Who’s Responsible for Teaching, Protecting 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.

Your Comments

  • Daniel

    I agree with everything you just said. However (love those), I also see Kim’s point. Instead of SEOChat and DigitalPoint forums, you have dozens of twitter accounts, blogs, and conferences. Everyone used to pull together in one or two central locations to talk SEO.

    Then everyone realized they could be building their own communities (and potentially monetizing traffic) if they moved the conversation from forums to blogs. So we saw a mass segmantalization as each “expert” went their own way.

    You’re right that there are just as many, if not more, opportunities to learn from the pros. But it’s not as easy as it was. There’s not ONE place to plug into where five of the best SEOs out there will all drop comments and suggestions in a short period of time. That ease-of-help season has passed.

    • Lisa Barone

      Fair enough, but you can’t blame people for creating their own authority and communities. Maybe it’s difficult to track down information because there’s so much of it and it’s spread out, but the conversations are still taking place if you’re someone who wants to be a part of them. Understood, though, that it was easier when everyone hung out at the same online bar to share stories and problems.

      • Daniel

        Well, I don’t blame them for creating their own communities. But I think it would have been much more admirable to maintain a heavy presence in the forums as an unselfish and charitable service.

        I think the closest an SEO pro can get to recapturing the old forum help would be to closely monitor SEO questions via Twitter Search. Not AS effective, though, because of all the blog/tweet spam where people post questions and link to their poorly written AdSense blogs.

        The Forum has obviously lost its popularity because the format is less appealing to the eye. But I’ve seen some WordPress blog themes emerge that offer a Q&A Yahoo Answers kind of feel, and I think this might be the next step of community help.

        • Lisa Barone

          Maybe it would be more charitable and admirable for people to stay and help people for free, but at some point you have to take care of you, as well. Some have been able to feed families and employees based on monetizing their own blogs and communities. You’re going to say they shouldn’t have taken that step? You can’t.

          • DanielthePoet

            Well, I think I wasn’t clear. I’m all for old school SEOs starting companies and businesses. Obviously, no one should begrudge them that.

            Guess I still buy into the Gary Vaynerchuk model (though not as many work hrs per day) where he proactively hunted people down to talk. Maybe that’s just a biz growth model and a certain point comes when you have so many inbound msgs you don’t have time to hunt people down.

  • Barry Schwartz

    Couldn’t agree more. It seems like people are not willing to work for it like they did in the past. It doesn’t mean forums are dead.

    Heck, my search blog wouldn’t be around today if forums were dead. We only cover search topics from the forums, not from anywhere else.

    That being said, I do miss the old school SEOs debating and fighting it out in old fashion discussion threads. There is still some of that at WebmasterWorld, but not like it was.

    But at the same time, the official Google help forums have grown tremendously when other SEO forums have died. No one pointed at them for a possible reason for the down fall of the old SEO forums. Want Google help? Skip the unofficial forum and get an answer from a Googler at the Google Webmaster Help forums.

    Anyway, there seems to be more people in this industry for a quick buck then in the old days. But hey – it is how it is.

    • Aussiewebmaster

      I agree Barry – with all the newsletters, blogs etc etc – many think forums takes too much reading – not thinking they could come across things they may not have been looking for but opens their eyes.

      SEW forums has lost a lot of its members and it seems today many are from other countries – these people seem to have more patience and are willing to wait for a better answer than can be done in 140 characters

  • Tony Verre

    There’s a lot truth in this post, but I feel like you’re making it too “black and white”. Either you find one or you don’t. Either you learn or you don’t. And, to quote a President: “You’re either with us or against us.”

    And, yes, the mediums have changed from WebMasterWorld forums to blogs and Twitter, but mentors don’t grow on trees.. Being a mentor means taking time out of your day because you genuinely want to help the mentee. I have to be honest, that’s not something I do see experienced SEOs willing to do.

    Do you really believe Danny, Michael, Aaron, Todd M, or Rand would be able to drop everything to mentor someone? These days? A blog post is definitely NOT the same as one on one time with someone. Hands-on, if you will.

    I wasn’t there for you mentorship with Rae and Michael, but I can only assume you hung out with them daily or weekly. Had conversations, studied their face and body language, worked along side them on occassion, correct? That level of mentor is not available these days.

    I would pose this question to you, and ask that you think honestly about it. If someone wanted YOU as a mentor, to learn your writing craft and savvy, your social marketing keenness and acumen: a) do you have to time to do b) would you do it?

    • Lisa Barone

      Honestly, I think if someone hungry enough contacted Danny, Todd, Michael, Aaron, whoever, that they would find a way to help them out. I honestly believe that because I’ve seen it happen too many times to think otherwise. And I know from personal experience that one of those four (though I imagine they all have to some degree, I just don’t know of it), has taken on exactly that same relationship with someone in the past.

      Could I do it? Obviously, it’s a time investment, but if someone came to me and had a plan for what they wanted to learn, yes, I’d do everything I could to help that person. As I alluded to in the post, while I’m no expert on anything, I spend a considerable amount of time each week answering emails and phone calls from people who simply have questions or want to talk someone out. There’s no chance these people will ever turn into a client for Outspoken, but they want to talk to someone and I do my best to be available to them.

      • Aussiewebmaster

        some of us live this industry more than just think of it as a 9-5 job – but now there are so many in house people assigned to work on the website that know a little but clock out at the end of their 8 hour day

        BTW – get your butt down to a IMNY meetup some time soon

    • Rob Croll

      As someone who teaches SEO to university students, I’d have to disagree with your comment that there aren’t many SEOs willing to take time out of their day to mentor. I’ve reached out to several of the most experienced individuals in the field and have found them more than accommodating in not only answering questions, but even in doing guest interviews or otherwise participating in my classes.

      I, for one, have been pleasantly surprised by the openness and receptiveness of people in this industry.

  • Julie Kosbab

    I think some of what’s also missed is the role of agencies and large organizations in developing SEO talent. When the industry was in infancy, it was a slightly different world. These days, large corporations have in-house departments, agencies (even if led by charismatic mega-vertebrate SEOs) have posses of account managers and specialists, etc. etc. People even hire interns specifically for SEO and analytics in the modern day, and colleges offer courses in online marketing as part of business programs.

    The role of in-house SEOs gets slammed a lot in the industry, but I’d bet there are a lot of people getting experience, learning, and benefitting from mentoring in many organizations – and that just didn’t exist to the same extent 10 years ago. It’s far quieter than the world of forums, or even of Twitter. But it’s happening.

  • Rhea Drysdale

    Bring Threadwatch back!!!

    That is all.

  • Greg Shuey

    Very well written Lisa! I fully agree with everything you said in your post. It is definitely the responsibility of the individual to get out there and learn SEO… The mentors are there providing FREE information all over the place… Twitter, Conferences, Their Company & Personal Blogs. You just need to be willing to go out, get the information, and apply it!

  • Kenny

    Any conversation you want is a round of drinks away at your closest search conference. Quit whining.

    • Dawn Wentzell

      It’s true. And as Rob Croll mentioned above, the industry is really open and receptive, once you get the “rockstar” mentality out of your head.

      As a relative n00b to the industry, my biggest piece of advice is to shut up and listen. Often old school SEOs will drop valuable nuggets of info in conversations without even realizing it. Get over what you think you know, shut up, and pay attention.

      Us new generation have just as much responsibility in this as the older gens have. Don’t stand back and complain that no one is giving you a free education, go out and look for it.

      • Lisa Barone

        Us new generation have just as much responsibility in this as the older gens have. Don’t stand back and complain that no one is giving you a free education, go out and look for it.

        That attitude is why we hired Dawn. And why she’s smarter than you.

    • Aussiewebmaster

      have paid for many drinks over the years and agree you really can learn a lot plus make the contacts that will help you for a lifetime

  • netmeg

    Count me one of the ones who said “WTF?” when I read Kim’s original post. Where are the mentors? The helpful and generous SEOs and marketers? Seriously? From where I sit, you can’t take two steps without tripping over one.

    I can’t even *begin* to measure what I’ve learned over the past couple years; first from WMW participation, and even more so when I hopped on to Twitter. And guess what – you don’t have to have a personal relationship with someone to learn from them. You just have to be observant and be able to process what you see, read and hear.

    Any time I have a question or a concern, there’s *always* someone close at hand to give me a thoughtful (and helpful) answer or solution. Heck, I asked Michael Gray a question about WordPress caching last month and he did a whole post on it, laying it out step by step. He didn’t have to do that, he doesn’t know me or have any personal interest in giving me a hand.

    While mentoring is great if you can find such a situation, it’s hard to ask people (who have their own interests) to make that kind of investment in you. But you don’t have to take up a lot of someone’s time to be able to learn from them. And the onus is on YOU to find the people you can learn from , not for them to stand there and feed it to you. (I wish I could attach a photo here of a bunch of baby birds with their mouths open being fed, because that’s the image in my head at the moment)

    For that matter, when was the last time you thanked someone who maybe helped you out and didn’t even realize it? This past Christmas, someone from the WMW AdWords forum sent me a $25 Amazon gift certificate completely out of the blue, saying he just wanted to thank me because I’d really helped him out over the past year, even though he’d never once directed a specific question to me. That one gesture makes up for a lot of the name calling I get from people who *don’t* appreciate what I have to say (as recently as yesterday, ork ork). And it also brought home to me that I am not as appreciative as I could be towards the people who have schooled me, whether or not they realize it.

    Yesterday a former client who’d sort of drifted away called up because he was moving to a whole new platform with 15,000 pages indexed in Google and at the last minute realized maybe he better get some advice on how to do it properly. We talked for about an hour as I gave him a list of what ought to be done and why, and even I was amazed at how much I’d picked up. That talk was about 40% WebmasterWorld (mostly @g1smd and tedster) 25% @sugarrae, 15% @pageoneresults and the rest made up of myself and other one off comments or posts or tweets that I’d picked up over time.

    All you have to do is look around. And now and then, say thank you, and pay it forward.

    • Aussiewebmaster

      wow – that gift really shows the person has some style and maybe learned enough to make some good money and wants to recognize those who have helped

  • Randy S

    I have to say that I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have a brilliant mind as my SEO mentor. I have been working under him for 4 1/2 weeks and he continuously throws more information at me than I could ever handle!

    Also, I would assume that there are quite a few SEO professionals out there that are unwilling to share their knowledge out of fear of being “usurped”!

  • Rae Hoffman

    What I want to know is why Kim, or anyone else, would think the burden of teaching and protecting SEO seems the responsibility of the old school generation of SEOs for life. I spent my time volunteering… I helped the 2nd generation of SEOs learn and develop and did it for years. But, why is it MY job to teach the 3rd generation, the 4th and the “new school generation” as well? Why isn’t that well educated 2nd teaching the 3rd, the 3rd the 4th and the 4th the new school?

    Well, in some cases it’s because there are too many bullshit smoke and mirror rockstars these days that can only regurgitate and can’t create. In others maybe it’s laziness. But it is not my job to handhold the industry for the rest of my life. Those of us “too busy with our own businesses” have created an entire job industry that didn’t exist ten years ago. Maybe we’re too busy helping the economy to help out in a forum or write a blog post.

    I’ve done my time giving back (and still do at conferences, and occasional posts etc… just have less time to do so)… the blame doesn’t belong on the old school generation just because the generations we helped teach didn’t pay it forward.

    • Tony Verre

      Don’t lump us all in with the “they”. There are plenty of us (2nd and 3rd Gen SEOs) out there doing exactly what the “old school” SEOs have done.

      It’s just about doing it. Period. Ten years in, 5 of which I’ve been involved, and people are still trying to invent the SEO wheel. It’s silly and gross. We know what works, we know how it works for the most part, and we share that info. Write a blog, use a forum, create a conference, start a new conference. Do whatever you can to for SEO to crush the “voodoo” and “mystic” aura that STILL follows us around today.

      That’s how you mentor. That’s how we all “pay it forward”.

    • Tim Staines

      Rae, I think you and Kim are saying the same thing. She’s also asking why gen 2 and gen 3 don’t appear to be “paying it forward” and trying to remove the “responsibility” from gen 1. You two are on the same page.

      Lisa points out that there has been a shift in where the information is being disseminated, and who actually WANTS to learn. That’s the key point.

      Having learned from you, and Lisa, and Rand, and Aaron, and everyone else listed in this post, I feel indebted. When the opportunity presents itself for me to give back, I try to do so. But I don’t feel obligated to teach the next generation SEO with blog posts or forum contributions, because your (everyone above’s) content and guidance is still accurate and solid.

      If someone wants to know something about SEO, I point them to where I went to learn whatever it was. It’s not my job, as a nth gen SEO to rewrite the books that you guys have created, or read the books FOR the next gen SEO. My pay it forward always references all the good educational material that’s already out there. If I’m not a good nth gen SEO industry citizen because of that, fine. I’m going back to work.

    • Dr. Pete

      @Rae Just to second Tim – I think Kim was actually heading in that direction, too – not saying that the 1st gen has to keep giving and giving but that the 2nd and 3rd gen seem noticeably absent.

      Even though I’ve been around the internet industry for a while (went to work for a start-up after grad school in 1997), I’d consider myself a 2nd- or 3rd-gen SEO. I definitely benefited from the generosity of the first generation, and I try to give back. At the same time, I’ve got clients to take care of and mouths to feed.

      What I think bothers me (in general, not with Kim’s argument) is the idea that “free” somehow equals “charity”. Sure, there are greedy SEOs out there, but there are also cheap, opportunistic webmasters who want free advice. There’s nothing charitable or honorable about cheapening our own expertise by giving handouts to idiots. Aaron Wall has talked about this a lot (as have others) – what we do has value, and we need to defend it. Our charity has to be selective, and frankly, deserved.

    • youfoundjake

      Interesting post Lisa, as always.
      disclaimer: I don’t do SEO for business, I don’t charge for what I recommend.
      I don’t know where I first started learning about SEO, but I can say with certainty that along the way, I gravitated towards those that were considered “authorities” in the industry, like WebmasterWorld, SEObook, Wolf-Howl, Search Engine Land, SEOMoz, to name a few. Later, I started delving deeper into the community, and I discovered an even broader range. Sugarrae, and Lisa, and Rhea included. I’m still going over Rae’s “How to Survive the Affiliate Evolution” post and related items, and that was written darn near 3 years ago.
      One of my favorite threads is Brett’s “Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone” post over on WebmasterWorld.
      The bulk of the knowledge is out there, laid at our feet, by the old gen, only a click or google search away.
      Me, I’m a relatively small player in the vast pool of the interwebz, but, I can ask Rae or Danny or Matt Cutts a question and get a pretty straight forward answer. The focus of my laserbeam has greatly intensified since the days of forums and blogs, with the advent of tools like Twitter or LinkedIn, to the point where I’m darn near getting it from the source.
      All the greats are still around, as is all the writting they’ve done, and the participation with the community is at a much higher level today then it was when the old gen started out.
      I truely do have it made in these times..

    • Aussiewebmaster

      darling you always make me smile

  • Joe Hall

    Back when SEO forums were in their heyday I was spending most of my time in the open source developers communities. There you will find mentors and n00bs alike. Over the years those communities have changed and developed in many ways like the SEO industry. Like the SEO industry many of the old school open source developers have gone on to their own projects and businesses. But now second and third generation developers have taken their place and are mentor to new users on a regular basis. I’ve always believed that this type of mentoring and leadership was exclusive to the open-source communities.

    While it’s obvious that there are many strong mentors within the SEO community there is a definite difference in spirit with open source development. I think the main difference stems from the “fame game”. Open source development communities are often void of trivial pursuit’s of fame and glory because it is based on communal participation in development. Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t open source developers then haven’t made a name for themselves such as Matt Mullenweg. But it is safe to say that the SEO community seems to be constantly overrun with individuals more concerned with building a strong personal brand then actually understanding or doing SEO. That is an unbalance that you do not find in open source development.

    For the sake of calling names and pointing fingers, David Harry , has been an awesome mentor to me with SEO. Sure hes got his own premium community going, but I think that’s awesome, because he’s discovered a way to weed out the wannabees and truly help those they want to learn.

  • Streko

    I am the greatest SEO that ever lived.

    And again, bring back threadwatch.

  • Nate Schubert

    I like Rae’s outlook the best. I’m not looking for mentors or for handouts. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got. Some weeks I get nowhere, other weeks I make progress that I haven’t made in months. My focus is on Ecommerce & Search and I have to fight tooth and nail to get the smallest things implemented for my in-house gig.

    I’m not asking for help because I don’t expect to get it from people like Rae, Lisa, Michael Gray or Tony Verre. The help I’ve received from them has come by way of blog posts, and those blog posts have come by way of inspiration via Twitter.

    I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll keep eeking out a living and I will definitely try to bribe Rae, Michael or both for some specific site attention at #SSSS. Gotta pay to play?

  • Alastair Behenna

    As a rank outsider and not really even a newborn …..probably early stage of conception is more akin to my state of knowledge … I have to say that I have found more help and freely given advice than you can shake a stick at in the short space of time I’ve been researching SEO.

    The onus is upon me as to just how I use and apply that but I am amazed at just how generous people have been to date. Stunned and in awe of the friendly and productive tips and how to’s. Really couldn’t ask for more … really.

    Oh yes and the wit and good humour. Superb.

  • Katherine Gallo

    This is exactly why I reached out to you and Rhea and started the Social Marketing Meetups in Albany (one of which will be happening soon). My ulterior goal was to leech knowledge off of both of you. And while in reality it didn’t happy exactly like that (the beer was too distracting for all involved), I know that if I had questions you’d both be there to help me. And, even better, I made two new friends.

  • Todd Mintz

    It’s been my experience that anyone “known” in the SEO community in a non-negative way can reach out to anyone else “known” in the SEO community with a high likelihood of receptiveness. And with Twitter & other social media outlets, it’s much easier to become known by your peers, which can grant you this “introductory access”.

    If you’re not known and you wish to reach out to someone who is known, show plenty of humility. Too many “expect” an A-list SEO to give them their hard-earned lessons without any quid pro quo which is unrealistic and is why many of the top names in our industry are far less visible than they once were.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    @Lisa… I know you want a debate because you start with a challenge by saying I have it “backwards”. This is what marketers seem to do. It’s black or white. Republican or Democrat. Rich or poor. Drunk or sober. One side is the cool kid and the other is a pathetic loser. Why?

    I asked, “Where is the New Generation of talented, generous, skilled SEO’s?” This is what I asked in my blog post. In reponse, most folks brought up the old guard, both in my blog and in here. WTF? I didn’t ask, “Why is everyone sitting on their lazy asses?” Did I say that? Did I EVER SAY THAT ABOUT ANY OF THE PEOPLE you all went off on?

    Wow. Just wow. So my question, again, is where is the new generation of search marketers? I learned they are NOT in forums. The responses are pretty clear on that. So, I’ve now asked if it’s okay to shut down forums, or at least the one I own, because clearly, the new generation of SEO’s find it old school, boring as hell and quaint. Good. I really need a vacation after moderating and hosting forums since 1996. I’m a little sad there is no one to give it to, however, that I be comfortable with, other than the family of moderators who presently take care of it. They too, are not new people. They’ve done their time volunteering and teaching online, for free.

    @Rae points out there is possibly no one to pay it forward to. There. It was said. She proved my point.

    Threadwatch. I LOVED it. If you cut your newbie teeth there and survived, you were worth every fee you charged clients.

    Who is responsible? Everyone is. Lisa, what happens if nobody is? It’s already here. This industry financially supports a place like TOPSEOs. I see Ed and Ally raising hell about it, with Ed warning me I should shut up about it because I’ll piss off the A-listers who pay to be associated with it. The SEO industry strongly dislikes SEMPO, an organization intended to represent it. It’s an industry that thrives on independent, stubborn and really brilliant thinkers. What will be left when they’re gone? Rae picked up Rhea and Lisa. Where is the next generation after you?

    I asked, in my blog, for suggestions on who some of the new skilled talent might be. One person answered by suggesting Jane, Bill, Rebecca…no need for last names. We already know them! They were mentioned because they came back to volunteer more.

    I did not attack anyone who already HAS been out there, like all the folks you all mentioned. Shaking head…you really thought I would do that?

  • Kim Krause Berg

    I wrote in my blog:
    “Some of the most well known people in the search engine marketing, social networking and web design industries were once moderator’s at large forums. They gave back. They taught. They offered help to the community and the industries they love. They asked for nothing in return, but nearly all of them now have their own businesses. Some are speakers at conferences. Several have turned to focus on their own local towns. As the Internet expands, some of them have found they are needed in new places, like schools or organizations.

    When they leave, the forum or community they participated in suffers. There are not enough replacements.”

    To re-state, I was asking where the new generation is, to replace those who have given their time already.

    I could be mistaken, but typically I’m the approachable type. If I wrote something that made little sense or is confusing, a note asking me where I put my head at would have sufficed.

  • Crimsongirl

    The good thing about forums is that they are a relatively stable and static repository of knowledge. If you want to know something, someone else has probably already asked, and you can see how the community responded. You also know where to go to ask a question if you need specific help or advice.

    Twitter and blogs are more ephemeral and more disconnected. How can you ask a question on Twitter? You can’t unless you have a Twitter account and followers. How do you know which blogs to visit for your issue? Blogs are controlled by the blog owner more than the community. There are many fine blogs, of course, but it’s not the same as a forum type message board.

    Bars, email, phone? Good for extraverts. Not good for introverts. Also good for specific advice and questions rather than general learning. As far as LinkedIn, all I ever see on there is people trying to sell their product or service (maybe I am looking in the wrong discussions.)

    Anyhow, I don’t think the lack of SEO mentors and guidance is much of a problem. As Kim pointed out, there are too many snake oil salesmen already. We don’t have a great need for more people in this industry.

  • Lisa Barone

    Kim: I’m a bit taken back by your comment, to be honest. You were not attacked in any way in this post. No one was attacked. If you feel that was the case…then I’m confused as well.

    I don’t think there’s all that much to even debate. I genuinely feel like you’re asking the wrong question, which is why this post was written. Where are all the generous SEOs? They’re still here. Where are the people seeking out mentors? That’s what I’m looking for.

    I’m not sure I made it sound like you asked why people were sitting on their ass. That’s the question that I asked. Most of my new gen/old gen comments were in response to comments you made on your post:

    This is what concerns me. The same people who were out teaching, mentoring, supporting and promoting good solid practices are still doing it. Danny Sullivan…still at it. There are so many, from the 1990’s doing things like teaching at MarketMotive, or courses or workshops or seminars. Everyone is keeping an eye for new leaders and continued growth but where do you find the next generation? Why is the next Gen not standing up and fighting the spam/scam/scapers?

    To be honest, I hate conversations about new gen/old gen because it’s divisive in a way that benefits no one. And to be honest, the new gen is often ignored in favor of the old gen. But where are they – they’re out there, perhaps a bit quieter and fragmented before. Jane (and others) are doing SEOmoz Q&A, others like myself are blogging, i’m spending hours in my email. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And just because it’s not happening on your forum definitely doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

    You didn’t ask who the new gen kids were that weren’t paying it forward. You asked why that hadn’t stepped up and when they would. Many have.

  • Terry Van Horne

    The current generation of SEO’s feel like they are entitled to be told how to do things rather than how we learned in the past… by doing it and thinking outside the box. Now SEO’s scream for Google or someone to tell them caffiene is on. Geez really? How do you learn your trade like that? I don’t know a single SEO who has done it like that.

    The current generation of SEO’s are spoon fed marketers who need someone to hold their hand… too many don’t have a clue who is talking crap at conferences and on their WODS (more than a few so-called experts doing that). I literally read today how a certain expert has decreed internal linking as a benefit to home page is a myth… Really? it’s a semi-true statement pushed to the extreme to increase traffic to this persons blog. That’s why I went into a community because peeps actually get offended when you try to correct the really stupid stuff propagated by these SEO cult leaders.

    The Cult leaders could care less about the peeps who blindly follow, they are just sheeple and get what they deserve for what they are putting into their trade. So bottom line is you get what you deserve based on how hard you work for It! I will say this, there is mentoring going on! I see it daily and work with several peeps in the Dojo, however, Mentors are not going to seek you out, come to them, show you care about the trade/biz and want to learn and you’ll see there are lots of peeps willing to help.

    Just my .02 Ca.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    @Lisa…I’m really fed up with the elephant in the room. It’s the same one as all my relatives BEGGING to see me get drunk. Everyone wishes I’d totally haul ass and duke it out. Or, make a mistake. Say something dumb. It’s a freaking holiday when I say “shit”. Breathe.

    I have no doubt that you and I see eye to eye or would vary little when it comes down to it. CLEARLY (everyone hold your breath), I needed an editor for my post. I did not ask, nor would I ever ask, where the previous educators are. We know them, love them, miss them and know what they’re up to.

    I own a forum. We see very few new SEO’s there. What does come are SEO spammers out the gazoo. In the past year, we got one guy I can think of who loves teaching and sharing really good info. The rest of the help are the same folks (thank goodness for them) or the moderators who are exhausted from years of doing that.

    I wasn’t thinking about who is responsible for passing the baton. Didn’t think that far until you brought it up. But you called my thinking “backwards”. How about hey Kim, have you ever wondered about ….? And anyone could have emailed me privately or in my blog to say I wrote something that was unclear. If anyone thinks what I write for SEL isn’t edited, you’re on drugs.

    I’m more pissed at the comments. @Netmeg wrote, after a few WTF’s, “you don’t have to have a personal relationship with someone to learn from them.” I want to meet and get to know the new folks. I’d like to hire or refer them if they can prove they’re any good. One way to do that is to be in front of my face and since they’re not, I figured I’d ask. So. WTF. I won’t refer someone who is a pretender and there are thousands of them in the SEO industry.

    @Rae wrote, “What I want to know is why Kim, or anyone else, would think the burden of teaching and protecting SEO seems the responsibility of the old school generation of SEOs for life. ”

    I didn’t say in my post that its their responsibility. I don’t look at it that way. In my head (clearly clueless) its a karmic thing of you give back to those who gave to you. We noticed at our forums the imbalance, which is what prompted to write.

    The outcome of my post was to learn that forums are old school, conversation of any value is done best at 140 characters and there may be a new culture in the industry.

    • Lisa Barone

      Okay, maybe I’m seeing this from a total outsider perspective, but I don’t think this post or the reaction to your post had anything to do with it being YOU who said it. I don’t think it was a personal thing or people wanting to see you called out in ANY way. I think you hit on a hot button and something people are obviously passionate about – and they responded.

      I thought you were asking the wrong question, so I posed a different one. Mine happened to be the reverse of yours, hence “backwards”. I honestly didn’t mean it as any type of personal slight or attack. I was just starting a new conversation, one focused on a different question.

      The comments speak for themselves, on both our posts, as to where people stand. You also have to remember that many conversations that start on Twitter are moved elsewhere, so we’re not having 140-character discussions. That’s simply where they start.

      Part of moving the conversation about SEO forward is being able to have these debates and discussions. No one’s attacking anyone.

  • Brian LaFrance

    I think that situations like this are why some of the newer gen SEOs aren’t stepping out publicly and trying to make a big name as a mentor (and even some people who have been around a while). If you say something that someone doesn’t agree with, you get flamed and/or your reputation destroyed (not saying Lisa did that…or even Kim necessarily…but the context people took it in is the prob), regardless of the intent. Most of the people I know in this industry are awesome. Many of them never set foot in a forum or even give advice publicly. Unfortunately, there are also some big mouthed attention whores who don’t know jack but like to act like they do and overshadow the people doing good. I agree 100% with Lisa that people need to get out and ask questions. You may not get an answer the first time, but it’s not because that person you asked doesn’t want to help. Someone like Rae has so much going on that you’re going to unintentionally get looked over. As Kenny pointed out, buying someone a drink at a search conference is a perfect way to start a conversation. Even if you’re not talking to one of the 1st or 2nd gen SEOs, you’re bound to find someone that can and will help you. Hell…if anything, you may end up with a new friend or future business partner…I know I have.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    Oh good to know this wasn’t an attack or anything.

    I would like a cruise and one of those really pretty granite grave markers with a picture of my ass on it. Thanks.

    • Rae Hoffman

      Seriously, Kim… a disagreement of opinion is not a personal attack… I’m guilty of those and it always has the person’s name in the title. You can’t write a semi-controversial post and expect no reply… if you WANT your opinions never to be debated, you’d have to keep them at the dinner table, not on a public blog.

  • DanielthePoet

    I love how testy SEOs get.

    • Nathan Hangen

      and that’s why I get fed up with the SEO industry…I thought the Social Media people were bad, but SEO’s seem to be in a turf war that few dare to get involved in.

      I don’t know anything about this debate, but I’ll say this…most people just don’t care about SEO…they just don’t.

      It’s nothing personal, it’s just that it seems so esoteric these days and it’s tough to get a handle on it…so we focus on content and networking instead.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    Lost my Zen but come on. Everyone has waited for years for me to swear online. I did it. Hopefully it won’t happen again for another 12 years or so.

    Rae, thanks for your business head via Twitter. Much appreciated.

    Lisa. Lisa. I’m sorry and my daughter just asked me to get a shower. All my daughters get to tell me what to do. :)

  • Mike Ramsey

    I have been following the conversation and want to at least give some input as a newbie in the industry.

    1. Late 2008 was the start date for me. I am wondering if in the old, people searched and found forums to learn from. To be honest…. I stumbled onto blogs and that is where my “aha” moments happened.

    2. Local Search: I haven’t spend tons of time on the main stream SEO blogs/forums because starting, I was way more interested in local search. I found David Mihm’s site and read everything I could. Then I send him an email asked how I could learn more, within a day I had heard back from him with a list of places like Mike Blumenthals Blog where there were always lively conversations like what is happening here.

    3. I wanted to become “known”. Now this is where I think the newbies do fall short. They are a lot of people that don’t pay the price of blogging themselves, asking questions, commenting, tweeting, and trying to get to know people.

    I worked during the day, and commented at night, sent emails with questions, and did everything I could to learn from guys like David, Mike B, and Matt McGee. And in return… I have learned something from all of them publicly from there blogs….or privately in emails & tweets and now would consider many of the local crowd friends.

    4. Newbies thoughts on forums… I haven’t taken part in forums largely because I didn’t recognize them as a place where the veteran’s in my field were. They all had blogs where I could hear directly from the source (and comment back). So, that is where I went and continue to go. I have never posted on webmaster world, cre8asite forums, or any other.

    Personally, I am seeing that it is becoming the responsibility of the mentee to seek out the mentor and simply pay the price to become friends. As the industry grows, Mentors (old and young) are going to have to be skeptical of every new person wanting information because there is waaaay to many who have moved into the space and you couldn’t take the time to seek out the young and teach them to hunt. So, the good ones will find mentors, and mentors/mentees will have to remember to pay it forward whether in a forum, blog, twitter, email, or bar :D

  • Karen

    I was disappointed by the tone of the post and that of some of the comments. I do not know any of the parties involved so I don’t have any bias toward or against anyone writing.

    I did sense an antagonistic tone that came through as I read the post. While I recognize that analysis of this type can be partly subjective, as a former publisher and broadcaster, I believe that I have some feel for the tone of an article.

    I believe the post and resulting comments would be more beneficial to readers if they were approached as a discussion where people were open to other’s opinions and willing to learn from each other.

    Thank you for the opportunity to read the post and the comments and to respond with a comment of my own. Peace!

  • Dave Culbertson

    Well said Lisa. If I had a dollar for every time I gave away free SEO advice (particularly local SEO)….

  • Alysson

    As some others have pointed out, I didn’t take Kim’s post as a wag of her finger toward SEOs who don’t participate in forums as much as they used to or that the responsibility to teach new SEOs indefinitely falls on industry vets like Rae. Rae appears to have taken that very personally, as if she were being attacked…and that’s not really the message I took away from Kim’s post at all.

    On the flip side, I didn’t see Lisa’s post as an attack on Kim either. I think she disagreed that mentors have disappeared and was pointing out how and where new SEOs are finding their information these days. People are really used to Lisa being accusatory and controversial. Because of that, I think some assumptions were made about the spirit and intent behind this post.

    And I think those assumptions have really taken away from what could have been a worthwhile and substantive conversation…

    • Lisa Barone

      People are really used to Lisa being accusatory and controversial.

      Respectfully, give me a fucking break, dude. I guess I could blog about TechMeme like everyone else. Or maybe people can just grow up and realize a dissenting opinion doesn’t mean the world is out to get them or that we’ve all been waiting for them to fail. And supposedly I’m the one with the ego.

      • Todd

        Quit whining…know your role. ;)

      • Alysson

        I wasn’t insulting you or claiming that expressing dissenting opinions is a bad thing. Challenging opposing ideas and people with whom you disagree is what you do. I never suggested you shouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t want you to do that. Nor would anyone else who enjoys reading this blog. It’s kind of the point. Your success is based on your propensity and commitment toward being outspoken…DUH!

        People have grown accustomed to you stirring the pot to generate an emotional reaction…it gets people thinking & talking. Because of that, your making an argument in opposition to someone else is often perceived as a “DAMN, I guess she told her…” type of post, even if that’s not the intent with which you wrote it.

        I don’t know what your intent was with this post, but in reading it I didn’t take it as your claws coming out or that you were taking swipes at Kim for shits & giggles. Her post expressed frustration with a perception that SEO mentors were a dying breed. Your post refuted the notion that mentors an endangered species by pointing out where and how people give back to the industry community…which just doesn’t happen to include heavy involvement in forums the way it once did.

        Inexplicable drama aside, those are the constructive messages that should be taken away from both your post and Kim’s.

    • Rae Hoffman

      I didn’t take it personal at all… anyone who knows me knows how I react to something I take as a personal attack, and it isn’t with an even headed and cool response like I gave here. I simply am passionate on my opinion of the original post.

      • Alysson

        Based on the comments and the Twitter exchange, you approached it as if Kim said, “Why aren’t YOU teaching new SEOs and giving back to the community?” You proceeded to point out all that you still do…like speaking at TWELVE conferences, having one-on-one conversations with people, answering their questions and engaging with them personally. Awesome, but I didn’t perceive her post as an accusation that you or other first generation search marketers had abandoned the community or stopped teaching.

        Rather I took it as her perception that there was no second generation waiting to pick up the baton and stepping up to run with it. You guys have paid your dues. You’ve done your part. The industry exists because of the work you two have done at places like Cre8asiteForums and WebmasterWorld. Your contributions and continued support of the community weren’t being questioned. Her question was who is going to carry on that tradition, not “where the hell did everyone go?”

        Your responses didn’t speak to Kim’s perception that there’s no next wave of mentors taking ownership of educating & helping new search marketers the way you guys did, which is what was the core message of her post. Your response was, “I do this…”, “I do that…”, “I haven’t abandoned anyone…”. That’s what I meant by having taken Kim’s post personally.

  • Briana

    I think every industry has this problem: old school and new school have different views. As time goes on, technology changes the way we do things. SEO is not immune to this. Sure, I respect the old way people used to do it. I wouldn’t say that technology has made things easier for us; actually, I think it’s given us even more work.

    I don’t think she was attacking anyone but I do think that anyone who doesn’t too much roll with the punches would feel the way things are done now may not be as efficient (in their eyes)

  • Jeremy Martin

    Really great post. I think Kim’s post opened up a very good debate and it was really interesting to see Rae, You and Kim on Twitter today going back and forth. It is always nice to hear both sides. Thanks Lisa!

  • Mick

    Lisa, I’m hoping that you are the type of person who can digest feedback and reply without intense emotions. I can honestly say that you, and the staff of the company that you work for, are definitely “outspoken”. I’m not well-known in the industry, but I do hope that that won’t make this comment any less important.

    Unfortunately, more and more, you’re company is starting to turn me off in certain ways. I was inspired when I first started reading this blog. Yet, your post today, which really seemed to be targeted at someone and came across as somewhat disjointed, along with a few posts in the past don’t make feel inspired to continue reading posts from your company:


    (comments disabled???)

    Using “you just suck” comes across as juvenile, as does “woulda, coulda, shoulda”, in those post titles — just my honest opinion. Maybe they were link-bait, as this post might have been.

    I don’t necessarily think that being outspoken is a bad thing, but I am getting a strong vibe of “we’re awesome and you’re not”, around here lately. Somewhat disappointed…

    • Lisa Barone

      I HATE YOU!!!

      Sorry. Kidding. :)

      None of the posts you mentioned (including yesterday’s) was intended as linkbait. To be honest, maybe I need to re-evaluate, but I don’t feel this post was as critical as it’s being made out to be. Perhaps I’m too far inside. If so, I appreciate the fresh eyes. It’s definitely one I’ll want to re-look at after things die down.

      As for Rae’s Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda — that’s her personal post on her personal blog, so there’s not much I can offer on that one.

      That said, Outspoken isn’t for everyone – the blog or the company. If it’s not for you, I can certainly respect that. There are plenty of other SEO and marketing-related blogs out there for ya. Safe travels. :)

  • Maciej

    Just because technology has came down and swooped in doesn’t mean any SEO should kick their feet up and find a program to put things on auto pilot. The industry is changing almost on a daily basis and a good internet marketer understands that you must always be shifting with these changes to stay alive. Wondering why something didn’t work from 5 years ago today is not going to keep your blade sharp.

  • Nancy E. Wigal

    there’s the old saying, “givers give.” And they get back. I freely give away valuable information to business owners who are starved for information. They just don’t know what they don’t know.

    Lisa, you bring up a good point that right now, somebody doesn’t have to be particularly good at SEO to make a living at it. Sad, but true. I spend a lot of time listening to potential clients cry on my shoulder about how their last SEO guy really screwed up their website.

    It takes a lot of time to hear them out, gently tell them this the way to go, and then they pose the million dollar question to me: “how do I know what you’re telling me is finally right?”

    I have potential SEOers call and email me, asking how to do this. I tell them to keep up with these blogs that offer valuable, white hat SEO information.

    Great post!

  • Yawn Webmaster

    Oh Ciccia! I can’t believe it. You’re talking about one of the heroes of SEO in this post, and then you go on to say she’s backward?

    Let’s do a quick review of where we’re at now in SEO terms. But in fact it’s been this way for quite sometime.

    The left side:
    Rae, Seomoz, yourselves and a whole host of other “engagement” bands. – We have people that go to conferences, give nice little video tutorials and generally promote their own services via their blog (which is fine, although I do find the context of your own Rae alonside Kim in this post a little bit off kilter). Largely what the Left Side does is teach company workforces how to do SEO. But if companies were able to draft Job Descriptions properly – with your advice? I think not [this is the right side’s approach, see below] – most of the things that are taught are basic UI stuff, so the problem is in not getting the right staff. This advice also extends to how to follow the SE guidelines, makes sure that the site looks nice and conform, and you guys charge a lot of money for doing so. I say WELL DONE! Business is about positioning yourself in a market where you can find customers, and then exploiting that commercially. I have absolutely no problem with that.

    The right side:
    People like me, and a many other noted SEO experts starting work since 1998. We don’t like to goto conferences and talk with brands – we send sales people for that – we don’t have any commitment to the search engine guidelines or to the way in which these guidelines are applied. What we focus on is making clients a lot of money, and we’re talking about millions here not 100s of thousand, which can be tracked back to source and then presented in a way that results in commercially actionable business decisions to be taken on its basis. We have technology that Google might “frown” on but we can leverage this because we know the search engines better than they do themselves. We are not looking to become a trusted friend or for any other kind of warm glowy accolade to be applied to us. Our clients are made aware of the whole landscape regarding web strategy which is not influenced by search engine Press Releases, or a gut feeling, it’s pure R&D. You want to get 10,000 inbound links? Fine this is the risk you will be taking. You want to cloak, you want article marketing, you want to understand your visitors and to develop an effective SM strategy, we will do this. But here’s the thing, our clients pay us because we have this as our core competency and because they are sick and tired of always getting The Left Side with all it’s floweryness. Clients want to access the darker side of the force, which in fact is not all that dark, it’s just the left side has made the representation of SEO so angel like, they forgot where it all began.

    So, in answer I’d say that The Left Side will go from strength to strength and companies will spend a huge amount of money and it will do good for them. But the right side will know that 80% of the consultancy by the left side is air.

    But you just have to cross your fingers that The Right Side doesn’t find itself in the same niche as one of your clients, because at that point it really is game over for the left side’s client.

    [I’ve used left and right side for illustrative purposes it’s not political]

  • Jim Rudnick

    Only forum that I know, that STILL has SEO newbies coming to learn (yes as well as that plethora of seo scammers too) is seochat.com! Been a member there since the days of Rand, Jill and Barry and will comment that only in the past year or so, have I too begun to think that trying to teach an SEO newbie by using a forum model, may be broken.

    TOO many scammers and TOO many spammers now come by daily (forums.seochat.com is still #1 in G for ‘seo forums’)….and we’re innundated with the same old outdated tricks to try to gain baclinks and juice from their comments…sigh….

    Sadly this same topic about validation of this “help” appears to rise in that forum about every 6 months or so, usually from a long-time member asking if what we’re doing has either any value to the SEO community, as well as where’n hell all the idiots come from.

    Dont know the answer, but I can tell you this….methinks that my own forum presence there will lessen over the next year or so….trying to “pay back” to the SEO community via forum teaching/advice/counsel is starting to be a chore, rather than a love….


    Jim Rudnick

  • The Visible Dentist

    Where are all the helpful SEOs to encourage, enable, inspire and be role models for the younger generation?

    Good question.

    It’s becoming more apparent that we now exist in a lawless, crippled, dependent society where glittering, popular symbols of authority have replaced honesty, transparency and real work.

    America is today a land inhabited by middlemen and “consultants” — they produce nothing.

    Americans live in a make-believe fantasy world filled with hype, deceit and down right theft. And why not — the ideology of dependency and dishonesty trickles down from Washington to Hollywood. There are no decent role models. It’s rat eat rat.

    I wrote an e-book which was popular for a few years (The SEO Tutor); it was in many peers’ estimation the quintessential tutorial for SEO; it’s no longer for sale. Why? Because more people were interested in stealing it and selling bootlegs rather than actually reading and applying its 23 succinct, liberating pages of instruction.

    Today I just do my own thing; I’m old school and very successful at what I do. Believe me, I’ve attempted to teach SEO to many youngsters, especially these last few years. However, they’re not interested in learning; kids today seem to take no pride in their work; they have no natural curiosity of the world around them; worst of all they have no concept of delayed gratification.

    And if you can’t get by your own efforts, hell, just steal it from someone else. That’s the mantra of today’s generation.

    Thus the evolution of thug nation, formerly America.

    Why would I want to waste my time teaching thugs anything?

    John Barremore
    Houston, TX

  • Streko

    2 things.

    1 – You’re all a bunch of hippies.

    2 – I am the greatest SEO of all time.

  • Yawn Webmaster

    Streko, I build bots like yours for breakfast :=)

  • Eric Baggett

    As always, a great post. I second the opinion that this isn’t a “black and white” debate. There certainly are mentors out there, and there certainly are young people asking for them. However, there aren’t enough. I teach SEO at a local community college. I do it in my spare time, and I’m not getting rich off if it. I do it because I love to teach, and because I see a great need for quality SEO knowledge in the St. Louis area. I also mentor someone who is a few months from graduating college and wants to work in this field. He came to me and asked. I didn’t go to him. As with all things, there’s room for improvement. I would challenge all “great” SEOs out there to make themselves available to young people who want to learn and find a way they can give back to their local SEO community.

  • Earl Grey

    They grew up and moved on.
    If they could cut it in ppc they did, if they could generate income from affiate they did but the most part cant really do shit so they tried to continue to sell seo services but when so many newbs and idiots got involved they moved into selling conversion services and the like.
    As an old timer would i defend seo?
    Not really because its one small part of a huge arsenal to get traffic.

  • Karen

    “That said, Outspoken isn’t for everyone – the blog or the company. If it’s not for you, I can certainly respect that. There are plenty of other SEO and marketing-related blogs out there for ya. Safe travels. :)”

    Thank you for wishing me safe travels as I focus my attention on other SEO blogs. I wish you the best as well.