If you're new to SEO, you may be wondering how long it takes to get to where the real SEO pros are – speaking at conferences, writing books, running the show. I still don't know the answer to that one, but from my own short experience, I've found it’s better to be really good at SEO and help make your clients happy than to aspire to be a famous SEO.
That being said, your life and business career can be significantly more fulfilling if you learn how to network early, and become involved in the "SEO peoplesphere." I've never been an extrovert, and I'm no Dale Carnegie, but I’ve been surprised at what a little networking can do in a short period of time. A year ago, I never would have imagined being on a livestreaming SEO panel, presenting social media to a college class, and guest posting on major SEO blogs. One of the best rewards has been feeling like I can help others, not just by knowing SEO, but by having a lot of friends with different specialties. I don’t waste time wondering who to ask about certain topics or who to refer people to.
With that, here's my quick primer on how to network if you're new to the SEO industry and don't have lots of expertise to offer the world yet (in no particular order):
1. REMEMBER that you're still more knowledgeable than anyone outside of SEO.
2. JOIN Twitter. Make sure you’ve got "SEO" in your bio. I recommend using your real name as your account (you're no Stuntdubl yet) and an identifiable photo of yourself. If you don’t have your own website, link to your company website. Pass along the best SEO blog posts you run across (if you think they’re too basic to be worth posting, just remember tip #1). Be quick to offer help and encouragement to people who need it.
3. READ blogs and always try to comment intelligently. Sign up on Gravatar so you automatically leave a picture when commenting and use your full name when commenting. Also, subscribe to comments and don’t be afraid to respond multiple times on the same comment thread. You want to be known as a real SEO – not a blog spammer.
4. WRITE for a company blog. Start your own blog. Buy hosting. Buy a domain. Install Wordpress. Customize it. Write about your industry. Promote your posts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Create your own graphics for posts if you can. You may not get the big names commenting on your posts, but you’ll get the ones that matter to you right now. Creating content forces you to be accountable for the feedback you get, which will ultimately make you a better writer and researcher.
5. INVOLVE other people in your own content. One quick way to make friends is to get their input and credit them in your blog posts and publicly thank them online.
6. TELL your friends that you’re an SEO. None of my old friends are on Twitter, but because I post about work and SEO on Facebook, I’ve had a lot approach me and ask for help with their own sites, which I’m happy to give.
7. TAKE ADVANTAGE of local networking opportunities, especially among non-SEOs. I can’t begin to describe how life-changing this has been for me in the last year. Twitter makes it easy to find out who’s going to be to the event, talk to them beforehand, meet up with them and have a meaningful conversation, then follow-up afterward, even if it’s just to let them know you were glad you could meet. (I generally hear about most events through Twitter, but I’ll often find other good events by searching locally on LinkedIn.)
8. HOST your own events. The easiest event to host is a basic Tweetup lunch. Most people would rather eat with someone else anyway and you’ll meet awesome people (and if you don’t, at least there was lunch). Use Twtvite to create an event where people can RSVP (then refer to #7). You’ll make a lot of friends by being the one to bring people together, even if it’s for something simple like lunch.
9. BE FRIENDLY to everyone you meet. It’s more important to be nice than to be right, especially if you’re making a first impression. Never disparage someone and never disparage a local company online or in person. You’ll never know how many opportunities and friendships you’ll miss out on because you’re a nonstop critic. I can only guess how many I’ve missed out on because I forget to lift, encourage, and inspire.
The great thing about all of these is that they aren’t extremely difficult and you don’t have to be an expert SEO to do any of them. You can be who you are and still make some major progress in your personal and professional development. I don’t know the secret to networking, but I’ve made a lot of great friends trying to figure it out in the last year.
What am I forgetting? What would you include in your personal guide to networking?