How to Become the Next SEO Rock Star

Do you dream of being the next Shoemoney?  Or want to become SEO household name like Danny Sullivan?  Or get SEO rock star famous like Greg Boser and Todd Friesen?  Well, in order to do that you have to stop being an unknown and get your ass into the coveted group of SEOs who are, for lack of a better term, “the popular kids of SEO”.  So, if you haven’t managed to blackball yourself from ever being in the SEO Inner Circle, how can you make your way in?  Some ways are common sense, but from my experience, a lot of the SEOs who want in are lacking in it :)  Here are some tips on how to weasel your way into the inner circle (with some special advice for those “fake it til you make it” SEO types), so you can work your way up the ranks to possibly become the next SEO rock star.

Get out there & tweet/blog about it
Yes, some people have managed to get themselves into the inner circle without ever attending a conference, but it is pretty damn hard to do nowadays and a hell of a lot more work.  So make it easier on yourself and attend all the conferences you can, and make sure you tweet about the sessions you attend, and better yet, do some live blogging.  Many conferences do live blogging recaps, which can get you free links and your blog out there to attendees and wannabes.  And it is a great way to get your name and blog in front of some top level speakers, since many vanity search their session afterwards to see what was said on Twitter and on live blogging.  Just make sure you pay attention to conference and session #hashtags, you don’t want to go to all the trouble of tweeting about it, only to have no one able to find it.

Attend some of the smaller industry events
Things can get kind of crazy at larger conferences such as SES and SMX, especially when some of the top SEOs are trying to balance hanging out with friends, attending private dinners, being wined and dined by companies, and meeting with clients.  So attend some of the smaller events like Elite Retreat, Blueglass (both already sold out for the April conferences) or even some of the regional events – even if it might mean traveling to them.  Identify where the people you want to know personally will be, and go there.  It is your best shot for some one-on-one time with those people who can ease your way into the inner circle.  However, if you are a “fake it til you make it” kind of SEO, these one-on-one opportunities can also class you as a clueless idiot, so be warned, it isn’t the time to bust out with a “My site got banned in Google and I have no idea why.”

Buy an SEO a drink
Yes, it sounds totally cheesy, but you would be surprised at how many people in the inner circle got their foot in the door, so to speak, by spying a table with some of the best known conference speakers, and buying a round of drinks for them.  Heck, we are all pretty open about the fact we are happy to sit with anyone who buys us a drink at an SEO conference.  We might not spill our secrets, but we are happy to answer questions or offer tidbits of advice.  All for the price of a round of drinks, you can probably get some advice that could increase your income exponentially.  I gave some advice to someone who bought me a drink, and a few months later I got an email saying my tip increased his income 4 fold on just one of his sites alone.  Protip: Buy every single person at the table a drink, not just the ones you recognize.  If you don’t, you will look like a douche when one of the people you are trying to impress goes and gets drinks for the ones you skipped over as “unimportant”.  And more often than not, those ones you deemed unimportant were probably the most valuable ones sitting there.  The extra $10-20 for the drinks is money well spent.

Don’t be Mr. or Ms. Aggressive
Don’t go all “OMG I can’t believe I am talking to ____” and then try and follow that person around like a puppy dog for an entire conference.  You want to meet people, but you don’t want to annoy them, so know when to take a chill pill and step back.  If you cross the line to annoying, particularly to several people, you can kiss your inner circle chances goodbye.  And never, ever approach someone in the bathroom… EVER.

Follow up afterwards
A huge rookie mistake post-conference is not touching base with those you met.  You might walk away from a conference with 15 business cards.  The people in the inner circle might walk away with 50+ and half the time we get back and look at a business card trying to remember if it was something we wanted to follow up with afterwards.  So don’t assume that everyone you meet will remember you, especially if you are an unknown.  The week following a conference, send out a little nudge with something like “Hey Joe, just wanted to thank you for chatting with me in the bar last week at SES, you had some great ideas I am going to bounce around for a site of mine.  I’d love to buy you a thank you drink at the next conference you are at.”  And be sure to include your contact info, and stuff like your Twitter handle and blog URL.  That business card you gave out could still be sitting in the bottom of a suitcase :)

Zip your lips
I mentioned this in the post about why you get blackballed, but it is worth repeating since this happens all the time.  Yes, you will probably get some hot tips if you hang out with the right people at the bar, especially once the drinks start flowing and even more so if you are dropping your own useful tips.  But the last thing you should do is go running up to your hotel room afterwards and right an in-depth blog post about what you heard – or overheard.  Instead, quietly apply the tips to your own sites and don’t blab it around, even if you think it will make you look like the big shot.  If you get the hot tip and blog about it that night, it won’t take long for word to get around and you will spend the rest of the conference getting the cold shoulder from many of the people you want to be cool with.

Link your blog posts to all the right people
If you are blogging great interesting content, you want to make sure that people in the inner circle are seeing what you are doing.  If you are writing a blog post on something related to Google AdWords, then make sure you have something in that blog post where you can link to another blog post written by one of the top experts on AdWords.  Did Search Engine Land do a write up on a topic you are blogging about?  Link to it.  Did you see a top SEO make a comment on Twitter that inspired your blog post?  Link to their blog and their @twitter as a hat tip.  You want your name and your blog to show up in their trackbacks and in their analytics.  True, they might not click through to your blog and check it out… this time.  But if they see you popping up a couple of times a month, eventually they will head over to see what you are saying, and your name just became more memorable to them.  It won’t neccessarily be your “in” into the inner circle, but part of getting into the inner circle is building your brand in front of people who are.

Guest blog
While not all sites accept guest blog posts, many do, and it is a great way to get your name and talent in front of the owner of the blog you choose, and its readers.  Make sure your content is top quality, original (you would be amazed at the number of plagarized content people submit as a “guest blog post”), without any promotional links aside from your bio and is completely on topic of the site.  Aim high to the top blogs in your industry and work down from there.  Sure, Joe’s blog would probably love to print it, but you just might get it on the top industry blog if you try.  MyBlogGuest also has a listing of where you can guest blog along with a blog that has great advice for all guest bloggers.

Know what you’re good at
Most SEOs are really strong in certain areas, but aren’t so hot in others.  Instead of trying to be jack of all trades, focus on what you are good at while you are building up your personal brand.  You want people to read your stuff and go “wow, that is really interesting” or “this person really knows their shit”.  This is another reason why the “fake it til you make it” people have to be careful because a lot of people aren’t scared of calling out others when they get their facts wrong.

Become a forum rock star
Many of the best known SEOs today got their start on forums, whether it was WebmasterWorld, Cr8asite Forums, or High Rankings (along with probably a dozen other forums that popped up after that).  While it isn’t nearly as effective now as it was in the early 2000s, it can help you build up your profile.  Start stopping by a couple times a day and spend ten minutes answering SEO or industry related questions.  Just remember not to post self-promotional links, or you will get run out of town pretty quick!  There are also the various official Google help forums, although the sheer volume can make it hard for you to make a name for yourself there unless you plan to put some serious time into it – although there are great Google related perks for their top contributors.

Engage with the right people If you aren’t active on Twitter, start tweeting now.  Identify those in the inner circle and follow them.  Check and see who they follow (especially the ones who tweet a lot, have a lot of followers yet follow a smaller number) and potentially follow them. Do they have a new interesting blog post they tweeted about?  Retweet it.  Do they ask a question?  Answer it.  Do they often tweet @ someone?  Follow that person too.

Cheat sheet of 35 SEOs (and related industry people) to follow
While everyone’s opinion of who is in the inner circle is subjective, here is a cheat sheet of who you should be following and engaging with, all in alphabetical order.  Here are all their twitter handles with a link straight to their twitter page for easy following.  Yes, I am sure I have made some glaring omissions (my list went from 30 to 35 as I was linking them all up, I bet I can get this list up to 50 with reader suggestions), feel free to comment with anyone missing and I can add them after.

@aussiewebmaster – Frank Watson
@bgtheory – Brad Geddes
@chriswinfield – Chris Winfield
@copyblogger – Brian Clark
@dannysullivan – Danny Sullivan
@danzarrella – Dan Zarrella
@davenaylor – David Naylor
@davesnyder – Dave Snyder
@demib – Mikkel deMib
@duaneforrester – Duane Forrester
@elisabethos – Elisabeth Osmeloski
@graywolf – Michael Gray
@gregboser – Greg Boser
@jennifercario – Jennifer Cario
@jenstar – Jennifer Slegg
@jillwhalen – Jill Whalen
@joannalord – Joanna Lord
@katemorris – Kate Morris
@lisabarone – Lisa Barone
@lorenbaker – Loren Baker
@mattcutts – Matt Cutts
@mattmcgee – Matt McGee
@mediadonis – Marcus Tandler
@oilman – Todd Friesen
@pauldavidmadden – Paul Madden
@randfish – Rand Fishkin
@rebeccakelley – Rebecca Kelley
@rhea – Rhea Drysdale
@robkerry – Rob Kerry
@rustybrick – Barry Schwartz
@shawncollins – Shawn Collins
@shoemoney – Jeremy Schoemaker
@seosmarty – Ann Smarty
@stuntdubl – Todd Malicoat
@yoast – Joost de Valk

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