Most of the time when people blog about SEO techniques they talk about them in an abstract way. I was thinking about my path into this industry today and chuckled at a few memories of following the wrong people many years ago. Thought they’d be good to share here.

1. “SEO is dead!” and the bandwagon

Early in my foray into the business world I got linked up with an organization called AdzZoo, following a few people I’d hoped would become my mentors. The big idea at the time in that circle was that SEO was dead (seems laughable now) and that what the company did was the “new” solution for busness owners.

Essentially they created optimized landing pages for businesses that ranked really well and linked to the client’s site. This was nice because they’d get calls both from the landing page and would get link juice from the well-ranking page.

You may be thinking now what crossed my mind at the time. But wait, how is this the new solution to ‘dead’ SEO if this is literally using aspects of SEO?

Exactly. I mentioned that briefly to my colleagues who told me I obviously didn’t understand and that it was “very complicated.” More or less, shut up and fall in line. And I did because I respected these men. Against my better judgment I fell in line right up until Google made some algorithm updates a year later that caused the landing pages not to rank nearly as well AND devalued backlinks a bit. Both of these changes effectively rendered the company’s model irrelevant, and I got out because I couldn’t justify charging people a monthly fee for something I then knew wasn’t worth it.

2. Ranking > Readership and other nonsense

A year or so later I was doing some writing projects for one of those same people. We’d stayed connected and at that point I was still hanging onto the notion that he was my mentor. I’d been researching feverishly to build my web skill set, learning code, SEO, and WordPress in general. All seemed to be heading in a good direction until this person told me he didn’t need me for site content anymore. I asked why, and he explained he was leveraging “cutting edge” SEO techniques that favored bulk content.

“Research shows that if your blog publishes 40-52 articles per month you’re seen as an authority news site,” he told me.

His grand scheme was to buy bulk articles (read: cheap garbage) from overseas and copy/paste these heavily spun waste of web space into client sites for ranking reasons. I was disappointed and frustrated, and after I proofread a couple of them I thought “No one’s going to read this shit!”

Again I voiced my concern that this seemed shady. “What’s the point,” I asked, “of filling a site up with garbage no one wants to read?” He replied that this wasn’t for readers, just for ranking.

Your site content is ALWAYS for readers — anything less is spammy, lazy, and unworthy.

Tell your story and build loyal customers

Not to mention if they rank with these articles, these are the entry points for the site. If the material sucks this hard and that’s the first thing a reader sees, they’re going to leave. Sigh, and if they leave right off the bat, this whole charade accomplishes nothing.

It was in that moment that two things became inescapably clear to me:

  1. This man was not an SEO or a marketing expert, and the depth of his lack of understanding felt like the rug yanked from underneath me.
  2. He would never take my opinions seriously or admit that I had anything to contribute; he wanted a young worker bee to mindlessly obey his machinations.

Our relationship didn’t last long after that needless to say. He obviously had nothing of value to teach and I wasn’t a very good protege with all my questions and pesky logic. I followed him online for awhile out of curiosity, and every venture he undertook seemed fleeting. But when you stake your operation on shortsided black hat SEO tactics, you’re forever chasing your tail.

3. Beware the visionary who doesn’t look where he’s going

More recently I worked with someone whose vision for setting himself apart in the SEO world was using extremely sophisticated software to spy on client competitors and uncover their techniques, their keywords, and their meta data. Seems like a savvy marketer, right? But wait for it. He wasn’t operating like a chess player wanting to know the minds of his opponents so he could outplay them. His whole endgame was to copy their tactics.


Mimicking someone else and expecting your outcome to be superior to theirs while not improving on their method is silly. At best you’ll get exactly the same outcome. This thinking left two other things on the table:

  1. Who cares what they’re doing? Knowing a competitor’s tactics is useful to a degree, generally speaking. But if you’re confident in your own ability and are getting legit results, chances are you’re better at it than a lot of those people you’re watching. Why reduce yourself?
  2. The software was so expensive he couldn’t afford to hire employees to keep up with the workload. At the end of the day DOING more is way more important than KNOWING more, particularly if knowing prevents you from doing.

I’m as imperfect as anyone, and don’t mean this post to demonstrate how I’ve always been right. But these were each a lesson in trusting yourself, and every time I’ve parted ways from people in situations like these it’s been for the better. Listening to these people rationalize practices that were shortsighted at best and otherwise duplicitous has fueled my passion for spinning it straight.

When I need reassurance in my path I remember that the core of my toolbox has changed little — only where it’s needed to — and has continued to fetch solid results over the years while black hats go out of business or fade into irrelevance.

Thanks for reading.

– Brian Watkins


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