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September 6, 2006

The Search Guru Mystique

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Nathan Holley started a discussion over at LED Digest questioning the search guru mystique and posing an often-heard question to list members:

“In a field without walls, secrets, insider information or special privilege, why and how has the search guru become such an important, even ennobled figure online? …There are no real secrets in SEO! Everything you ever wanted to know is available online. It’s fairly basic, really, and with a little common sense quite easy to generate quality content that ranks well by following simple procedures.

But still, the search guru lives on – thrives even – in an atmosphere of bewildered neophytes and lesser professors and initiates. There seems to be so much astonishment at rankings. I’m just wondering, why? It’s all right here – online.”

I think Nathan answered his own question.

I think the idea of search and attaining rankings is so astonishing to users because it is right there. You can watch yourself move up and down the SERPs and you know that you have the power to influence where you rank. The ability to change things is in your hands.

The problem is it’s not easy.

Every few months you’ll see a member in the forums or a rant in a blog post about how easy SEO is. How it’s all keywords and methodologies. And for the most part, they’re right. But just because it’s not complicated doesn’t mean it easy. Mastering (and re-mastering) the necessary methodologies takes skill and a serious time investment. And because many are not willing to invest the time needed to develop the proper skill set, some SEOs often fake the necessary skills instead of working to attain.

And that’s where the search guru comes in. There’s something to be said for someone who learned the basics the old-fashioned way. They’re not just repeating what they heard, but they’ve actually done the work and tested the theories. That kind of knowledge warrants respect. That respect is compounded when the bearer of the knowledge is someone that even if didn’t have all the answers, you’d still invite them over for dinner because they’re such a nice guy. In the search world, we call that man Danny Sullivan. Danny has the same philosophy that we do here at Bruce Clay–give away the information and the entire industry will be better for it.

Danny is a search guru/ expert/ leader in the purest sense of the word. He’s not the kind of “expert” Eric Ward mentions who “take[s] on an air of the pedantic at times“, lamenting about keyword research, links, the long tail of search. He doesn’t mask simple concepts in industry buzzwords.

The fact that Danny is not that type of search guru is what makes him stand out in his field and why people were so affected by his decision to leave the company he revolutionized.

But for every Danny there’s a Non Danny, and the Non Danny’s help make things a little harder for the rest of us.

Detlev Johnson responded to Nathan’s post and talked about why SEO is such a difficult field to master. He said, in part:

“The fixes that can be found online vary so widely, that finding your best answer for a particular situation can be likened to finding a needle in a haystack. Whereas a good guru can save you a tremendous amount of wasted time and energy reading through all those hacks.”

Users are in awe of search gurus because without them it would be virtually impossible to distinguish the meat from the noise. Everything may be “available online”, as Nathan says, but try and find it. Not sure if the engines still give importance to Meta tags? If you have some experience under your belt you can hit your favorite forum and try to decipher the mess for yourself. But if you don’t, you may find yourself lost in the sea of opposing opinions. Who are you going to trust?

Trust your search guru.

You should be able to distinguish the gurus from the imposters. Real search gurus aren’t self-crowned, they simply develop over time. We crowned Danny our King Search Guru because without him the industry wouldn’t be where it is today. Is there a certain amount of awe that comes with that title? Yes. Is it deserved? You better believe it.

Having a mentor is important in any industry, but it’s especially important for an industry that changes and evolves as quickly as this one. All the information you need to improve your sites rankings may be sitting on the Internet for the taking, but the gurus show you how to best implement the tools you’re given and plant the seed to possibilities you never would have considered.

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