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March 19, 2007

Respect the A-list, Kill the boys club

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While I was participating in Bruce Clay Bowling Day (so fun!) this weekend, Nathan Holley was pointing a finger at search engine optimization’s "boys club", Michael Gray told non-A-list SEO Bloggers [to] Step Away From The Keyboard, and Jason Calacanis proved he’s living in an entirely alternate universe arguing the blogging A-list doesn’t exist and saying you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise. Ah, yes, that Jason is always so reasonable and even-tempered.

So is there an A-list?

Of course there’s an A-list. There’s an A-list in search engine optimization, in blogging, in NCAA basketball, in dating, and in life in general. The strong and the pretty survive to make lots of money, while the rest of us soldier on unnoticed. Deal with it. You should actually be used to it by now – it was the same all four years of high school, wasn’t it?

If Jason can’t see there’s an A-list, it’s because his ladder rung is so far above the rest of us B-, C-, and S-listers (that would be you, Karl) that we appear as mere black dots to him. We don’t even exist to Jason and his crew.

Whine all you’d like, but the A-list is a natural striation that you’re never going to get rid of. Some people will always be better known and attract more fanfare than others. Lisa walking into a room will never cause as much as commotion as when Rand Fishkin saunters in. And the therapy must be working because I’m okay with that. The concept of an A-list doesn’t bother me for two reasons: First, those people are there because they earned it, and second, the inner circle is penetrable. If you work hard and work smart, you can earn a spot at Danny Sullivan’s table.

Michael Gray may or may not agree considering he used his Saturday morning to rant that non-A-list SEO bloggers should stop blogging and find a new hobby. I agree with the heart of Michael’s message that there is too much regurgitation in this space, but I don’t think that means there’s not enough room for the smaller bloggers or smaller SEOs who are providing value. If you’re delivering a unique point-of-view, regardless of how small you or your readership are, regardless if you’re talking about a story you found on TechMeme, ignore the cranky Saturday mornings rantings of the Graywolf and keep soldiering on. You are worthwhile to this industry. He’s just angry because Long Island keeps getting hit with more and more snow and his feet are cold.

It would be a disserve to the industry if B-,C-, D-List bloggers and SEOs gave up. In my eyes, they are the heart of this space. They’re the ones still hungry, still getting their hands dirty, still working with that fire in their eyes that comes with the struggle.

Sometimes I sit through SES sessions rolling my eyes at the story about that one Fortune 500 company that was able to increase their yearly profit from $100 million to some other ridiculous number. I mean, good for them, but I don’t really care. I want to hear about the small in-house SEO who was able to get themselves out of the red and start turning a profit. I want that guy to start an SEO blog. He’s the one most affected by the random search engine fluctuations so he’s likely to be paying more attention to the little things others have let slide by. I’m way more interested in his search engine optimization tactics than I am by some of the members of the A-list. His next meal depends on the fruits of his campaign. The small SEO bloggers and companies are often far more interesting than anyone that goes solely by their first name.

And then if Jason and Michael didn’t get you riled up enough this weekend, there was Nathan Holley’s comments over at LED Digest about the "boys’ club" of search engine optimization.

Nathan commented, in part:

My point is, almost everyone writing on SEO and getting cited is in the boys club of that 1%… writing and linking and talking about each other. It’s a very small world, a tiny speck really. These Search Promotion Professionals (the new acronym I’m coining) are churning out a remarkable amount of ink talking about minutia and very little of value for the average Web business. They want to retain an air of exclusivity about their approaches and a proventialism about the industry that they are helping to shape. It’s driven by vanity, ambition, and greed, not by a desire to really get to know search algorithms.

The only part of Nathan’s comment that I agree with is the tendency for bloggers and SEOs to reference each other, however, I don’t think that’s evidence of a "boys club". I think it’s just human nature to talk about and show love to your friends. It’s a bad habit that needs to change.

For the bulk of his comments, I think Nathan is heralding an era that no longer exists. You may find the "boys’ club" approach to optimization still intact on some of the older forums, but that attitude is starting to dissipate. Calling search engine optimization a "boys’ club" signals that there’s no way for newbies to be accepted or gain respect and that’s just not the case. Up-and-comers are finding ways to make names for themselves, and better yet, women are speaking up gaining acknowledgement as well.

There’s a difference between the A-list and "the boys’ club". Newbies can break into the A-list over time; the "boys’ club" is elitist and impenetrable from the outside. I don’t think the optimization community reflects that and we should be careful not to confuse the two.

Does the A-list exist? Yes. Should you worry about becoming part of it? No. Concentrate on providing value through what you do. Once you’ve done that, stop obsessing and go bowling.

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11 responses to “Respect the A-list, Kill the boys club”

  1. Andrew Girdwood writes:

    Ah now. Half the fun of SES is to sit in the audience and roll your eyes. That’s one of the reasons why it is worth taking the time to sit on the panel and contribute something worthwhile.

  2. Kristina writes:

    “And the therapy must be working because I’m okay with that.”
    Lisa, thank you for making me giggle on a Monday afternoon. Actually, you make me giggle whenever I read your posts. Awesome!

  3. Jason writes:

    Blogging is the most open medium ever created. Anyone can join the discussion, post comments, and get in the link pool. All you have to do is:

    a) show up
    b) have something intelligent to say
    c) join the discussion and contribute something

    Scoble was the biggest nobody in the world–working at a electronics store in fact–before he became the world’s most famous blogger (or most powerful depending on which story you read).

    I was down and out print publisher before I became “A list” — whatever that means.

    Peter Rojas was an underemployed Red Herring beat writer before he become the best paid/most respected blogger.

    Rafat Ali was out of work before he started his A-list blog.

    xeni Jardin was a conference producer with me before she became A-list.

    Perez Hilton was a total nobody and now is a celebrity in his own right.

    Elizabeth Spiers was a business journalist before Gawker fame–and now running her own blog company.

    The list goes on and on and on… while the new comers to blogging cry like babies that they are not well known.

    Spend 3-4 years blogging every day for 3-8 hours a day and then tell me you didn’t make it to the A-list and people held you back… I *might* believe it after that.

    What a bunch of cry babies… no one is holding you back but yourselves.

  4. Susan Esparza writes:

    Jason – Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you agree. (At least, I think you’re agreeing?)
    My biggest problem with the A-list is that too many people listen only to them. Honestly, if you watched nothing but movies with A-list actors, you’d have seen that new Herbie movie and missed Shaun of the Dead. You would have watched Gigli and not Serenity. And lord knows, you’d be a poorer person for it.
    The A-list worked to get where they are. They’re valuable. But they’re not the only ones with value.

  5. The "S" Lister writes:

    “HUZZAH!”… it wasn’t mentioned once in this post, and as a reader of this blog it is my civil duty to make sure it is. “HUZZAH!”

  6. Bob writes:

    Susan – You can draw analogies from any industry, but the bottom line is that most successful ‘A-Listers’, regardless of their profession, quickly focus on appealing to the masses. They lose the edginess that got them where they are.

    It’s the struggling amateurs that produce the most insightful and inspired work, not the ruling elite.

  7. Nathan Holley writes:

    Good comments. My post to LED probably shoulda rested for a night or two before I sent it… the next morning when I read it I sorta cringed. That’s what 3 imperial pints will do for me (dunno why I always wanna post rants after drinking hmmm).

    But the incestual linking / citing / talking stuff really does get to me, as an outsider who doesn’t have motivation to get within. I’m trying to learn stuff, not be accepted. I don’t have a blog or publish my sites but this is what I do 24/7 (no kids, no family, I’m sad) and it’s sort of a passion for me.

    Signs of a young industry growing up. Boys club probably isn’t accurate. If A List is, it’s because these are the self-promoters and the hyper workers. They’re the conference attendees and speakers and shmoozers, nothing wrong with that I’ve done my share. But the young ones – the strugglers as Bob points out – they’re usually the most interesting and insightful because they’re hungry.

    It’s like a rock band – how come the old Police stuff rocks so hard and Sting’s new stuff bites a$$? Because they get too tangled up in their own image. That’s why I want to see new blood “on the circuit” but to do that we’ll probably have to sweep aside some of the entrenched old guard.

  8. Susan Esparza writes:

    Bob – I absolutely agree, that was my point with the Gigli vs Serenity comparison. Unknowns can take risks that the A-List can’t. It doesn’t mean that the A-List is necessarily going to flatline once they’re at the top but they have less incentive to be great.
    Starving artists do better work because they’re motivated. If what you’re starving for is fame, then you’re going to become lazy once you get it. If what you want is something independent of the fame, you’ll continue to be hungry and probably continue to be great.
    Passion has always been the biggest ingredient for success. It’s good to stay hungry.

  9. Bob writes:

    Susan – By the same token, it’s perfectly natural for those at the top to show resentment towards the up and comers. Michael Gray better be careful, he could be yesterday’s news and Lisa could be the new A-Lister.

  10. Lisa writes:

    *throws arms in the air* WOOHOO!
    …sorry. Going back to work now.

  11. Li Evans writes:

    Karl’s so special, he’s got his own list. :)

    I think though it should be the “K” list… since K is for Klog ;)



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