The Ten Levels of SEO

I read Ten Levels of Hangover in the bitter defeat blog some time ago but forgot about it until I read Rand’s recent Levels of Search Marketing Knowledge. Levels of anything seems like a fun idea to me so here is my version of The Ten Levels of SEO.

The Ten Levels of SEO


You have built your first website, hosted it on Geocities and submitted it to Google and Yahoo. A week later you can’t find it anywhere in the search engines. A friend tells you that it was the same for them, that it takes a long time and you have to be patient. Three months later after submitting several more times you still can’t find it anywhere in the search engines. Your nephew tells you about the keyword meta-tag and says you have to submit every day. This doesn’t work either. You use Yahoo Answers to ask why the search engines are ignoring your site. Replies are moronic but there is one answer that looks promising from cool_guy_97. He says that you need to know about search engine optimization. You decide to investigate further, you have discovered SEO.


You have searched Google for ‘search engine optimization’ and number one is a site that offers ‘Free Submission to 40+ Search Engines’. You go to the site and enter your url because that’s 38 more search engines than you are submitting to at the moment. While you are there you notice that they have a free online meta tag analyzer and decide to type in your home page for analysis. You are amazed to find that you are missing a load of tags, including the revisit meta-tag. Obviously that’s why the search engines are ignoring your site and you put in a revisit meta-tag right away. With further research you are able to find 25 more meta-tags and you spend all evening putting them in the header of your home page. Next day at the office Eric in the Mail Room tells you that submitting to 40 search engines is small fry and that he has some ‘multi-award winning web promotion and site submission software’ which submits to 100,000 search engines. You think this unlikely but when he lends you the CD and you try it at home it looks as if it really does what it says on box. Several weeks later your site is still not in Google or Yahoo but mysteriously your inbox is receiving hundreds of spam emails every hour. You email cool_guy_97 at Yahoo Answers and he replies telling you that submission is not necessary and what you really need is inbound links. You decide to investigate further, you have discovered links.


You return the ‘multi-award winning web promotion and site submission software’ to Eric in the Mail Room and tell him your news about links. He seems to know this already and offers to lend you his copy of ‘professional auto links power plus enterprise edition linking software’. You spend all the following weekend with the software and by Sunday night you have a brand new links page and you have sent out 1,400 link exchange requests. Two weeks later you have rejected links from 842 porn sites but you have made 26 link exchanges with various casino and gift sites. The good news is that when you type your url into Google and Yahoo it is definitely there for everyone to see. You tell everyone at work you are in Google, including Laura the Receptionist, who asks you what she should search for to find your site. She laughs when you give her the url and says do you come up for something like chocolates, flowers, dirty dancing or sports cars? You tell her you don’t know yet but it gets you thinking. When you return the copy of ‘professional auto links power plus enterprise edition linking software’ to Eric in the Mail Room you tell him it seems to have worked but that you can only find your site by typing in the url. He tells you something about keywords which you don’t understand. You decide to investigate further, you have discovered keywords.


When the boss isn’t around you use Google to find out everything you can about keywords. Lots of irrelevant stuff about AdWords and other things get in the way but you discover a free on-line tool that tells you everything you need to know about your keywords including the keyword density. Keyword density seems to be very important and when you mention it to Eric in the Mail Room he confirms this and says it should be around 40%. You spend all weekend rewriting your content but when you have finished it reads like a speech impediment. You decide to email cool_guy_97 to ask if he will take a look and tell you if you have the correct keyword density. He replies and tells you that keyword density is irrelevant and anyway why are you bothering with all this stuff when all you have is a lousy free Geocities domain. He sends you a second email saying he doesn’t have time to answer any more questions and not to email him anymore but he gives you the url of a webmaster forum where everyone has time to answer questions. You decide to investigate further, you have discovered webmaster forums.


Your first six questions on the forum are followed by very short answers referring you to the search function. You learn to use the search function and find your next few questions are more specific and get answered. Sometimes the answers are contradictory but that doesn’t matter because by now you have discovered four other webmaster forums and if you don’t like the answer on one you ask it on another. The advice you get encourages you to buy a brand new domain and host it on a reliable server. You have decided to create a website on mechanical toys because that has been your hobby since you were eight when your grandfather left you his mechanical toy collection. You spend the next there months photographing and writing about your collection. You add pages on the history of mechanical toys and their makers. You write about buying them on eBay and in garage sales. You even write about museum collections and other rare mechanical toys belonging to people you have met at antique shows. When you finish you have 200+ good looking pages reasonably optimized and quite a few links. During the next month you add a forum to your site so that collectors like yourself can exchange information and talk about the subject with like minded individuals. After nine months you are top in Google for a search on mechanical toys and almost top in Yahoo and MSN. The time spent on webmaster forums has paid off and you are now the proud owner of a high ranking website. When you tell your nephew he points out that an exact search for mechanical toys produces less than 100,000 pages and that his Xbox forum site is on the first page of Google out of 75 million. He also tells you he is making $200 a month with AdSense publishing. You decide to investigate further, you have discovered how to monetize a website.


The next day you sign up to become an AdSense publisher. On the same day Eric in the Mail Room tells you that his site is no longer in the Google index and he thinks he might have been banned. You offer to take a look at his site and help him if you can. That evening when you scan his site, thanks to the long hours you have spent on the webmaster forums, you see what’s gone wrong. You find a world record amount of hidden text and multiple links to link farms. You make some notes and add the email address for Google’s reinclusion request. The next day you hand your notes to Eric in the Mail Room, who seems very impressed. The first thing you do every day when you get to the office is check to see how much you have made with AdSense and at the end of the first full month it totals $8.55. The second thing you do every day is scan your favorite webmaster forums and the third thing you do is read the blogs of well known SEOs. You make a major decision to build another website but this time with AdSense revenue in mind. Since you work for a life insurance company and you know a little about the subject you decide to replicate the success you have had with mechanical toys but this time with life insurance. You buy a nice domain and Nicole in Customer Services supplies you with a list of 1,500 common questions clients and potential clients ask about life insurance. After a couple of dates she also hands over a photocopy of the scripted answers. You spend the next five months rewriting them and building your new website. You are able to persuade Jason in Sales to hand over his copy of the in-house sales-force bible. It explains things about life insurance that even you did not know. Nicole in Customer Services helps you translate the best parts from sales speak into English and you add it to your content. After six months you have over 2,000 pages of original content that explains everything you need to know about life insurance. Your site progresses nicely in the search engine results pages and you are now answering a few questions in the webmaster forums. Eric in the Mail Room asks you to meet his brother-in-law who runs a pet food business. He wants someone to SEO his website and you agree to do it for $350, you have discovered how to monetize your knowledge.


Your guide to life insurance website is making $1200 a month with AdSense and Nicole in Customer Services is sharing your apartment. Her experience in customer services proves invaluable in soliciting links, which she does mostly over the telephone. You have given her a list of almost 10,000 public library websites to call, which might link to your life insurance resource. Eric’s brother-in-law has quadrupled his revenue on his website thanks to you and he sends you a number of prospective clients from his local chamber of commerce. You take them all on and you and Nicole try hard not to let your office jobs get in the way of your SEO activities. You are now a moderator on your favorite webmaster forum and one of the other moderators asks if you are going to the upcoming Search Engine Marketing and Optimization Conference in New York. You book the conference, tell Nicole and arrange leave from the office, you have discovered networking.


At the conference you attend every session and realize that the speakers do not say much that you don’t know already. However the bar is very lively and on the first night you get to drink with a bunch of well known SEOs until 5am. You learn a lot including what you should have been charging your clients from the chamber of commerce. You spend most of the next day in bed but catch a couple of late afternoon sessions followed by a party given by one of the exhibiting companies. By chance you get to go with 50 other people to a restaurant for dinner, there a lot of the well known SEOs and search engine representatives including Matt Cutts. You get to sit 14 seats away from Matt and it is the highlight of your trip. After the dinner you are in the bar again until 6am. You learn a lot especially about black hat SEO. By a strange coincidence you get to meet cool_guy_97 who turns out to be a regular geek. When you get back you tell Nicole that you are going to quit your job and become a full time SEO. You go to see Scott in Accounts who tells you how to incorporate and arrange your tax affairs. Nicole quits too and becomes your first employee. In the first year you and Nicole have made as much money as you did working at the life insurance company and business is getting better all the time. You are an SEO.

LEVEL 9 (Some people skip this level and go straight to LEVEL 10)

Your business is expanding and you have your first blue chip client. You employ eight people including cool_guy_97 and Laura the Receptionist, and have a nice modern office. You have attend a lot of conferences and at the last one you were invited to speak on long tail search which has become one of your specialties. You have a successful blog where you talk about all the usual things like what Matt Cutts has posted on his blog and what all the well known SEOs have posted on their blogs. Occasional you post tantalizing reports from a conference you are attending but because you are in the bar until 7am every night they read like something out of Hello! magazine. As CEO you are working 16 hours a day, including weekends spending most of your time client facing and fire fighting. Nicole spends all day link building and running link building courses. She also plays the role of your company customer services department. You travel a lot to meetings and when you get home late every night you are exhausted. Fortunately Nicole is exhausted too. One night Nicole points out that both of you have worked almost every day for three years and never had a holiday. You like the idea of a holiday because although you have several AdSense sites bringing in a total of around $12,000 every month you haven’t built a new one for two years. Also you have several ideas for potentially very profitable affiliate sites that you would like to build. Next day at the office you look at your diary, rearrange a few client meetings and speaking engagements, check with Nicole and book a week’s holiday for two in Hawaii. Just before you go on holiday you take delivery of your new Porsche. You are a successful SEO.


Your holiday is not what you thought it would be and it’s not because Nicole would not let you take the laptop. The first two days you both sleep for almost 48 hours and on the third day you get a call from the office. A prospective new client, the CEO of a well known retail group, wants to see you urgently tomorrow in New York. As you pack Nicole begins to cry. On the plane returning home you don’t speak but you think about what you really want from life. All those places that you want to see, all those sites you want to build and all those black hat techniques you would really like to try for fun. By the time you step off the plane you have decided to sell your company and travel the world. You tell Nicole who begins to cry again. You sell your company for just enough to by a nice house in a nice part of town. You arrange to rent it out and buy two round the world tickets. You sign off on your blog and start a new one detailing your traveling experiences. You get as far as the beautiful and unspoilt Sao Beach in Vietnam where you rent a beach villa for six months. Most days you spend a few hours on the laptop building those new websites you always knew would be gold mines and keeping in touch with old friends by email. Nicole does all the link building and writes lots of content. Occasionally you dispense SEO advice to old clients for obscene amounts of money. Very occasionally you take on a new client simply because you like them. You play with black hat techniques just for fun. It’s cheap to live and the money is coming in. Your house back home is rented out for $10k a month and your old and new sites are bringing in AdSense and other publishing income of another $60k a month. Most of the time you walk and talk with Nicole, explore the coast on a rented boat, cook and eat wonderful food and meet interesting people. Where to next? Explore the Australian outback, learn renaissance history in Venice or find another idyllic beach but this time in the Seychelles? You have reached SEO Nirvana.

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