Who Are The Top 10 SEOs in the World?

Apr 20th
posted in

A lot of people who are well known as SEOs spend too much time on self promotion and not enough time on business development. BTW I would classify myself as being in that camp, though I have been slowly migrating since meeting my wife ;)

So much of SEO stuff is sorta ego in place of performance IMHO. And the problem when you hire top SEOs is that even if they have a strong brand and do great work on their own sites, the market pricing for services tends to be so dysfunctionally under-priced that...

  • it is mostly an exercise in back patting to even do any client services after you have a good amount of capital, cashflow, and leverage online
  • even if you think you are hiring one of the best SEOs you still rarely get to work with them because the people who are out there being really well known are by and large lead generation tools for the company, and the bigger the company is the more likely you are to have an intern servicing your account

Getting serious cashflow out of servicing the SEO market is akin to squeezing water out of a rock, especially when compared against running your own websites.

To me, the measure of an SEO's success is not in their knowledge, but in their ability to leverage their knowledge to build cashflow. I know money isn't everything, but we live in a world where the algorithms grow more complex every day. So each day you are working for less than your market value is a day closer you are to being broke!

Spamming and jamming can get you some paydays, but its not easy to *consistently* pull down 7 or 8 figures a year in profit if you are not building at least 1 or 2 properties with serious staying power and momentum behind them.

Given the complexity of SEO and the lack of liquidity in the SEO market I think that by and large the best SEOs who generate the greatest profits derive most of their profits from publishing. Given that I thought I would highlight some of the people who I would view as top SEOs (and why).

Danny Sullivan

Few people have Danny's knowledge about the history of and trends in search. Even fewer have that type of knowledge while being accessible. And even fewer yet would have been able to put a decade in building up momentum for a brand and website in the industry, stop, start over from scratch, and compete against what they had built for a decade.

Imagine the strongest site you have, giving it a decade of effort, and then one day trying to start from scratch competing directly against it with a similar business model. And yet he pulled it off.

Greg Boser & David Naylor

Greg is probably the first name that comes to mind when someone says "old SEO" (yes even before Bruce Clay). His knowledge is much like Danny's in being rich with historical context. The thing that Greg has done to make consulting actually worth doing is tie payment to performance. Doing SEO in that manner is like becoming an affiliate, but one with few competitors and a huge advantage in the marketplace.

Dave is the UK version of Greg (or maybe Greg is the US version of Dave?), and they have done some successful projects together for some of the biggest brands in the world.

Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer branded himself as being an expert at ecommerce SEO. And, rare amongst SEOs, he has the technical chops *and* the marketing skills to sell to big companies (speaking their language & touring the world speaking at dozens of conferences each year).

They built a software program which is almost as sweet as cloaking would be (if you could get away with doing it constantly with no risk), but partnered with the right kinds of (big brand) companies and branded their GravityStream solution appropriately such that it was never viewed by Google from a negative lens. This created a business model where they could get paid based on performance (like many affiliates do) but be paid for the performance of the core brand website! :D

NetConcepts was sold to the SEM company Covario, which will be able to benefit from tying the GravityStream technology to their predictive analytics and Google's quick-indexing caffeine search results.

Patrick Gavin & Andy Hagans

As people, at this point I don't really trust or respect them (and feel that those who do might be in for some eventual bad news). But as far as being efficient at running businesses, few can compare. Patrick took a gamble and build the Text Link Ads link brokerage into a company he was able to sell for mid 8-figures. And his latest venture in the SEO space was so bold as to call "ensure you are not buying any links" an advanced SEO tip. Meanwhile on Andy's personal site he recommends iAcquire for your link buying needs :D

Not content with sitting on the results from TLA, they invested the proceeds (and other investor funds) into building a domain portfolio that even Kevin Ham or Frank Schilling would admire. But they also turned those domain names into functional websites, and have kept cost structures low, while creating blogs with more top x lists than the rest of the web combined and sending out millions of "congrats" emails at potential link sources. The net result? They have built a lead generation business that has been rumored to be pulling in 8 figures a year.

Wherever there is an economic distortion in the economy leading to a large bubble you can bet these guys have at least a half dozen to a few hundred sites, chipping away at the markets 24/7/365. And the only thing increasing faster than their scale is their efficiency!

Matt Cutts

I always hate when I see Matt Cutts listed on top SEO lists and think "hey he is not even an SEO"

...but...

how many SEOs have seen Google's source code? How many have written a good chunk of it? As one of the top few search engineers at Google, Matt not only has a pulse on what is changing with the web, but he constantly tracks & battles the evolution of spam. His knowledge and experience set allows him to just look at a search result and be able to spot the algorithmic weaknesses & exploits at a glance.

Further, Matt Cutts is better at public relations than 99% of public relations experts are. He is able to constantly promote Google products and engage in issue shaping while rarely being called out for it. And he rarely makes *any* mistakes on the public relations front, even when defending some of Google's most bogus & hypocritical policies.

Imagine if your company had a b/s slogan of "don't be evil" while operating with the above strategy. And yet he somehow manages to make it work.

Jason Callus Anus

Imagine entering an industry pulling in attention by calling everyone in the industry a bunch of scumbags - stating that you will clean things up through the use of manual intervention. Then imagine using the economic downturn to fire almost all your editorial employees and leveraging your built up domain authority to create a low quality automated general purpose web scraper, which stuffs Google with indexing their own search results (heavily wrapped in ads). And then imagine link farming to build authority, then using the leverage of that platform to start selling SEO services to corporate clients & selling links!

When Matt Cutts described scraper sites a few years back he said they were "shoot-on-sight". And yet Jason's crappy site keeps gaining traffic while almost never adding any value anywhere.

Whenever I think of Mr. Anus, I picture a used car salesman who moved to the state which doesn't have a lemon law just so he could get the enjoyment of duping people with broken cars. And yet somehow he manages to pull it off. For public relations brilliance he gets a +1. And the same goes for claiming ignorance of SEO and claiming to be anti-spam so he can get away with passing his spam garbage off onto everyone else while rendering Google's spam team flacid.

Richard Rosenblatt

In 1999 Richard Rosenblatt was able to sell iMall (have you ever heard of it?) for over a half-billion Dollars. He then sold MySpace near the top for $580 million. Trying to strike gold once more, he formed Demand Media and bought eHow.com to build a search-arbitrage content farm. Once growth rates began to slow he then created a controversy by trying to legitimize his model in the media, building his site tons more links. He then used that platform as a success story to get other publishing websites to engage in profit-sharing partnerships where he posts articles on huge trusted authoritative domains like USAToday.com.

Now Demand Media is rumored to be gearing up for an IPO or sale:

Demand Media, a closely watched startup that mines online search engine data to generate thousands of videos and web stories a day, has hired Goldman Sachs to explore an initial public offering.

People familiar with the plans say the company could file for an IPO as early as August. Details have yet to be finalised, but the discussions involve pricing shares around November in an offering valuing the company at about $1.5bn.

A little known fact amongst the SEO industry is that Richard also is the chairman of iCrossing, which is currently being rumored for sale to Hearst Publishing for ~ $400 million:

Under the deal, which is in the final stages of negotiations, iCrossing, one of the nation's biggest independent digital-marketing shops, is likely to fetch about $375 million, plus bonus payments if it reaches certain targets, these people said.
...
One person familiar with the matter cautioned that iCrossing, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz., could still decide to remain independent if it doesn't attract the right price.

Nice side gig!

That guy flat out prints money. If he keeps it up, in a few years he might put Ben Bernanke to shame. :D

Honorable Mentions

Over the past few years certainly Jeremy Shoemaker, Brian Clark, and SugarRae have built up some nice empires - each with a vastly different approach. The Caveman is great at tying SEO metrics into real world marketing advice, and has the cashflow to prove it. In terms of being great at building on the consulting model, Bruce Clay comes to mind. Tim Armstrong is tasked with turning around AOL, and if he is successful with it he would deserve a mention. I would also put Cygnus high on any SEO list, but he tends to be a bit shy, and is not very boastful in terms of what he has accomplished. John Andrews would make the list too, but then he doesn't like lists! :D

Published: April 20, 2010

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Comments

April 20, 2010 - 8:56am

I think you kind of say this yourself in your opening, but how many of these "Top SEO's" are really Top SEO's through pure ability and knowledge vs. simply having the time to self promote themselves?

I would venture a guess that there is plenty of SEO's out there who could crash this list, you just aren't aware of them.

That said I recognise a number of excellent folk on this list, but I don't necessarily recognise them as being good at SEO....I recognise them as being good at writing about it.

April 21, 2010 - 10:44pm

thats because most of what these guys do in private (their cash cow) you won't ever know about. often times, what they write about is not necessarily what they practice. don't ever be fooled by that.

April 20, 2010 - 10:22am

There's at least 2 names on that list who aren't SEOs but SEO journalists (Sullivan & Spencer). Time and again their writings on SEO has shown that they have a great understanding of the SEO industry, but not so much about actually doing SEO in this modern day and age.

There's a lot of bovine faeces floating around in the blogosphere about what works and what doesn't in SEO, and several of the peeps on that list are continuously adding to that disinformation - probably with the best of intentions, but obviously with a severe lack of actual hands-on SEO work.

April 20, 2010 - 5:26pm

These guys are on my top 10 SEO list...

April 20, 2010 - 9:23pm

Your name should be here. In influence, mind share, thousands of people helped & the success of the #1 $300/month SEO community (that had a waiting list) and the success of your own sites.

But the the risk of being labeled as a self-aggrandized whore is to steep.

So I'm saying it.

April 21, 2010 - 4:21am

Would have liked to see Rand, Barry, Lee Odden, Tedster, Eric Enge, David Harry mentioned but i can understand subjective nature of such lists.

-AD

April 21, 2010 - 5:19am

should be top 10 prices.
Well i personally believe in OFF than ON page seo. And these guys are good only in ON page :D

April 21, 2010 - 6:55am

Where's Tim Nash and Michael Martinez? Tim Nash' grammar is horrible, but his knowledge is incredible. Michael moans a lot, but his insights are fantastic.

April 21, 2010 - 4:14pm

"The thing that Greg has done to make consulting actually worth doing is tie payment to performance. "

You still have the hassles of reporting etc. That's a big deal.

April 21, 2010 - 10:30pm

Typical names you see floating around in the blogosphere. Blah.

Hamlet Batista should be at the top of the list.

April 21, 2010 - 10:52pm

just a quick word for the people doubting some of the names posted by Aaron...

It seems from the posts above that there is a fairly common misunderstanding of the names they recognize as public figures.

What you see or know out in public is not always what is true and certainly not how a lot of these guys bring in some major cash. Many of the names posted above are widely known public figures, many journalists, many entrepreneurs...
Many of these guys are very very secretive about their works. I've seen the somewhat "private" works of a few of the names above and it is one to be very much admired.

Are there better SEO's than them? I'm sure there are...
I see this post as a list of guys who have best leveraged their SEO knowledge to further their careers or business and as Aaron has said...leveraged for more cashflow. Big names for sure. Big results? You bet your ass they've had massive results.

Great list in my opinion.

April 23, 2010 - 4:29am

I agree, if you go by SEOs whose advice has actually helped website owners, then Aaron Wall should definitely be on that list. Same with Jerry West at SEORevolution.

April 23, 2010 - 8:59am

In the post I wrote "the measure of an SEO's success is not in their knowledge, but in their ability to leverage their knowledge to build cashflow."

April 23, 2010 - 8:33pm

The Jason name made me giggle here at work... hard to explain it to someone who doesn't know the back story. :)

May 6, 2010 - 5:30am

Rather disappointing note on the SEO moguls and startling exclusion of SEO gurus including Dan Thies, Bill Slawski, Barry Schwartz, Michael Martinez, Andy Beal, Rand Fishkin, et al. Very hard to digest and a bitter pill to swallow. Is this credit based on merit or mere industry recognition which is absolutely stupid on the part of the compiler. Will this post lead to biased commercialization of SEO services and ideas. Make sure that SEO industry lives on and stop the dirty business of promoting people based on hall of fame without giving heed to their portfolio, achievements and contribution to the SEO industry.

May 6, 2010 - 1:21pm

Have any of those names you listed pulled down 8 or 9 figures from doing SEO? That is what the above list is about. Sorry if your favorites didn't make the list. Feel free to make a list of your own :D

May 6, 2010 - 5:50am

I'd certainly agree that there is often a big difference between those you can write well about SEO, and those you can actually practice it. It isn't always the same thing, as in all fields!

September 21, 2010 - 2:19pm

Only ones I agree with on this list are greg boser and dave naylor. and cygnus/andrews from honorable mentions. Many mentioned are more marketers...

Nitesh Kumar
February 3, 2014 - 4:37pm

NITESH KUMAR

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