SEO, Surrealism & Salvador Dali

Todd Mintz

“Like the circles that you find…in the windmills of your mind.”…Dusty Springfield

A couple wacky ideas about SEO that up until now I’ve been afraid to write about:

First, I’ve felt for quite a while that the prevalence of ADD amongst people in the search marketing profession had to be quite high. I wasn’t particularly comfortable bringing this idea to light…so I never wrote on the topic. I was quite surprised to see Mark Jackson addressed it and from the best I could tell, my fears about talking about the SEO/ADD connection were unfounded (and many in the community seem to see ADD as a career enhancement and a badge of honor).

So, here’s my other crazy idea…

My visual sense is pretty poor making my taste in art relatively unsophisticated. While I’ve always enjoyed going to museums, my appreciation for particular pieces is pretty shallow…I either liked something or I didn’t and my judgments were always made on surface aesthetic criteria.

The Surrealistic art of Salvador Dali is my one exception to this rule. I not only love his work, I am awestruck by it. Furthermore, Dali’s paintings seem supremely logical to me…far more so than more conventional art…and at some subconscious level, I feel I might even somewhat understand some of what he is trying to convey through his artistry (though I don’t have the vocabulary necessary to communicate to others what I perceive).

Surrealism and the ability to decode concepts and meaning in a seemingly alternate reality is a process unique to each individual…however, I’ll attempt to universalize “Surrealistic Perception” by using the following definition I’ve picked up somewhere along the way:

“The ability to see logical connections between any two objects in time and space.”

I could look at pictures such as “Still Life Moving Fast” and immediately, my mind could connect the large number of objects on the canvas in a myriad of different ways. Most conventional thinkers would see the picture as a jumbled mess of randomness while I could impose logic and order upon what I was seeing.

To many folks at first glance, the Internet could be viewed as a chaotic hodgepodge right out of a Dali painting and certainly if these people aren’t able to discern how its various components work and mesh together, they can’t work the medium successfully to achieve business goals.

Fortunately, the best online marketers have the ability to view the Internet in Dalivision. They are able to see Page Rank Sculpting in the light of the perceived added value of keyword-laden domains. They are able to study the changes in the Digg algorithm and alter their Twitter tactics to better help them in Digg. They are able to see Google’s newfound ability to stem words and adapt their content creation strategy in light of it. In short, they are able to look at any web strategy issue, no matter how opaque, and be able to pull out the right mix of actions and tactics that will help the business achieve its aims.

I’ve always thought that talent and ability in SEO is far more reliant on personal perception than actual knowledge. A person’s ability to extrapolate creative solutions to a unique problem set (which is a very hard skill to develop) is a far more critical and rare ability to have in a SEO consultant / employee than being able to recognize the need for a mod_rewrite and then code it (which most of us can learn to do). The people I admire most in our industry are the people who are able to perceive uniquely and communicate that information for others to share.

ADD isn’t the only commonality that unites many of the best in our industry. While I wouldn’t suggest that all the top SEO’s are closet Dali fanatics, I would offer that they share the same amazing spatial cognizance that allows them to see the surreal as logical and understandable. If such traits can be seen and recognized in a youngster, they should be encouraged to consider a career in our industry because such people possess traits to be our future leaders.

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    11 Responses to “SEO, Surrealism & Salvador Dali”

    1. Adam Audette says:

      What a fantastic post Todd. Great insights, you put to language so many things that resonate with me, but have always been hard to describe. The idea of pulling out creative solutions to unique problems, in a sea of so many opportunities – that’s what makes a great SEO (and maybe a great artist).

      And I’d agree on your comment about perception having so much importance to success online. We can learn everything about links and page optimization and site architecture, but it takes a special insight to pull it all together and focus on what will have the most value for a particular site or project in a specific market. So much of it is perception and risk. When it pays off, it can be huge! When it doesn’t, it’s back to the artistic drawing board.

    2. This is a great post Todd..^^ Interesting point!

    3. Gab Goldenberg says:

      Love this: “I’ve always thought that talent and ability in SEO is far more reliant on personal perception than actual knowledge. A person’s ability to extrapolate creative solutions to a unique problem set (which is a very hard skill to develop) is a far more critical and rare ability to have in a SEO consultant / employee than being able to recognize the need for a mod_rewrite and then code it (which most of us can learn to do). The people I admire most in our industry are the people who are able to perceive uniquely and communicate that information for others to share. ”

      Besides that, I like some of Dali’s work (though being taken to the museum as a kid, I thought his egg on a chair and red splatter on a white canvas kinda lame… I did that in kindergaretn n all I was told was “that’s nice honey… is it a dog or a cat?” ;).

      And funny you should mention the ADD thing – I used to be patient. Like, really, really patient. Made me good on defence in soccer, for instance. Now? Multiple tabs are a must, minesweeper gets opened when a page is loading in less than 2 seconds (don’t get too happy for that long time on site, folks :P) which ironically costs me 2 minutes a crack… And I’m considering dropping out of college to do SEO full time. Messed up, eh?

    4. Brian Carter says:

      Killer post- I find that Oriental Medicine (acupuncture) was very similar – discerning patterns amongst symptoms and then combining and customizing formulas of herbs when each patient and disease and symptom complex is different and each herb has 3-4 functions/actions… equally complicated. And I also loved Salv Dali from an early age. I also like Friedlander…

    5. Great post Todd. It’s one of those you have to read a couple of times to really take in everything. I’m a movie buff and first learned about Dali’s work because of his collaborations with Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock. I never thought of him in relation to SEO, however.

      One comment in particular stands out. “I’ve always thought that talent and ability in SEO is far more reliant on personal perception than actual knowledge.” This is why a computer program can’t take the place of a consultant, no matter how many links it develops or keywords it generates.

    6. Todd Mintz says:

      Thanks for the nice comments…glad people got what I was trying to say.

    7. This has been the month for me having “oh that’s why I like SEO moments” based on posts by SEOs about our industry. This is definitely one of those posts.

      I love Dali, but even more than that I’m beginning to realize that my undergrad set me up for being attracted to search marketing. I went to Hampshire College, and (besides not tests, grades or credits) they emphasized being able to draw conclusions, synthesize information, and be able to write well over memorizing information. They thought being able to have a sense of where to get the information was more important than having it memorized. It’s also where I took my first web design class (back in ’94) coding by hand in Pico.

      Along the way I’ve also found a natural talent for explaining tech to non-techies, and in this field, that’s been valuable as well.

      Based on my background, it’s almost more surprising that I didn’t get involved in search marketing earlier. What a great post and a great “aha” moment.

    8. Todd Mintz says:

      Katherine, I do strongly believe that people with liberal arts / creative backgrounds have an advantage in not only learning SEO but being very good at it. The “out of the box” thinking you learn to do in college translates well in the SEO world.

    9. hello all – i am with the “wisdom of this crowd” in appreciating the provacative nature of this post. I agree that the measure of SEO moving forward will be made by those who extend the concepts instead of parroting them. Gone are the days of “no Flash, move the JavaScript” SEO advice. The search engines continue their development of sophisticated contextual relationship modeling for relevance. I believe that those who can take the surrealist approach of finding or forming concepts will see the most success in the optimization of websites for search.

    10. Muscle forum says:

      I gotta disagree with you todd that the liberal arts background helps in SEO. I think analytical minds with a background in math and especially computer science have a definite edge just cause of some basic concepts.

    11. How do you figure that SEO is about math and computer science? It’s about connecting with prospects. Unless your target audience is the math department, your better off with a liberal arts background then with a computer science background. You choose the words you think prospects are using and then incorporate them into meaningful copy. SEO is about conversions, not just rankings.

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