Your SEO Is Building, Or Destroying, Your Online Reputation

I saw a post yesterday on Search Engine Land by Andrew Shotland that got me thinking. It should go without saying, but do you REALLY know that your SEO is affecting your reputation? Every email sent requesting links, every blog comment, and every fake review can come back to bite you in the ass.

Let’s not get carried away. Only 35% of you who are paying an SEO have anything to worry about. Still… Those 35% of you should take a closer look.

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Four Levels of Reputation Monitoring Prowess

Everyone comes to the Reputation Monitoring party at one stage or another. Maybe you’re a rookie, bumbling around and covering up your mistakes because you don’t know any better. Maybe you’re an empath, getting dirty in the trenches while you ooze sympathy for everyone’s feelings. Perhaps  you’re a veteran, wise enough to know thy enemy before he strikes.  But maybe, just maybe, you’re a Jedi, aware of all things at all times. Dynamically in touch with The Force.

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At, my eyes are immediately drawn to the combination of a killer black banner, the faded imagery within the banner, the contrast between banner, body, and background, and eventually the way it all makes the blue “” stand out as the most important thing on the page. Upon closer inspection, I see the Seattle space needle, street lamps, and an artsy sense of downtown life. At first, however, I don’t identify the faded images at all. I just find their shapes appealing and my eyes move on to the next thing: the logo.

While this is THE BEST looking SEO services / tools website I’ve ever seen and the logo matches the color scheme of the site,  I still find myself a bit confused by the logo. What is that, exactly? A star? A flower?

In that moment of indecision, the brand has lost a bit of my respect. This starflower looks a bit like glorified clip art. My can be regained, of course, but to my subconscious, the nondescript image says, “we don’t know who we are”.

Short-Lived Negativity

Those negative feelings are instantly squelched by the next thing I see… the beacon. Call it an antennae, call it a tower, call it what you wish. To me, the image is bold and says, “HERE is the beacon. The signal heard round the world. The tower to which all men are drawn.”

And, in a very real way, this imagery holds true. You don’t get very far into the informed SEO universe before you hear about the most popular brand on the block, SEOMoz. Rand, if you’re reading this, the beacon should’ve been the logo. Just sayin’.

Long before the days of Outspoken Media, SEOMoz was successfully pulling in tens of thousands of visitors to a blog that wasn’t the homepage. It was a products / services website that just happened to have a blog. Okay, not really. The blog and the people behind the blog (Rand Fishkin, Jane Copland, and Rebecca Kelley) are what made the brand. The services were only in demand because of the proficiency shown in the blog (and the combo of trust and relationship built with others in the industry at every single SEO conference under the sun).

My Biggest Complaint

Ever since the beginning, I’ve disagreed with ANY blog that requires membership to comment. Because, honestly, there’s no blog I NEED to comment on so badly that I’m going to waste time signing in. Either I get the instant gratification of commenting on the fly or I don’t.

Why Memberships Suck

First of all, I don’t like terms such as “fans”, “followers”, and the like. I don’t like any brand coming across as the definitive source, with all its readers as lesser-than fans or members. The time spent signing in is exactly the amount of time it takes for me to go elsewhere and participate in a different conversation (if I happen to be feeling chatty that day).

Why SEOMoz Gets a Pass

In the end, I begrudgingly give Mozzers a pass on this one. It’s a judgment I couldn’t have made from the beginning. I guess blog memberships are amoral – neither good nor evil. It all depends on what you do with it. And over the years, SEOMoz has integrated members into the site in a more thorough way than most.

Voting Comments and Posts

I love voting. With the SEOMoz, it’s largely been an opportunity to kiss ass. Everyone wanting to make friends kisses ass by voting comments up. In an industry where companies thrive based on the reputation of their blogs, it’s no wonder that so many have tried to align themselves with the popular kids. It’s like watching Survivor and Big Brother in type.

However, I’m such a fan of the right to vote, because it gives the reader the power to show his/her opinions on content that isn’t theirs. It also allows the community the capacity to self-regulate. A very rude person who is rude regardless of cause can be voted down by the community and eventually blacklisted.

YOUMoz Is the Coolest SEO Blog Idea Ever

Essentially, there are two blogs to be found at SEOMoz: the SEOMoz blog and the YOUMoz blog. Any member of the site can contribute to the YOUMoz blog. Some sports blogs have this functionality too, but it’s not as pretty. The best submissions are promoted to the SEOMoz blog. How cool is that!

And this is why, ultimately, SEOMoz does not suck for employing memberships onsite. Don’t try this at home unless you can actually make membership a benefit and a privilege. It’s a judgment call I questioned from the very beginning because it looked like an ego play. While all the other SEO blogs were free to comment, this ONE blog required membership. This is why you never know what will succeed until you test (shameless A/B Testing plug).

Whiteboard Fridays

If nothing else, stop in on Fridays for video whiteboard sessions. Rand Fishkin is nothing if not a communicator. He spells out concepts in simplistic ways so that ANYONE can understand. Tune in and see what he and his crew have to say each week.

I’m sure you’ll find most of the content on this particular blog to be worth reading. A part of me hates to admit that, but it’s true. In an age where Hamlet Batista, SEO By the Sea, and Blue Hat SEO no longer contribute on a regular basis, you can count on SEOMoz to maintain a level of ongoing quality found on only a couple SEO-focused sites.

Crush Level:

4.5 of 5

When it Comes to SEO, Something is Better than Nothing

Some interactive marketing agencies affect an elitist attitude when taking on new clients. They turn away anyone without proof a six-figure budget.

Some companies have trouble allocating funds to a marketing strategy they’ve never tried before. That’s why it’s important to find an agency who will review your website, listen to your budget constraints, and at least help you get started.

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Perhaps I Could Use Some Reputation Management

I wonder, seeing how so many search results for my name have to do with SEO “experts” criticizing one of my older articles. Not to mention the fact that any visitor to this site has no idea what to make of me. I am the definition of Random Man. I experienced this problem last January when I was looking for a job. Everyone I sent a resume to visited this website. They got all kinds of random insights into who I am. I’m sure they decided to find someone whose online reputation appears to be more consistent.

So be it. I’m no Seth Godin, but I understand the value of being true to self. A blog is a blessed and dangerous thing. It is my opportunity to leave behind a trace of my mental DNA. Perhaps something in it will make a difference to someone.

Random thought: I just remembered that I promised Karen I would post a list of tips on how to become a copywriter and I never finished. That’s what finding out you’re going to be a dad will do to a guy… everything else fades from memory.

Back to the point, the day will come when this blog (assuming it survives the years to come) stands alone as a rich source of interesting opinions, prose, and ramblings. This site already drives anywhere from 120 to 170 visitors per day, and that’s after having lost all search results for more than a month after I switched the blog platform from Blogger to WordPress.

I don’t really care what potential clients or employers think about this blog. At some point, you have to draw the line and say, “This is my area and no one else’s. This is my personal space – even if it’s public.” I’m having a blast with it. Who knows? I may even land a client for my current agency with it through this experiment I’m conducting for Papaya Clothing. If they notice how much I am promoting their site and collecting valuable information and recommendations from their customer base, perhaps they will hire us to complete their site (so their loyal customers can shop online).

With experiments ongoing and fatherhood approaching, I’m really looking forward to this blog. Maybe I’ll start getting traffic for baby related terms. You just never know.

SEO Myth 1.5

It surprised me to hear that one or two people found and responded to my article, “Breaking SEO Myths Part One: The SEO Expert”. You can imagine my surprise when, after ten months of having published this, I suddenly receive several email and blog responses on the topic. I’ve asked a couple non-SEO people to read both my article and the responses so that I could hear unbiased opinions. The majority consensus was that 1) my article was an entertaining read, 2) there were a few small sections I could have written less pointedly (more PC), and 3) there must be some very sensitive or paranoid people working in the industry to respond so strongly.

I wrote this article as a warning to business owners and decision makers everywhere. I wrote it because it should take more than a good sales pitch to win a client. I wrote this because an unregulated industry has no real accountability, and an expert without accountability succeeds on nothing more than his or her ability to make a sales pitch and the client’s blind faith. Am I claiming that all SEO firms and individuals are fakes, phonies, or shysters? No, and I said this in my article. I was not condemning an entire industry when I posted the article ten months ago. It’s when we fail to read each sentence and consider the context carefully that we come to faulty conclusions and poorly considered responses.

Who am I to criticize anyone? Well, fortunately for me, I don’t have to be an expert to criticize self-proclaimed experts (after all, if we followed that horrid logic, none of us would have the right to comment on politics, religion, terrorism, Medicare, education, or criminal justice unless there be a doctor/lawyer/priest/senator/terrorist out there among you). As far as talents, abilities, and interests lie, I am a writer/editor at heart. I love the English language.

As a copywriter, more than half of my clients have been interactive marketing / SEO companies. I have participated in two local interactive marketing / SEO associations, listened to the speakers, read my share of SEO articles, bought and read SEO books, etc. That does not mean I claim to be an expert. It means that I have sufficient exposure to the industry to have developed informed opinions. It’s not that I think the search engine optimization industry is in worse shape than all other industries.

But there are few checks and balances at present. The lack of checks and balances (i.e. regulation) means that no one is unequivocally qualified to claim expert status. Some people out there offer a free list of qualities that they think defines an expert. Of course, we have to trust such a person implicitly to take their word for it. Looks like we’re back to blind faith again.

As I’ve already mentioned, the primary purpose of “Breaking SEO Myths” was to warn potential clients about self-proclaimed search engine optimization experts. The secondary purpose was, if anything, to challenge SEOs to actually do something about the problem. So what is the problem? Well, there are many. I cannot possibly deal with all the problems or solutions in one article or post. Here are the top three problems I see with self-proclaimed expert SEOs:

No regulating agency. Simply put, no existing committee or organization fulfills the role of W3C for the SEO industry. Want a suggestion rather than just a list of problems? Here it is: Form a worldwide committee that functions for SEO like the W3C does for HTML/CSS. Sure, a regulatory committee/organization presents its own set of challenges and difficulties, but so does selecting the right SEO. Obviously, universal standards would be difficult to define in some areas due to the number of ways a task can be accomplished. If coming together to found a regulatory agency is impossible, then each SEO should be a little more humble and willing to admit that their credentials are based upon hearsay or repetition (How many people do I have to pitch, land, and practice open-heart surgery on before I become an expert?).

Because of the lack of a regulatory agency, most SEOs create alliances with other SEOs. They form small committees, organizations, blogs, chat rooms, and conferences. They write as much as they possibly can on the subject of SEO to increase exposure and the perception of authority (after all, if 80 websites post or quote your article, that makes you an expert, right? Oh, right! That’s how Google determines authority, and SEOs just happen to be experts at creating backlinks to improve the perception of authority and importance. How convenient.)

Because of the lack of a regulatory agency, people create service directories of the Top 5 or Top 10 agencies in a given field. This would be extremely helpful if only those directories weren’t offering placement for a price. For example, see Want to be listed in the Top 5 Organic Optimization List? If you’re willing to pay the price, you can be listed #1. They say that they will call three of your clients to ensure the quality of your work, but history has not proven this to be true. Doesn’t lend much credibility, does it? Not only does this reflect poorly on the people who created the site directory, but it reflects poorly on the companies paying to be listed as experts. Do you honestly think that a business owner is going to realize he or she is looking at paid placement advertising? It is one thing to list sponsors. It’s an entirely different thing to rank companies so as to show preference and recommendation. Websites like these are a far cry from the Better Business Bureau of SEO.

There you have it. I am not challenging the statement that many SEO companies are offering useful and helpful services to their clients. As they say, at the end of the day there are still only ten spots on the first page of each major search engine. There are certainly challenges to face, and many of which are unique to the client.

I recently accepted an SEO position at a local Dallas interactive agency. I met the president of the company in 2005 and worked on several projects for the agency over the past year. Taking someone at their word simply isn’t playing it smart, unless you have a strong relationship with someone who can vouch for them. Then again, if you have that benefit, this article isn’t meant for you anyway.

Some of the responses to my article indicate that there are more than a few SEOs out there who feel uncertain about their own right to claim expert status. The irony is amusing. And before another person reads this and gets all huffy, you can rest assured that I have never called myself an SEO expert. I work for a company that offers professional services.

SEO and The Great Conversation

Some days I wonder how I get from point A to point B without tripping over my own feet. Other days it seems the world is my oyster. Then there are days when I’d rather be a cat… don’t ask. This, however, is not one of those days. What does that mean exactly? I honestly don’t know. But wouldn’t it be cool if I was a cat!?!?!

I’d like to thank each and every one of the people who have taken the time to send me an email these past two days. I am more than a little surprised at the response I’ve gotten for an article I wrote more than six months ago. I want to reassure you that I will be writing a response to Randfish’s blog post on SEOmoz. After reading through his post and many of the other people’s responses, I need a day or so to consider all of the suggestions and opinions.

Contrary to now popular belief, I prefer not to go shooting off at the mouth (or the blog) simply because someone else has something to say about my writing. I am reminded of The Great Conversation as taught by Dr. Davey Naugle of the former Pew College Society at DBU. He invited us to join into The Great Conversation by reading books written by some of the greatest minds of human history. He challenged us engage with the thoughts, ideas, and postulations of brilliant philosophers, novelists, poets, astronomers, playwrights, and scientists. We would borrow their thoughts, try them on for size, and keep the ones that fit.

While blogs are a far cry from The Great Conversation, they are yet an opportunity for us to engage each other on topics large and small, allowing even the most socially challenged to stand up and proclaim their heartfelt convictions and beliefs and, yes, even criticisms. I welcome you all to discuss what weighs heavily on your minds, whether it be the true standing of Search Engine Optimization in American/Global economics or the need for a faster and younger quarterback on the Dallas Cowboys (did I bias that one already? shoot!). Intelligent conversation is always welcome.