Interview with Csutoras, Malicoat & Winfield

Brent Csutoras, Todd Malicoat and Chris Winfield

MARK: We’re sitting here with Chris Winfield, Todd Malicoat, and Brent Csutoras. This is an all star crew, and we’re at SES New York, March 2008. We’re just going to talk about what got you guys into search, how you got started and some of the obstacles you ran into when you first got going.

BRENT: When I got into search, I had started a consulting company that was unrelated to search and I wanted to try and find clients like a lot of small start up websites and whatnot. I was looking at any possible way that I could do that. I started actually going out and focusing on trying to find forums and sites and things like that that would be related to the niche that I was trying to sell. Basically, it wasn’t about ranking so much at the time, it was just about finding a way to plaster my spam in some way shape or form. I tried to be pretty conservative about it, tried to make it real subtle. It was about trying to get links and trying to get things to point back at my site. At some point it was interesting, I was searching on Google or MSN or something like that and I was curious on how people would show up in these search engines. So it’s kind of similar to most people’s stories.

MARK: What year was that?

BRENT: That was probably early 2005. So, I got into this and I started reading a little bit and I actually bumped into Aaron Wall’s SEO book and started reading on his blog and I started learning about the basics. Even then it wasn’t so much about the proper way to do it, it was just that title tags had some value, so the first thing was like 50 characters, 100 words in my title tag, and keyword spam like crazy, and anything I could to get the usage of the terms that I want on there, but even with that I was able to rank pretty quickly for some pretty effective terms and I started getting a lot of traffic and a lot of leads from it. It got me interested in trying to do it better and better and better. So that’s kind of how I got into it. Then I just started learning more. I bumped into WebMasterRadio, which was really a huge turning point for me. By finding Darren’s WebMasterRadio, I started getting introduced directly to a lot of the top people in the industry right away and it was an opportunity to ask questions and find out tips and hints on how to do things better. It gave me a direction. Then I think the other huge turning point was when I went to the first conference. I went to Pubcon for the very first time. Even at a conference, where it’s very spread out and it’s very active and hard to nail people down, I was able to network a little bit, make some friends, and get into it. It really kind of turned into a lot of studying, a lot of listening to the people in the industry talk and mention certain tools and things, and then researching those and applying them to what I was doing. That kind of lead me into social media and it was still more of just grabbing links at the time; I wanted a link on every one of these sites to point to me because “links have a value.” So, in the process of doing that I ended up hitting the front page of Digg and I was blown away. My site got totally hosed and they actually kicked me off of the server company; I was on DreamHost, and they just told me, “Look, we are never going to let you bring your site back up unless you can never have this happen again.” That was a turning point then, because it was like, “Wait a minute, social media is amazing.” And then the links coming in from what was happening on social was so quick and so fast and my ranking shot so high, I literally got on a little social media high from it. I started getting more and more into it, and that’s kind of where I am today.

CHRIS: That’s what we call the "social media crack".

MARK: Who besides Aaron Wall were some of your early influencers?

BRENT: I would definitely say Greg Boser and Todd Friesen, the “SEO Rock Stars,” were a huge inspiration to me. They really got me going. Shoemoney was one, and Malicoat and once I got into social, definitely Chris here was a big one that got me more turned into how to actually do it right, instead of just throwing crap at the wall and seeing what sticks. We are definitely about trying to be more intuitive about the way that it works and the best way to go about it. Of course Danny Sullivan - all the key figures at that time were a part of WebMasterRadio and were involved, so I really went and grabbed every show that I could that was on there and I really started listening to all of the old archives and writing down notes. I remember, it’s funny now looking back, it was like 301???. It seems very important you know? (Laughs) So I really give a lot of credit to WebMasterRadio, the “Rock Stars,” and a couple key figures in the industry that really got me going.

MARK: That’s cool. What about some early road blocks or obstacles? Maybe you ran into a wall, tried something and it didn’t work?

BRENT: You know with SEO, I was kind of new back when Black Hat was just kind of running off, so I never got too much into the cloaking or anything like that at that time period. I never got too much into the spamming, so I never hit any real major search obstacles, but in social I was banned numerous times from every single social engine there is. I’ve been banned twice from Reddit, three times from Digg; it was just a regular thing for me to get pretty much knocked out on those.

MARK: So what do you do? How do you fix that?

BRENT: Well at the time Digg used to actually communicate with you and you could have a chance to email them and talk it out, so I would email them and say, “I had no idea this was happening. I didn’t know that I was caught stealing everybody else’s content and putting it on my own domain and submitting it. It was a total accident.” (Laughs) I mean it was an opportunity that you had to talk to them; you don’t have that anymore so the answer of what I did then really doesn’t match up to the answer of what you do now. Back then it was start a new account. Start from fresh with the knowledge that you have now. It’s good to do. A lot of times you get into social and you’re going to make a bunch of mistakes and the best thing to do if you don’t really know how to do it right from the start is to play around and when you do figure out what you’re going to do your probably going to have to start over. Start with a fresh account. Start with a fresh persona and do it right the second time, because to really get into it you have to do it all the time. It’s not something you can do once a week or for a couple hours here and there; make an account, throw something at it, and then leave it for two or three weeks and come back to it. It’s an everyday all day thing and you’re going to make mistakes. You can definitely get burned in social very easily.

TODD: There are a lot of parallels between social and SEO. Four years ago, SEO verses social now, only social has caught up so quickly - people don’t give it enough credit for how far it has come in such a short period of time because they caught all of the things that Google had caught that took Google years to catch. They caught onto reciprocal friending and stuff like that which is the equivalent to reciprocal linking.

CHRIS: It’s so similar too with domains as well. Trusted Domains on Digg now are so much easier to get there than a brand new piece of garbage blog or something like that, not that it should be anyway, but a year ago that piece of garbage was pretty easy.

TODD: A year ago Digg was pretty easy in general but they caught up really quick, as soon as we started beating on it, it was like, “Ok, we’ve got to catch up with what’s going on here,” and they really did.

CHRIS: And they were really good also because they had the background. A lot of the outing of what was good for spammers in SEO was already known, so the algorithms of these social sites were quick to see authority aspects of key figures of a good user and the aspects of a good site. So they definitely had a jump on it.

TODD: Even little things like doing away with voting on your friends. I used to have my friends set up a home page so I would just log in each morning and vote on ten of my friends home pages. Now they put in one additional click, and that one additional click takes, a whole lot of extra effort.

MARK: When did you start Todd?

TODD: I started right out of college. I went to school and dabbled in web design. I ended up doing computer stuff by default. I was always the "computer guy" that was that much better than everybody else, so I was working in IT fixing printers and that kind of stuff; I was terrible at it. I dabbled in programming and I would always miss a comma and I was terrible at that. I got into Photoshop and I was ok at Photoshop and I could do a little bit of that. So put them all together and it was like I as the Jack of all trades, master of none, but it was enough that I knew about design, I knew about development, I knew about servers and everything else. Then one day, I was working for a hospitality company, and I ended up taking over the website because the graphic designer left. I was the Junior Network Admin, so I’m working under the head computer geek fixing printers and then I took over the website because I kind of did that on the side. I ended up working between the head of IT and the VP of Marketing and it really holds true to this day that that’s really what I still do; it’s right in-between those two worlds of marketing and tech. The two guys were at each other’s throats all the time! They would sit down in a meeting and one guy would say, “I need this by this date,” and the IT guy would say, “It’s going to take three months.” Then the next day of the week the marketing guy would come into the IT guys office and say, “I need this by Friday,” and it was something that would take three months to do, so it kind of balanced itself out, but it was still this huge game of BS the whole time and just that communication, not talking to each other and not understanding each other made me kind of the bridge at that point, stuck between those two worlds. At that same time, I had a bunch of down time because nobody knew what I was doing. So it was like I had time every day as long as the printers were working and the website was getting updated. I spent a lot of time researching on WebmasterWorld. At that point in time there was WebmasterWorld and Search Engine Watch, and mainly forums.

MARK: What year was that?

TODD: I think it was 2001 to early 2002. Maybe even a little bit before that. I think my sign on date was mid-2002 and I had been kind of lurking for a while before that. Then the same kind of thing, the first conference I went to was really a turn-around. I look back at that as just meeting people in person and going, “Wow. There are all of these other people out here doing this hard core, and there’s really a market for this.” We were laughing before, “Why do you do this?” and we’re like, “The money!” (Laughs), and also the social media rush that you got, I got the same thing from SEO the first time you hit that number one ranking for whatever. I did SEO consulting.

BRENT: I actually got my first job because of a number one ranking in SEO. I went in and said, “Hey look what I can do,” and ended up getting a job.

TODD: … and when you can just show it, I mean, people are like, “Oh wow, how did you do that?” And you can’t explain it really. You try to explain it but people don’t want to hear about it most of the time because at the end of the day it’s a lot of work. We put a lot of hours in on the computer- more that we would like sometimes.

MARK: Was WebmasterWorld your first show?

TODD: WebmasterWorld. I did PubCon Orlando in 2004. It was a great show. It was at this little crappy hotel, there was a bunch of people in one spot and it was really phenomenal.

CHRIS: It was right after Yahoo! had bagged Google, remember? That’s why there were so many people, because Yahoo! had just dropped Google right before and their sign ups went through the roof.

TODD: It was right after the Florida update too. So I kind of got into it at that point. Really, I haven’t been at it all that long. That was five or six years ago but it seems like a lifetime.

CHRIS: That’s like 35 years in SEO years. I think dog years are basically the same in Internet.

MARK: So what kind of challenges did you run into?

TODD: I think explaining it to people for awhile. I really lucked out, you know everybody has an SEO blog now, but when I started doing it it’s not like I had been doing it all that long, I just wanted a place where I could write and keep my ideas down and I came across blogger and I was like, “Oh wow, this is kind of cool.” There was no, there was no social, there wasn’t anything. I thought, “I’ll just put bookmarks up here and write a couple notes,” and then it came about that people had read my stuff at Webmaster World that I had posted there for a long time; so that really helped out with that. In terms of challenges, it’s been an easy ride; nothing but smooth sailing.

MARK: (Laughs)

TODD: Actually getting work done and not going to conferences and wanting to party with SEOs all the time is a constant struggle.

BRENT: That’s our vacation man. We work freaking seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, and then we go to conferences as a chance to go hang out and relax a little bit and still make deals.

MARK: … Talk to people who understand what you do.

BRENT: Yeah, it’s great. It’s a huge motivator. When you get around a bunch of people who do the same things that you do, and swap ideas, and shoot holes in what you’re doing, you go back with a little bit of a boost.

TODD: Yeah, motivation is probably the biggest challenge, and it’s great for motivation; you get around a bunch of like-minded people. I’d say that was definitely one of the things that motivated me most was early on I had a local web group. When I came across them it was the coolest thing in the world. I was like, “There is someone else who can tell me why my Meta tags aren’t working, or why this Hex code doesn’t give me the right color,” and that was even before I found forums to ask questions on the web.

CHRIS: VOICE: And even outside of just hanging out, the first conference you go to even attending all of the sessions, you get so much that gets you into so many different directions of research it’s really a great jump off point.

TODD: I think being able to answer questions that come up, as they come up, quickly, that was one of the biggest frustrations for me, like programming or design - if I came across something I could bang my head against the wall for an hour for one thing. Now we have this network of people where I can be like, “Chris how do I do this on social?” and bang I’ve got an answer within minutes and that’s huge in terms of building up that network of people that you trust for different answers.

BRENT: And then you can follow all of us on Twitter and you can get a bunch of good stuff on there too.

MARK: When did you step out and say, “Hey I’m going to sell these services to other companies?”

TODD: I actually did it almost right away; it was ridiculous. I’d make no qualms about it and I think really everybody should as long as their roots are reasonable and they’re doing good work. Say you’re an SEO consultant… you’ve become one at some point. I did it myself. (Laughs) One of the first things I did was, I had a web design site and I was just doing web design and that sort of thing and I was like, “I wonder how hard this SEO stuff is?” So I went out and bought a runner site link. Bottom of page 10,000 or 100,000 page rank 7 joke site, now you’re remotely related, and two months later I was number three for “SEO Consultant.” I’m like, “These guys suck!” (Laughs). Granted, now I know that nobody is actually going for terms like that, but there really wasn’t that much competition and that was what it took to rank for anything at that time was just a run of site links, so I was like, “Wow, this is easy.” Then I applied that same principle to a couple different clients and it worked for them. It’s obviously evolved from there and it’s taken some dives and stuff like that, but that was the technique at the time - you did that and some title tags and you were golden. The value of that was so enormous that to charge somebody fifty bucks an hour, or whatever I was charging at the time, was a steal! I don’t feel bad at all that I call myself an SEO Consultant when I had been one for two days or whatever (Laughs). Honestly, I think everybody else should do that as well - as much as people give crap for that. As long as you’re delivering value and you’re not just, “I’m going to do this and it’s not going to show them any return.”

BRENT: As long as your intent is not to rip somebody off, then I think it’s perfectly fine.

TODD: Yeah, the idea of there bringing a return is the important part. Even at this point, we all charge sick money for what we do but it’s not without merit. Maybe on occasion there have been instances where I haven’t provided value but, I always try to make that up to whomever. I did social stuff for a little while and if they didn’t make it that’s kind of why I got out of it, because if they didn’t make it then there was no value, so I had to do it three or four times until it delivered the value. I think that applies to anyone - as long as you don’t get frustrated and you can deliver the value, call yourself an SEO Consultant. Fake it till you make it.

MARK: How about a background Chris?

CHRIS: My background… my first job right out of college was with a web design company. I was brought in as a sales guy. This was right at the tail end of the .com days, and Razorfish was trading at $175, all these ridiculous valuations. So these four guys got together one day, two stock brokers, one venture capitalist, and one pharmaceutical executive. They were like, “We’re going to start a web design company. We’re going to sell the thing. We’re going to make a whole lot of money.” That was basically their whole background. They had a Boiler Room type of thing going, and I was one of the Boilers (Laughs). So, I was on the phone making cold calls; that’s kind of my background. Now, I can pick up the phone any time because I don’t care. I could never get intimidated. Within a couple months, I was like their VP of Operations (Laughs); things were screwed up. But I started to realize, “Wow, there is no value. They are creating these websites and nobody is doing anything. They couldn't care less about marketing.”

MARK: Is this 2000?

CHRIS: A little bit past that, so maybe 2001?

MARK: So the bomb had already dropped?

CHRIS: Maybe it was 2000? I don’t know. I can’t even remember last week.

TODD: That’s like 35 SEO years ago.

CHRIS: Exactly! So I was like, “Wow.” Luckily that was where I met my wife. We were both working there; she was brought in as a designer and a couple months later she was the VP of Design or Production or whatever it was. We were both like, “Wow, there is no value being provided.” Nobody is getting any results because they didn’t care about the market. They didn’t care about SEO. They would pay some guy to list them in a directory or something. So I’m thinking, “Wow, this is really messed up,” and we both ended up leaving the company. I was burnt out after only a year. I was like, “I don’t want to even do anything with web design.” So I got involved with a friend of our family who had a small recording studio on the lower east side. He wanted me to help him build his business, so I was like, “Alright, I’ll help.” What do you know, the first thing that I said was, “We’ve got to build you a website.” So we start building a website, and then I just start learning about SEO. I was reading a lot on Search Engine Watch, Danny’s site at the time; I learned a ton through there. That was definitely my main influence. I think it was like $79 a year for the premium membership that I got. So I took this recording studio and I started building links and doing everything with it. Really quickly they were ranking number one for any recording studio term you could imagine; they were just a little tiny place on the lower east side. The guy who I was working with was a lazy engineer; he was like, “We’ve got to take the phone number off the website, people are calling too much.” He’s like, “It’s not like a shoe store where you can order more shoes, you know. There are only a limited number of hours.” So then I was like, “Alright, we’ll remove that.” Then he says, “We’ve got to take the address off, people are stopping by!” (Laughs). I was like, “You’re crazy!” So it got to a point where there was just one form on this site. You had to go through all of these hoops… trust me, this was not Abby Road, this was not this Hit Factory or anything. This was a little recording studio. So I was like, “I’m done with my job here.” Then all of these record labels are asking him how he was getting all of this business, so he said, “Oh, you’ve got to talk to Chris.” So anyway, we had clients before I had an actual company. My wife was working for Ralph Lauren, she has a fashion background, and pretty soon she was working with me on the side and from work. So we formed the company I got involved with press right away, public relations. I was like, “We've got to differentiate ourselves.” So the first time SEO was in the mainstream news, it was in a USA Today article, I was in that article. Those are some of my spikes in terms of when that article hit, boom, a ton of great clients came directly from there; like Entrepreneur Magazine, different things like that, so that was something I really embraced right from the beginning. I was like, “this is what is going to set us apart.”

MARK: The PR side?

CHRIS: The PR side, yeah.

MARK: What’s the name of your company?

CHRIS: 10e20. So 915 Broadway and 10 East 21st Street is the side entrance; that’s where we were when we came up with it. At the time the Yahoo! directory drove traffic, as crazy as that seems now, they just did. So I was like, “Alright, I want to always be at the top but I’m not going to be AAA Web Design SEO,” you know. So I was like, “10e20? That’s cool.” It’s like programming lingo, and it means 10 to the 20th power. Now the great thing is with any blog role, we’re always at the top. So that’s where 10e20 comes from.

MARK: What year did you start that company?

CHRIS: That was probably 2002. I think it was the beginning of 2002. My wife started with me maybe around this time which is March, of 2002.

TODD: Where did you get into social?

CHRIS: I didn’t feel like getting links (Laughs).

TODD: It’s like now we have the distribution channel because everybody has been saying quality content forever and now it’s ringing true because if you do the quality content you can actually get it out there.

CHRIS: And that’s the whole thing with the social network, they’re influencers. Digg is the great influence in my opinion. There are seventy zillion blogs out there.

TODD: I’d say 70% of Diggers have a website.

CHRIS: Exactly, or the people who don’t go there looking for cool content. I was talking to someone the other day that has her own business and works from online. I volunteered to help her out and said, “Oh we can help upload some of these and get them going on Flickr.” She said, “What’s Flickr?” I was saying to my wife after, “Whoa, that just shows you. All of us think it’s so saturated.” We live in our own little world. Even as much as MySpace or Facebook has been on the news, you say it to a lot of people and they still don’t know. I’ve asked someone to explain to me what Google is, who doesn’t do any of this stuff, and you can get 8,000 different answers every single time.

BRENT: ...and they’re also behind. Because even now, with MySpace, if you’re not into that kid spam stuff then you’re pretty much not even going to bother with MySpace at this point but MySpace is still one of the few things now years later that the average public is kind of like, “Oh, I’ve heard of that.” Now that’s like two years behind.

CHRIS: But MySpace can still be extremely effective. Like if you’re a musician or anything in that, don’t even think about Facebook. Your MySpace page is more important than your website. Look at commercials; - it’ll say, or whatever.

MARK: What about some obstacles that came up along the way? Anything?

CHRIS: My biggest obstacle is being able to concentrate. I have ADD, and there is so much I can do and there is so much opportunity; every single day my biggest thing is being able to prioritize and being able to focus. That has definitely always been my biggest problem.

BRENT: Yeah I have like three “to do” lists: my dream list, my need to do in the near future list, and then I have every day lists. So when I wake up in the morning and I get my coffee, I’m not really too sharp to start doing work, but I sit there and I look at my to do list from yesterday that I didn’t finish and I sit there and write down like five things that have to happen today, and I put them in the priority of which they need to happen, then I sit there and I just have to knock those out in order. I figure once I finish those five things, if there is something I want to do then I get to play after that, because you can get so lost so quick.

TODD: You can get lost in Blog Land, Lost in Facebook. You can waste your entire day real easy.

BRENT: We get a lot of invites because of our involvement in a lot of these programs and these communities, and these different techniques; people are like, “We really want your feedback, so we’ll give you a beta account.” I get beta accounts to everything!

CHRIS: I give them two words, “PAY ME.” (Laughs) That’s how I cut that down. I know what you mean, yeah. That’s one of the things I was saying too, you have to cut down the noise. Get rid of most of the blogs you read, unless you are some kind of maniac.

TODD: When you’re learning, that’s fine but, at a certain point you have to say, “Ok, I know what I’m doing.” And you (to CHRIS) did that real quickly, it took me a long time to do that.

BRENT: That really comes at the point when you’ve networked enough. When you know enough people that are in the “know” all of your strong points complement each other. So when you’re having a conversation and someone says, “Oh, well you’ve got to check out Flickr for this, this, and this.” And you say, “Oh, I didn’t think about it that way.”

CHRIS: It’s also about knowing what people you can actually trust. If I ask one of these guys something, I know it’s going to be an honest answer. That’s a really important thing.

TODD: Learn who to listen to and who to learn from.

CHRIS: Exactly, and I’d rather somebody say, “Hey, I don’t know what this is,” then say, “Oh I think I heard this,” and they’re doing a Google search to find it out and you’re like, “Ok jerk, I could have done that myself.” But if you have those people that you can actually trust and you know what those people are good at. Nobody knows everything about how people do things, what their sites are... your significant other barely knows everything, but I know what Todd’s proficiency is and I know what Brent’s Proficiency is. So I can tap into that and ask, “Do you ever have this problem," or “Do you ever do this?” or “Where are you going to get this kind of link?” That’s huge, small things like that. Having someone even make an introduction to somebody else who might wind up coming out to help you. One of my good friends put me in touch with these people who do stuff for me, and it was one of the best possible things. He totally could have kept that person and said, “Hey, I don’t want anyone knowing about him,” because that would probably be the smart thing to do.

TODD: We share a lot, because there is a community of successful people together, more-so than if you’re out on your own island and not being a part of the community. Like I said earlier, if you’re ranking for “SEO Consultant” you can get crappy leads all day, and filter through those yourself, or you can have a network of people that says, “I’m kind of busy this week, Chris here is a lead.” You may be slowing down, or I may be slowing down, and Brent says, “Hey Todd, here’s a lead, check this one out. These guys look decent.” Then beyond that, for example, I had a guy not too long ago send the RFP to ten different people off of Rand’s list. I literally wrote the guy back and was like, “Dude, this is not going to fly. Nobody good is going to fill out this RFP and you’re going to end up *****.”

BRENT: We were talking about that just the other day. We don’t do RFP.

TODD: Mainly because we’re not going to take the time and we’re not going to compete with each other and we know that anybody who wants to go through that link then try to build people is not somebody we want to work with and we’re lucky enough that we can choose who we work with. Life is too short to work with people that you don’t like.

BRENT: But I absolutely love working with people like Chris and Todd because honestly I’ll have moments where I’m like, “I need some help,” and it’s nice to know that I can reach out and have somebody work on my problem like it was their problem, and just solve it and to be able to do that in return. It makes our business so much easier. It’s really good because at these conferences you just find Todd Malicoat and you just become his friend.

MARK: So who besides Danny Sullivan were some of your early influencers?

CHRIS: I don’t know specifically who I would say, other than so many people from Threadwatch, which was a site that I used to love, and WebmasterWorld. There are so many that it’s hard to categorize a couple people because I don’t know if I could say, “This person was the one,” because there would be so many different ones.

MARK: But Danny was way early with Search Engine Watch.

BRENT: Danny is everybody’s. You have to take Danny out of it and just make it a known.

TODD: Danny was one of the few that were just writing to a bunch of people. He was writing in newsletter style and everyone else started learning from it. After that it turned into a community where everyone was talking and everyone was listening. His was the first one where it was like, “Here’s how you do this stuff.” Detlev kind of does that now with a newsletter and people contribute, and there are lots of people that do it now. Even Jill Whalen and the other gal did that for High Rankings, but they were the early ones that were one too many instead of to a community of people. Rather than having “influencers,” I had influencers and people I looked up to before I went to the conferences, now I just think of them as buddies that I talk with and bounce ideas off of verses somebody I hold on a pedestal.

CHRIS: There is nobody on a pedestal.

TODD: Yeah. There are certainly people that now I know influence the industry as much as they did, but they weren’t all that much different than a lot of other people. I get people that come up and are like, “I love your blog,” and I’m like, “That’s awesome but dude just talk to me about whatever…” and everybody else here is like that; you can just go up and talk to people. I did the SEO conference thing, “How not to be that guy at the conferences.”

BRENT: The thing that was really effective for me as a first timer going to conferences was to make friends, not to try to get one question answered; to be somebody that was welcomed to be around every time, so that you can have multiple conversations with people, and not be the person that’s like, “Hey Greg, how do you do this?” And then that was the end of it.

TODD: Yeah, have a conversation with someone on a personal level before asking them to do your 301 redirects for you.

CHRIS: That’s actually a good point though because at the beginning of my company, I really didn’t try to get involved that much, it was more just listening or that type of thing, or I was kind of like, “Oh, who cares?” This is the thing I always stress even with social, the articles I’ll write for Search Engine about social media, the most important thing is your contacts. What is in your IM, and I think for most people if you look at their IM list you can kind of tell where their level is.

BRENT: That makes me laugh because I remember even a year ago I had four people in my contacts list and now it’s like 2 pages. It’s amazing.

CHRIS: And it’s not even just quantity…

TODD: Quality.

BRENT: No, I know. (Laughs)

TODD: (Laughs) Like, I know I’m never getting messages from either of you guys unless it’s something that’s important. It’s not like Chris is going to chat with me to ask me about the weather and say, “What’s going on, how you doing?”

MARK: Would you guys connect once a day for this and that?

TODD: I’ve gotten less and less so, but I’ve gotten more to the point of using the phone. If something is urgent, I’ll call on the phone or send a text message or something like that.

CHRIS: And then we have the IMNY group where it’s all internet marketers from New York, not all – probably ten or fifteen trusted ones that it’s like once a month, even though Todd has had fifteen going away parties, but we sit down once a month and throw ideas out and say, “Ok, here is how this is working now. Here’s what’s not working. Here’s how to get over this.” And just to say anything. That’s the biggest take-away that I think people should have…

TODD: I’m really surprised that there’s not a lot in the other cities. I mean, San Francisco is starting…

BRENT: Yeah, we’ve got a couple different things in San Francisco.

TODD: But even there, it’s not really consolidated. Dallas has had one for the longest time.

BRENT: Well I think that in San Francisco it’s a huge geek environment. So what happens is that once you open that up, people do it on Facebook and there is no private Facebook groups… that’s one thing I wish they would make is a private invite only group section, because when you make a group and it’s like, “Hey we’re the SEOs of San Francisco, San Francisco meet up!” and then there are like 9,000 people who consider themselves SEOs in that area…

CHRIS: And that’s the most important thing. We have something where you have to either be nominated…

BRENT: Well that’s what we’ve done with Fight Night. Fight Night is an SEO meet up where…

CHRIS: It’s not the same thing… (Laughs)

BRENT: Why? (Laughs)

MARK: So what would you tell a new person starting out who somehow got drawn into search; and they want to do something…

CHRIS: I would say differentiate yourself somehow. Again with as many blogs as there are out there it seems like there are that many SEOs. So “How are you going to be different? What’s your thing?” And I would really recommend owning something; trying to be known for being that person, whatever it is. There are a lot of different verticals even within SEO. Even if there is someone already that’s “known” keyword research, that guy can only do so much, you could be that guy. Be a kick a** link builder.

TODD: And you’re guaranteed a speaking spot that way.

BRENT: And if you become a kick a** link builder, email me, and I’ll hire you.

TODD: But that’s what I did with SEO Tools basically doing link development at Jim’s but it was just the right timing. Now you can’t do that because there are a million people talking about tools, and there are a million people talking about whatever else. You pick something specific. Another one that started that actually and I think he’s doing pretty good with it is Brian Mark. I had actually told him this repeatedly. He had beat up the One Box over and over, and I’m like, “Dude, that’s awesome information, you know all about this.”

CHRIS: Be the guy for universal search. I don’t know that guy. The best guy I know with universal search is a chiropractor. Be that guy.

MARK: I heard you earlier saying it is a growing market. We think we know all of these things because the “community” does, but there are a whole lot of folks that still have never heard of Digg, and that makes me think there are lots of opportunity…

BRENT: What I would say for new people coming in, honestly, is I would definitely make sure that you get involved in some kind of community, some kind of forum or whatever community you find for an SEO type of interaction community, whether it be Twitter or whatever. Make sure you find out who the influential people are and start reading their blogs because they are going to have stuff to say.

MARK: Who are they?

CHRIS: (Laughs)

BRENT: It’s really easy because most of the influential people out there link to each other in the blog world. So go to Danny Sullivan’s site and start looking down his blog roll, go to the next one and look at his blog roll, go to the next one and look at his blog roll, and you’ll see a lot of…

CHRIS: I actually think that the people who don’t really write that much stuff, like say Todd until these last two posts, (laughs) no, but Todd is like… I hardly read anything… but the one I’ll always read is Andy Hagans for the most part, where you know that you’re going to get something good out of that. Blogs are hard because every single thing has been talked about.

TODD: But if you keep it down like he does, where it’s just good posts, I used to do that and now I just kind of whore out my blog. (Laughs) Not so much now, I just promote my friends and slam my enemies.

MARK: (Laughs)

BRENT: In addition, I think it’s very very important to make it out to some of these conferences and not just to be a session hound.

CHRIS: You have to be careful though, because there are so many, you can’t be like one of those guys that are like, “I’m going to go to every single one.”

BRENT: No, but I mean definitely one or two a year.

CHRIS: Exactly. It is worth the investment. And now they are so close no matter where you are.

TODD: And there’s such good return on it. Everything we talk about it so intangible, but we’re all about… why we got into this… it’s very intangible and you can’t say, “If you come to a conference then you’ll make more money.” But…

MARK: Wait, are you guys saying it’s just the money?

TODD, CHRIS, BRENT: No, no, no.

BRENT: That’s just fun to say.

CHRIS: Exactly.

TODD: It’s a great motivator though, with anybody, whether it’s myself or the people around me, self interest is a good motivator.

CHRIS: Definitely, and the things is, it changes every day. You never have two days that are the same no matter what. You don’t even have two hours that are the same. And you have to like competition.

TODD: And the excitement… the “SEO Crack” you see that top ranking, even if it’s not for a money term, even if it’s for something stupid that you just said, “I want to rank for this,” and it works…

CHRIS: There is a self interest, but there is also a great feeling of actually having that much love in something and then making a lot of money from it.

BRENT: Oh that’s sweet.

CHRIS: Yeah, it’s all nice and cuddly.

MARK: There’s a big group hug going on right now. You guys have been great. We might have a follow up if you’re open to that, and I thank you for your time so much, this is going to help a lot of people.

CHRIS: I’m sure it will.

MARK: Thanks again.