It All Started At Linklove

I started doing SEO pretty hardcore back in the very beginning of 2010 when I was working as a book publisher from a small alpine town in Switzerland. When I discovered SEO, I had no clue where it would take me (literally and metaphorically), the people I would meet, or everything I would learn and what that would push me towards.

I started full time in Philadelphia, working with a couple of other awesome guys who mentored me, taught me the importance of hustle, and made me get insanely better at my job through data. We were a powerhouse team, and I still say that if I were to go back inhouse someday I would want both of them on the team with me.

That’s not the point of this post, though. You see, this past Friday (March 15th) was the final Linklove that Distilled plans to put on. We don’t believe that linkbuilding is dead or dying, but it has definitely changed and many of the old tactics and tricks that worked so well for so long (crap directories, aggressive anchor text, spun content, sidebar widgets en masse) have gone out the window and even become toxic. I wish I could tell you all about my adventures in the past months with link removal and the insanity of the cost both in terms of effort and impact to the business being affected.

But that’s also not the point of this point.

You see, two years ago today Linklove changed my life.

Distilled's Roboto
Distilled’s Awesome Robot

Linklove Changed My Life

Linklove London literally changed my life back in March 2011. Working inhouse, my two coworkers attended OMS (Online Marketing Summit) in San Diego that year. I was told that our company would only pay for two of us to go to that conference, but that I could pick another one to go to. I said “Ok, I’m going to be on vacation in Europe, so I’ll go to Linklove in London.” I had always loved London, having been there multiple times on my travels (and through the airport more times than I can even count at this point).

I made a purposeful effort to make contact with Lynsey, Distilled’s head of events, before I went. Then one fateful day, I saw Tom Critchlow tweet that they were looking for someone to write a blog post about why they were excited about going to Linklove. Being the new guy in the industry that I was, I jumped on the opportunity to write the post. The conversation went something like this via Twitter:

@tomcrithclow: We’re looking for someone to write a blog post about why they’re excited about Linklove.
@dohertyjf: I’m coming and would love to do it. Will write it tonight and tweet it at you when it’s done.
@tomcritchlow: Great, thanks! Will definitely share it out when we see it in the morning!

So I wrote the post and Tom shared it out, along with Will and I believe a few others. I was stoked, and probably was giddy all day from that happening. It was a big occurrence in a young SEO’s life to have people that you look up to share a post of yours (even if they requested it). I still remember the first time Rand Fishkin tweeted one of my posts and how giddy I felt (I still smile when Rand shares one of my posts, by the way).

Protip – Do nice things for people you want to meet.

Fast forward to March 2011. I arrived at the conference venue that morning, a bit tired from my travels (I had already been in Istanbul and Switzerland that trip) and needing more coffee. I think I was one of the earlier arrivees, so I received my badge from Lynsey and made sure to introduce myself. Around the first break, I was hanging around the table at the entrance to the venue, where all the Distilled people were as well, and introduced myself to Will Critchlow and explained that I had written the post about being excited about Linklove. He remembered me, thanked me, and being the nice guy that he is (and I believe that even stronger now after working for him for almost two years) asked me more questions about myself.

Aside from meeting a couple of my industry heroes, including Will, Tom, and Rand, that conference is where Distilled announced that they were opening an office in New York City. I was in Philly at the time, remember, and upon hearing this, to be honest, my heart sank a bit because I did not want to move to New York City.

I was in Philly at the time, remember, and upon hearing this, to be honest, my heart sank a bit because I did not want to move to New York City.

But, I knew that Tom was great at his job and a really nice guy, and when I heard that he was going to be running the office I knew I needed to apply. After harassing Tom a number of times (nicely, of course) for an interview, we finally had it and I was actually hired before Tom even had a budget to hire people (he had to get special permission from Duncan to do it). So three months later, I moved to New York City to join Distilled NYC as we opened the office in Manhattan.

And it was all thanks to Linklove.

Some Lessons Learned

I’m often asked by young SEOs, often over beers that they’ve offered to buy me, what they can do to get started in SEO. I wrote a post a long time ago called How To Learn SEO and Find Your First SEO Job. All of that advice still holds true (I wrote it not a year after I started fulltime in SEO), but I wanted to add a few things to it.

Make Friends

One of the best decisions I ever made upon starting in SEO was seeking to make friends instead of contacts. I have never enjoyed “networking events” where people are always trying to sell you their services and give you their card. Sometimes I wonder if some companies put a quota on handing out your business card at events where they send their employees.

One of the best decisions I ever made upon starting in SEO was seeking to make friends instead of contacts.

I never set out to make “industry contacts”. Instead, I set out to make friends and see where I could be of most help to people. This has served me insanely well as I now have a great group of industry peers who I can actually call friends, who email me to check up on me, who are around to give me advice when I need it, and who I greatly look forward to seeing at events. A few weeks ago, I presented at Searchfest in Portland where I talked about technical SEO. The greatest part of the show for me, though, was seeing friends like Jonathon Colman, Rand Fishkin, Matthew Brown, Michael Cottam, Mike Pantoliano (also my coworker), Rhea Drysdale, and many more there.

Because I set out to make friends, I get to go to conferences and see my friends. I get paid to hang out with friends. How amazing is that?

Share Your Knowledge

I started this blog back in February 2011 for a number of reasons. The first was to learn how to build a website, as I figured I should probably know how to do that if I was telling people how to fix their sites. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

But second, I wanted to have a place where I could share my knowledge and establish my name. I never set out to “get known.” Instead, I wanted to share what I was learning and didn’t really care who read it. If I found it interesting, I published it. That’s still my approach to writing on this site.

If I found it interesting, I published it. That’s still my approach to writing on this site.

One of the best things I ever did in my SEO career was launch this site and begin writing on it. This site has given me a platform off of which to share useful information, show what I am learning and doing, and a place to connect with others.

But sharing knowledge goes far beyond having a website. I also share a lot of content on Twitter, which is also a conversation mechanism. Often, relationships start on Twitter before coming to my site. Twitter is where I have met a lot of industry friends (see above point about friends), and that has all come through being engaged and sharing good content.


One of the key points to the Distilled culture is that of “hustle.” We believe that if you hustle and seek to get things done, that is when true change happens in businesses and clients. As a company grows it can be hard to keep the hustle mentality, but Distilled has managed to do it incredibly well. We’re a company full of hardworking and wicked smart marketers.

When I started at Distilled, I was a bit intimidated to be a part of the company. So many SEOs that I looked up to were now my coworkers and I wasn’t sure I had what it took to be successful. So I dug in and worked as hard as I could, doing as much as I could to add value to the company. I’d work long hours, brainstorm ideas over food and drinks with Tom (who has become one of my best friends), and learned new skills as they were required either by my job within Distilled or for my clients.

Two years later, I can’t believe how far I’ve come.

Learn To Relax

The final lesson I have learned in the past two years is the importance of focus and learning how to relax in what you are doing. Relaxation does not mean being lazy, but rather realizing that a job, and even more pointedly a career, is a longterm play. Just like building a business (which I recently realized is like building a house – plank by plank, nail by nail), it takes time to build your career and your name.

So relax and enjoy the ride. Don’t overcommit yourself for too long, but rather find what you are passionate about and go do that. As the great Howard Thurman once said:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

About six months ago I realized that I was working too much, was incredibly stressed out, and wasn’t enjoying life. So I made a decision to reduce the amount of things I was doing and to focus down on doing a few really well. This has meant a number of things – I publish less on here and only when I want to, I do less writing but it’s better, and I make time to refresh my mind away from the computer. All of this has made me a happier person and, honestly, much better at my job.

This has been a wandering post, but it’s been my journey over the past two years. It started at Linklove, and while I’m sad to see it end from a personal perspective, I’m excited for the future.

Up and to the right ๐Ÿ™‚

11 thoughts on “It All Started At Linklove

  1. Hey John!

    Thanks for telling your story. That’s quite the journey! I’d like to think I’ve come a long way from raising a bit of seed money for my startup in Toronto from an accelerator here, to going into agency-side, and now in-house.

    If I were to write a post similar to yours, it would probably called “It All Started with Mixergy” ๐Ÿ™‚

    By the way, I don’t think you’ve ever written about how you ended up in Switzerland?

    Anyway, back to work for me.



  2. Hi John,

    Good point and a lot of points that resonate with me, including the fact that LinkLove has had an impact on my mentality about the industry.

    I attended the final LinkLove in London a couple of days ago and it was a wake-up call for me personally about the the processes and culture within my own company, and what the future holds for me.

    One of the questions which I also want to ask those within the industry is…

    What drives you to keep learning and remained focused?

    At LinkLove it was great to meet Wil Reynolds, Rand, Will Critchlow etc. For me personally I’m finding my creativity and drive at the moment isn’t as strong as it needs to be to go from someone who works within the industry, to someone who really has a higher technical grasp of the many aspects of SEO.

    I would love to have your insights John into what keeps you motivated and what really drives you to become even better if you don’t mind sharing?

  3. As an SEO, it’s easy to get burnt out fast. There is always one more blog post to read, another event to attend, but I really appreciate the line “Donโ€™t overcommit yourself for too long, but rather find what you are passionate about and go do that.”

    It’s interesting that you placed “Relax” after “Hustle”. There’s a time for work, and a time for downtime. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, John!

  4. Hi John.

    I have to agree, Link Love 2011 changed my life too.. It was the first SEO conference I went to, I learnt plenty of new things, met a few of my personal inspirations in SEO, Rand was a great guy to meet… Shorter than I thought (sorry Rand).

    I wrote a post about the conference the day after and literally learnt about link building and especially “saying nice things about people” proved an effective link building method.. I got a mention on both Distilled’s and SEOMoz’s blog posts about the same conference… 2 awesome links were built and a shed load of traffic gained… For a short time at least.

    Blog post here if you fancy a read…

    Loved this post mate, nice work.


  5. Awesome journey, John.

    My story isn’t quite the same, but it revolves around very similar points:

    1. Creating a creative outlet (blog) to share views, opinions and ideas.
    2. Meeting great people who inspire you

    Those two things are the secret to my career – in fact, those two things together lead my blog to being the number 1 blog in Africa, which boosted my network, lead me into some incredible jobs and a year ago lead me to starting my own company. It’s been an incredible journey and now I need to take your lesson in relaxing.. something I’m yet to learn unfortunately, as I find myself working far too many hours without much balance. Haha, it doesn’t help that I’m in South Africa and our timezone is out of sync with what’s going down in the US ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Cheers for the post!

  6. “Make friends not contacts” is a much longer play, as you said, but it’s worth it. I came alone from another industry entirely. ALL my friends were pro photographers. Like 100%. I spent my first year in SEO basically on my own – no Moz, no Inbound, no, nothing. Working at home, myself, can get *really* lonely when nobody knows what you’re going through and your friends are all in Vegas for WPPI and hanging out together. And you’re building links.

    Lately, I’ve made a few acquaintances in SEO, a few becoming even good friends. It’s great to have someone to share resources with, bounce ideas off and even just vent about “that client” sometimes. So when you say “make friends, not contacts” – it resonates. I needed friends, not contacts. I have enough work. What I don’t have is enough people around.

    Thanks for sharing your story – I love posts like this. When a newer SEO starts, it feels like you guys who are killing it have been killing it for years & years. It’s good to know the backstories.

  7. When you write about younger John I can identify a lot of myself in your descriptions. I hope I can have similar good fortune in my colleagues and mentors as you have enjoyed.

    I loved the opening: “Iโ€™m often asked by young SEOs, often over beers that theyโ€™ve offered to buy me, what they can do to get started in SEO.”. Brilliant.

  8. Strangely enough, my route into Distilled wasn’t too different to this. I attended Pro SEO in 2009 which was a joint conference in London by Distilled and Moz. Met so many cool people there and it made me want to be a part of the company.

    Not many people know that I didn’t get an interview the first time around, luckily persistence paid off and I got an interview on my second attempt ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. A lot of good thoughts in here, I really enjoy unstructured wandering posts a lot, not that this one was too much of either. I like your idea of relaxation, and I’ve only found that I get my good ideas and higher quality thoughts when I’m not staring at the bloody computer screen hooked into the browser. Carry on!

  10. Ive had this in my pocket for a while. Finally got to read it today and im glad i did. I love posts like this because it inspires me to push on and work smarter. Especially now when i just feel like i have too much on my plate

    Appreciate the story of your journey John. I hope that i get to meet you and the others at distilled someday when i visit the US

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