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Do you want to WIN, or just “Be the Winner”?

One of the best aspects of travel (aside from, well, traveling) is that I get to meet real people in pursuit of real goals. I get to discuss SEO and Internet business, plus careers, with people from all over the globe (as long as they speak English, sigh). This includes sharing unique experiences that really cannot be observed any other way than in-person, or via storytelling. Travel is all about story telling, and listening.

With “competitive seo” there is little room for debate. It’s about winning. It’s about being in front of potential customers when they search Google, with a higher prominence than everyone else (including all of the other SEOs trying to win that audience).

You can define what it means to be “Number 1” for any given niche or keyword set or market, as appropriate, but the honest definition must match performance. The #1 spot is defined as the spot that has been observed to convert the best. The Money Spot. The best spot to win becomes the #1 spot, every time. In SEO, the owner of #2 is not a contender, but the first loser.

There is a lot of nuance in the above-mentioned concepts of “customer”, “niche or keyword set”, and “conversion”. In my experience, very few professionals have a strong grasp of overall SEO. Most are tactical practitioners focused on some subset of the above.

So it is always interesting to meet and discuss SEO with those who claim it as their profession, job, vocation, past-time or calling. I find it very easy, with a brief discussion, to ascertain the technical skill levels, experience with general or keyword-specific SEO, vision, perspective, and even the “religion” of an SEO. Which is why it’s a great idea to travel (to meet them).

One of the first things I have to ascertain about any SEO is… does he want to win, or just want to be The Winner?

Is it possible that the best SEO could be known to be a great SEO? This is a tough question that many in our industry do not understand to be difficult. In fact, many think it is an obvious, silly question. According to many I meet, the best SEOs are up on the stage, demonstrating their abilities. They are well known, admired by their peers, and both well-paid and highly-regarded.

Now we can debate at length why this is not true, how things could possible work out if it were true, etc., but it is very likely such a discussion will first be side-tracked by a second question – who cares? Clearly the famous Top SEO knows hir stuff… isn’t that all that matters? Or better yet, who cares? If I feel it is a certainty that every time So-and-So takes the stage, I learn great stuff… does it really matter if someone is a “real SEO” or just a knowledgeable and entertaining very good one?

Yes, it does. Because…money.

Only while this thing we call SEO is new and requires great learning skills and determination, will demand will be strong and salaries respectable. As the US market is learning now, if SEO gets de-mystified, or Google takes most of the “best spots”, only the winners will survive. And that forces people like me, the ones who hire “real SEOs” and put “real SEO” to work every day, to redefine “winners” very carefully.

If you are serious about SEO, are you trying to win, or just trying to be a “winner”?

If you are trying to win, good on you, mate. Best of luck, and hey, I’d like to meet you some time, when it’s convenient. I’ll buy the beer! But if you are trying to be The Winner, I’m afraid we’re in different professions. The #1 spots don’t really matter much to you, except perhaps the #1 spot for “Top SEO”, which has no value in my game.

So where does “money” come in? Throughout history, money is the means of getting things done. Money is not a posession, but a tool. For the SEO trying to win, money is a resource. For the SEO trying to be The Winner, money is a reward. There is a very big difference.

Real SEOs need the money now, to put to work on SEO. Those sacrificing everything to be “winners” will often defer what they see as rewards, for later. The budget is spent on travel, clothes, appearances, and perhaps picking up the check when dining with those who can help them move up the ladder.

But most of what we get to observe is not at that level. We don’t get to witness many true winners at SEO.

Regarding those who win at “Being The Winner”, we may see them on stage, but we don’t have access to them. They refuse speaking engagements unless they are the keynote speaker, with large audience. They require luxury suites with building and floor-level security. These “rock stars” are celebrities, but they believe they are Winners.

Try getting attention from them at a networking event. They famously refuse to “meet-up” insisting instead on only “meeting UP” i.e. accepting invitations that are “upstream” from their status.

Regarding those who actually win the #1 spots, we don’t have access to them, either. Anyone who has ever battled and won a top money spot will admit that staying there requires commitment and confidentiality, as well as diligence. SEO is constantly changing. What worked last year, is different now. No one wants you to take the stage and discuss what worked last year.  Getting up on stage and talking about what is working now won’t be good for performance.

Less obviously, it can be very difficult to discuss practical SEO matters with a peer, without revealing potentially dangerous vulnerabilities. SEOs are opportunists with skills.

It’s relatively easy to access the winners who are retired from the game. They are busy living life… just go out there and do something and you’ll find them right next to you, working hard at enjoying life and not being at work. Great resources on matters of entrepreneuring, fund raising, family and life matters, and truly wonderful footwear, but not current SEO.

If you sense this issue in your SEO life, you have my sympathies. If you disregard this as an irrelevant harangue, good luck in your quest for RockStar Status.

In between, is life as an SEO. And we must live life, for all else is naught.

If I can influence you in any way, I urge you to recognize that there are these two disparate forms of Winning in SEO. I encourage you to acknowledging (to yourself) which path you are on with your true intent, so as to help you existentially. You may live a fuller, happier existance, with less need to seek external validation (i.e. less struggle).

I admit, it also helps me put my money to work hiring effective SEOs and enabling them on paths of mutual success. But honestly that is of secondary importance. Because the greatest part of living life is sharing it with people. All of it. The good, the bad, the joys, the pain, and most of all, the wonder. And for those stimulated by intellectual discussions, it’s truly awesome to meet winners and discuss specifics of the roads traveled.

Unfortunately, those striving to be The Winner seem to be sadly devoid of the truth that is our human experience. If they have it, they’re hiding it as a secret past. If they don’t have it, they live in fear of encountering it, or in denial that it is important for their journey.

If there is one thing we can learn from video game players, it is the importance of playing the game. Stop talking about the game. Instead, be the gamer. We can talk about it later, and it’ll be awesome.

503: GONE

There have been a few occasions when Googlers stated that a 503 server response code would be interpreted by Google as a “hold on, something’s getting fixed, don’t update the index with what you find here” situation. That made great sense. How else could a tech-savvy webmaster pause re-indexing while performing an update that would effect public-facing (and thus search engine facing) URLs and content?

But that was the old Google. Matt’s extended vacation, which is like an internship for retiring, is just one of many clues that things at the New Google are not looking good for webmasters.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any other Googler step up and take responsibility like Matt did. Who can be considered accountable as a voice of Google today, for technical webmasters?

Certainly not the personas I have seen thus far.

So this site went dark earlier this summer, with a “down for maintenance” message. Behind the scenes, it served up a 503 response code. After a week or so I got comments from readers asking if the site was gone…. and should they remove outbound links to my content. Uh oh.

An unintended consequence of going down without an obvious message, in this age of Google as penalizing aggressor, meant my site would lose backlinks. Webmasters were afraid to leave broken links on their own sites, because that might be seen as a poor quality signal by Google’s infamous “raters”.

Well, one can’t learn without taking some risk. I updated the home page to remind people that the site would be back, and that a 503 is SUPPOSED to mean “don’t index what you find here cause we’re making changes”.

I was wrong. Google de-indexed the site completely.

Now of course the Google has elastic clauses in all of its guidelines, including this one:

“…lasting 503s can eventually be seen as a sign that the server is now permanently unavailable and can result in us removing URLs from Google’s index.”

I suppose technically I wasn’t wrong… Google didn’t index the temporary holding page contents. And it didn’t re-index the incoming URLs (which I didn’t allow anyway, since it all 503’d). But getting dropped is not what should happen to an established web site when it goes into maintenance mode. And whatever amount of time I waited, is apparently “too long” according to Google. Well, at least we now know what “too long” means.

I suppose it’s time to update the contingency plans… I suppose we’ll have to maintain static cached pages or something… like in the old days.



Cloud Storage

A poet friend recently got upset about a bill he received for Google’s cloud storage. He wasn’t aware of his wife’s increased use of his online storage account, which incurred a fee on his credit card. He complained to Google, including a small rant:

“What the hell is a “Cloud Platform”?????? Do clouds need platforms? If they do (which i doubt) why should i have to pay for it? I’m already paying for those who can’t be bothered to work for a living! Does this have anything to do with global warming?

So I thought I’d help clear it up for him.

Dear Terry — Honestly I don’t know what the fuss is about. Clouds are huge, and are everywhere. They move around the earth… so when we have a cloudy day, they are HERE. When we have a sunny day, they are SOMEWHERE ELSE.

There is no need for cloud storage until… everyone wants a sunny day at the same time. And why can’t they? Why should someone have to have a cloudy day, every time YOU want to enjoy a sunny one?

For that matter, why should the Pacific Northwest suffer under clouds all year, just so the rest of America can have sunny summers? It’s hardly fair. So that’s why Amazon invented cloud storage, right here in Seattle.

Google jumped in because it wants to organize everything, which I presume includes the stored clouds, right?

So chill out and do your part. We’re all just trying to advance as a civilization, and get some sunshine back up here in the PNW.