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The Best SEO Advice of All: Pay Attention to Attention

I don’t consider myself a role model for SEO, and I don’t mean to give “advice” on SEO. Tips, yes, because they are logical, technical, and can be tested. But advice? The trick about understanding advice is, authority is granted, not taken. You only have “authority” if someone grants you that authority in their own mind. I may give advice based on my own experiences and perhaps knowledge and/or judgement, but that advice is received by YOU in light of the authority you grant me. Let’s see how you do.

My best advice on SEO for those looking to succeed in SEO is “pay attention to attention”. It’s all about attention. It’s almost about nothing but attention.

Do I have your attention? Is that good for you right now? Pay attention to where you place your attention.

Now pay careful attention to what I am about to say. I worked in medical rehabilitation and some of that work involved cognitive attention measurement, as well as the quantification of mental and physical fatigue. I spent a good portion of two years learning how to best measure physical fatigue at the neuromuscular level. I build sensitive analog electronic instruments, developed digital signal processing algorithms, and built computer-based medical instrumentation that measured muscle activity. I teased out new information on neuromuscular control, using brain imaging and external brain stimulators. All the while colleagues in our laboratories looked closely at muscular sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and brain functioning in both healthy and impaired populations.

We all knew that attention… the attention of the human subjects of our experiments, was the key to understanding almost everything. If only we could control attention, we could make good measurements. But attention remains at the will of the people.

Attention is at the center of fatigue. Every “ounce of attention” you give away takes energy from you. Energy you would have spent succeeding. Mental fatigue is a very real thing, with physical correlates.

I believe attention is the key to success in SEO. If you are an SEO building your own sites, all you need to do is pay close attention to the task at hand and you will succeed. There is so much opportunity for profit on the web that almost any endeavor will succeed if executed. The problem, is staying focused. EVERYONE wants your attention. EVERYONE is earning profits from YOUR attention.

Forums are attention-stealers. They can derail your efforts. SEO web sites are attention stealers. Pay too much attention to SEO and you will fail in your endeavor, not because SEO doesn’t work (duh) but because you didn’t get your job done. You got “distracted”. You missed the boat.

The news is an attention stealer. Your phone is an attention stealer. Your radio, iPod, and computer operating systems are attention whores. Advertisements are based on the concept of gaining (and holding) your attention. Web pages (landing pages) are attention tour guides. Promotions are attention con artists. You want a challenge? Analyze how a meditation home study vendor markets his wares on the Internet. Hey! Over HERE! Look! I can show YOU how to gain BACK control of your ATTENTION! There’s a job I’d enjoy, if for nothing else but the irony.

Build a community, a web-based service, a blog, or an affiliate sales site and you will succeed if you work hard and pay attention to only what matters, not allowing yourself to be distracted. That’s how the successful ones have done it, and that’s why they pitch their “how to make money fast” programs to YOU. Attention is the key. Attention is the currency. Keep yours, and gather everyone else’s. It really is that simple. Are you paying attention?

When I was a kid I rode the public bus home from school because of lacrosse practice. I rode the Manorhaven bus from Mineola to Flower Hill, where I transferred to the #23 Northern Boulevard bus. The #23 ran through some very prosperous neighborhoods in Nassau County, on it’s way into Queens, a mostly blue collar (at that time) borough of New York City. So I rode the #23 with the day workers, returning from cleaning homes and pools, ending their days on the bus ride at 7pm. But the Manorhaven bus was a connector through some of the poorer neighborhoods of central Nassau County. When I rode the Manorhaven bus, I rode with many un and under-employed thugs and scammers.

Lemme see your watch“, he said to me as he sat down in front of me, turned the wrong way in the seat of the bus, arms extended almost into my lap space. His five teenaged friends had almost simultaneously moved over to my side of the bus as if following him, taking their places in the seat next to him, across from him, next to me, across the aisle from me, and (I sensed), behind me. “Gimme your watch“, he insisted.

No“, I said. I was still uncertain of what was going down, but I was pretty sure that giving this guy my watch was not going to be wise. Nor, I doubted, would it be the end of the encounter. I was only 16, but I was no idiot, and this guy was not much older than me in years.

Why not? Lemme see. I won’t take it“, he assured me with a smile. With his questioning his arms flayed about, as if he had learned gesturing from an Italian but didn’t understand that most of Long Island’s gesturing Italian role models did not have the limbs of NBA all stars. His arms were way too long, and too close to my face.

Let me alone“, I said.

I looked past him to the front of the bus. The bus driver did not glance in the big rear view mirror. I waited. He didn’t glance. That’s odd, I thought. He’s always glancing back here…shooting his attention briefly down the bus aisle, once every few seconds, as he drove the bus. Today he seemed stiffly forward-focused. I was all alone on a crowded bus. Me and my five new found, watch-deprived friends.

Where is your attention? Did you lend it to me for a minute, like I didn’t lend my watch to the teenaged intimidator on the Manorhaven bus?

I would never have seen my watch again had I “let him see it for a sec”. And your attention, which I may have just conned out of you by asking “let me have your attention for a minute” will never come back to you, either. It has been spent. Gone. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, but it sure can change hands. Your mental energy just transferred to my traffic log to enhancing the “time on page” in my analytics report. Left behind in the space in your brain is (hopefully just a little) mental fatigue. A little “lactic acid” that now needs to be cleared.

Pay attention to your dream and stay focused on your task to sell your ebook or build back links or write articles or analyze SERPs or sell your wares. The rewards will come. Break’s over; back to work. Don’t get distracted. And as you build properties, focus on gaining the attention of the search engines. Craft your landing pages to focus attention on your call to action, your pitch, your price point, or your value position. Find the visitor that has attention to spend, and provide a means for the transfer of that attention away from them, and over to you. Then cash it in.

It really is that simple. Pay attention. get them to pay attention. It’s all about attention.


  1. Jill wrote:

    I think that people who have the sort of attention you’re talking about, at least as it applies to SEO, have it due to passion.

    You touched upon that when you said:

    Pay attention to your dream

    That’s the key right there.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 7:01 pm | Permalink
  2. You hit the nail on the head. All day long in front of the computer I feel like an ADD kid on crack. I have to find someone to stop letting people steal my attention. I need to find the balance. Easier said then done.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  3. your_store wrote:

    I never saw a blogroll as a form of sabotage before.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  4. john andrews wrote:

    I never saw a blogroll as a form of sabotage before.

    LOL – it’s an attention stealer :-)

    Updated: I should have been more clear… it’s a dual stealer. Think of the trackback pings and,if anyone clicks thru, the referrer. In SEO every link is an option, which takes attention away from the call to action and sales funnel. When you finish reading this, you can comment or click thru to an SEO site and post a referrer for me (givingme karma in the SEO world). ka-ching.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  5. Darren wrote:

    I feel like your list is taunting me. “click me” “no, click me” “look over here”

    Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 8:51 pm | Permalink
  6. Praveen wrote:

    very nicely said :)

    Thank you.

    ps: you got the watch still :D

    Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
  7. liam wrote:

    That is one really excellent post and great advice. Thanks for reminding me.

    Friday, October 13, 2006 at 3:05 am | Permalink
  8. Aaron Pratt wrote:

    ADD is not a learned behavior like a regular low attention spam is, ADD sucks! ;-(

    Friday, October 13, 2006 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  9. Abhilash wrote:

    You’re absolutely right about the currency of attention. But I don’t think it’s exclusive to SEO–the use & preservation of this attention-currency definitely applies to anything, right?

    That said, I’m an adhd kid on speed at my pc too, so I feel everyone who’s commented on this post so far.

    Time to get back to work. You’ve reminded me that I’m supposed to be paying attention elsewhere. Great post. This is the kind of creative and original productivity-inspiring material I enjoy reading most. Even if it was a momentary distraction… :)

    Friday, October 13, 2006 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  10. pitfall wrote:

    Ah, the irony, if you are reading this I have stolen your attention, and by typing this I have allowed myself to have my attention taken.

    Kudos, but there is a time and a place to stop, take a step back and analyze what you have done, where you are, where you want to be and ensure that you are on the right track.

    As an SEO myself, it can be cumbersome to keep up with what changes to algos have happened, and what updates have done to your SERPS, but it all comes down to the initial plan and if it was on par for the course you have chosen to pursue. Distractions can also be reassuring, like SES San Jose in August for me.

    The recipe of SEO may change, but the ingredients don’t!

    Friday, October 13, 2006 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  11. Nice post John.

    Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
  12. there is a time and a place to stop, take a step back and analyze what you have done, where you are, where you want to be and ensure that you are on the right track.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 3:37 am | Permalink
  13. K D Mains wrote:

    Nice read John Andrews

    And Darn that Google search engine for making me think I could give advice on SEO as well as tips. Google is a “something” not a “someone” so how dare I keep on reiterating the machines listing of myself as “Worlds Best SEO writer” after the silly machine decided to list me as so, how loony tunes (toons) and silly I am!

    If only I had paid more attention. I really ought to pay more attention. :)

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  14. Davis wrote:

    I don’t consider myself a role model for SEO yes, because they are logical, technical, and can be tested.The trick about understanding advice is, authority is granted, not taken. You only have “authority” if someone grants you that authority in their own mind.Really it is a superb article.

    Monday, March 30, 2009 at 3:26 am | Permalink
  15. If you have any good advice, please post it on our website, and our after service is also good.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  16. Rheinboard wrote:

    Awesome post John

    Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink
  17. Another goood one John. Found a lot of usefull articles here!

    Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 5:37 am | Permalink
  18. london wrote:

    Hey John, first time reading your posts, looking good, thanks

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 5:08 am | Permalink

4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. » Favorite SEO Blog Posts - John Andrews - on Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    […] Pay Attention to Attention […]

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  3. […] I started this blog by calling online marketing a form of competitive webmastering. While what we do changes over time, the reason we do it is to compete with other web publishers for the attention of the audience. If they do something to help themselves out rank you, you will have to address that problem and vice versa. […]

  4. […] Still less obvious but revealed by the TechCrunch observation is the opportunity for global outsourcing. While the Web Too crowd says “neeto!” and dreams of getting paid to fly the next Firefox alpha on their new Mac (turning their Cinema Display into a tax deduction), the world’s outsourced workforce lines up to turn those dollars into pennies. Numerous affiliate opportunities exist in the outsourcing market as well as the labor market. American’s signing on with dreams of earning money testing software are targets for numerous old-school affiliate marketing offers in the job world, the tech world, the work-from-home world, the education and training markets, etc. Hit them with University of Pheonix offers before they realize they can’t compete with workers in India doing manual software testing, right? But collect those email addresses and demographic data… what kind of computers they have, how often they log in, because the modern affiliate opportunities will value that very much. Seen the latest valuations of Facebook? All because they know about you and have your attention. Affiliate marketing is not what it used to be. uTest is a real business, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise, but rather to use it as a (fictitious?) example of what modern affiliate marketing looks like. That TechCrunch promotion of uTest? Affiliate marketing, no? What was that worth? How would that get negotiated, and paid? Business, baby. The Internet? It’s bidness, baby, as my New Joisey friends would say. […]