Why Would You Want To Be A Guru

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Digitalpoint user Burta sent me a private message on the dp forums and asked:

why do guru’s become the gurus when they they can get a much greater return on their money, time and energy in other projects?

The original questions stems from a post they created here – Benefits of Being a Guru

I think a common thing you will find is that nobody asked to be a guru… I am taking this question more to be like “hey what benefits have you had of being a big mouth and sharing all your secrets to try to impress everyone when you could have just done it yourself and made a lot of money”

The answer for me really in that context is that I really really like to just talk shop. I miss social interaction like CRAZY. I do 2 things. Work and take care of my daughter. I do not leave the house unless I am traveling around the country. That is really how shoemoney.com started it was just a place for me to put my opinions and thoughts down on paper (with very bad spelling and grammer).

Now as far as the benefits I have seen from it? Well its good and bad. On the good side its really nice to start something like AuctionAds and have one of the most successful launches ever of a advertising network mainly because of my contacts and the readership of this blog. On the bad side… I really can’t do anything that is not watched like a hawk. Sometimes its SCARY how fast people notice that I have registered a new domain or that someone posted about me on another site (which whatever lol )

Without a doubt its cool to have some small piece of a spotlight… no doubt. I would be lying if I said it was not fun to have people know who I am when I goto conferences.

Ok enough about my perspective. I reached out to all of the people I considered gurus in the industry to get there take. The question I posed was simply “Why would anyone want to be known publicly as a guru?

Danny Sullivan – God Father Of Search

I actually never set out to be a “guru” or known that way. I have used that title for the past few years mainly because others were applying it to me, and I realized I needed to probably do a better job of marketing myself. Usually, I try to take care to use a non-definitive qualifier with it — IE, “a search engine guru” rather than “the search engine guru,” because I’m certainly not the only one.

As for the why, for me, it helps people understand why they might want to pay attention to what you write or say. There’s a lot of noise out there. If you’re deemed an expert, however that happens, it helps your voice stand out. I hope I’ve got useful things to say, so I’d like to be a guru or expert or whatever so that people would want to hear what I have to say.

Barry Schwartz – Industry Expert

I never wanted to be known as a Guru. If you say I am a Guru, which is why you emailed me this question – then it comes with a lot of responsibility. So I understand why many would not want that extra responsibility on their shoulders.

As per your question, “Why would anyone want to be known publicly as a guru?”
– Fame
– Money
– Notability
– Greed
– Power

I am sure there are many reasons.

Joel Comm – Best Selling Author, Adsense Expert


I never asked to be called a “guru”. I just started teaching people how to make money with AdSense and it just happened. I don’t mind being known as an authority in my field as I enjoy teaching and the platform it provides me with. I like traveling and speaking, as well as meeting people and helping them grow their business. There are some downsides as people put unreasonable expectations on you, but overall I have found it to be a worthwhile and enjoyable experience.

Tony Spencer – SEO Guru

How could I be a guru?! I don’t speak at conferences, host my own show, or host VIP private birthday parties. Shit, I don’t even have a caricature of myself. :) No, the gurus are in the private forums and meetups, whispering their secrets and quietly cashing their checks each month. Back to the question though… why be a search guru? Money is an obvious answer but I wouldn’t care if I was flat broke so long as I could continue to enjoy the thrill of capturing that oh so beautiful traffic. Sure beats working for the man! Analytics reports are far sexier than TPS reports.

David Naylor – SEO Guru

I actually don’t consider myself a guru, just a good seo, I find that people that label themselves has Guru’s tend to preach and not teach.

Kris Jones -PPC/SEM Guru

“Guru. What is a guru anyway? Last time I checked the only thing that makes someone an expert or a guru is that someone else says they are. In general, most “guru’s” don’t set out to be one..it’s just that others seem to call them one – clearly, there are benefits to being a guru like public speaking, enhanced credibility, and brand recognition ( i.e., also known as a guru’s bling bling). However, there’s another perspective on this and that’s the self-proclaimed “guru.” In general, I don’t tend to be friends with too many self-proclaimed experts and guru’s – the reason is that these people tend to make money by feeding off inexperienced people. When in doubt – Caveat Emptor.”

Rand Fishkin – SEO Guru

I have no problem being known as a “guru” – to me it just means someone who’s very knowledgable about a particular subject and is willing to share their information and experiences. I can’t personally see a particular drawback to the title, nor the responsibilities and priveleges it endows. As for the “public” nature of the position – it’s only natural when running a company or attempting to market goods and services to desire the maximum amount of publicity and press. Most of the “gurus” in any business field (or fields of academia for that matter) would agree that a greater reach yields better clients and more opportunity.

John Reese – Marketing Guru

I think the majority of people that end up being called a “guru” never intended to be. Guru is a label that others seem to put on certain high-profile experts in many industries. I think it happens once an expert’s brand exposure reaches a certain level. But rarely do those experts call themselves that name. It’s sort of like actors being known as a “celebrity.” They don’t really walk around referring to themselves as a “celebrity.” Well, not unless they are starving for attention and have other issues. Yet other people refer to them as a “celebrity” once they reach a certain level of exposure.

If I see someone refer to me as a “guru” I actually take it as a compliment. To me it simply means that enough people must be paying attention to the fact that I am trying to help others. And I think that’s a ‘good’ thing.

Lee Odden – SEO/SEM Guru

Guru eh? Am not so sure about that, but as far as being “known”, it’s been priceless for attracting projects and shortening the sales cycle with high level consulting work. A $33bn and a $85bn company hired us in part because of reputation or “guruness”.

Dave Taylor – Blogging/Gadget/Technical Guru

Two words: trust and credibility. The value of being perceived as an expert in your field is that you’re granted both of those attributes when you write, when you speak, and even when you’re quoted by others.

Patrick Gavin – SEO/Paid Link Guru

To me being a guru means you are the resident expert in your niche and I see this as a compliment and a very good thing. It places you at the center of your industry which is a position in where you get to take part in many discussions industry discussions that you may not otherwise. You may get the opportunity to shape where your industry is going Having access to more conversations and thus more information leads to better decisions and innovation.

Aaron Wall – SEO Guru, Best Selling Author

I think many people on the web stumble into exposure and business models and continue with them just because it is all they know…just like how many people stick to regular jobs. Many people have low self image or low self esteem, and need a lot of reinforcement to believe in themselves. Some people are also addicted to money or influence. Others just like probing and learning, and as a side effect turn into accidental gurus.

Todd Malicoat – SEO Guru

The main tangible benefit I see with being an expert or guru in a field, is having to spend far less time on sales. Writing and and public speaking are generally just a more passive form of advertising. Maintaining a positive reputation, creating presentations, and writing knowledgeable articles on any given subjects should be considered important to the sales cycle. Within any industry, credibility is critically important, and taking time to “give back” to a community (marketing, seo, professional, plumbers, charities, whatever) demonstrates commitment that is important to the types of customers that you generally want. There are plenty of downsides, sure, but the main benefit of working hard to demonstrate expertise is getting to work with other smart people that you enjoy working with, and having the ability to trust your instincts and say no to those that might not be a good fit. Word of mouth will always be the most effective form of marketing, and inspiring others to say good things about you will remain priceless for that reason. It’s good karma too:)

Rae Hoffman SEO Guru

I don’t consider myself a “guru? and don’t want anyone else to either. I have a big mouth in person and a big mouth online too. Some people respect what I have to say and feel I know my shit. And I’m grateful for that, but I don’t derive my worth from that or need it. All I am is someone who’s had success with Internet marketing, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t still learn a thing or two or that any other person seen as a “guru” can’t either.

Michael Gray aka Gray Wolf – SEO/PPC Guru

I’d be worried about anyone who set out with the goal of being a “guru” or “celebrity”. I’d say 99% of the people I know who have achieved that level of name brand recognition got it through hard work, and lots of hours spent in front of monitor looking and analyzing what they see. Being a guru does have some perks like special invites, cool swag or the ability to land the better paying clients. However at some point you’ll have interaction with your peers, when that happens and they figure out if can actually deliver the goods, is really the make or break point for your reputation. At the end of the day if you can’t drive the traffic and/or sales you’ll end up being another millie vanilli. Don’t do something with the goal of being a superstar, do it with the goal of doing superstar work, in the end people will recognize and reward you for it.

Jennifer Laycock – SEM Guru

Depends on the motivation.
If your motivation is money, then being known as a guru gives you the ability to raise your rates to neurosurgeon levels.
If your motivation is fame, being known as a guru achieves that.
If your motivation is altruistic, being known as a guru lets people know where to find you for advice.
If your motivation is job security, being known as a guru guarantees that you can take chances, because a secure job will always be waiting for you.

Matt Cutts – Search Engine Guru/Engineer

If you believe you can help people or that there are more efficient or
less efficient ways to do things, being known as a guru gives you a
little more of a chance to give advice and save people hassles.

Andy Beal SEO/Marketing Guru

While it’s not a term I would use to describe who I am and what I do, I’m certainly not offended by anyone calling me a “guru”. I think the term has both positive connotations (expert, leader etc) but also has many negative ones too (scam, infomercial host, etc).

I don’t think anyone would necessarily aspire to earn the label “guru” but I think most would like to achieve the level of success and recognition, in their chosen field, that the term often suggests.

Bill Slawski – SEO Guru

A friend with computer problems sent me an email this week saying that he had “has a question for gru Bill.” I hesitantly replied, and asked him if he meant to call me a guru instead of a gru. I spent an hour with him today on some of the things that he could do to try to solve his problems. I expect to be spending a few hours repairing the laptop. This is the price of being a gru. I received another email from a friend yesterday asking me if I could give her a concise definition of shingles and whether or not search engines are presently using them. My concise definition was a sentence long, with 20 lines explaining the sentence, and 8 links to academic and search engine whitepapers referencing people like Brin, Broder, Manber, Pugh and Patterson. I guess this is the price of being a gru.

I’ve heard that the term guru just means “teacher” in India, but in the transition to the western world, its definition has evolved to have an almost spiritual aspect, and in the SEO field it seems to indicate some expert like status. I like the teacher definition. My mom taught elementary school, and often continued to teach at home after her workday was done. I was often the recipient of those lessons. It wasn’t until I taught at a local community college that I learned that teachers often learn as much, if not more, than their students.

I also think that the Web offers us the chance to learn together and teach one another. I’d really like to see the people in the SEO industry all considered to be gurus – both experts in the field and teachers who reach out to help others learn, and to learn from each other.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

54 thoughts on “Why Would You Want To Be A Guru

  1. Pete Wailes

    I think it comes down to this:
    A guru is someone who has knowledge, shares it, and is known for generally being on the money. Simple as that. If you shout, you get noticed. And then people think you’re a guru.

  2. coop

    ya… but guru is such a dumb word. Lets get some definitions….
    1.Hinduism. a preceptor giving personal religious instruction.
    2.an intellectual or spiritual guide or leader.
    3.any person who counsels or advises; mentor: The elder senator was her political guru.
    4.a leader in a particular field: the city’s cultural gurus.

    I Guess these guru’s would qualify as numbers 3&4, i aspire to be #1…
    The Religion of Affiliate Marketing

  3. Fable

    Great news article, shoemoney (sorry, I don’t know your first name!)

    Also, thanks for providing such a great list of useful links to webmaster resources! I hadn’t heard of half those guys till reading this post. 😉


  4. Burta

    Firstly thanks Shoe for taking the time to put in a considered response into this topics – it have been a question playing on my mind for quite of number of months.

    Secondly I’d just to say thanks again for your personal input on the topic – I hadn’t really ever thought of the aspect of social interaction being a primary motivator for someone to start an IM related blog, but it does make a hell of a lot of sense.

    I mean I too spend a very large portion of my days at home working, and it’s not just a situation of reduced social interaction, but I also think it’s a situation of reduced industry interaction. I mean for me personally I LOVE talking with people that are interested in internet marketing and to share your thoughts and ideas on the many things within and surrounding it. And I mean if you are going to be “venting” your thoughts on a topic often they may as well go towards something I guess.

    You mentioned some of the downsides of being in the spotlight all the time? Can I ask are there ways you attempt to deal with it, or do you just more take the open book approach and “let it all hang out” for lack of a better way of putting it?

  5. Daniel

    “The main tangible benefit I see with being an expert or guru in a field, is having to spend far less time on sales. Writing and and public speaking are generally just a more passive form of advertising.”

    That is a point.

  6. Amanda

    I think it would be an honour if someone called me an guru on anything, and I think everyone should take it as an honour it means you’re an established authority.

  7. JeffPosaka

    Shoe, this was a great post. Once in a while you have a gem, like your one last Thanksgiving, that is fun to read and makes me think. Thanks!

  8. Maki

    I think this post reveals two things:

    1. Gurus are humble or have a show of humility. Nobody likes arrogant pricks. See how all the successful people on Shoe’s list are all so withdrawn from accepting the title fully, except for a few like Rand Fiskin.

    2. Gurus have influence over others. The best example is how easily Jeremy gets all these top industry players to answer his one question. Impressive!

  9. Bryan

    I think the problem lies not in someone being called a guru, but someone that calls themselves a guru and the exploits that to take advantage of people. You have two types of people: a) the ones that know if they share the information that is credible and worthy, the money will follow, and b) the person that sees the big payday, and then puts out half-assed information only to try to separate even more money from you down the road from another crappy product. As with anything, you will have a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. Unfortunately the internet marketing community has their fair share. BUT, there are also the GREAT MINDS that make learning worthwhile, and hopefully profitable (Dave Taylor is the first one that comes to mind for me).

  10. Mo'Betta

    Great post, Jeremy. Ideas are worth a lot more shared than they are kept to oneself. Your candor and humor are much appreciated by all who read your site and listen to your show. As we give, we receive.

  11. Aldoe

    Wow thats a lot of Gurus you know and I cant believe each one made such a thoughtful response. Still confused as to why there are so many SEO guru’s but I guess its from all the hype of getting “free traffic” even tho other online marketing methods are known to be much faster & profitable.

  12. Tracy

    Heck, I’m actually impressed that you got some of the Internet Marketing Gurus to even answer your email, your reach must be spreading. 8)

    How does an IM Guru put his pants on?
    Never, he sits at home working in his underwear.

  13. Josh the Aspie

    There are some people out there for whom life long learning is not just a method to keep abreast or ahead of the field, but for whom it is a goal in and of it’s self. For some of these people, sharing that information and learning with others is also a worthwhile goal. I’m one of them.

    If I were to one day receive the accolade as being generally recognized as a Guru in my field, I’d find it to be a very strong, and very wonderful complement.

    In all honesty, I don’t see why someone wouldn’t want to be a Guru.

  14. ShoeMoney

    I try to spend less then 30 mins a day blogging. I fired off this email weds and just updated the post as the responses came in before publishing it this morning

  15. Bill

    I hate to say it but I’ve actually met all these “GURUs” you mention, Jeremy. Not sure if I’ve actually met you in person, though (yet). 😉

    The real gurus out there don’t set out to be gurus; they just do their jobs and concentrate on doing the best they can–and the guru part just falls into place. Can you honestly say, Jeremy, that you woke up one day and said, “gee, I want to be a guru–that’s my goal in life?” NO. You actually performed the work and worked your butt off and the guru part came later.

  16. CPA Affiliates

    Great post man. I think the most notable thing is someone has to respect or believe in what you do and have to have seen it in action to call you a guru. Ultimately i think they also become gurus because they LOVE what they do so they dont mind pouring hours upon hours into it.

  17. ShoeMoney

    Actually bill I am a expert/guru at selling washers and dryers. I seriously kicked ass at that. When this whole internet stuff blows over im going to go back to working at Sears. They used to call me the Cheese-Man cause I could sell those limited warrenties like nobodys buisness!

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  19. Thor Schrock

    In life the people who set out to gain recognition are rarely the best in their field. It is the people who become the best who can then share some of what they know that have “guruism” thrust upon them.

  20. Ray

    Enjoyed your post, but unless I missed it, no one hit upon the current negative association with being a guru in IM.

    In the forums that I visit, the big names that put out “how-to-make-googobs-of-money-like-me” info products and constantly pitch their subscriber/customer lists aren’t getting any love these days.

  21. Lee

    Hey Shoe, This is a cool concept for a post, asking multiple people the same question and posting all responses. You can see some interesting patterns.

    I’m curious how many people didn’t respond or opted not respond to your original query?

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