How SEO Changed My Life

by Peter Attia on March 13, 2013

Like most people, I fell into SEO by complete accident. I never planned on doing anything even slightly related. I’d never heard of search optimization or pondered how search engines curated results. Now, however, I’ll never be able to look at the internet the same way again. I almost miss the the blind ignorance I had of thinking search result were completely natural.

That was about 7 years ago. Recently, I’ve accepted a Director of Marketing position at a startup in Austin. The company was a client I’d been working with since the beginnings of their launch and it took off. Within just a few months the company went from a staff of 2-3 to 30-40. As much as I’d love to claim this was solely due to my valiant marketing efforts :) it’s much more than that. They found a product people love. This sparked a newfound enjoyment for me. I found myself spending more time working on this one client than anyone else, so when an offer was made, the decision was easy.

This may seem like a standard job move for anyone else advancing in their career, but to me it meant a lot more than just a good opportunity.

Before SEO

I wasn’t dealt the best hand growing up. My childhood was spent in Newark, NJ where we lived in the basements and attics of family’s houses; My mother was mentally ill; my early teens were spent traveling with my dad who was running from law enforcement; and my high school years were spent in a low population redneck “old fashioned” town in the middle of West Virginia (This was right around 9/11 and I’m a short middle eastern guy). I would never take anything back and I have no regrets, but it made life difficult to say the least. I don’t think I lived in one place for more than a year or two until the age of 14.

I spent most of my teen years at home working on computers and playing the banjo (I mean come on, I was still in West Virginia). Then when I turned 17 and finished school, I did what I was used to and moved. I went to college in Pittsburgh for a while, but it just wasn’t for me. My father who worked hard for his degree, disowned me (we’re fine now). Ultimately, I spent the next several years moving to a new city about every 3-6 months. I slept in my car, stair wells, and the couches of kind strangers. I worked whatever job I could find: I sold art, I was a bartender, I did design work, I cleaned rugs, I repaired computers, I sold fruit, I set up music shows, I dug ditches, anything. I had no long term plan. I just wanted to aimlessly wander around with my backpack, my dog, and my banjo.

peter-attia
(me back then)

New Acquaintances

I got good at meeting people from moving around so much, so I was always able to get by and make friendships quickly.

About 4 years later I was working a construction job and while I was out of town, my foreman quit unexpectedly. This meant I no longer had a job, so I decided to just stay in the town I was visiting; Greensboro, NC. This is where I met Jay Young and Julie Joyce.

jay young and julie joyce

Jay has spoken at several conferences and Julie frequently writes on Search Engine Land and other popular SEO blogs. I first met Jay at a neighborhood pub where we both brought our dogs. both dogs enjoyed playing together, which naturally led to us conversing. We began discussing tech and computers and eventually he mentioned he was starting an SEO company, Link Fish Media. This is the first time I’d ever heard of SEO and I was instantly intrigued.

Soon after, I started working with them as a link builder. I was one of the first hires, so there wasn’t much training to be had. I had to do a lot of research on my own and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. I spent long nights just reading about search marketing and learning how to maintain a website. I started working on my own projects and tests. Anything I could do to learn more, I did. I found something I was good at and something I really enjoyed.

I also loved the people in the industry. It sounds a little embarrassing now, but anytime I heard an SEO was coming to visit, I would get overly excited. I think the first two I’d ever met were Tony Spencer and Rob Kerry. Something about the industry just seemed to spit out amazing people and I saw a uniqueness in the SEO community that I never found anywhere else.

All of this was overwhelming and exciting for me. I hadn’t found something I was passionate about since I was a child.

I Changed

I no longer felt like I had to move around for no reason. This lead to me living in Greensboro for a full 3 years. It may not sound like much, but staying somewhere that long seemed impossible to me at the time.

It gave me the chance to make real friends again and become a real person in society. And for the first time in my life, I had a real apartment! Not a one bedroom with 6 people living in it or a mattress in a garage. I had a real fucking apartment! It was an empty apartment and my bed was a sleeping bag, but I didn’t care!

These changes in my life spiraled into me always reaching for more. I didn’t just want a better place or nice furniture, I wanted a career. I needed to prove to myself that I had the capability of excelling at one. I eventually felt as if I’d hit a wall in Greensboro and there wasn’t much more I could do. I needed to move again, but this time it wasn’t aimless. I had a reason for moving.

I decided the only real choice I had was to go to Seattle. That’s where SEOmoz and Distilled were and it seemed like my best shot. However, through an odd set of circumstances, I accidentally ended up vacationing in Austin. I immediately fell in love with the tech and startup scene there and well… I didn’t leave. Shortly after, I started working at uShip, which was my first in-house position. I think this planted a seed in me that got me attracted to in-house roles. I enjoyed collaborating with other departments, which can be hard to find in an agency setting.

After that, I realized I still had a lot to learn and began working freelance jobs with startups around Austin. I enjoyed it and since I had no “boss restrictions”, I was able to be a little picky about what clients I took on. I held out for the ones that sounded the most fun. This may not seem “economical”, but it gave me the most motivation to accel.

Moving Forward

My move to Austin was about 3 years ago and now I couldn’t be happier. I’m exactly where I want to be in my career and in a city that’s perfect for me. I completely attribute it all to SEO. It may sound ridiculous, but I truly believe I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far in my life without my first gig as a link builder. Something I’ll be grateful about for a long time to come.

Since I just started this new gig, my time is a little strapped. I still plan on keeping up with the blog, however, less frequently. I’m hoping I’ll soon have some good case studies to share with you guys.

For everyone I’ve gotten to know over the years, both face to face and electronically, thanks for being so amazing. I have no idea where or how I would’ve ended up otherwise.

Cheers,
-Peter

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael J. Kovis March 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

Heartbroke. Encouraged. Dispirited. Inspired. Amazed.

I could continue writing single words that describe the roller coaster of emotions I felt while I read this, but you get the point.

Peter, this is probably one of the most incredible and marvelous journeys I have ever read. You are a much stronger and better person because of what you have endured. The end result is directly attributed to the taste desire when you found your calling.

Knowing what I know now after reading this makes me respect you even further than I thought I could.

Here is to the future mate!

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Peter Attia March 13, 2013 at 11:34 am

Ack! Thanks for such kind words Michael! It means a lot to me. Was hard to put this one up as I thought it may be a bit too personal, but your comment made it totally worth it :)

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Neal (the 2nd best looking man in the world) March 13, 2013 at 11:40 am

I love hearing these type of success stories. Along the way you meet good people by chance that change your life completely.

If you didn’t have a dog, you probably wouldn’t have got into SEO. Here’s to owning a dog!!

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Peter Attia March 13, 2013 at 11:41 am

Hahaha! Indeed! It was a very random set of circumstances. I never even meant to move to Greensboro to begin with :)

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Anthony Pensabene (platonic friend of best-looking men) March 13, 2013 at 11:57 am

people ask how to create great content. great content is all around, a good place to start is with oneself. this post hits people in the emotional jubblies. it’s why we communicate.. to feel and learn. thanks, pete – viva la Skinny Limits, Jay, and Julie!

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Peter Attia March 13, 2013 at 11:59 am

Hah! Thanks Anthony :) Means a lot!

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Alessio Madeyski March 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Hey Peter,

thanks SO much for sharing your story! Truly inspiring and good to read. Funny enough that one of the first SEOs I started to talk when I became SEO myself (almost 2 years ago) was Julie, and she is always extremely kind with me (I don’t know yet the reason, but I stay in silence, because I don’t want this to change :) ).

rock on , Pete, and good luck with the new adventure!

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Peter Attia March 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Thanks a ton Alessio! I appreciate the kind words! Julie helped me big time when I was starting out. She always wanted to help me do well and was a big reason I even started writing :)

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Neal (the 2nd best looking man in the world) March 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Do you have any videos / soundbites of you and your banjo?

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Peter Attia March 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm

HAH! I don’t think I do. A friend of mine as I used to play with has some recordings, but that’s about it :) I’m really not very good anymore, as I don’t pick it up very often anymore.

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John March 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Interesting story! I too fell backwards into SEO, and had no intentions of working in anything “marketing” related. Thanks for sharing!

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Peter Attia March 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I think that’s how it happened for a lot of us :) I don’t know too many people that got into SEO on purpose.

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Matt Antonino March 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Yeah, I think many of us “fall backward” into SEO. I was a full time photographer for 8 years after finishing law school. That was backward enough. When I left my city, I had no clients to photograph but I’d been #1 in my market for years so people asked me to do their SEO. I started it understanding only about 1% of what I do now…and probably not remotely qualified to be working on other people’s sites.

Great post – and thanks for sharing it!

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Jonathon Colman March 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Wow. This is an amazing story, which makes you an amazing person. Thank you so much for sharing this and for representing the best that SEO has to offer.

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Peter Attia March 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm

That means a lot to me Jonathon! I greatly appreciate it. Been a fan of your writing for a while :)

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Annie Graham March 14, 2013 at 12:49 am

Hi Peter,

You have an incredible story, thank you very much for sharing it!

There are so many aspects of your life that I could relate to. In a few years, I think I will have to share my story as you did. Truly inspirational :) I haven’t been in the SEO game for very long but so far it’s been an exciting and challenging experience and reading your story only makes me appreciate the industry more than ever!

Annie

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Thank you Annie :) Please let me know when you put your post up! I would love to read it.

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Yogendra Chavda March 14, 2013 at 4:39 am

really motivational and inspirational story.. learning from your own life, that’s the smartest way to achieve something in life (thats what i feel).

I didn’t have that much struggle in my life in beginning but the way i lived my life in beginning have made me what i am TODAY.

Thanks again for sharing your life story with us.

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Thanks Yogendra. I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

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Julie Joyce March 14, 2013 at 6:48 am

Despite the photo that makes everyone think we’re yuppies (ha!), this post is amazing…you are very sweet Pete, and I think that your background is actually why you’re such a good SEO. You have had to work your butt off to get where you are, and you have never been content to sit around and do the bare minimum. I’ve never gotten as organized as I was since you left Link Fish, and that’s inspiring to me honestly, because I know it’s something I need to work on. You were a truly amazing leader there and have a natural gift for doing your job and always being very likeable. It’s a rare talent. I’d like to say that Link Fish wouldn’t be where we are today without you either, so this goes both ways.

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Ack! Thanks Julie :) Link Fish will always have a special place in my life, as that’s where I learned the most both in a work sense and personal sense.

As for the photo it was between that one, the one where you guys are photoshopped into star wars characters, and the adorable one from when you guys were like 18. I’ll gladly change it to one of those if you’d like! hah!

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Julie Joyce March 14, 2013 at 3:13 pm

That Star Wars one was pretty amazing…but since we ARE yuppies I guess this will do.

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Hah! Don’t worry Julie. In my mind you’re still a goth chick listening to The Clash :)

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Derrick Kirkman March 14, 2013 at 8:16 am

Well, damn, Pete.

I’ve known you for quite a while now and I had no idea.

That was great! Thank you! I’m inspired.

Good luck with the new gig, and getcher banjer back to Greensboro for a visit. We need to pick some!

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Hah! Thanks Derrick, It’s something I never bring up, so hardly anyone in Greensboro knew.

I’ll try to make it back that way soon :)

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Gerald Weber March 14, 2013 at 10:20 am

I was about to comment but I’m still LOLing at Julie’s comment.

“Despite the photo that makes everyone think we’re yuppies (ha!), this post is amazing…” LOL

Awesome inspiring story Pete. Glad to hear you are doing so well and congrats on the new position. I know Julie and Jay are awesome! It’s nice to hear that they’ve played such a powerful role in your career/life.

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Thanks Gerald. Jay and Julie are the real reason why I even got into the industry. Even if I never got a career out of it, I would’ve been happy to have them as friends :)

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Jay Young March 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

So is the moral of this story that Jay should spend more time in bars making the world a better place?

Seriously, I’ve always been very proud to have been a small part of your success. I will always consider hiring you to be one of the best decisions that I ever made at Link Fish and seeing you grow as a marketing professional has been one of the most fulfilling things in my career. I look forward to seeing a lot more out of you and giving any help I can.

One tidbit that I would like to add about Pete is that he can throw a punch that feels like it came from someone twice his size. So, if he ever tries to entice any of you into a friendly game of “trading licks” you should politely decline.

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Hah! Luckily, rock paper scissors punch seems to have died. Me and Rob Sinnot considered giving it another go last time I was in town for old times sake, but we decided against it.

I’ll never forget the early days of Link Fish when we met up at the coffee shop weekly and when we got our first office. Working there from early on is a big reason why I like the start up environment so much. So even though I’m not at Link Fish anymore, it’s still a huge influence on what I do moving forward.

Cheers Jay!

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Shelli Walsh March 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Hey Peter

This is an incredible story. I thought I had moved around and done lots until unread this!

I fell in love with the SEO industry too and the network in the UK is full of amazing people that makes conference time like a friends reunion. No other industry I have worked in can compare to it. I also love the fact that I am in touch with people all over the world such as Alessio, Gerald, Julie, Anthony above and yourself.

I actually wrote an article about how diverse life experience makes you better at marketing after a few of my own random experiences. http://www.shellshockuk.com/how-to-be-better-at-marketing-through-life-experience/
Doesn’t compare to your life but you might enjoy.

Hope the new role goes well for you.
Shelli : )

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I appreciate it Shelli. I love your post! I actually read it when you first published it. I thought you would appreciate this post, as I know you’ve worked in a very wide array of industries as well :) Hopefully we get to meet in person at one of these conferences soon!

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Eric Ward March 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Peter,

Thank you. Just thank you. I’m overwhelmed and humbled to read about your amazing journey. You are heroic beyond words.

Eric

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Peter Attia March 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Thank you for such kind words Eric :) Means a lot to me, especially from someone who’s been a veteran in the industry for as long as you have.

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Christopher Mills March 16, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Too cool, well done Peter!

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Sahil March 17, 2013 at 9:06 am

Great journey this Peter. Anyone reading this will definitely be inspired. Why don’t you write your auto biography and script yet another success story.

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Gisele Navarro Mendez March 18, 2013 at 3:56 am

Bill Hicks was completely right when he said that life is just a ride that we can change at any time, if we choose to do so.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, SEO changed my life as well and I know of others who experienced the same life-changing journey while discovering search marketing. I guess that’s the reason why we’re all pushing forward and cannot wait to erradicate everything that’s dark and nasty in our industry. We are the new generation of search marketers, and we care.

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Peter Attia March 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

Appreciate it Gisele and I completely agree. Crappy SEO shops are still all over the place, but at least they’re getting weeded out a bit by how difficult the industry has become. Difficulties that real people from the industry learn and figure out instead of trying to find a loophole.

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Hiren Vaghela March 21, 2013 at 1:14 am

Peter, this is something amazing story to read as a SEO savvy.

I love the way you explain and its great to see you have discover yourself quite interesting. Some parts is relates to me as well and you have nailed it for sure! Thanks again Peter to sharing this with us..:)

Hiren

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Backlinko April 4, 2013 at 5:27 am

This headline caught my eye because SEO changed my life too.

Like you, I stumbled into SEO by accident. But I’m so glad I did. It’s such a strange, exciting, and fun industry to be in right now.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your story…it’s a good one.

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