I think the idea of breaking SEO down to the white hat and black hat camps really misses where the real divisions are. I believe that the biggest differences between SEOs are in their levels of experience, their honesty, their creativity, and how aggressive we are.
After search engines stop ranking brands that you worked hard to build it is easy to lose a bit of respect for them, especially if they promote what they would otherwise call spam if it wasn't in their network, and they rank a few of your sites that are so bad that you are a bit embarrassed to admit you own them. With that, I present the the SEO Learning Life-cycle, and things we might say as we progress along it :)
The Newbie SEO
Here is a person new to the market.
- follow search engine guidelines
- you don't want to get banned for spamming
- spammers get banned forever, and will never rank!!!
- I have been creating 10 high quality articles a day
- the best site ranks at the top
- everything is overpriced, you can learn everything you need from forums
- the search engine representative said ____ so it must be true
- I make $3 to $30 a day off AdSense!
A Search Optimizer With a Few Rankings
The excitement of a few top rankings is just setting in! Google has yet to burn down any of your websites.
- list your site in directories and submit articles and trade links
- make sure you submit to my high PageRank directory!!!! submissions are now 50% off
- you can learn most everything you need from forums
- AdSense is a great business model...I love AdSense
- keep creating content and building links it is only a matter of time until it ranks
- BTW...here is another high PageRank directory you can submit to
A Person With Many Top Search Engine Rankings
At this level you can afford to go to many conferences. After attending a few of them, you no longer care about rankings, you want results. You start patterning your actions after those who are making money, not those who are giving the same speech they gave 6 years ago, and not those who are popular but can't figure how to make money from their popularity.
- wow most of these rankings amount to nothing
- search is not as good as people claim it to be
- I better start tracking results a bit better
- wow these few pages make a lot...maybe i should make a few more pages targeting these terms, and rewrite these other pages to make them more conversion oriented
The Arrogant (Semi)Professional SEO
Here you start getting full of yourself a bit prematurely, but are profitable enough to get away with it, and ignorant enough that you don't know any better. Google has not burned down any of your sites yet, and if they did you figure those sites deserved what they got because they are low quality.
The sites you care about are of high quality though, and they will grow almost every month until one of them gets toasted.
- I am a professional SEO. I know this stuff. These are the rules
- We are better than everyone. We have the best content
- We don't buy links because we are white hat SEOs
- People link to us because we have the best content, as do our clients
- We don't make much from our rankings, but that is because we chose not to, because we are ethical
The Seasoned Pragmatic SEO
At this stage you are making more in a month than most people make in a year, spend most of your time working on your own sites, rarely do client work, are rather selective with the client work you are willing to take on. If you do much client work you created a business model that sells a product or a bulk low value services.
Google has helped you build at least one 6 figure a year income stream, and has also probably burned down at least one of them. Even if you think it was unfair, unjust, or unreasonable they taught you the value of paranoia, anonymity, and make you become much more aggressive and much more quiet about the projects you are working on.
You likely have partners, and the questions you ask at this level are no longer black and white, but are colored in shades of gray, and often framed from the perspective of how others will react to what you are doing.
Quality content once again becomes a myth, after you see some of your best information go nowhere, and some of your worst referenced all over the web. The realization that creating garbage that strokes someone's ego is more important than the quality of your content smacks you in the face. You become results oriented. Your marketing is better targeted than ad agencies or public relations firms could dream of creating. Some of your marketing is so effective that your sites get penalized because you got too many links too quick.
- It doesn't look like spam if everyone is talking about me.
- If something didn't work before, it probably isn't going to work again, but here is a quick test site I don't mind losing. If it does work how do I scale this idea commercially?
- What can I bolt onto this thin affiliate site to get it links? Here is our first feature article: 43 ways to get and use a credit card without actually having it registered to your real name
- How do I add enough value (without harming the conversion rate) to get this to pass a hand check?
- Some of those links from _____ pack more of a punch than you would think, but if everyone has too much information to act on any of it I am best off if I don't say anything. :)
- Does this bought link look like a bought link?
- Wow I can't believe how many links yahoo are buying, is my brand strong enough to get away with that?
- If my brand is not strong enough to buy links, then I will buy a few high ranking websites, just like all the big players are doing.
- Wow I can't believe my friend just cloned my site. And so did Google! Attacked from every angle!
- Why is that spammy site ranking? How can I leverage that exploit on someone else's authoritative domain, or if I use it on my own site, how can I do it without looking as spammiy as that did?
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