Please note: Throughout this article I use terms like webmaster and SEO interchangeably. If I call someone an SEO, take it with a grain of salt, as they could really be anything from a PPC affiliate to a forum administrator.
I flew out of SJC (San Jose) heading to my first PubCon ever. I was very excited—I’ve been doing SEO for years but never shelled out the money to attend a full event. I eagerly awaited my chance to meet the people I listen to on Webmaster Radio and the authors of blogs I read (like Shoemoney, Oilman, Web Guerilla, Aaron Wall of SEO Book, rand from SEOMoz, etc). I’d listened to them so frequently and read so many blog posts that I felt like I already knew them. In my mind, we were already friends.
After I arrived in Vegas and checked into my hotel room at the Renaissance (which I stayed at just because I thought it was where most of the SEO / webmasters would be) I headed over to the conference and sat down for Guy Kawasaki’s keynote. I thought he was a funny, articulate, and eloquent guy. It seemed the conference was off to a solid start.
A massive registration line kept me from the second session, however the following panel on link building was among the best I attended, largely due to Roger Montti’s impressive willingness to disclose specific, ‘actionable’ methods for building authoritative links (way to go Roger!).
It was at the Link and SEO Dev Site Review Forum panel that I was first exposed to the disposition that would inspire SEO Loser. Many of the attendees at the conference were webmasters—not SEOs—and knew very little about search. This panel gave them an opportunity to have their site reviewed and to receive feedback from some of the best SEOs at the conference.
Instead, the SEOs, particularly Rae Hoffman (I’m proud to say I had to look up your name! hah!) tore into the webmasters that had approached them for help. A quick linkdomain: in Yahoo revealed a number of backlink issues (which one should expect—that’s why these people are asking for help). Instead of ‘constructive criticism,’ the panelists were incredibly aggressive, and often seemed like they were trying to humiliate the naïvely unsuspecting webmasters.
I honestly felt bad. And much of what the SEOs were finding was basic stuff—purchased links, reciprocal campaigns, etc. Newsflash to Rae Hoffman: We are not impressed by your ability to type linkdomain:www.URL.com into Yahoo and identify paid links. And we especially aren’t impressed by your condescending, degrading tone. If you don’t know you’re doing it, consider this post a favor.
Keep in mind, I was not involved in the panel in anyway, nor was I one of the site owners. I was just an innocent bystander watching the onslaught.
Dixon Jones, who I later met and found to be exceedingly nice and unpretentious, was trying his best to be positive but even he slipped at times. I recall walking out of the session thinking “damn, those SEOs were assholes and most of the criticism was SEO 101. Are they acting like that to impress potential clients?” I certainly did not think “Wow, they sure knew their stuff. They really helped those people.” Honestly, the latter is the reaction I wanted.
Then I randomly saw Shoemoney (or Jeremy Schoemaker)!—my personal favorite member of the Webmaster Radio cast in the hallway. I felt like I had to say something, I mean I’ve literally listened to the guy talk for 20+ hours and I love his show. I’ve also been posting on DP (Digital Point) for years where he is very active. From my perspective, I already knew him. So, I tapped him on the shoulder and just said “Hey man, I absolutely love your show. It’s really awesome, I’ve listened to every episode.” At this point I wasn’t even thinking of how often he might get that. He said something like “Thanks man. Stop by such-and-such booth tomorrow and I’ll give you a Shoemoney shirt.” After that, I didn’t really know what else to say. I mean there is so much stuff I work on that he is also involved in that we could probably have spent hours talking together and I know from his show that we’d have gotten along very well. I sort of stood there for a minute and nothing came to mind to say. After about 10 seconds another young guy like myself came up and echoed my sentiments, this time offering to buy him a beer later. Shoemoney was nice, and to this he was actually able to respond. The guy gave him something to talk about, and he said “Definitely man, we’ll be at the Renaissance later tonight.”
I walked away thinking, “Damn, that’s kinda weird. I just said hi”—and that was it. I love this guy’s work, the personality he puts forth on his show, I find his weight-loss story incredibly inspirational, and despite his occasional “big-headedness” (which imo is pretty much warranted) I really admire him as a person. Don’t get me wrong—I admire him, I don’t worship him. I think the things he’s done are cool, and I think I can relate to him in a lot of ways because so much of my “career” is so similar, so I’d have loved to hang out and talk with him more.
After my brief talk with Shoemoney, I rejoined my buddy from home and told him who I’d just met. He’s not really familiar with Shoemoney, but he asked “What’d you guys talk about?” or “What did you say?”
“Ummm, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say to him—I just said hey I love your stuff—I guess maybe I was star struck?”
My friend laughed and told me I was an idiot. Little did I know I would later confirm this beyond any shadow of a doubt by approaching Shoemoney once again, this time in the hotel bathroom (no, I didn’t follow him in, I was surprised he was in there), in a somewhat-drunken, post-Google happy hour state. Needless to say, this time he looked more scared than anything else
That night, we went out to the Yahoo party. They were very exclusive at the door (although the Yahoo guy at the entrance was awesome) and my friend ended up just heading home instead of waiting to try and get in. I wanted to go upstairs not for the open bar or even the cool scenery, but just because this was the first time in my life I was walking in crowds where I could overhear someone talking about a 301 redirect or how you should diversify your anchor text.
After about 15 minutes the guy at the door got me a bracelet and I headed up (thanks again if you ever read this, love you for that!). This is where I first discovered what I really was: an SEO Loser.
You may have noticed at the top that I subtitled this blog “a loser among losers.” That’s because these guys are, largely, total nerds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a nerd too, and I love people like that, but let’s be honest. I did not expect these kind of people to be cliquey or exclusive in anyway, and I was anxious to hear their opinions on things, so I was just sort of link a pinball bouncing around talking to pretty much everyone. I met some cool people (Lawrence from Rate it All was hands down the nicest most down-to-earth speaker I met; Jolina and Karen you guys rule too) but I also met a lot of people who didn’t want to talk to anyone they didn’t know. Or speakers who would only talk to other speakers. This, I had not expected. At all.
I am not an exclusive person by nature. I have my faults, but one thought I remember having at an exclusive party in high school was “this is cool, but it would be the most fun if everyone could come.” My idea of a fun party and a good atmosphere is one in which there is no aggression, no condescension, and no exclusion. For those of you who haven’t gone to your first conference yet, let me say something very clearly: The majority of the successful or famous webmasters and SEOs are more exclusive and cliquey than a group of popular highschoolers.
I can remember laughing at the equally exclusive MSN party (just as a humorous side note: when we were about to enter the MSN party, to which we weren’t 100% invited, and the bouncer asked an MSN rep we’d met at the show if he should let us in, she asked them if it would “cost them extra”—come on Microsoft, you can afford to let three guys into your party, particularly when one of them alone spends about 10k a month on AdCenter ) when I saw one of the guys from the Webmaster Radio show (Oilman) “SEO Rockstars.” He really was a rock star at this SEO event. He was having free alcohol thrown at him, girls were fighting to talk to him, and he was dancing up and down in a nice club overlooking Las Vegas. Sitting at our table were Danny Sullivan, Oilman, Dixon Jones, MSN Reps and the Director of Product Management for Yahoo! Search, Tim Mayer. Oilman is another guy I’ve listened to for countless hours on Webmaster Radio and really liked (although I think he’s a bit old school). Like with Shoemoney, I felt like we were friends. And again (ignorantly, I guess) I went into things with the thought that he would like me as much as I liked him. I stood up, shook his hand, told him I had learned that saying this kind of thing would result in my embarrassment but I had to tell him I loved the show. He was polite, but certainly not interested in talking to an SEO Loser for more than a few seconds (in retrospect, can I really blame him? The guy had girls attacking him and alcohol flooding the table in front of us). The face of SEO was nothing I could have imagined. But the “SEO Rockstars” moniker suddenly made a lot of sense. For the rest of the party I hung out with Lawrence (as I said earlier, hands down the nicest speaker I met) and a friend of his (who was very cool as well—sorry, unfortunately I was past my name-remembering number of beers at this point).
I believe it was the next day that we were at a Google or Ask sponsored happy hour when I saw another person I admire very much: Shawn Hogan. The reasons might be stupid—I love posting on his forums (Digital Point) and I can relate to him, probably because he is also a young, tech guy with many of the same hobbies (at least according to his site) I have. Again, I had to approach. I couldn’t seem to learn my lesson, and right now as I type I still am not sure if I’m proud or embarrassed of that. I went up to Shawn, who was talking to a couple friends (keep in mind he is much more inconspicuous because he was not a speaker, and dressed wearing a beanie, jeans and a t-shirt as I recall), leaned in and said “Hey, I really don’t mean to interrupt you guys, but are you Shawn Hogan?” “Yeah,” he replied.
Sweet! This guy owns pretty much (imo) the best webmaster related forums on the web and he’s an extremely successful entrepreneur. I don’t look up to people like this for their money, their brains, or anything like that—I look up to them because they show you what you could be doing, and they are an inspiration.
“I’m not going to mess this up like I did with Shoemoney,” I thought. “Man, I love your forums!” Hmmm… I don’t know if that’s the best opener or not. I didn’t plan it out—although in hindsight I probably should have. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with me, but these webmasters were honestly harder for me to talk to than a hot girl at a college party (I’m a recent graduate). When I go up to a hot girl at a cocktail party and say ‘hi,’ there’s a good chance they’ll start talking back. They try to make conversation, at least the vast majority of the time.
After I paid him my compliment, I think he said “Thanks” and sort of looked at the ground and started quietly laughing—perhaps an equivalent to blushing; I’m not sure. Then, hilariously, someone in the group actually chimed in, mimicking me, like you might expect from a freshman in highschool. “Hey man I love your forums!” an artificially retarded, sarcastic sounding voice echoed. Wow, I’m an SEO loser, I thought. Why does this keep happening? I will admit I think I actually might have cracked a smile. The copycat was a little mean but also funny.
Here I was, getting denied right and left, by a bunch of 25-50 year old nerdy guys. I had a collection of mixed emotions. I didn’t know if I was going to laugh or cry. I was still having a fantastic time (maybe the free beer helped with that), and I certainly wasn’t hurt or offended, but I was a little upset just because I think those people would have been so fun to have a real conversation with if they didn’t make it so difficult.
After a few seconds of standing there trying to decide if I had another stupid compliment to throw out there or whether it was time for the walk of shame, a German guy started to talk to me. Wow, I was shocked. Someone in a webmaster clique seemed interested in having a conversation with me—by this time, I had decided my chances would be better with Paris Hilton than an SEO.
After talking to the German for a few minutes (I think your name was Markus, but I’m not 100% so I’ll stick with “the German”) I recognized his voice. “This guy sounds really, really familiar,” I thought.
Suddenly I realized I’d heard this voice on Webmaster Radio—more specifically, I had heard him talk a bit on the Shoemoney show when it was broadcast live from SES San Jose (I believe). “Hey, were you on the Shoemoney show?” I asked.
“Okay, it was nice talking to you” he said, and then started to turn. At this point, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he were serious, but fortunately we was laughing and turned back. We talked for a few minutes about the black hat SEO you could get away with in Germany and how much fun he was having with it before Shawn’s entourage started wandering away and my German quasi-friend followed.
Well, I got out more than a one-liner, I laughed.
In retrospect the whole scene was ridiculous, but when I sit back and think about it, maybe I should have expected it. After all, look at me. I think I’m pretty good at SEO. Extrapolate that to how I would feel if I were speaking on panels in front of hundreds of people paying $500 a piece to attend the sessions, and maybe I’d have a huge ego too.
Still, I believe, and really hope, that someday if I am more than an SEO Loser, I treat people the way I would want them to treat me. I’m going to be the baseball player that signs kids’ autographs for free–not the one that charges $50. Maybe it gets tiresome having so much appreciation and admiration thrown your way at these events. Who knows? One thing is certain though: These were SEO Rockstars.
Final Note: I hope no one takes offense to what I wrote here (but Rae, I think you really need to make an effort to treat people better. I felt so bad for the guy you told to “come up afterwards” like he was an elementary school student going to the principal’s office), if anyone even reads it. I’m not hurt, and this blog is written half in jest. I realize many of you are absolutely swamped with praise and attention, and that might be overwhelming. I was never really insulted or offended by anyone. The worst thing I can say while being entirely honest is that I had a fantastic time that might have been even better had some of the people I think so highly of been a little more receptive to me. I don’t hold it against any of you though—I am an SEO LoserIf you liked this post, please do me a favor and digg it; I'd greatly appreciate it: