)

  83. Oh, finally, someone who cuts through the bullshit with a diamond edged blade! ( Oops, did I just vouch for your personal brand? I reserve the right to take it back at any time. ;) )
    You are so right. Not just in SEO, in every industry. People have lost their focus. They’re all obsessed on reputation management, why not just do your best to be ultra good at what you do, and let your brilliance take care of your reputation, which it will do far better than your mouth will?

  84. I love this post, it so expresses exactly what I am thinking a lot of the time about the cult of personality and personal branding over company branding :-). I know zip about SEO, so that makes you an expert in my eyes! Seriously though – twitter is about conversation and not about read my blog blah blah blah… I am an expert in this, although I must admit since I stopped tweeting what I do, the business phone calls have declined.
    I am going to follow you on twitter now, to see if you talk about food as much as you say ;-)

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