Who’s Responsible for Teaching, Protecting SEO?

April 20, 2010
By Lisa Barone in SEO

Yesterday Kim Krause-Berg asked a pointed question. She asked: Where all the skilled, generous SEOs? And the question got many people riled up, myself included. But was she asking the right question?

Kim was part of the SEO generation where people flocked to forums to create relationships, to seek advice and for their own personal edification on the subject. In 2010, the forums have dried up. There are less people helping out and fewer people seeking them as a source of information. And at the same time, with the industry growing, we have more spam than ever. We have more people attempting to sell Walmart-style SEO for $10 and more folks submitting pure garbage to Sphinn and calling it information.

And that seems to be the basis for Kim’s question. Where are all the generous SEOs that used to mentor these confused newbies? She associates the lack of mentors with the increased amount of disinformation and spam.

I adore Kim and I consider her one of my early mentors. But I think she has it backwards.

The mentors are out there in full force:

  • They’re answering questions all day on Twitter.
  • They’re moderating discussion threads on LinkedIn, Business Answers, etc.
  • They’re tending to the comments on their own blogs.
  • They’re at conferences, both in their local area and worldwide.
  • They’re in email and on phone chats.
  • They’re at the bar getting drunk on war stories, not alcohol.
  • They employ their own team of SEOs that they train and nurture.
  • They’re creating the SEO businesses that are shaping the industry.

Old gen and new gen mentors aren’t in forums because forums, like Pamela Anderson, are considerably less sexy than they were in 1998. The tools that we use to communicate have changed. But the mentors are there for people who want to learn SEO and who take pride in what they do.

I look at someone like Rand Fishkin. Rand was one of those n00bs soaking up knowledge in the forums years ago. Now, Rand runs SEOmoz with a blog that many newcomers use get their feet wet in SEO. They credit Rand (or SEOmoz as a whole) for helping them learn SEO, even if they’ve never had a conversation with him. The archives are enough to create that mentorship.

I look at someone like Rae. Rae spends hours talking to business owners at conferences as I stand next to her, my stomach growling for dinner. She listens to their biz issues and gives them advice on how they could improve their site, their business and what direction she thinks Google is currently looking. And I see plenty of other SEOs doing the very same thing, at conferences, through Twitter conversations, wherever.

And as for the “why don’t people care about this industry” question Kim poses, we have Danny and Barry and Aaron Wall and Michael Gray and plenty of other “old gen” who would proudly fall on the sword to protect this industry. If you’re looking for new gen, then I’d like to re-introduce the industry to Rhea who spent more than $17,000 of her money to protect it. I’d show you the community who reached out to her in that post to not only loudly stand behind her, but to help her recoup her monetary loss.

It’s not the availability of mentors or people willing to protect SEO that has changed. It’s the desire in people to want to learn and become great SEOs. Not good SEOs, but great SEOs.

Let’s face it: you can make money (good money) in SEO without being particularly good at it. SEO is still confusing enough to the common man that even a ground level can sound like rocket science when spun correctly. Let’s also admit that we don’t always demand excellence. We don’t have people writing crap over at Sphin because there are no mentors, people write crap because we accept crap and because people don’t have to be great to get attention.

But that’s what happens when an industry goes mainstream and we attract more bad apples. If you want to be better, if you want that mentorship experience, then it’s on you to seek it out. It’s there if you do.

If you want a mentor – find one. Do your homework. Find out who knows what they’re talking about (and isn’t simply ‘SEO famous‘), who seems to be on the right track, and learn from them. Read what they’re putting out, talk to them on Twitter, and if they seem open to it, contact them about a more personal relationship. Maybe it means they’ll be open to answering ten questions a month that you send their way (I probably spend ~3 hours a week answering email from readers/Twitter followers). Maybe it means a 15 minutes monthly call. Maybe it’s an internship program where you’ll be able to learn more than you ever thought. As I mentioned in my comment on Kim’s post, five years ago Rae Hoffman and Michael Gray took me under their collective wing. Today I have an amazing business partner and a life friend who continues to be one of the greatest influences not only my professional life, but often on my personal one, as well.

If you want to learn SEO, I’m sorry, but it’s on you. It’s not that there aren’t people around willing to help, maybe it’s that you’d rather read about SEO than test and learn what works and what doesn’t.  Or maybe you’re too shy to seek someone out. But none of that discounts the generosity and support that exists, and has always existed, in this industry.  If you’re blaming someone else for why you’re not learning SEO, that’s a crap excuse.  We don’t buy into those at Outspoken. And the quicker we stop tolerating them in the industry, the quicker we’ll raise the bar for SEO.

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