A Public Apology

My recent post garnered far more attention than I thought it would. I wrote exactly how I felt and though I still stand by it, I feel badly for Liana about how this is all shaking out. I did not intend on hurting her in any way. My blog post was a way for me to vent and respond to hers.

In Liana’s defense, what I perceived to be an outright injustice was probably more about poor communication. She did attempt to tell me about her stunt before it happened. I didn’t know the exact specifics (maybe because we didn’t discuss them in detail enough) but I practically sorta kinda gave her a go ahead (remind you -I didn’t know it would be practically the same stunt, poorly duplicated).

Liana is a smart person who is more seasoned in the conference circuit than I. I do not think her intentions were bad. Regardless of fault, opinion, who was first, who’s was best, etc. I don’t wish Liana any harm or negativity. Liana, I apologize for any negativity that this has probably caused you. It got out there, and got blown out of proportion. That was not the intent.

To the members of SEO / SEM community who don’t appreciate linkstunting, offline linkbaiting, buzz linking, buzz marketing stunts or whatever you want to call it: I apologize to you as well. I never intended to disrespect anyone and I certainly hope nobody takes any of my campaigns or stunts that way.

I owe our community a lot. I came from this community, and because of it I have a successful career and a great life for me and my family. I don’t want to be burning bridges or hurting others, I just want to have fun and experience success with / like the rest of you.

SEOs and marketers, here’s a good takeaway. This is a lesson on how a good idea in theory can cause problems in the execution. Just like any form of SEO, offline buzz marketing / link baiting is new and will likely rub at least some subset of SEOs the wrong way. We all need to grow with it and push it in the right direction we would like to see it go in the future. It is OUR responsibility to respect others’ dignity if / when we decide to implement these tactics that involve others.

Hatbait Killed Me

I can’t believe I am about to write this. It goes against what I think I should be doing, but this went down all wrong. It’s time for some damage control. I don’t want people to think I am a jerk or a crybaby, and the way this so called “controversy” is rolling out leaves me looking like a weenie with no voice. Up until this point I have avoided blogging about this on purpose. It’s just killing me tho, I need to get this out.

The Background:

Liana Evans and I used to speak almost daily via IM. I used to be the only other author on her blog who posted anything (that is until she removed me as an author). After the DrinkBait campaign, I told her in complete confidence the explicit details about what happened, how it worked, and what I would be doing next. She was the only one who knew I bought nearly 1k worth in domains ending in the word “bait”, and I literally gave her a list of the best ones in a normal conversation… before I told her all of this she promised me not to say a word.

I also explained in detail how I would be doing some fun stunts at conferences in the future, and that I was going to angle for the “WOMM / Outside the Box Buzz Link Baiter” SEO guy.

There are so many ways to be an SEO. This one was a good fit for me and I’ve been working on plans to make a name for myself that way. It was more than just one little stunt, it was a biz dev thing. Up until HatBait, I thought the idea was original and unique to only me.

The Heist:

Liana didn’t tell anybody specifically about my domains or my plans, instead she one-upped me. She stole my domain idea, my idea of taking pictures with people with said domain that 301 redirects to the personal blog, and the buzz marketing stunt at an SEO conference thing in general. If you know Liana, you know she has never done a stunt like this before I gave her my blueprint in confidence. Check her other domains, they were registered on November 22.

It’s not stealing a marketing idea, it is stealing a business plan and personal development idea. This is what I was going to be. I told her in confidence, and she took it and is currently slapping me in the face with it.

The Punch in the Nutts:

To make things worse, after our conversation (which I assumed was in confidence) she wrote a blog about how “I was upset about her HatBait fun” and everywhere I saw DrinkBait, she was right there with HatBait. She even started to downplay my original idea in our “controversial” conversation and on her blog. To me, it looks like she is trying to one-up me on purpose.

It’s frustrating, and I am not sure what to do. I don’t want to be known as the guy who gets in blogger flame wars and I don’t want to be a crybaby, but since she’s the one blogging about it, she wrote the story as people will remember it from her point of view. I already know this: I can’t win in this situation.

Now everywhere I look,”her brilliant idea” is popping up. Kudos to her for putting so much into it, but seriously, it is hard for me not to feel slighted. I wanted that so bad. I told a few close friends, and Liana, about what I would be doing with my career and I was really excited. I feel like she knocked the wind out of me, and I have been pretty bummed out about it.

The Reason I Posted This:

I wanted to make my case so everybody didn’t think I was a huge a-hole (although this post may have the opposite affect lol). I feel like I was screwed… not because somebody took a little idea, but because a friend is taking credit for and cheapening my own efforts that made me unique. I feel like I am no longer unique because of this. I’m not sure if I even really want to do buzz marketing stunts anymore because I feel like she cheapened it, and eventually I would be avoided at conferences because people will be expecting me to run up on them and “harsh their mellow”.

Even people I consider to be my friends are blogging all over the place about “her awesome idea” with no mention of where it actually came from. Kinda sucks. I don’t want to be that guy stifling creativity or saying “that’s mine!” because that’s a lame way to be. Props to her, she enhanced my idea and did a great job with working more people into it, but in all the blogs I have read about HatBait, there is no mention of where the majority of idea actually came from. Oh well, I guess it is what it is.

To be honest, I actually have some underlying jealousy about this too. I saw a few nominations for best linkbait of 2006 for DrinkBait, and I saw some for HatBait. I would be butthurt if HatBait won. *warning this next sentence is dramatic, and is mainly for stress relief* The most fun thing I have done in probably a year would not be the same, my memory of an awesome life experience would be tainted, my original idea would fade into obscurity, and Liana Evans would be known as the person who is the “crazy outside the box thinker / fun conference stunt link baiter”. There is something wrong with that.

A Deeper Lesson:

I also learned something else from all of this… never blog when you are upset. It shows in my writing. Especially when you write a post about “ways to suck in the blogosphere”. I owe Liana an apology since #9, #4, and #1 were pretty much directly speaking about her, as was blatantly obvious. That post wasn’t cool, and that aint me. In fact, this very post here pretty much goes against everything I said in the prior post. It’s also likely why I got that MySpace death blow. Next time I want to blog something seething like that, I should learn to bite my tongue for a bit.

The MySpace Death Blow:

A few days ago Liana removed me from her blog roll, her author list, and MySpace (lol) To her defense tho, the conversation we had started rather cool, and ended up with me being a jerk, and I was the first person to pull the blog roll link… My reason was because I have no other external sites except my own on my blog, and she sold me on blog rolling her by personally asking me to. After she stole my idea I felt like she was using me, so I removed that link. If I had a blogroll that had all the blogs I love to read, my page would be a scrollathon withover a hundred outbounds on every page. I don’t have a blogroll because I just don’t. She was the only person to sell me on getting me to link to her this way.

I was thinking of posting the transcripts of our IM conversation, but I don’t think that would be an appropriate thing to do to Liana. Just remember, if she posts the transcripts, you heard it here first and she took my idea. Again…

The End?

I don’t know. I had so many plans and ideas with this angle. I was so excited for the next few years. I’m not sure if I even want to do it anymore, and I feel like the blogosphere would probably not even give a crap either way. I’m new. I made a splash and somebody else stole my thunder. Who even cares at this point right?

We’ll see. I still need to do some soul searching about all of this.

DrinkBait Recap: a Drunken Buzz Marketing Experience

DrinkBait: I Did It For The Buzz.

Here’s a little story of how one crazy web guy tripled the traffic to his personal blog simply by trying to jam as much fun into a 36 hour period as possible. For less then the price of a single Yahoo! directory submission or one hour for a high traffic phrase on Adwords, I became pseudo-famous for at least one day in the SEO world.

A wise man once said: “The trick to SEO is finding out what the search engines want, then giving it to them til they bleed”. The question is, what DO the search engines want? Do they want anchor text links on tons of external domains? Link exchanges? Div positioning and table tricks? Probably not. I think they want to know where the buzz is at.

The BackGround

Before PubCon 2006, a guy named Nathaniel Broughton and his buddies came up with a brilliant idea which they thought would make great “LinkBait”. (more on that term later) By developing an SEO Drinking Contest, they combined the power of the blogging SEO community with the social aspects of a major web conference and the party atmosphere of Las Vegas.

Brilliant idea to get people buzzing. Everybody knows that any conference like this has it’s fair share of social climbers begging to get a picture with a semi-famous SEO personality. The root of the contest was a no brainer. People where already going to buy drinks and get pics with these luminaries of search listed within the contest.

To seal the deal and insure that the blogosphere would participate, they offered a cash prize of up to $1300 to the winner of their contest. This was a no brainer. Who WOULDN’T submit their pics to the contest and who WOULDN’T link to such a neat, buzzworthy blog post if they might be featured as winners or shown next to their favorite SEO Rockstar on a highly trafficked blog, and even potentially earn a nice little cash prize?

Somebody is already catching a buzz. Google better find them if they want to stay relevant.

How To Make Your Viral Marketing Monster Work For You

Viruses by nature only need to be introduced to one person, at one opportune time, to spread like wildfire. Back in the 80s a man named Gaeten Dugas, who had contracted a relatively unknown virus, almost single handedly helped kickstart an epidemic in our country. For politic reasons this may be a bad example to use on how to positively spread a viral campaign, but it illustrates an important point. One person can multiply the results of a virus or viral campaign by moving quickly at the very beginning. If the virus hits the right person at the right time, it will spread exponentially faster.

When I first caught wind of this campaign, I was already excited to get to Vegas. I love the fun, the action, the free drinks and pretty girls, and I love marketing. Can’t get much better than a company sponsored trip to Sin City to attend a web marketing convention with most of my favorite speakers. All I need now is a little motivation to get my bags packed and stop playing “bicycle” with my daughter. So I hopped on Technorati to find out who’s blogging about the upcoming conference to see if there was anything I should know about such as parties I wasn’t invited to or things I can expect when I get there.

That’s when I found it. My excuse to mingle, my reason for going to the conference (aside from the potential nuggets of knowledge and possible contacts), my favorite new idea. PubCon Drinking Game.

Right place, right time, I was infected with the viral and they made a monster out of me.

Working the Angles

Now I’m in Vegas and rolling into the conference. I did my research and I was ready to mix it up. I immediately was greeted with like minded people who were equally as motivated as I was to engage in conversation. Being outwardly social and sincere with the nearest stranger can often kill the awkardness of a new crowd and can sometimes have long term benefits. I was feeling OK and getting into and out of sessions, but I was mostly obsessed with the contest. How am I going to win if I have no idea where all the rockstars of my industry are going to be?

That night I went out with my little brother and a friend from work and just did the typical Vegas gambling, drinking, flirting.. it was normal Vegas fun. Then out of nowhere at Nine Fine Irishmen in New York New York I saw one of my bloggers. (I call them “my bloggers” because I’ve been reading their blogs for quite some time and felt like I already knew them)

Greg Boser and Oilman Todd Friesian where surrounded by a bunch of women (and guys but I was mostly blind to them) and having a great time, probably reveling in their coolness. I asked for Greg if I could get a pic for that drinking game, and he laughed and said “Only if you buy me a beer” with perfect timing. He chuckled to Todd and said “Hey this is the first guy buying drinks for that drinking game” who immediately stepped and and mentioned he was also worth big points. (note: this was not condescending, he was totally digging the fun)

So I got my pics and left wondering where the other SEOs are, and how on earth can I possibly find them? I just chatted it up with two big guys and made them both chuckle a bit. I want to duplicate that with every big shot in the search industry. But how.

That’s when it hit me. Marketing 101. Deliver the message to the target audience WHERE the audience is. Target. Path of least resistance. Make noise where it is heard.

Hit Them Where They Are

I needed to find out where they would ALL be. Quick, think, they are all at the conference during the day, but where else… where else would they all be at the same time? Nowhere else, that’s where. It’s Vegas and at night people will scatter and do whatever they fancy. Now at least I know I need to use the conference itself as the time / place to deliver “the campaign” (or up until this point, drinks). Now I need to figure out how.

I spent the night thinking about it, do I buy a bunch of beers and put them in a back pack? Do I buy a bottle and some Red Bull? with cups? Is that even legal? That’s when it hit me. Nips. I fell asleep happy, knowing I can technically buy drinks for people without being at a bar and somehow get some pics the easy way. I found a loophole.

Kick It Up a Notch!

On day 2, knowing I would be waiting til the 3rd day of a 4 day conference to hand out the drinks (so nobody could steal my idea) I took a break from the conference to hit that SEO Thursday blog. That’s when I saw a person named markus941’s comment left at 10:04 AM.

Oooooh, I want to play.I’ll be staying at Harrah’s so a Bass Ale, but if you see me @ New York New York it’s an Irish bomb all the way.Nice “drinkbait” post by the way.”

DrinkBait! That is just too funny. One of the hottest topics in SEO lately is LinkBait, because it is not trying to fool Google or fake popularity… it is creating content with the purpose of making it “link worthy” to HELP search engines find cool new relevant content. The idea is brilliant. DrinkBait is obviously a funny little shtick, a play on words, and also very relevant for an SEO convention in Vegas since both are prone to high levels of alcohol consumption. Double meaning- both funny, both relevant.

Perfect. I need to find out NOW if that domain exists. Might be worth some links, might be worth some buzz- worst case I meet everybody and they all know my name, which in itself holds value. Within 5 minutes, I bought the domain name from Moniker and put together the plan of attack.

Tying It All In Together

In order to be successful, a good marketing campaign needs an implementation plan. So I planned out my day accordingly. Wake up, buy nips, write blog, print drinkbait.com labels, tape labels to bottles, search for web gurus and snap pics.

Within 30 seconds of getting off of the monorail, I spotted one of those SEO consultant rockstars and ran up with the bag of drinks. Great ice breaker, good shtick. “Hey Todd, you rock man! What’s your favorite drink?”

He laughed, about seven times actually, and was basically speechless. (which is the exact opposite of what would normally occur when you run up and meet somebody who has no idea who you are, but who you respect immensely)

It was too easy. One by one I found industry experts and delivered the DrinkBait. Every time it was received with the same enthusiastic laughter and appreciation. Hell, it’s a free drink that has a few side jokes attached- who could resist? (well one person did actually resist, but more on that later).

Then, I saw The KingPin of the Search Industry. Standing right there talking to a guy next to me.. I waited as patiently as I could when I finally blurted my shpeel about the contest and the drinks and the whole shebang. I sat like a little kid who just gave his dad his first Christmas present that he bought with his own money.  It seemed like it took an eternity to gage his response, and then I was met with a warm inviting smile and a chuckle. “Oh now THIS is great! I love the idea! I gotta to let a few people know about this!”

I was floored! The top guy in our industry giving ME props? I felt like a million bucks. The rest of the drinkbaiting seemed easy. IN fact, I even approached the almighty Matt Cutts ON STAGE to give him his bottle… and here’s the kicker- he already knew about me and was excited to let me get my picture taken with him! I felt like I had arrived.

Taking it to the Next Level

It worked. Everybody loved the silly buzz marketing stunt. Now comes phase II- making it bigger and better. Just like any marketing campaign: you start with a smaller test and based on the results, you either turn it up, turn it down, or turn it off.

After a day to think about it I had the perfect slogan for my campaign. “DrinkBait: DOING IT FOR THE BUZZ”. I went and bought a shot glass necklace, more nips, more labels, a label for my back and picked out my silliest most buzz worthy shirt out of my suitcase. Today was the “networking session”, AKA: DrinkFest. If I was going to make noise, this was the time and place.

I met almost everyone, and they all knew I was coming. I was being waived at and big industry experts where waving yelling out “DRINK BAIT!”. I got a bunch of pics, drank a lot, and even got interviewed by WebProNews. It definitely made a lot of buzz, and now when I go to conferences things will probably be a little different. The people I felt like I have known for so long will mostly know me now too. Good or bad (mostly good) this campaign created exactly what I think the search engines, and people want. They want the buzz.

The Results

It took exactly one day for all search engines to find my site and rank me #1 for the term DrinkBait. Now, this term is not competitive, but you gotta admit that’s still pretty quick. I did not try to build one single link. No link exchanges, no self linking from other sites, no text link ads, no link whoring. I just got some links because others picked up on the buzz and because my site was optimized for it (don’t mind you that the term was practically non existant to this point, just re-read that last sentence again and LOVE it!).

You can’t get banned from a search engine if people link at you because your topic is interesting. So if there is any takeaway for an SEO to get out of this, it is make something buzz worthy and you assume no risk. You’ll probably get some links because it is good, interesting content.

Takeaways for marketers: give new things a try, don’t be shy, go with your gut but let logic guide you as you go, and watch CLOSELY for opportunity.

Hopefully I can expand on this lesson and learn how to be the best viral buzz marketing SEO out there. Maybe I’ll end up on one of those lists where people should buy ME drinks just for being known for doing what I do best. Catching a buzz!

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