Walking the bridge between usability and search engine optimization practices to enhance user experience since 2000.

Save Money on Your Search Engine Strategies Conference New York Trip

I’m thrilled to tell you that as Founder and Owner of Cre8asiteforums, I can offer Cre8asiteforums members 20% off your registration fee for the next Search Engine Strategies Conference to be held in New York City in March.

Visit Cre8asiteforums to sign up as a new member and register for the conference using your 20% off code. The New York Search Engine Strategies conference is one of the largest of their global events. This year’s keynote speaker is a true genius! This is your chance to see and hear Avinash Kaushik, Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google. Having met and toured Google with him, I can vouch for his wit, humor and wealth of information. He’s not one to miss.

When an SEO Expert is Not an SEO Expert

The search engine optimization industry is known to rally around a fallen comrade one moment and in the next instant, eat one of its own. It’s considered a mercy killing needed to save SEO reputations.

It’s never a good idea for an SEO to try and fool another SEO – or a few hundred thousand of them.

We’ve seen the dramatic rise, fall and crash of several SEO companies and individuals. Some have managed to return from the dead but they’re a mere sliver of their previous rock and roll self. Fame is brutal. Some SEO professionals, in an effort to keep the industry viable and reputable, will not hesitate to shove misguided souls out into the arena for inspection or beheading. The latest stake driven into the heart of an SEO occurred when Edward Lewis took on Charles Preston.

It would appear as though Mr. Preston, a rather handsome looking dude, feels as though everyone in the SEO industry knows who he is. As a businessman, with several accomplishments noted in his bio, he wants to tackle a known business need. He has identified that many companies have hired SEO companies and been disappointed by the results. Mr. Preston feels he has the expertise to be able to tell a company considering hiring an SEO whether or not the service is viable. For a monthly fee of $99, an SEO firm can submit their company to a series of questions and tests to be sure they’re qualified for being hired. Mr. Preston even offers a “Verified SEO” badge as an official trustmark.

Edward Lewis carved out such a niche for himself with his free SEO Consultants site back in 2002. Did he feel threatened?

When Preston attempted to defend his website to Lewis, he was unsuccessful. No one was going to defend someone claiming to be an industry leader and yet nobody at Sphinn had ever heard of him. It didn’t take long for the angry reaction to stop Mr. Preston’s plans. He removed the web site. Of course, if you read the comments, it was suggested that this a case of “linkbait” or a very well executed April Fool’s joke.

It didn’t matter if you were the better known person in this situation. Readers were all over the place with opinions and responses. It was like watching somebody pop a balloon and the thing flies hysterically around the room.

One of the mistakes I see SEO’s do is they make claims about their expertise but provide no third-party, objective resources to back it up. I can submit articles by the thousands to article sites but that act alone does not make me an SEO expert. That makes me an article writer. There are thousands of them. Weak claims are part of the marketing process. Certain statements appear to sound good, when they really have no meat. To try and pull off any fake “I’m an expert” tactics to a bunch of marketers is…well, writing your own reputation death sentence.

Preston claimed to have the SEO expertise required to judge the practices of others. In the SEO industry, several organizations exist that had hoped to do this very thing. There are colleges and certification courses. A badge offered by an unknown company doesn’t cut it. What does work with this industry are referrals. The more partnerships and relationships you build, the more likely you are to have proven your skills. I don’t refer anyone that I haven’t worked with. This means much more to the client.

To put a badge on someone’s work illustrated just how much Preston doesn’t know about this industry. It’s not a matter of checking to see if someone got page rank for a web site. Preston claims to have gotten 3000 sites to rank high. So what? The real trick is to keep the pages up there, despite all the new competition. And of course, do they convert? Do the sites do anything productive? Do people return to them? You just can’t slap a badge on that kind of stuff.

It was interesting to watch Preston march into the brick wall and keep playing his drums.

When Charles Preston said he was a well known SEO and yet nobody had ever heard of him, it was time for the cats to play with this little toy mouse. Even Danny Sullivan was surprised at the high number of comments. It was his tweet remarking on it that led me to see what the buzz was about.

Was this a case of the affluent reacting to a newbie encroaching on their turf? It could appear that way. The SEO industry has a reputation for eating its young. It’s as if there is a silent code. If you muck up your entry into the field, you’re left with nothing but a bruised ego and a worthless domain. It may seem cruel, but to truly survive in the search engine marketing industry means that you don’t open your mouth unless you know precisely what you’re talking about. The mere second you show any sign of not knowing your stuff, while at the same time presenting yourself as an expert, you’ll be called on it. Charles Preston made some strong claims and tried to take money by offering a service that plays on “the fear of hiring SEO’s”.

Edward Lewis did what someone who expects excellence from the industry would do. He presented the impostor to the masses. He made his case. The response was reader outrage and then dialog with Charles Preston when he arrived to defend himself. In his mind, I think he was trying to put into place some kind of accountability system for SEO.

However, he didn’t pass his own test.

Cre8pc Article Nominated for a SEMMY

I keep forgetting to mention, that despite interrogating the founder of the SEMMYS, they somehow managed to nominate one of my articles.

While the SEMMY awards are targeted to the search marketing industry, there is a Design and Usability category. It is there that an article I wrote for Website Magazine, called Everyday Usability – 14-Point Checklist for Success has been nominated for inclusion.

Tomorrow, judges decide category finalists. Those finalists will be announced on January 25, 2010 and posted to the public so that they can begin their voting. Winners are announced on February 1.

Competition is fierce. Every single nominated article in all the categories is very good.

If you would like to stay on top of the voting and winners, you call follow the SEMMY Twitter account.

Good luck to everyone and especially the judges. They have a truly tough job.

Contest Illustrates Disconnect Between Marketing and User Experience

This is the time of year for annual polls and content. They make for great link bait. If you make such a list, this may be proof your work was noticed by your peers.

Perhaps you are overlooked.

One recent example is Vote for the top 100 online marketers of 2009, in which they ask you to  ” pick the top 100 most influential online marketers, leaders, and thinkers”.   Where were the marketing user experience people?  Where was search usability?

One name jumped out as a person who I know for a fact includes usability audits by a usability consultant in her SEO packages. Another “marketer” on the list is associated with the usability industry’s persuasive design segment. Sadly, many others like them are not on the list because they are aligned with the usability camp, even though they provide SEO services.

I am unable to vote on a list of 100 names. Many people on the list specialize in different types of marketing, such as affiliate, links or social media. There are “thought leaders” from these areas who stand out among their own niche but who may get lost in a mass clump called “marketing”. There is no criteria for what makes the “top” marketer. Top for who? Peers? Customers? Clients? What field? Healthcare industry? Products? Conferences?

What type of marketing is this contest interested in recognizing? Brand reputation? Search engine placement? Rank? What types of sites? Some categories of sites are easier to market than others. Adult industry marketing has its own criteria. Target markets are different between financial sites, healtchcare and news, for example.

User instructions are missing, which is another signal user experience is not the point of the contest. Do you choose one from that list? Who knows? The true thrust of the contest is to get the nominees to put embedded code on their sites to get traffic into the contest site. Marketers love traffic. You and I don’t count.

How can it be that the top marketers and a contest that promotes them, however well intentioned, has no one that works inside the circle of site development from the ground up? How can you market a site that’s not built for the people you are trying to sell to?

A truly representative annual round up, in my opinion, calls for teams of people or companies that work together in the interests of the client and end users from the whiteboard stage on up to production. A “thought leader” understands the mechanics of marketing, AND site performance, database performance, user expectations, search usability, accessibility, findability and information architecture. Such a group is not an overnight sensation. They have spent year upon year testing, trying new methodologies, growing (rather than doing the same things year after year), teaching and educating their clients and peers and providing exceptional services (most of which we never hear about due to NDA’s.)

Please don’t expect me to choose one person when I work with and support so many talented and skilled folks, some of whom never make the Big Lists. I know I could not succeed without their knowledge, letting me ask questions (no matter how dumb) and definitely their loyal friendship, year after year.

Team work, versus a solo act,  meets every nook and cranny of web site promotion.

Meet Pierre Far, of Cli.gs, on Video

This past weekend I took my family up to NYC to have lunch with Pierre Far of Cli.gs and Chris and Danielle Winfield of 10e20.com.

If you’re a fan of this short URL application (and who isn’t?), I’d like you to meet its inventor, Pierre Far.

If you haven’t discovered social media experts (it’s true!), Chris and Danielle Winfield, I strongly encourage you to subscribe to their blog and look for Chris at the many conferences he speaks at. They’re an energetic company, highly professional and the ONLY social media firm I refer my friends to.

What is Most Important to Your Personal Brand? Fans or Financial Stability?

When OutSpokenMedia blogger, Lisa Barone wrote, Personal Brands in SEO: Stop Obeying False Idols, I enjoyed her thoughtful questions and her gentle personal rant.

However, with 89 comments (at the time of this post) of feedback, she hit a nerve. Interestingly, she was inspired by yet another post, The Self-Branding Of Search Marketers by Todd Mintz. Todd writes,

Search marketing branding is almost exclusively personal branding. Corporate / agency branding means very little in our industry.

Lisa’s version is a plucky injection,

It’s not about the company you work for, it’s about you. It’s your name, your personality, your skill set — it’s your image.

It’s powerful. The A-listers in the SEO community make good money off their branding. It gets them speaking gigs, comp’d trips, instant readers, bigger clients, etc. It’s like a drug.

Indeed, there are some individuals who set out early on to create personal or company brand awareness by aiming straight for speaking gigs right away. Before conferences were the norm and plentiful, we relied on email dialog via newsgroups, online communities and forums to make our “big impression”. It was difficult that way. For starters, you had to prove from the start you knew your stuff and were committed. You don’t have to do either of those things to be a conference speaker.

Growth and Lessons Learned

When Rand Fishkin first came on the scene, I barely knew who he was. At a conference, in which I was not a speaker, but rather a volunteer “live blogger” for SearchEngineRoundtable, I first met “the man with the yellow shoes and nice suit.” He gushed over meeting me, which in hindsight, is pretty funny since he is now far more famous in the industry. His warmth and humor were the connecting points for me, not what he did. So I paid attention to him. I watched him grow SEOMoz, hire his first talented “sponge” employee, Rebecca Kelley, who herself went on to help create their company brand and develop her own personal brand, within the company. We all watched as Rand sent her for internships and she went from being the student to teacher at light speed. He invested in her to help build his company.

This is a common technique with companies who understand the art of personal branding.  If you can’t create the pizazz yourself, add someone to your team who can.  The down side is that they may become so awesome that they don’t stick around.  Unless you keep the package attractive for them, they can leave and work the same magic for your competitors.

Make no mistake that for SEOMoz to grow and be at the venture capital stage it’s now achieved, with its new offices and much larger staff, initially took Rand, personally, millions of hours and sleepless nights. Did he make mistakes? My god, yes!

In his case, he was one of the most driven SEO’s I’d ever met. Still a newbie himself, he plunged head first into the limelight. Nobody knew this guy and this was his first hint of branding growth pain. He hadn’t yet proven his knowledge and skills. He was the charismatic marketer who went up to anyone and everyone and talked the biz with you. He had that car sales ability to make you feel as though you would buy the sports car from him, even if you couldn’t afford it, just because he was so handsome, friendly and felt genuine.

Like any fast rising star, he crashed and burned countless times. His ego was attacked. His work was questioned. A wave of detractors stormed the SEOMoz castle and to this day, there are those who will never take him seriously again. There are complaints that he is no longer available to his admiring fans and he stuck his main attraction, Rebecca, in a cage somewhere. Folks are angry about this. They want the guy and company they helped build up with love and support to come out from behind the curtain once in awhile.

I wonder at how feasible that is for him to do, or even Rebecca and his other talented staff, many of whom I’ve met and spent time with. You can’t have dinner with the SEOMoz teamand not feel inspired by their boundless energy and ideas. Or I can’t. I find them all to be a fun loving, work harder than hell type of group. They’re all young (or young at heart). For SEOMoz to rise, Rand was the lead pack dog. Sooner or later, the lead dog gets to rest and let other team member’s move to the front of the line. It doesn’t mean Rand isn’t working a million hours. More likely, it’s a million more because he has Board of Directors and seed money to answer to.

He is also a newly married man to one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met. So he has loyalties to her, his company, his own personal brand, his employees and his giant SEOMoz Community. As a business owner myself, married with kids, husband I adore, a forums and staff of volunteer moderators, pets, a house, gardens and by golly, I even do my own accounting, I can understand the pressure to “be that famous person in SEO”. It’s exhausting. Draining. And one minute you’re everyone’s baby and the next, an overdone wrinkled hot dog.

Different Brands and Public Images

Some of us are known because we’re still in the game and haven’t left the party yet. There are some people from the early days who took a backseat for a few years and have returned with a vengeance in places like Twitter. They may be building back up to a new target client. They may have gone underground to deepen their skills, learn more tools and make their services more attractive. Once this is done, the marketing blitz goes full throttle. We all would like a chance to re-invent ourselves to fit in with the changing Internet environment, and especially, the online marketplace. The risk of pulling back is that by the next day, nobody cares about you anymore.

While some people jump into the public arena right away, others such as me, were content to stay home and work. It took me almost 10 years to get up the nerve to meet anyone and another few to feel worthy of speaking anywhere. I much prefer to be a quiet supporter. My best friends in the business have complained to me for years that I don’t market myself and undercharge for my services. I always felt that whoever hires me, gets me, my passion, my loyalty to their success and if they appreciated my help, say a kind word or refer someone to me. No trumpets for me!  I can’t be their “usability person” and be sitting in airports.  It’s just not my way.

My personal brand is hard for me to define because I don’t like to look. I don’t like how people twist what I say, so sometimes it’s better not to say anything. I’m judged on who I work with and talk to, which really bothers me. I am not them. I respect my peers. Who cares if I agree with them on every possible little thing they do or say? I don’t work well with people who don’t communicate well or respond quickly on projects. This is tied to my software development QA training, in which every possible detail is documented and evaluated and in many cases, nothing moves until stakeholders sign off on it. When one car in the train has its brakes on while the other cars are warmed up and ready, the engine won’t move.

That kind of personal branding takes longer to develop. It comes from working directly with people, rather than entertaining audiences at conferences with pretty Power Point presentations. Observers for me have said I do better with impromptu Q&A sessions where people can pick my brain. I have answers. I would rather work with smaller groups and get to their needs, rather than lecture on a broader scale and not meet specific concerns. These personal preferences hurt my chances for fame and fortune because the expectation is that to be prestigious, one must be doing lots of face time with their industry. Or write a book.

You Take it With You

When Lisa Barone left her last two places of employment, she took an ocean of blog readers along with her each time. Her old employers feel this pain. She’s not easy to replace, but she has displayed public support for her past employers and the Bloggers that have needed to step into her old shoes. For me, this speaks well of her as a person. It’s not my place to question her choices. All I have to do is honor her right to make them.

And this where I feel I can best support my peers and those wanting to make a name for themselves. You’re under a microscope. Some people are cruel and pass along expectations that you may not meet for them, so they prey on you. Building brands and reputation management can be a process that stinks.

In the end, whoever is still working is the winner.

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