Ch. 11 – Who Were your Mentors

Who Were Your Mentors?


I’ve had the good fortune to have had many mentors in my life. Some were personal, some professional, and a few were both. Because I benefited greatly from those associations, I feel obligated to share my experience with others when I can. If anyone can learn from my mistakes, then I have a lot to offer, because I’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes!

I won’t mention all of them here, but I do want to comment on a few.

  • Lee Cooper, a former President of Franklin Electric’s Programmed Power division, was one of the first prominent businessmen with whom I had close personal contact. He was hired as a consultant for the company at which I acted as both Chief Engineer and Marketing Manager. Consequently, we worked very closely together, and developed a friendship as well as a mentor/protégé relationship. I learned a great deal from Lee about old-school marketing and people, in general, that has stuck with me and helped form my business philosophy, particularly toward work ethic and customer service.
  • Bob Robbins, founder & president of Acran, Inc. and Randolph Engineering, took me under his wing as a fledgling engineer and taught me the invaluable skills of scientific testing protocols and technical writing. He was also a great personal role model, with a kind and charitable heart. Bob was one that I considered a close personal friend.
  • Bill Taylor, Vice President of Operations at a couple of companies where we worked together, helped me focus on the people side of operations. A consummate professional, he is expert at guiding people in their own professional development to maximize their own potential. Bill is another close friend that helped form my professional style.
  • Mark Eichhorn, President/CEO of The Anchor Hocking Company, was the President/CEO of a company that was a turnaround project for him, Bill Taylor, myself and others on the team. Mark is one of the most professional and personable individuals with whom I have had the pleasure of working, and I learned a great deal from him about the importance of displaying and living up to a professional image.
  • In terms of SEO and IM, there are several that have impacted me. John Britsios has been a friend of mine for several years and helped me learn a great deal about the Semantic Web and the tools best used to cater to it. Steve Gerencser and Terry Van Horne, both of whom I have known since my first forays into learning SEO, have both helped me greatly in understanding the nature of the search engine beast,  as well as giving me a sound perspective of “hats”. Gabriella Sannino generously shared her considerable wisdom on social media management and marketing on more than one occasion, and drug me, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. Cricket Walker taught me the importance of “the other side of the monitor” and being true to your values.

There are several others I could name, but these suffice to make my point. Our personal and professional character is largely formed by associations we’ve had over the years – learned by example, if you will. Over the years, I’ve found that everyone can teach me something, if I’m willing to listen.

If we’re very fortunate, we find ourselves bound to someone that is much more experienced and willing to give us the benefit of their knowledge.  The value of such relationships, of course, may not be evident to us until years later, when we find ourselves reflecting upon what “makes us tick”.

I just hope my mentors got as much satisfaction from teaching me as I get from paying it forward.

We put this question to our contributors:


10. Did (or do) you have a mentor that has shaped your outlook or approach to the business?


Alan Bleiweiss

No mentors as far as SEO goes.  I’m autodidactic.  And spend a billion hours a year reading and researching and testing.  I have, however, had several life mentors and business mentors throughout my career, whose insights, experience and philosophies have helped me succeed overall.

Every one of them has built a life on integrity, passion and honesty.  My latest mentor is Christine Gibbs, Click2Rank’s CEO.  She’s the embodiment of the combination of all my past life and business mentors rolled into the most successful business leader I’ve ever had the honor to meet, learn from, and work for.

Andrea Scarpetta

That would probably be Aaron Wall (SEObook): he was one of the first people to speak about SEO in a very organized and methodical way…When I started years ago there were very few sources of information about Internet Marketing in Italy so I had to learn everything from the English-speaking community. SEObook was one of the first websites I found… even though he used Drupal (which I hate). The SEObook Blog has remained one of my favourite readings in my feed reader so far!

Andrew Bleakley

I didn’t have a one on one teacher as such when I started down the Internet marketing path but I was very quick to identify those people in the community that did the job the way I wanted to be doing it. Rae Hoffman, Frank Watson and Dave Harry are the three that are still active and still writing stuff I rush to read.

Anthony Verre

Absolutely. James Shore was the man who taught me the basics of SEO years ago and helped to get me started in the intricacies of internet marketing as a whole.

Barry Adams

When I started out I really needed a mentor, but I didn’t have one. I made a lot of mistakes and bought in to a lot of the baseless hype. When I matured as a marketer I left that phase behind me, but now I actually find myself with several mentors – all part of the SEO Training Dojo.

Especially David Harry has opened my eyes to a whole field of incredibly fascinating material on information retrieval, information architecture, and what we’d call ‘advanced SEO’. So yes I’d call him my mentor, but every member of the Dojo is a mentor and a student at the same time – it’s all about learning and sharing what we know.

Dana Lookadoo

No. A seasoned SEO mentor is one of my greatest desires. I collaborate with and ask questions of many people whom I admire. Maybe a mentor is the real answer to an earlier question. Having a mentor would be THE one tool I would love to have.

Danny Sullivan

Well, way back, Glenn Fleischman had run an internet marketing list in like 1995. I enjoyed how it brought people together and hoped to do something like that. But that’s probably about it. There’s no one individual that stands out, but I’ve seen how people have helped others on the internet in general, and I’ve liked to try and give back myself.

Dean Cruddace

I have come to respect quite a few within my time but more importantly I have learned from them. I have never had a mentor but there are quite a few out there that have stood up above the noise consistently enough to make me sit up and take notice.

Debra Mastaler

Several people come to mind but none more so than Jill Whalen.  She hired me in 2000  to handle her link building work and patiently answered any question I threw at her.   There wasn’t a lot of SEO training material in those days so I was very lucky Jill took me under her wing and showed me the ropes.

She also introduced me around, in 2002 I met Danny Sullivan at an industry conference and in 2003 I was part of that conference as a guest speaker.   I am grateful both Jill and Danny supported me in the early years and helped make Alliance-Link what it is today.

Eren McKay

The people that have helped me move forward in my vision and gain the ‘thousand foot’ view are: Steve Gerencser, David Harry, Terry Van Horne, Debra Mastaler, Robert Adler, Jason Bates, Lynn Terry, and Linda Stacy. Their insights have helped me overcome obstacles and gain the right perspective for my online business.

Gabriella Sannino

Yeah, my mentor is called hard knocks!

Garrett French

My grandfather was a salesman for Burroughs, which at one time had 98% of Banking computer business in the US. They chose to stay mechanical as IBM and other competitors went digital and ended up getting devoured. That aside, my monthly and sometimes weekly conversations with my grandfather, especially about sales, are incredibly valuable to me on many, many levels. He’s 95.

Heather Lloyd-Martin

I never had an SEO industry mentor, however, I love the friendships I have with my other “first generation” SEO colleagues. We have always shared information, taught and supported each other – which is so much different than most industries.

If I was entering the business now, then, yes, I’d look for a mentor. If nothing else, a mentor teaches you how to invest your energy and run your business – and that can shorten your learning curve tremendously. I’ve been honored that I’ve been able to mentor a few people along the way, and I hope that they return the favor.

Ian Lurie

Hmmm. I have several. One is David Ogilvy. He isn’t a mentor – I’m not a medium – but his writing has shaped my approach to internet marketing more than anyone else. His success with great, honest marketing, and his conscious effort to engage in storytelling, has shaped marketing for decades.

Seth Godin’s writing is another huge influence. His work on brand, storytelling and rewarding customers in subtle ways pops up in almost every campaign I run.

After that, two colleagues – Fred Janssen and Lenora Edwards – taught me essential lessons about the operational and marketing side (respectively) of what I do.

Jahnelle Pittman

I’ve had several mentors, but they include:

  1. Clients, who have taught me that business is not as black and white as I once thought
  2. Gabriella Sannino, who has taught me more than I can list about how a business runs, how to deal with clients, social, copywriting, and almost everything we do at Level343
  3. Terry Van Horne, who has shared a lot of helpful insight into the technical and off page part of SEO
  4. David Harry, who blithely shares anything and everything on his mind for people to soak up
  5. Many, many more….

Jey Pandian

No, I’ve had no direct mentor although one could say that I was mentored by reading the works of folks such as Aaron Wall/PeterD of SEO Book and Todd Malicoat of Stuntdubl.

Joe Hall

Yes, several to name a few: Andy Beal, David Harry, Donna Fontenot, Brian Chappell, Dave Snyder, Jordan Kasteler, Loren Baker, and many more.

Joshua Titsworth

Pastor Ryan Foldhazi. He taught me a lot about taking risks, pushing myself to become better, developing a better decision making process and how to pick the right people for the right job.

Justin Parks

Finding mentors is hard work.  So many people out there profess to know what they are talking about and on deeper investigation or with a growth in your experience of “following” these people, you begin to see some flaws and indeed repetition in their outlook and advice.

One who stands out is David Harry, from the SEO Dojo.  He’s well read, his ego is basically non-existent and his advice has always been sound. Few others will admit when they are wrong with such humility or are open to other ideas and when they are right, few can nail it as well as him.

Lyena Solomon

I learn from many people.  I was fortunate to meet real pros who helped me find my own approach to my business.  I am still learning.

Michelle Robbins

I had a few very different mentors that shaped my outlook to the disciplines I practice today. I was fortunate to learn search and search marketing from Danny Sullivan. I first worked with Danny in 1995, at a small online company in Orange County. As he began covering search, developed the Webmaster’s Guide to Search Engines, and then the search news sites and conferences, I learned along and had open access. The most noteworthy and influential aspects of Danny’s personality – that continue to this day – are his passion for search, and his willingness to engage with and educate anyone and everyone about it. I strive to model both his passion and openness with colleagues new and old in this industry.

My mentors in web development and programming also came from same firm Danny & I did – Ken Spreitzer, Steve McKay and Joachim Vance. I don’t think I’d be a programmer today without their selfless guidance and Yoda-like instruction.  After working at the firm in a more general marketing/sales capacity for a year or so, I told them I wanted to have a better understanding of what they did (developing web and desktop software apps) so they said “Okay. Pick a topic and we’ll set aside an hour or two a week and answer any questions you have about it. Let’s start with TCP/IP.” And thus began my journey.

Rand Fishkin

I’ve had quite a few actually! It’s hard to name one, but if I had to, it would be Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of Hubspot and creator of the Onstartups blog.!/dharmesh

Rebekah May

I do not have a formal mentor, but I think that in a way, both Dave and Terry at the SEODojo are mentors to myself as well as the whole Dojo community (and even outside of that community).   They both have a great deal of experience and are always available to answer questions or just give advice based on what they have learned throughout their careers in the industry.

Steve Gerencser

I don’t have someone I would consider a ‘mentor’ when it comes to SEO. There are plenty of people whose advice I value and I go to when I have an issue that leaves me doubting myself, but my business mentors come from outside the SEO industry. When it comes to running a business I look at a couple of people as mentors.

My dad, also Steve, taught me how to treat employees and customers with respect and to encourage them to learn and understand the issues that affect business. I also got my work ethic from him. We call it pushing the rock. Much like Sisyphus he taught me to put my head down and push. Always. From time to time we look up, check our course, then put our heads back down and push some more.

This has become invaluable to me, especially when you are so busy pushing the rock that you don’t notice that you have blown right past what you thought was the goal and get farther than you ever thought you could.

Bob Klose taught me several things. First, how to fire a customer. One of the hardest things to learn is when to tell a customer that it is time to end the relationship. Not only is the customer NOT always right, he rarely is. Being able to determine when a client becomes a drain on you both in business and personally and then knowing how to end the relationship are invaluable tools.

Bob also taught me to stay focused on my business and pay little attention to your competition. Especially when they start “cheating”. This is a common issue in SEO. We constantly see people complaining that some other website is outranking them simply because they cheated somehow.

In a recent example someone approached me convinced that they lost their #3 ranking to someone that paid for links. These were really bad links, and obviously paid for. He spent several weeks reporting the site, complaining about them, and generally losing focus on his own business. We took a look at his site, made a few suggestions and a few weeks later he had not only passed the “cheater” but shot clear to #1, a ranking that they had never achieved before. How much further along would his business be if he spent less time watching everything his competitor was doing and focused on his own business?

S. Emerson

J. Cricket Walker of GNC Web Creations has been a wonderful sounding board over the years.  Always keeping abreast of what is new she gets me to do some things I would have no interest in trying otherwise.

Taylor Pratt

When I first got into this industry, everything I learned was either self-taught, stumbled upon accidentally or read in a forum or blog. Over the last two years, however, I’ve learned an enormous amount about all aspects of this industry from Raven’s Director of Product Innovation, Jon Henshaw.

Thomas Fjordside

There has been more than one. And yes they have helped shape my outlook on things. And have been willing to take different levels of risks(I dislike hats), so I feel that they have given me a well rounded outlook. But my approach will always be do something, don’t sit and wait.

Tim Nash

There wasn’t really anyone around when I first started, also rather than coming from a business background, I come from an engineering background. So I used a mixture of common sense, engineering first principles and dumb luck. These days I’m surrounded by bright intelligent people who really get where the industry can go and to start without a mentor or without seeking advice would be foolish. With that goes the warning of always taking advice with a pinch of salt, test and come to your own conclusions. Just because someone has been around a while does not mean they know more than you.

William Slawski

I didn’t have one specific mentor, but I do owe a great deal of debt to many people who interacted with me in forums and private conversations about topics that we were all passionate about.


You can begin with Chapter One of Critical Thinking for the Discerning SEO here.