How I Explained SEO to a 15 Year Old

, Another rant from , 10 Comments

It didn’t seem like that long ago that I was 15; a ridiculous time in my life in hindsight. Listening to horrible music, wearing stupid looking clothes, acting like a complete dick, thinking I was the coolest and that anyone over the age of 20 had no idea about life.

Now, 15+ years later I see my teenage nephew and his friends with their stupid looking haircuts and horrible music doing the exact same stuff – of course now though I find it difficult to see the ‘cool’ part of the equation. Old man Daylan. Uncool. A whole generation now exists where Nirvana is classic rock and Eminem is ‘Old School Rap’. When the hell did THAT happen!

IronlakYet, it appears I am at an age where I’m still kind of interesting, at least to a point where a conversation occurred that he wanted to know what I did for work.

This posed an interesting predicament. I could either go into a big corporate elevator pitch or get all nerdy and technical – either way, he’d get bored and I’d surely end up losing a few more of those ‘cool points’ that have been fading away so rapidly over the years.

So I took a different approach. I needed to talk in a way that he could relate too. He’d heard stories of what myself, his dad and his other uncles were like when we were younger and he loved those stories. So I built on that, which resulted in me eventually linking SEO to Graffiti.

So here is a (elaborated on) post about…

SEO : It’s kinda like Graffiti

“It’s the bad stuff that everyone hears about that usually overshadows the really great stuff that can be created when it’s done well.”


Melbourne Tags

For the most part, tagging is annoying scribble that you see scratched into train windows, spray painted on peoples fences and written on public toilet walls. It’s stuff that a certain element of a community think is great; social currency to some graffiti writers. The more you ‘get up’, the more respect you get within this circle. The rest of the world just gets annoyed with it and see’s it as blatant vandalism that, in most cases, disfigures otherwise normal or pretty things. But those who do it don’t mind what they think. It achieves the goal they want it too. To hell what anyone else thinks.

SPAM-GraffitiSEO has its own ‘tagging vandalism’ issue: Spammy SEO and black-hat tactics. It’s often quick and nasty and usually done in a bulk process where ever there is a chance to do it. It’s noise that pollutes search results that people are trying to interact with. Think of Google search results as a wall, spammy SEO and web content is filling up the wall.

Tagging is mostly what gives graffiti a bad name. When the majority of the public think of the word ‘graffiti’ they immediatly picture random, scribbled words all over their fence or local corner shop walls. The same applies to a lot of SEO which automatically creates images of spammy blog outreach, comment links and tricking websites and Google into getting links for sites that sell Viagra.

Both instances promote negative and lasting perceptions of something that in the case of Graffiti – can be amazing art and in the case of SEO – can be extremely beneficial.

Good Graffiti

Melbourne Graffiti - Ironlak Team

Nash of Ironlak Team – South Melbourne – Photo by Kathy Kats

Now, maybe I have a skewed perspective on this, but I have a major appreciation for good graffiti. Walking through Hosier lane in Melbourne, or down back alleys in Berlin or even catching the train home from work – so much of that artwork is amazing. The ability to put together gradients, depth and solid lines all from a spray can is incredible. Creating characters and telling stories from hand movements, spray depth and thumb pressure. Next to animation, graffiti is easily my favourite kind of art.  It takes a huge amount of skill, years of practice, an intricate understanding of a certain medium and legitimate passion to get good enough to create something so awesome.

SEO has similar issues. Good SEO is more than just buying cheap links and filling a website with keywords. It too takes skill and understanding of  the medium, understanding what makes ‘good search marketing’, understanding client and website needs, not how to ‘game’ a search engine but how to work along side it. It takes time to understand how both a search engine works and how users want to interact with a site. And passion! It takes a lot of that stuff. It’s sometimes disheartening to see the rubbish that exists that people are trying to pass off as a legitimate SEO service or strategy. Yet when you can see results for the work you’ve done for a site, and those conversion metrics and search referrals keep on climbing while the dodgy opperator get wiped out from one algorithm change – it feels good.

I imagine that’s what it’d be like for a good graf writer. Seeing someone take a photo of your work, businesses paying you to paint on their external walls or even your work not being covered up or tagged over is the graffiti equivalent of getting conversions for an SEO client.


Banksy Love Rat

Call what he does graffiti or whatever you want, he’s probably the most well known in the world when it comes to writing on walls.

He’s the one your dad may have heard of, the one that got his art to a point where it’s not even referred to as graffiti anymore and it gets sold for a million bucks to rich douchebags.

Most writers don’t want to be Banksy but I’m sure there are some who wouldn’t mind the kudos he gets for his work. Most are happy being known in their little circles while continuing to do awesome work that certain people appreciate. That’s all they want. Just to do good stuff!

Again, the SEO industry is similar. There are people who are the ‘Banksy of the industry’. SEO celebrities of sorts, who have a huge amount of followers who take their word as gospel. But just like Banksy, for every one superstar there are hundreds of others who just want to do good work.

Street Art Appreciation Today

Another benefit of an artist like Banksy, was that he helped to bring street art to the public spotlight. One of the major tourist attractions in a lot of the cities I’ve visited recently – Berlin, Barcelona, Tokyo, Rome and even Melbourne – are Street Art Walks. Tour guides that take people around the city showcasing graffiti pieces. I’ve been on a few of these and each time the crowd has walked away with a new found appreciation for the medium.

Melbourne Graffiti

I’ve also seen a similar change of mind occur within search marketing. Businesses who are adamant that SEO is unneccesary for their business or convinced it’s a scam have within a very short time turned into flag bearers for how great it has been for their business. All it takes is a little education, some actual proof that the awesome element of he craft is a far better story than the negative parts.

No matter what medium or what industry you’re in, there is rubbish and there is greatness. It applies for graffiti as well as SEO. There are going to be haters and doubters. People who will always rubbish what you do no matter how much you try to show them the positive side.

So whether or not you’re a (graf) writer or a search marketer, don’t ruin your walls with crap. It’s just giving your community a bad wrap and making your job harder. Build something great. Something that people will look at and say “You know what! That. Is awesome”.

Thanks for reading,

Wanna find out more about good graffiti. Check out these sites:


Who the hell is Daylan Pearce?

Daylan is a digital strategist for branding agency Principals. Looking after digital and customer experience projects, Daylan has been featured in The New York Times,, B&T, ProBlogger and more. He once ate 13 McDonald's cheeseburgers in under 5 minutes, but strongly advises against anyone else ever trying that. He also feels slightly odd when writing about himself in the third person for blog biography summaries.


10 Responses

  1. Rank Watch

    January 8, 2013 7:29 AM

    I really loved the way you point out Blackhat SEO to Bad Graffiti. A pretty encouraging post to relate SEO to a very teenage-typo thing. Although I doubt, how many 15-year olds would be in the SEO regime?

    • Daylan Pearce

      January 8, 2013 9:52 PM

      The post elaborated on a bit more to cater for the audience of course, but he definitely appreciated the graffiti stories I was able to tie into the otherwise boring (to him) explanation of what I do each day at work.
      Thanks again for reading. :)

  2. Matt Antonino

    January 8, 2013 8:35 AM

    If nothing else, this is a good reminder for me to get back into the city and shoot more of the graffiti laneways. :)

    Seriously, good analogy to me. I have seen the crap spray done in some parts of NYC and I live within 15 mins of these same Melbourne laneways you posted. There’s a world of difference from black lines that say some unreadable name or symbol vs. the absolute photo-art some produce.

    • Daylan Pearce

      January 8, 2013 9:50 PM

      Thanks Matt,
      Melbourne has some of the greatest graffiti around no doubt. It’s a shame a lot of people can’t see past the ‘illegal’ element that sometimes exists. The artistic skill involved is awesome to see.
      Thanks for reading.

  3. Nate Shivar

    January 10, 2013 12:44 PM

    Nice writeup – and a good exercise to go through (whatever your industry) to figure out your real value – try to explain your job to a 15 year old (I seem to remember an episode of The Office where that happens).

    You could also extend (kind of) the analogy to AdWords/real life signage. In the proper context – when people are looking for something (say, a gas station sign on the Interstate) – it’s a lifesaver. But out of context, it’s total clutter and awfulness.

  4. Laura Phillips

    January 22, 2013 8:26 PM

    Hi Daylan

    I feel your pain, I could have cried when Jo Wiley said on the radio the other day that she was playing Smells Like Teen Spirit for all the parents out there picking up their kids from school discos…

    I think many of us struggle to explain what we do to anyone who isn’t in a similar field, I know I do. If you ask my mother what I do for a living she sill still say ‘Google’. Maybe teenagers now would have a better understanding, growing up around computing where as in days gone by schools had ‘a’ computer (Chuckie Egg, anyone?) or a ‘computer room’.

    Anyway, thanks for a good read!