I decided that I am going to try to encapsulate some of the value that I get from being a member in SEOBook’s Community. Aaron didn’t ask me to write this – I just wanted to. You might want to get a snack – this one has been brewing for five years. 🙂
I think I started following Aaron Wall in 2004-2005, because he was fighting a lawsuit that SEO geeks were talking about and Aaron was actively in the blogs I was reading, commenting. His own work was gaining more and more ground as a solid resource, too. He also got answers from Matt Cutts from time to time, and just had comments I liked (a lot of “me too” was more prevalent then but Aaron had his own ideas)…but I remember wondering, who is this guy: just a really sharp kid that didn’t back down easily.
So I started ghosting him around the web. What I found was a guy whose ideas I agreed with more than not, but he was definitely spunky – and always entertaining as hell to me. He seemed pretty honest and really straightforward too, which stood out in the industry, for me.
By 2007, I was reading his blog regularly, but still pretty much creeping around invisibly. I may have commented once in a while, but hardly much. I had a freelance company and a corporate job, so was gleaning all kinds of great tips though – and again, compared to everything else on the web (more or less) his stuff was really different to me: lacking adornment. Clearheaded. Not pandering to Google, which was the most interesting thing of all to see in an SEO.
Some time around then, I emailed Aaron some questions and was amazed that he answered me in less than 15 minutes – so I pressed for more specific answers, and after he gave me a few, he gently suggested I join the forum if I wanted more of those kind of answers. Not pushy about it, just that he could not answer stuff like that for me and continue to offer value behind his paywall. I think the forum had been operating for a few months at the time.
Back then, I was a huge freetard and hated paying for anything. Partly because I was cheap, partly because I didn’t know any better. But he didn’t follow up by hounding me with emails to join, or put me into some kind of “hot lead” category – he didn’t start on the sales angle at all. Actually, he did nothing more than simply point out the obvious, once, nicely – if I wanted more information, I had to pay. I felt my internal freetard logic beginning to crumble, because I REALLY wanted more answers.
So I finally couldn’t stand it any longer and joined in 2008, talking my corporate job into footing the bill to assuage my freedtardliness: and I have not left the forum since. I took over my membership and left the corporate jobs behind though – based in no small part on the information and the connections I make (still, all the time) in SEOBook’s forums. I am like the ultimate fanboy, you could say…this place has helped me to change my life to be more of what I want.
To say I am in there every day is perhaps putting it a bit mildly. I am in there or dealing with members offline for a couple hours, daily. Unless something really weird is going on, and then I might be refreshing the new posts a half-dozen or more times to keep on top of what’s being shared and observed. But let’s look at why this is the way it is for me.
SEO is complicated, and growing more so every year. Some forums like to suggest one form of direction is the way to go, and that is a large part of what brings the people together. In SEO circles, a lot tends to gets lost in public, large-scale discussions. People chime in, but answers are not always based on tests or experience – there’s a lot of echo-chambering to sift thru.
In SEOBook’s forums, nothing is off-limits as a discussion topic: the general consensus and supported approach in there, is that there is no one answer or single right way to get things done, ever. SEO is approached more as an ongoing balance and reevaluation of risk-to-reward. There is an appreciation for collecting, sharing and trying to interpret data to support or refute the efficacy of different potential directions, but it is not as if one shining ideal brings the forum members together. Unless you boil that down to simply being successful online, I guess…but everybody wants that. As a result, discussions in SEOBook’s forums are definitely a much higher caliber than the majority of public options in my experience: biases are identified and parsed out to try to scrub it down to the true meaning.
I have seen very few things in five years that cannot be discussed by the community. To act like some risky tactics don’t work because they shouldn’t, or pretend all-will-be-well-by-this-recipe is burying your head in the sand, to me. And it simply doesn’t happen in there like that…too many members don’t think that way, and someone is going to call bullshit.
But no outing is allowed, and very strictly enforced – if someone brings up a site that is winning and not theirs, links and direct references are often moderated out so the thread can be about the general tactics used, and not about the specific site who is doing it. People freely share their own sites for help and advice, but the rules are, they can’t be outing others as a professional courtesy.
People in the forum talk about what is happening to them, and their sites as well as what they see on the web. The advantage that you get here, is that there are so many members with so many diverse sites willing to chime in, that insights into any issue or situation takes on new and more rounded perspectives.
In some memberships, a lot of the interactions are driven by the leader(s) needing to maintain/increase the cash flows that come from membership, and increase or drive sales for products and partnered services. There is a soft-sell undercurrent at all times, occasionally peppered by an all-out campaign. Being on “the list” can mean you get a ton of emails. Not to say value is not being shared – just that it tends to come with an advert embedded in there somewhere.
Aaron’s team has not upsold me, once, on anything in my five years as a paying member. They have done some great product reviews (most on the blog, a few only in the forum), and they have vendor discounts and special tools as rewards for my membership – but I have never been pitched because I am a member. There is a place in the forum set aside for different folks who offer services (more on that later), so there are definitely things you can buy only because you are a member. My point, is you are not going to get sales pitched – likely, not ever. Hasn’t happened yet to me anyway.
I do get the newsletter he compiles every month sent here – and the information in it is really staggering. Really: it is much deeper than any other like it, and they do it every month -0r he does it, I suppose. The newsletter alone has tremendous value, but it is the only email I get from my membership, and I could stop receiving that too, if I wanted – there are no forced communications. My name has never been shared, and over the years, any tech issues connected to my account are fixed in hours, usually…or less.
But one thing that made me stop being a freetard and start seeing the promise of value, is the fact that I could always quit at any time. That was super important to me, because I had tried some other things that just didn’t fit – so I did not want to get locked into anything. Instead, I have seen over the years Aaron’s team to be incredibly fair (almost to a fault) when it comes to fees and such. The last thing he wants to do is seem like he is overcharging, so he’ll make sure members NEVER feel that way. Made me feel like that anyway, and I took the plunge because SEO is complex, and I needed more answers.
To sum up the fundamental approach I find in and from my membership in the SEOBook Community:
- Appreciation for layered complexity of current-day SEO.
- Open discussions allowing all tactics air time, and a spot to reside…shielded by rules that protect specific member and non-member efforts.
- Effort to see clear of personal and professional biases. They are still there of course (often lots of them too), but they are typically identified and addressed.
- No add-on sales push, or membership drives. Can quit any time.
- Extra value-adds for membership tucked in, like sweet discounts on tools or directories. More will be in the future there, I am sure. 🙂
Depth and Degrees
In a learning forum, people are going to enter at different levels of experience and need. The conversations and lessons are therefore geared this way, to appease the masses and keep it growing reasonably. What happens in a lot of instances, is the low level entries needed to sustain the business aspects of the community drive the bulk of the content. This can be a great thing when you are starting out and seeking something similar, as there are answers and information to help you drive it into place. And starting out with the basics in SEO is not rocket science and never has been, so it is pretty easy for a forum to offer value in this regard, to me. New players interested in SEO jump in every single day.
Where value is found for many though, is in levels a bit higher than an entry-leveled one. Experience gets you over a lot of the basics, but especially in SEO, the need to understand and be exposed to new and different approaches is constant. A successful SEO forum therefore has to cater to this need, and provide access to or facilitate some kind of advanced ideas.
Here again, though, lies the rub: this is such a common place for people to have needs, that these needs are often exploited by SEO-related groups that promise some kind of advantage, some kind of inner secret. You are promised that you can unlock easy, if you simply join today. I won’t get into my feelings on that business model here, but let’s say it is out there, and pretty common.
In SEOBook’s Community, members are of all stripes and experience. Beginner’s benefit from starting on the right foot, mid-level and advanced folks benefit from having input from comrades and colleagues who may have a lot to offer.
The noise level here, is virtually none…the forum has always been a busy place, but not one full of sales pitches and empty finger pointing. The discussions tend to be on the more informed side, because of the level of experience the members bring in. I don’t think I am out of line at all to say accelerated discourse is possible and happens quite often in here: where member insights often trump what is being shared in the news, or other outlets.
Beginners are always welcomed here though, because most members remember being there. Aaron’s team has compiled an impressive amount of information on SEO in here over the years which makes it easy to refer people to popular threads, or updated ideas. I have used these threads to reaffirm my own ideas, or to see what others are doing successfully…they offer wonderful and practical things to start testing right away.
Honestly, I feel for people who are starting today- SEO is so much more complicated than it was when I started over 10 years ago. But this is why a membership to a place like the ‘book is smart for beginners who don’t want to spin around, or chase dreams. Building things for lasting value is the mantra there, but there is also plenty of appreciation for the things that are really working today. The combo is intoxicating.
I personally started in here at about a mid-level. I had about 6 years of personal SEO experience for my own clients and some for bigger projects, but not a very wide range of knowledge outside of that. I loved testing stuff, but often had limited resources. In there, I met people who had much wider interests, and others representing some really popular and competitive sites.
If you are considering a membership, you might wonder if your level of experience is well suited. In this forum, I would think beginners get a huge boost, mid-level folks get a chance to grow and advanced folks seem to find others in there to commiserate with, and compare notes (I see them in there). Those advanced folks often share case studies and vendor suggestions that are really a huge bonus for us, too.
One of the best, and most valuable things in the forum to me, is the site reviews. People can put up their URL and state what they are trying to do and the members offer opinions. The ability to ask about specific issues you are facing really helps you consider it a couple different ways. The insights shared can be really serious, bottom line ideas too – hitting everything from structure and URLs through design, content and links.
Looking at the various scenarios that might be driving you to consider a membership: If you have been involved in web marketing for a couple years, or have a website that has done well for you and you need it to do better, or have a corporate gig and need help because the suits are getting in the way – these are all great scenarios to get into SEOBook’s Community. If your website is your business, you should be in here. If your niche has suddenly become much different and more competitive, this may be a great place to get new ideas. If you are looking for tactics to help survive, prevent or mop-up behind any of the past or emerging Google penalties, SEOBook makes a great answer. If you have a small (or medium or large) SEO shop, and want to offer safe or even aggressive offers to your clients, the ‘book is a very good choice. If you simply want to become part of what I consider the smartest bunch of web marketers collected, it is a no-brainer.
Another crucial element of a forum or community, is the amount of continual activity it sees. Many times what you find, is the lure of a community is pinned on some of the members being in it. Like I did above, where I talked about how many impressive marketers are in the ‘book forum every day, because this is sexy (in this case, true, but still very sexy). Thinking your nothing little web effort gets the eyeballs and helping hands of someone you recognize, is empowering.
What happens in a lot of places though, is the superstars are not really in there, active, as it seems on the adverts and testimonials. They may have dedicated staff to answer questions, but sometimes you get the feeling you are in a ghost town, and the site activity suggests the same. Or, it is mostly chatter by others like you, looking for a bit of something more. So you, like the rest of the members, start coming by less and less, because there is no lure, there is no real reason to keep checking in, when history shows a lack of engagement. The community suffers, or worse: withers and dies.
I led into all this by saying how much time I spend in the SEOBook forum, but I am not alone in being in there every day, adding something when I think I can or should or want to. There are many, led by Aaron, who definitely reads and responds to almost every thread over the course of a day. His moderators are also right there with help – and then, members start chiming in, based on what the discussion is.
This is an active forum though, especially when you see changes in the search ecosystem somewhere. In those days (and they can very dark, depressing days indeed), a thread may get updated over a dozen times in a hour with insights filling in the blanks from all different sectors and verticals, from all corners of the web.
But if you posed a question, virtually any question, you can be sure it gets seen, and typically answered within a day in here. Usually, it is within a couple hours – remember when I said Aaron answered my first email in under an hour? He still does that a lot of times…and he’s positioned employees and moderators in there to do it for him, too. Then you have guys like me, just members, but if I see something I can help with, I do…and there are a couple dozen of us that have been in there for a few years or more, daily.
Maybe it is not always true, but certainly more than not. I may be in there every day, but just reading. Still, I do like seeing what is happening, and the news in there is stuff that matters to me. Even when I am simply creeping around.
I watched it for a week, and the average was 15 new posts a day. Weekends can be a little slower, but this is a place where people are checking in regularly.
I think that is another salient point: these advanced SEOs that I see in there are still there year after year, still chiming in, still active all the time. If I was the only one seeing this community’s intrinsic value, these guys would have long ago stopped the monthly payments, and moved on. I would have, for sure. I promise you though: if something goes wrong out there, many of us are going to go straight to the forum to see what everybody else is seeing before we start thinking anything “firm” at all…that says a ton. And it only seems to get stronger every year, as SEO gets tougher…maybe we’re depending on each others insights other more.
The connections and friends I have made in here personally, make it a truly valuable and attractive place to be.
Some people surely don’t fit – in the five years I have been in here, I have seen maybe two folks get escorted out that I can remember. Man, did they both deserve it. Not for asking questions or using the tools, but for being abusive and obtuse. Both got full refunds, too. 🙂
To sum up the depth and degrees of experience and engagement I find in my SEOBook Community membership:
- Basic information compiled and available, making a beginner a mid-level player in no time.
- Mid to advanced levels are well suited here, finding challenging ideas and networking benefits.
- Members represent a mix of many types of web marketers and business owners, making discussion more rounded.
- Daily activity and even more, when market conditions are unstable. Helps you see immediate issues through wider lens.
- Many advanced webmasters have been in here, talking together and comparing notes for years. Nothing suggests ROI quite like ongoing monthly investments.
In any community, there is opportunity for service providers to find some business. SEOBook makes this possible with a dedicated Marketplace section.
In the Marketplace, people can offer services or sites or related things for like-minded folks.It’s been a popular place in my years there, and people make lots of great connections.
It is very bad form to get a membership, dive in and immediately start trying to hawk your stuff – I did a post along time ago about watching someone blow it in a situation like this (great pic in that one). That kind of behavior is certainly not going to fly in SEOBook, either – you’ll be asked to tone it down, no doubt.
That said, there is nothing wrong with coming in, interacting a bit, reading a ton and getting a feel for the folks in it. You want to see how things roll back and forth, and who is saying what. Once you get it a little, you will know where, and how to pitch. You would not barge into a social situation like a maniac, so don’t do it online, either. Don’t do it in SEOBook, or I will want to slap you for not listening to me.
In my own case, I found so many like-minded people in SEOBook’s forums over the years, that they make up the majority of my client base today. Through them I have been able to do stimulating projects across multitudes of verticals, and I meet and work with new folks every month, still.
I’ve been able to work on sites and projects in other countries a lot, and hone my own skills in lots of different ways. I like to approach what I do in a kind of fluid way, and SEOBook has connected me to people who think like I do about business, but are better at it. Has been a truly eye-opening perk, to be able to learn on the job that they offer me.
On a personal level, I have made some friends in here that I talk to about lots more than SEO now. The community, for me, has reached beyond professional and brought me even more meaning and value. Sounds corny as hell, but true. I am sure it is not like this for everyone who joins, or maybe even not many of them – but it is what happened to me.
I’ve spent more time with some of these folks now than I did in either high school or college…I have met some lifers in this bunch. Colleagues, coworkers and friends.
A membership to SEOBook’s Community runs $300 per month. This puts it on the high end for communities like this. However, I would like to illustrate something in how I decided a long, long time ago to keep my membership going forever. Whatever forever truly means, deciphered in reality, yet very passionately felt.
If you look at the cost as a yearly business cost, $3600 is not too much to consider for most businesses for a decently waged effort. If $3000 is a considerable expense for you to think about in general, then yes you may not quite be ready to get back the value from a membership here – forums with a focus on your level of experience or books and free resources will likely get you what you need to get off the ground. Best practices are easy to decipher, really, just please remember to avoid the easy button – easy is a lie.
In my own case, I can remember distinctly early on as a member, asking a moderator some specific questions regarding titles, and a corporate client’s struggles. I was nervous to share it as a thread, but I needed help. I used the PM because I wanted to keep it off the radar. The moderator’s answer, received in an hour, took me ten minutes to deploy and moved my site up a full page – it was definitely the problem as he identified it. The resulting leads we got from the improved position more than paid for a year’s membership fees in a single afternoon – more like 10x that amount or more over the next couple days. And this was one site, one problem, one issue fixed – just one example of so very many that have been there for me over five years. In addition to specific issues I ask for help with, there are other best practices I glean regularly.
Add in, the amount of work that I have taken in from my connections made here, and I owe SEOBook well over six figures more. And thankfully, that number just keeps on growing – something I never will take for granted…I earn lots more than the cost of membership every month, in healthy multiples.
But lots of folks in there do not offer services like me, and I did not go in there with the intention of offering them…it just started happening because I was talking to people I liked, about business ideas that were really interesting. The folks who don’t offer services do have opportunity to get some though – have I mentioned there is a Marketplace set aside, and Aaron is good about letting everyone hang their shingle? (seriously nice place to see) I have seen businesses get made simply because someone had a good idea and offered it to the community for a trial run. It is a small group compared to lots of communities, but they know a good thing when it is in front of them and take advantage of it.
Conceivably, you could go in there and make all the connections you need to have a revenue generating site operational, or buy one flat out. This is not a cost to measure, but more of a benefit to appreciate against the cost.
When I start adding up the connections, the information, the sheer volume of tips and suggestions I have gleaned over these five years, cost gets pretty murky. Pretty silly, really – I made more in the first couple years in here to ever question staying.
The ideas I have today are colored a lot by my five years of membership so it is hard for me to see it without bias. But it is also a reflection of my connections here that I can now clearly see my own bias even as I write it. 😉