How do you get to be a big voice in SEO? There's a series of posts out there now offering such advice, which I'll recap below, along with some thoughts on generations in SEO.
5 Tips to Make it in the SEO Community from Andy Hagans at Search Engine Journal puts it down to sucking up to the right people, getting a good niche, publishing, blogging and befriending rivals (ie, saying you love something even if you don't). And all of that guarantees to get you to speak at one of our SES shows within 20 years. OK, he's sort of joking, but I will give you some serious advice on that below.
Andy's advice kicked off Todd over at Stuntdubl to do SEO Community Advice from Andy Hagans - 2nd Generation SEO, which is basically a thanks to all the first generation SEOers that gave a second generation a start.
Rand gets in on the act with SEO A-Listers & B-Listers and how to move yourself onto a list, such as having a sense of humor, being self-depreciating, being even-tempered, friendly and thoughtful.
OK, so Rand puts me into his A-List, plus I'm entering my 10 year of actively writing about SEO. So I'll chime in with some thoughts from my perspective.
In terms of generations, I think we're into a third if not fourth generation at this point. I'll put myself in the first generation. When I first starting covering SEO and search in 1996, there weren't many others. Webmaster T was out there, John Heard I think was doing stuff for Planet Ocean at that point, Northern Web had a now defunct set of search engine tips and maybe Fredrick Marckini had his ebook going that year.
Not long after that, maybe it was 1997, we had the I-Search mailing list get going I think. Detlev Johnson certainly made a name for himself in moderating it, as did Marshall Simmonds. Shari Thurow was a regular participant who grew through that. Cat Seda the same. I think both Jill Whalen and Heather Lloyd Martin were also active participants, but certainly when they kicked off their RankWrite newsletter, that helped grow their stature. And Chris Sherman in his pre-SEW days was plugging away over at the Mining Co/About.com.
All of those people, I'd lump them all in first gen. Second gen to me probably came about with the emergence of search engine forums, from JimWorld to the monster site of WebmasterWorld, around the 1998-2000 timeframe. You had many people active in forums developing names for themselves based on the quality of advice they were giving. Brett Tabke is a great example as the founder of WebmasterWorld and a long-time SEO but whose voice really came out as his forums grew. Moderators such as Greg Boser or Todd "Oilman" Friesen are just two of many.
Note that some of these "second gen" people might actually have been doing SEO from 1995 or 1996. They may have been first gen SEOers but they were second generation SEO commentators or educators. Forums especially made it easier for anyone to start publishing, compared to setting up a web site, producing a newsletter and so on. But that wasn't exclusively how people get going. Mike Grehan jump in around this second gen time and grew his rep through his ebook and newsletter. Andrew Goodman was doing Traffick and his own ebook on Google AdWords.
Third gen came about as blogging grew. Like forums before them, blogs have made it even easier for people to share, comment and in the process, get noticed. Andy Beal's a good example here of a third gen commentator. He started blogging early on. Before that, to my knowledge, he pretty much wasn't looked at as a search commentator. Barry Schwartz is another good example of this, as is Philipp Lenssen. John Battelle, while not really an SEO commentator, developed his reputation not through his book that only came out this year but by blogging about search issues via blogs.
Fourth gen to some degree are the continuing numbers of people entering the space, starting up their own blogs or whatever. As I said earlier, they might even be first, second or third gen SEOers. They just are fourth gen in terms of being commentators.
In my SES Chicago keynote, I touched on all of these venues as ways we have a multitude of communities in SEO, and I'm probably going to write that all up in more depth. But it's also important to remember that if we do have A-Lists, B-Lists or whatever, no one's really going to completely agree on them. There are people at WebmasterWorld who simply live in that space look up only to those in the community there. Pick another forum, and you'll find the same. An "A-Lister" wading in isn't necessarily going to carry that A-List reputation earned in other places over. They'll either earn it anew or gain it because some in the "new" community they've entered with uprep them to others, because they feel it is deserved.
Beyond this, you've got people who have never, ever been to a search forum at all -- yet they can be successful search marketers. Life does not revolve around the forums. You've also got people who haven't been to a single search conference, or not read a particular blog, newsletter, whatever. Who is important to them may be completely different than someone else. Overall, as I explained in my keynote, we have a variety of SEO communities and leaders within those.
It's also worth noting that there are different generations of SEOers as opposed to SEO commentators. When the Google Florida update of 2003 hit, I was simply amazed at the number of people who clearly had no recollection of not being entirely dependent on Google. I remember Greg Boser, who moderated the Google forum at WebmasterWorld, telling me of being frustrated when people assumed something was a "Google issue" rather than a general SEO issue.
Back to being an SEO commentator, my advice on getting noticed? Share. Share interesting, unique things especially. Share however you like, on forums, in newsletters, especially in blogs, as surfing that wave remains very effective.
Suck up as Andy says? Yeah, I'm sure that helps in some quarters. But it's not a foundation for success. I'd say rather than suck up, reach out. If you are doing interesting things, don't sit there and think it will just naturally be discovered. Reach out with some of your best stuff to those who read, give them a heads-up, and that's a good way to go.
Get a niche, again as Andy said? Yep. Great advice. But if you're going to get a niche and write on it, stick with it. Too many blogs over the past year have promised to do good niche search coverage and just stumbled. You get one or two chances at most to make an impression. Make it a good one and stay with it.
Befriend rivals? Sure, I completely believe in that to some degree. I could run a site where I never link to anything but our own SEW material. Instead, I think it's a better site if it is inclusive in pointing people to the best stuff wherever it is. Being a good guide in pointing is as important as being a good guide in terms of doing your own content. And only a foolish person believes they know it all.
Bad advice is scratching someone's back for something that doesn't deserve it and figuring the "dumb readers" won't know it. Sure, some won't. But I think -- or at least hope -- many readers do see through that type of stuff. At least for me, those types of patterns are glaringly obvious. When I see it happening, my respect for those doing it begins to drop.
As for being guaranteed to speak at SES, here's the very best way to ensure that. Read The Flippin' Manual! Here's our upcoming show. Honestly, if you want to speak, how difficult is it to miss the How To Speak link? Not hard, because I know people are then reading the advice. What I also know is they ignore it.
I'm getting pitches for new sessions right now when I've asked people to no longer do that. I've got people who are pitching for returning sessions that aren't even posted or open to pitches. I've got people pitching ideas that have nothing to do about search marketing despite this being a conference about, hmm, search marketing.
Read the page. Pitch unique idea that you don't think are being covered. I have plenty of speakers who speak not because they run a blog, comment on a forum, have a newsletter but simply because they are "rank-and-file" people with interesting ideas who want to contribute to the overall SEO community via a conference presentation. I love that! Some of my very best speakers were simply audience members who in open forums at the show were expressing interesting ideas or ways of doing things.