“Step inside my mind for a moment…” Robin Williams from “Reality, What A Concept”


When I saw this Tweet from John Andrews, I knew I had to question him about it…and here’s how the conversation went:


Just from this brief exchange that has nothing to do with search marketing, I have learned a tremendous amount about John and the traits he has as a search marketer.

  • He is extremely observant and perceptive.
  • He learns from experience.
  • He’s a planner and always thinks several steps ahead of where he is.
  • He is very careful.

If I were looking for a search marketing professional and were considering John, even if I hadn’t had much interaction with him or looked his blog, reading this exchange alone would almost be enough for me to decide to work with him because he has exhibited many of the top traits of search marketers while speaking in a relatively unguarded fashion away from a professional or sales situation.

I have spoken to John in several conference settings and I’ve never gotten the indication he’s any better at the technical aspects of SEO than the rest of us (likely because he’s never talked of such things). However, he has told me stories of his experiences and within each story, if I am savvy enough to see it, exists nuggets of information that I can (and have) applied to my online activities and profited from that insight.

Plenty of search marketers write solid functional articles about search marketing that inform us about what they know and these people do a decent job positioning themselves as “experts” in the field. Sadly, many of these articles are bereft of something much more important…how these people think and perceive the world around them. Because once somebody has maxed out on the “nuts and bolts” portion of the SEO learning curve (and many of us have), their success in search will directly correlate to their ability to perceive the unobvious and act upon that knowledge.

So, when I read Aaron Wall’s interview of Fantomaster, I can see how smart Ralph is by seeing how he thinks and reasons, knowing that if I ever were in the market for cloaking, I could trust that he’s put out a product that would likely work for me even if I were incapable of evaluating the offering. Similarly, people like Aaron, Brian Provost, Adam Audette, and Neil Patel have offered deep enough glimpses into their way they think and view their online environment so that I would feel comfortable working with them professionally even if I knew little else about them besides what they wrote.

There are a few reasons why I rarely write “actionable” SEO articles. I think they expose my Achilles Heel as a writer (writing in the neutral third person). I think many others do a much better job at it. But most importantly, I think that any competitive advantage I might have in the marketplace relates directly to my unique way of thinking and communicating. To show myself in the best possible light, I need to be real and present the unfiltered thoughts in my head in the most honest manner possible. If the public knows I am a search marketer and feels that I offer insights they find valuable, hopefully they’ll realize that I can use the same thought process to help them with their online marketing issues…or so I hope.

7 thoughts on “Bellwether Brains

  1. The word I use is “talent.”

    And I would argue that this concept you’re referring to expands being just search marketing. I think that it actually applies to all facets of online marketing and development.

    A lot of people can explain the methodology behind securing a link, building a landing page, optimization ad copy, writing an email title, configuring analytics (well maybe not a lot of people can do that one) but only a small percentage can really make it all happen in a successful manner.

  2. Hugo, I agree this applies to any discipline. An analogy I’ve used before is that SEO is like free jazz…sure, there are rules but the rules are just a jumping off point for the improvisation where the art really lies. Everyone I’ve talked about (and you as well) are very much in “jam” mode and from time to time, the “jam” turns into great art.

  3. Funny you mention that because I’ve found a weird correlation between talent online marketers and avid “jamming” musicianship.

    I’ve got a myriad of guitar players (including myself) milling about in our agency offices.

    Not saying it’s a pre-requisite or anything but it certainly speaks to the improvisational attitude that’s needed in this space.

  4. What an incredibly enjoyable and insightful post. Often how a person thinks is an important what they know. Like doctors, who often possess a very similar fundamental skill set and body of knowledge as a result of their education throughout medical school, how one search marketer’s approach differs from another is really what separates “good” from “exceptional”.

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  5. This is the primary reason I’m so glad I started my career in journalism. Logic and critical thinking are difficult to teach, but journalism school helped me hone those skills.

    The biggest mistakes I ever made as a journalist had nothing to do with my writing ability. They had everything to do with a lapse in judgment … not questioning the obvious, not having enough facts before making an assumption, not putting myself in the shoes of the reader.

    That’s why I love this comic from XKCD:


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  6. Hugo and Todd – we have a number of guitar players in our offices, too! Had never occurred to me… but you’re both right. SEO and music actually have a lot in common. The chords only get you so far… you have to build on that your own personal “sound.”

    Really appreciate your words in this post, Todd. Thought provoking as usual.

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