Where Has It Gone?

I know, it’s a tired joke, but I suspect we’ve all seen recent cases of people buying into things that make us think that’s what they believe. That anybody can have a website and say whatever they want is the blessing of the Internet… and the curse.

It happens in virtually every niche, but since my niche is SEO, I’ll focus on that. And I can even speak from personal experience, because there was a time I was guilty of a variation of this myself.

A Common Mistake?

I set out to educate myself on SEO about nine years ago. I decided to build a website for the company I was consulting for, and they had nobody with any IT experience, and had a desperate need of an online presence. I built the site (it was an embarrassingly crappy job), but they weren’t willing to spend more than $50 per week on AdWords.

Don’t laugh! Getting them to spend even that was like pulling teeth.

While researching ways to make the program more effective, I came across this “SEO” thing that was totally new to me, that sounded like an interesting way to get millions of dollars into the company coffer.

Being an engineer, I naturally planned my studies of this sure-fire way to swamp the production floor with new work. I started spending 2-3 hours every day, reading the blogs of all the most prominent SEO folks I could find.

I also joined three or four forums that had sections devoted to SEO, search and internet marketing, and racked up thousands of posts, and probably read tens of thousands.

And of course, the end result was that I was totally confused, because it seemed that nearly anything that was said was followed by something else that contradicted it.

Finding the Gold

Some of what I found, of course, was great information… pearls of SEO wisdom to add to my collection. But there was also a lot of crap, the sort of wacky ideas that could cause real problems. The problem was that it was sometimes difficult to figure out which was which.

And in my opinion, my friends, that is the biggest problem today that faces the folks that want to learn what’s right or wrong, safe or risky, effective or a waste of time, for their sites.

Too much noise!

(Photo: Rogiro via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Too much noise, not enough music!

So what’s the solution? While a person is still learning, how can he/she tell if some SEO “celebrity” is talking through his hat? There may be other ways to go about it, but I’ll tell you what worked for me.

While I was hanging out in forums and commenting on popular blogs, plus a little interacting on Facebook and Twitter, I got to “know” a few people. I tried to ask intelligent questions (I had plenty of stupid questions at hand too… but I kept them to myself, for the most part), and refrained from stating any opinions that I couldn’t back up.

In short, I kept my mouth shut unless I had something worthwhile to say. And I listened. To everyone.

And believed nobody. At least until either they proved their position or they were supported by others in whom I had already begun to trust.

That helped me start to sort the wheat from the chaff, but it still wasn’t enough. I needed to understand before I could really believe, and forums and blogs usually didn’t fill that need. People often aren’t willing to share publicly, as much as they might in a more private setting.

Then, a friend pointed me to a different kind of community: the SEO Training Dojo. By the end of my first month, I was hooked. At first, most of the discussions were over my head. but the members in the Dojo’s chatroom shared a lot of information and didn’t hold much back when discussing the more technical aspects of SEO, the reasons behind certain practices and the risks/rewards of others.

Outdated Flat Wrong

After a few months, I had learned enough to be able to contribute a little to the discussions. As I sat in on some of those deeper discussions, I began to realize that even some of the “name” blogs I’d been reading for a couple of years were either outdated or just flat wrong.

I started trying the things we discussed myself, and in the process, learned a lot more. In fact, hardly a day went by that I didn’t learn something in that chatroom.

I was fortunate, in that I’d been guided to a community where the majority of the members knew what they were talking about and were perfectly willing to admit when they weren’t sure about something. Egos were left at the door.

Not to mention that they were more than willing to share with someone that was willing to learn. And boy! Was I willing to learn!

Find YOUR Community

You may have a different style from mine, or be comfortable in a different sort of group, but I suggest you find one like I did, where the egos wait outside, while folks are happily sharing inside. It’s the fastest way I can imagine to learn what’s what, without any stupid personality games to muddy the water.

The larger the community, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter less sincerity and more polarization. All of them may have value present, but in some, it’s harder to sort it out. The same is true of forums, as well. And if you’re very fortunate, you’ll not only learn a lot, you’ll also build some great relationships.