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March 8, 2012

Giving Has Its Own SEO Rewards

This week, Lisa Barone asked her Twitter followers if they had any defining moments in their career. She received a ton of responses, many having to do with how people first got into the field. I was pleasantly surprised to see that one person’s defining moment was when she received a free pass to the SES Toronto Conference in 2004, which I had given out via the High Rankings Advisor. She said it was what got her started in SEO.

Pretty amazing and very cool that a simple gesture (on my part and that of the SES staff) could have such a profound effect on someone’s career – and, I daresay – life. So much so that a full 8 years later she still remembered it and thought enough about it to mention it (and me) on someone’s blog.

This got me thinking about the many comments and emails I’ve received over the years telling similar stories. What seem like little things to me, such as answering SEO questions for free, have helped new SEO companies get off the ground. (You’d be surprised to hear about some of the current big names in SEO whose questions I answered many moons ago!) Other actions, such as keeping people up-to-date on the latest antics of Google and reiterating the importance of avoiding website tricks, have helped businesses of all sizes enjoy many years of “free” search engine traffic without missing a beat. And that doesn’t even count the paying clients I’ve helped grow or maintain multimillion-dollar businesses.

So why am I telling you all this other than to toot my own horn?

It’s simple: While I never set out to get anything back for the SEO information I freely provide, giving and teaching and doing unto others has its own inherent benefits. There is, of course, the “feel goodness” that comes from being generous, but there’s also the added “karmic” benefit. While it sounds cliché, what goes around really does come around! When you help people without any expectations, they often want to help you back.

Good karma is good for business!

In business, this good karma often results in all sorts of great things happening – for instance, new client referrals. Every week I hear from potential new clients who tell me they heard of me from “so-and-so.” And 9 times out of 10 I’ve never actually heard of ole so-and-so. Presumably they’re happy HRA subscribers who’ve benefited from my SEO information through the years and are only too happy to send some business my way.

Another benefit – this one closer to home – is the links. My High Rankings website has more than 36,000 inbound links from over 3,500 unique domains. And I never asked for any of them (other than 1, which I’ll tell you about in a bit). So who’s giving me all those links out of the goodness of their heart? Many are from people I don’t know. Others are from people whom I’ve interacted within some way – through social media, at a conference, in one of my SEO training classes, as a paying client, or as a contractor or employee whom I’ve worked with at some point.

In fact, current big names in SEO, such as Debra Mastaler, often mention my name when she’s interviewed as having helped her get started. And paid search veteran Andrew Goodman recently referred to me as “the great Jill Whalen” (hehe) in a ClickZ article! Others, such as Karon Thackston, whom I’m constantly raving about, has linked to my site from her blog roll. And I’m always seeing referrers in my analytics from blog and forum comments by other recognizable industry names who recommend the High Rankings Advisor or Forum as must-read SEO resources.

It’s marketing without actually marketing.

Getting mentioned by others, whether it’s online (with, or without a link) or offline as a referral, is the holy grail of marketing. That person who felt that she owed her SEO career to me since 2004, freely mentioned me on an extremely well-read blog. And who knows how many other times in the past 8 years she’s told that story? And how many others are out there with similar stories that I don’t even know about?

Being generous with your time and information can and does pay off.

Even so, I would caution you against using it as a marketing strategy. I’m convinced that if you are sharing your information and skills by freely helping others, but with the hidden agenda of doing it to make you rich and famous, it could backfire. Or at least it may not work as well. That’s the interesting thing about karma – she can tell the difference between genuine and ulterior motives. Don’t try to turn something inherently good into a cheap marketing ploy.

I promised you that I’d tell you the story of “the one link I’ve ever asked for” because it’s a perfect example of what goes around, comes around.

At the start of this article, I mentioned Lisa Barone, because it was her blog post that prompted the nice mention of me from the happy 2004 conference free pass receiver. Lisa and I have a bit of a checkered past. She started out in the SEO industry many years ago, blogging for the Bruce Clay company, which has quite a different SEO philosophy from mine. While I always felt that Lisa was a gifted writer, I didn’t always agree with what she wrote. We had quite a few friendly sparring matches back in the day, and I’m sure I wasn’t always on my best behavior :). (I believe she once told me later that my lack of respect for her came through loud and clear…oops!)

Fast-forward to the present. Lisa is co-owner of Outspoken Media, which I’ve been paying
attention to since they formed. These days I agree with nearly everything she and the others from her company write. As far as I’m concerned, they’re one of the few online marketing companies who get it, and that’s saying a lot. I refer business to them all the time when appropriate. So when Lisa was nominated for some online award last year, I was all too happy to tweet about it to my followers to help her get some extra votes. I had no ulterior motive; I simply believed she deserved it.

Soon after the contest was over (she didn’t win, but did very well!), I happened to notice their blog roll and thought that the HRA archives/blog should be there because we have a lot of the same SEO philosophies. Every time I would read a post on their site I’d get annoyed when I saw that my site was conspicuously absent. I kept hoping they’d magically notice this travesty and promptly fix it. But of course, they had put together that blog roll when they first created the company and likely hadn’t given it much of a second glance since then. The chances of them reviewing it any time soon and also thinking to add my site were pretty slim.

On the other hand, I was proud of the fact that I had never specifically asked for a link before. I was pretty sure they’d add me, but I hated to ask. And worse, I kept imagining that Lisa might think I had been helping to promote her in the contest with the ulterior motive of getting a link! So I didn’t ask. Many months later, I must have noticed that darn blog roll again, and something finally spurred me into action. I bit the bullet and sent a direct message to Lisa via Twitter saying something lame like “I’ve never done this before, but…” and within minutes she replied that of course they’d add it. Phew!

Would she have added me to the old Bruce Clay blog roll all those years ago when we were sparring partners? It’s highly doubtful! And of course there’s no way I ever would have asked because it wouldn’t have been a great fit anyhow.

Which brings me to the moral of this story and of this whole post: Do good, be generous, support those whom you like and agree with just because you want to. If you do this without any ulterior motives, it’s highly likely that eventually karma will pay you a visit in ways that you could never imagine.

Oh, and the other moral is: Don’t be afraid to ask for a link if it truly is a perfect fit! 🙂

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen. If you learned from this article, be sure to invite your colleagues to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so they can receive similar articles in the future!