“I was looking at the black and white world…” Elvis Costello

I don’t know too much about Doug other than from his frequently critical blog comments where he shares his own fervent white hat evangelism. I think many in the SEO Community, especially the newer members, dismiss Doug out of hand…those that have been around long enough to remember when he was one of the better known people in the industry are more likely to pay attention and acknowledge his ideas without taking his criticisms too much to heart.

However, as I read his latest blog comments relating to the SEO Advanced “Give It Up” session, I had this idea that his positioning and branding via criticism and negativity might actually be pretty good advertising for his business.

Let me explain…

We all know that many people look at the world through a black and white prism. These folks look at situation and see either good or bad; right or wrong; legal or illegal, sinful or not, with no middle ground. By contrast, there are people (such as myself) who see very little as black and white, but look at situations as being various shades of gray. I believe most SEO’s share the same worldview as I…after all, it’s hard to define moral absolutes in Cyberspace unless they can be accurately mapped onto offline behavior and much of the SEO process just doesn’t translate offline.

Doug’s “black and white” SEO beliefs don’t jive with most engine marketers; however, I believe they might resonate with prospective clients that have the same absolutist worldview towards their businesses and lives. In actuality, if this subset of client can be convinced that they need search engine marketing, Doug has a reasonably easy sell. Doug can offer his services couched in a strong moral authority that no rules will be broken during the client engagement. Doug knows that search engine marketers have a spotty reputation in many quarters and it is easy for him to brand himself as one of the few moral and ethical practitioners in the industry.

Want proof?

Doug can point to the SMX Advanced “Give It Up” session where several “notable” SEO’s shared black hat knowledge with the assembled audience. Lisa Barone’s blog post (along with the comments that followed) offered Doug a wonderful chance to seize the moral high ground and differentiate himself even from the people who thought the session went too far. To search marketers reading the piece, Doug’s comments might have been as welcome as a telemarketing call during dinner hour…however, to readers who view the world as Doug does (and I suspect there are more of them than most would think), Doug is the only rational voice in the thread.

Besides the link juice, Doug’s frequent blog comment negativity gives him visible credibility with a segment of the business community that he likely markets himself to. I would guess that he is sharing Lisa’s blog post (along with his comments to it) with selected clients and prospective clients as a strong moral and ethical affirmation of his brand. His sales pitch likely is that he can be trusted because he is one of the few SEO’s that won’t break the rules and risk getting sites into trouble with the search engines. Doug seems to define himself primarily by what he’s against and in a market crowded by lots of search engine marketers with near-identical service offerings and marketing campaigns, that’s actually a good brand differentiator.

A long time ago, I happened to meet a priest who also happened to be a very successful life insurance salesman. I never saw him preach but I could tell quite clearly that he had the ability to successfully transfer his moral authority that he brought to the pulpit into the sales process which enabled him to easily distinguish himself from others chasing the same customers. While many of us use speaking or writing to try to show others how intelligent and perceptive we are about the ever-changing and evolving world of search, Doug not only seems to place scholarship secondary to “following the posted rules”, but sees doing this as the only moral and ethical choice that can be made. People uncomfortable with the Wild West Internet could likely see Doug as a kindred spirit and as someone who can bring order to perceived chaos; and therefore, would be much more likely to purchase his services.

Todd Mintz
Todd Mintz knows PPC...knows Social Media...knows SEO...knows Blogging...knows Domaining...and knows them all real well. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association. He is a Senior Account Manager for 3Q Digital and is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association, and he can be found here on Google+.
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