Why Would You Want To Be A Guru

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!