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The History of Community and SEO – Jim Christian // Blush Digital

Episode Overview: The SEO industry is composed of a unique community that relies on sharing SEO data and experiences with competitors and colleagues in order to truly understand SEO’s complexity. Join host Ben as he speaks with Blush Digital CEO Jim Christian about what it takes to create and cultivate a digital SEO community and how to find the right one for you.

Summary

  • The complex and everchanging nature of SEO requires constant education, which lead to the formation of the SEO community to band together and share information to keep up.
  • One aspect of SEO that brings the SEO community together is when Google publishes a new algorithm update and SEOs band together to decipher its effects on various industry categories.
  • Various SEO communities exist on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Some require payment to join, but the value of these groups is ultimately decided by what information the SEO is seeking and the information the group can share.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. Today we’re going to talk about the history of community in SEO. Joining us today is Jim Christian, who is an experienced SEO and one of the founders of an internationally recognized search event.

Ben:                 Jim is the CEO of Blush Digital, which is a digital marketing agency that combines data-driven technology along with industry leading talent to connect brands and customers together. He’s also one of the founders of Advanced Search Summit. An event that happens annually in Napa, California. Very close to my heart.

Ben:                Today Jim and I are going to talk about the history of community in SEO. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jim Christian CEO of Blush Digital. Jim, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Jim:                Hey man, It’s good to be here again. Loving it.

Ben:               It’s always great to have you back on the show. The last time we talked, we were talking about your career. About how you got started in SEO and how you ended up working at an agency, and how you’ve been running the Advanced Search Summit for a couple of years, successfully.

Jim:              Five years.

Ben:              Five years already? Man. You’re taking on a little pivot or a little bit of a different adventure here. You’re starting the Digital Marketers Organization, which is really about community building outside of just events. There’s a lot going on in the world I can understand why in person events are a little slower than they used to be.

Jim:              Yeah.

Ben:             Now you’re focused on community. Talk to me a little bit about the rationale there.

Jim:             Yeah, I mean, we’ve been busy working on our Napa Summit for the last five years and recently just had to cancel our last show that was scheduled for April because of the whole COVID-19 thing. That was less than entertaining for us, but obviously needed to be done.

Jim:             We had a problem with being able to host everyone in the same building and it just kind of fell apart. In light of that, we already had aspirations to create a community for everyone. We decided to do that with digitalmarketers.org and our little acronym for it is just the DMO. It’s been great.

Ben:             I have to say, and putting this on the record, I came to the same conclusion that you did. I’m also the host of the MarTech podcast. When the coronavirus hit, people are pulling their digital marketing budgets back. We were a little concerned that our sponsorship model was going to dry up. Turns out that wasn’t necessarily the case, but when we started seeing some softness in the first month of the shelter in place, I sat down with my team and we said, “Hey, we’re going to start building a community, an online community for people to connect.”

Ben:            Look, we’re thinking about these two different businesses coming at it from different perspectives, but I totally understand why you’re trying to connect people. Let’s talk a little bit about community and SEO. You’ve been doing this for a long time. Give me a little history lesson on the SEO community. How did it get started and what does it look like today?

Jim:             I mean, the SEO community has been around for forever. I think some of the, I guess, founding fathers, as you want to call them would be like Danny from Search Engine Land or Rand Fishkin and there’s obviously a lot of others that are out there, but they’re really the forefathers in trying to bridge everything together for us to come together in different events and throughout the years.

Jim:             Obviously with them kind of moving on out of the space, I think that there’s a lot of new players that are coming into it. Obviously we want to be a part of that. Community for us means that we’re trying to drag education further than what it’s been in the past and really provide a space for everyone to not only connect with each other, but also educate themselves as well. There’s a dual part to it.

Ben:            Yeah, it seems like there’s always been a vibrant community in SEO. Prior to really focusing on content development and SEO in my career, I always kind of looked at the SEO community as a group of self-promoters as it turns out I ended up running an SEO Podcast. So shame on me for thinking that, but there was always conferences and people that wanted to be speakers in SEO. I never really saw the value for the operators when I wasn’t in the community myself.

Ben:            Talk to me a little bit about how you view, how the SEO community has developed? Why do people engage the way they do as SEOs?

Jim:             I think that throughout the years, Google and the other search engines have gotten a lot stronger or deeper in the facet of like it’s more complex. That’s driving people to have to gain more knowledge in order to play in the space.

Jim:             I think that even from my days over at GoDaddy, part of the issue is, is that who are these people and how do you get educated? A lot of that started with, well, obviously the events that are out there and then bridging over into the digital world.

Jim:             Then even now we’re seeing a much, much stronger push to virtual and digital clearly because of the virus, but we think that it’s also important to try to keep that going and keeping everyone together during this time. For us, it was a really simple choice to try to get into this. I think that it’s just going to get better from here on out, hopefully.

Ben:             One of the things that I’ve observed with the SEO community is that because Google is inherently a black box, they’re not describing what their algorithm is. There is always a lively debate around things like what are the ranking factors? There’s always something to speculate and people are always pointing toward different data points, but they only have the data from their brand.

Ben:            Talk to me about some of the constant themes that you’ve seen, some of the regular topics that have come up throughout the years as SEO communities have developed.

Jim:            Well, I can answer actually today, oddly enough, now that you’re touching on it, it was a day where Google went out on their webmaster blog and released a new set of ranking factors that they plan on implementing in 2021. That has caused a number of articles to be fired off and it’s going around the community as we speak. Definitely this is going to be a subject for everyone to talk about and discuss as we prepare to go into this new ranking factor problem that we’re going to be experiencing.

Jim:              I think that the articles go to a certain degree and it allows people to really get some detailed information and obviously what the author thinks about the updates, but I think what’s going to be more important is people sharing data and people sharing information across a community. Whether that be Facebook or the DMO like we have. It can really be anything, but I think that there’s going to be deeper discussions that don’t happen necessarily within article comments or things like that. This is really, really important and a great time to kind of bring everyone together too. It’s great.

Ben:            You’ve mentioned that there’s different types of community Facebook, you have the DMO as you called it, the Digital Marketers Organization. Talk to me about some of the different formats of community that you’ve seen and how do you think about the differences between them?

Jim:            Well, I mean, they really run the gambit these days. You have the older forums, like Digital Point or BlackHatWorld that are still out there and still cooking, but it seems that those have kind of weaned off. They’re not really doing too well as far as high quality content or I guess feeding information to a more advanced crowd.

Jim:             I think a lot of the channels that are coming up or the communities that are coming up like Coywolf, They’re a great one that’s just started up. Then there’s also a couple other ones like Traffic Think Tank, Online Geniuses. They’re great communities that have started up relatively in the last couple years. They’re really starting to bring a lot of people in.

Jim:            The only issue that I have with a lot of those things is that they’re expensive or they can be expensive. You have this free model, or you have this, it’s going to be, I don’t know, $25 bucks a month or a hundred bucks a month. It’s fairly expensive from the standpoint of someone being a subscriber.

Jim:           We’re trying to do something different where we’re right now, all of the DMO memberships are free. We’re making it easy for everyone to get access and get into the system. Then we’re probably going to wind up changing it up to a small amount on a monthly basis just to keep everything kind of going and allowing us to hire people.

Ben:           You mentioned that there’s a couple of different types of communities. There’s Facebook communities, there’s Slack communities, those can get a little expensive. They’re sort of your legacy forums.

Ben:          If you’re an SEO, and you’re trying to find your niche and get information from people, how do you understand which type of community is the right one for you? Really what’s the purpose of each one of these types of communities?

Jim:          Yeah, it’s challenging. I think that the communities are equal and open to everyone, it just depends on really what you’re looking for. Some people are looking for advanced information only and they only want to talk to other enterprise SEOs, let’s say.

Jim:             They might go to a Traffic Think Tank for that, but they’re going to be paying for it and it’s expensive. The real question is, is how much value are they going to get out of that? Hopefully they get a lot, but each individual person is going to have a different view of what they want.

Jim:              What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to be open and equal to everyone. We want the SEOs, we want the PPC people, we want CRO people. We want anyone that has anything to do with digital marketing, because we think that SEO, for an example, it does touch on social media. It does touch on PPC. There are facets that interconnect with each other. By having all of that in one single community, I think makes it a little bit easier for us than per se another one that’s only focused on one particular topic.

Ben:             You started your community, how many members are you up to now?

Jim:             We’ve got 1,200, we’re growing about a hundred a week. It’s doing fairly well. We’re really, really pleased. So far, everyone seems to love DMO. So, we’re thrilled.

Ben:            Coming out of the gate strong up to 1,200 people. You’re filling a high school basketball stadium in the early days and on your way to filling a college basketball stadium sometime in the near future here.

Ben:             When you think about having that many people in the same place, what are some of the ways that you’re protecting the content and making sure that you’re keeping a high quality bar?

Jim:              Well, we’ve already said some safety features, I guess if you want to call it for the DMO. I mean, we have me, Joe, and TJ as partners, and all three of us watch the DMO right now and making sure that the content is not only correct, but also kind of forms our community guidelines.

Jim:               As we move into the future and we grow, we obviously plan to have champions. So people that are really aligned with our brand and our message and what we’re trying to get across. Then we’ll also wind up hiring people as well to manage the community to make sure that everything stays legit.

Ben:              Jim, I think the context here is that the SEO community is something that has been around for a long time. We go back to the Rand Fishkins of the world, the MAS Whiteboards. People have been congregating and talking about SEO in digital forums and communities for a long time. Why is now the right time to launch a community that is covering SEO, but also broadly digital marketing?

Jim:             Well, I think it’s a perfect time. I mean, you’ve got a couple of different things that are happening in the world. Obviously the virus and all that is preventing people from going out and going to events. I think that they’re looking for some sort of outlet where they can connect with others.

Jim:             I know me as a father of three children, I definitely want some quiet time and some time to talk with some adults. It’s always fun, but I think you’ve got that going for you. The other thing too, is that even before the virus was hitting, I think that a lot of these companies are also kind of shrinking their budgets when it comes to corporate travel. I think that they’re automatically not allowing people to go to maybe as many events as they could before or not travel as far as they could before.

Jim:             I think that that’s already kind of baked into the thing. You’ve got this perfect scenario. We realized it, I think way back in February is when we started the Digital Marketers Organization. I mean, we’ve already been seeing a lot of growth. Like I said, it seems to be going fairly, fairly well, but I would say that budget restraints and the ability to travel and the ability to actually hold these events is really the trifecta for us.

Ben:            If the world is moving digital, obviously we can’t get together in person on large scales today, moving towards an online community makes a ton of sense.

Ben:            That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jim Christian, the CEO of Blush Digital. We’re going to continue this conversation tomorrow where Jim and I talk about some of the content and some of the value that the Digital Marketers Organization is providing to the SEO community.

Ben:             In the meantime, we’d love to continue the conversation with you. If you’re interested in contacting Jim, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can visit his community’s website, which is digitalmarketers.org.

Ben:            Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com. We’ve got summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:            Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter and my personal handle is Ben J. Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. If you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the workweek. Hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.