• I'm writing a book called "The Science of SEO"
  • It's coming out at the top of 2022 through Wiley Publishing
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Careful who you pretend to be.

In 2008, when I was interviewing for my second SEO job, the hiring manager, of course, asked me some form of “what do you want to do with your career?” Back then, I only went for jobs to act as stopgaps between touring seasons, but I have always honed the skill of knowing what people want to hear in an interview.

Pretty sure this was the shirt I had on in the interview

Confidently, 27 year old me replied: “I want to define something in SEO. I want to come up with a technique that changes the way that it is done.” 

Mind you, at this point, I didn’t even know an SEO “community” existed. I wasn’t on WebMasterWorld, reading SearchEngineWatch, going to SES, or any of that. I was spending most of my time writing, recording, and performing. I only invoked my engineering skills when I ran out of money.

When I made that statement, I was just trying to say something compelling that I thought would get me a job for the next six months — and it worked.

It wouldn’t be until I worked at Razorfish in 2010 that I’d get exposure to all the sites and people that I now consider great friends and industry contemporaries.

As someone that is considered to have above-average intelligence, I don’t think I’m especially smart. There are some basic things in the world that completely escape me like Geometry, asinine social dynamics, and Riverdancing. I believe that what we think of as “genius” is really just intense curiosity with a large helping of obsession. If anything, I have just always been deeply enraptured with knowing everything possible about my interests.

When I made music my primary focus in life, I was intensely curious and obsessed with the technicalities of lyrics, flow, storytelling, and performance. The things that I optimized for, I completely mastered and would place myself side by side with any great rapper you can think of.

For the past ten years, I’ve focused that intense curiosity and obsession on SEO and broader components of digital marketing. As I’ve identified strategies and tactics, I have made it a point to contribute back to the community that I’ve learned so much from. As a result, for some people I have, indeed, changed parts of how they do SEO.

It turns out I wasn’t completely full of shit. I was just imagining my future out loud.

I want to define something in SEO. I want to come up with a technique that changes the way that it is done.

— me bullshitting in a job interview in 2008

It's about time.

As I’ve put in my 10,000 hours in SEO, I have been wanting to write a book for years.  I just didn’t really know where to start.

In 2013, when Rand Fishkin and Thomas Hogenhaven published an anthology of the Moz blog that featured one of my posts, I ended up having conversations with an Editor at Wiley in the UK. I’d even got as far as putting together an outline for a Growth Hacking book, but I didn’t follow through on submitting it.

At the time I’d shared it with a bunch of friends who either had publishing backgrounds or were people who I consider to be far better writers than I. I found the feedback discouraging and the whole process just felt like a chore that I didn’t want to continue with.

At that point, writing a book was more like a dream than a goal. Every few years, the idea would come back into my mind and I’d have conversations with people who have written many books like Stephan Spencer or Joe Pulizzi, for advice, but I’d never go any further.  There was also a point where I wanted to write a book called “Race Conditions” about the challenges of being black in tech.  I couldn’t get the person I spoke with at Penguin Random House to see my vision on that one. Ironically, it would probably fly off the shelves right now.

Late last year as I was reviewing the things I want to accomplish before I turn 40, I put pen to paper and made it a goal to get a book deal by August of 2021.

I’m happy to say that I had the proposal offer almost exactly six weeks after I set the goal.

How did it happen?

I’ve been tweeting about the process as I’ve been going in hopes that someone coming after me to has a clearer path to doing this in the future.

After I set my goal, I went into this looking to better educate myself by picking up copies of the “Scribe Method” and “The Essential Guide to Getting your Book Published.” Ultimately, I never got around to reading those and it really just came down to networking.

Admittedly, I’ve always been bad about leveraging my network. I have many friends the world over doing amazing things, but I generally look to tackle my challenges alone.

This time, I was having breakfast with a family friend named Peter M. who I knew used to work at Wiley. I told him I was interested in writing a book and he gave me a high-level overview of the process. He then introduced me to a colleague of his named Peter K. that also used to work in marketing at Wiley.

Peter K. was nice enough to give me a deeper dive that same day into what I’d need to do. What it mostly came down to was that I needed to write a strong pitch, have a good marketing plan, and connect with Acquisitions Editors. The more I learned, the more seeking a book deal felt like seeking a record deal, the more I felt confident that I could make it happen. Peter K. was incredibly helpful in spreading the word to his network and making an intro to a Publisher named Jim over at Wiley. Jim encouraged me to connect with a gentleman named Devon.

Now that I was armed with information, I was able to reconcile the process with my existing skillsets of connecting with people I don’t know, crafting pitches, and building effective marketing plans. I also did a lot of research on how many copies technical books usually sell, what people’s experiences were, what I should expect in how contracts are structured, and who the Acquisitions Editors were for other tech and SEO books that I own.

From there I wrote down a list of publishing houses that I thought might be interested in my book with O’Reilly and Wiley being my top choices. After that it was all about social outreach.

I came across a blog post from a gentleman named Matt Staufer, who wrote a book called “Laravel Up and Running,” which I already owned. So I reached out to him on Twitter. He was also incredibly giving with his time and was able to share some more color with me on his experience. Matt even went as far as to put in a good word for me over at O’Reilly!

I’m pretty sure the AEs at O’Reilly got sick of me really quick because I reached out to a ton of them and I wasn’t able to get any real traction. No one I spoke to thought my book could fit in their AI, data analysis, or web development categories and I kept getting handed off to people in other categories. I did end up getting serious interest elsewhere, but when I researched writer experiences with some other publishers, I was a bit shaky on whether or not it would be a good fit.

However, when I spoke to Devon over at Wiley, he immediately understood what I was trying to do and shared some of his other projects that were in direct alignment. Our conversations went so well that I initially didn’t believe it could be so easy and I kept fielding other calls. The conversations that Devon and I would have about the writing process, creative execution, and the marketing that I want for the book were refreshing whereas discussions about the same were far more rigid with some of the other folks that I spoke to.

Ultimately, Devon and I were just on the same page the whole time. I sent him my proposal two weeks after our first meeting and two weeks later he had a proposal offer for me. It took much longer for us to work the legal agreement. To his credit, the length of time we spent on the legal aspects was on me and my legal representation, not the his side.

Most importantly, though, I’m super excited and proud to say Wiley Publishing will be the home of my forthcoming title “The Science of SEO: Decoding Search Engine Algorithms.” I thank Devon and his team for doing such a good job to make it happen.

"The Science of SEO" is my attempt to create a resource where anyone can develop a deep technical understanding of modern search engines from the lens of how to be an effective SEO.

Ok, so what's The Science of SEO?

As a community, SEOs are very comfortable with responding to questions with “it depends.” At a certain point, I decided that answer was no longer good enough for me.  I put my computer science hat back on and said I really want to understand this stuff. I devoured code, books, and videos seeking to build a mental model for a more granular understanding of why Google behaves in the way that it does.

I dug deep into Information Retrieval, Natural Language Processing, Graph Theory, and Networking with the goal of preparing myself to join Google’s Search team. After all, there are engineers joining that team regularly so there have to be people in the world that have a core understanding of how the technologies work in order to contribute.

What I found in that process is that so much of that knowledge is not written to be accessible.  It’s all textbooks, patents, and whitepapers. This explains the disconnect where people kept trying to tell me SEO is a business subject, not an engineering subject. Frankly, there aren’t really any SEO books with a Computer Science focus. There are many with a marketing focus and a handful with a web development focus.

At the same time, there has been an explosion of interest in technical SEO and SEOs that are expanding their skillsets to include Python and its various data mining and natural language use cases.

As I said in the pitch “The ‘Science of SEO’ is an approachable guide to navigating the confluence of Information Retrieval, Web Development, Data Science and Artificial Intelligence in Search Engine Optimization. This book is being written in response to the explosion of SEO interest in data science and the technical concepts behind search engines with the goal of creating the definitive resource to formalize the concept of SEO engineering.”

“The Science of SEO” is my attempt to create a resource where anyone can develop a deep technical understanding of modern search engines from the lens of how to be an effective SEO.

Selfishly, I'm disappointed that I won't be able to collaborate with Hamlet on what I hope to be my most valuable contribution to our industry.

Another reason I will miss Hamlet...

On a more somber note, you may have heard, that actual technical SEO and engineering genius, Hamlet Batista recently passed away. This is terrible for so many reasons and I haven’t really known what to say or do in the wake of it happening.

One thing I have been doing is making it a point to reach out and tell people how dope I think they are. I regret that I never took a moment to stop and say that to him and I don’t want to continue to make that mistake with other people that I have a deep reverence for.

More to the point, what you may not know is that Hamlet had been around in the SEO industry for many many years. He was the technical reviewer for “The Art of SEO” and also a few other SEO books.

With all the amazing stuff he’d contributed to the community and how busy he was, one of the last conversations that he and I had was about him being the technical reviewer for “The Science of SEO.”

Selfishly, I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to collaborate with Hamlet on what I hope to be my most valuable contribution to our industry.

I'm equally excited and terrified about the work ahead.

What did I get myself into?!

Come along for the ride.

I’m equally excited and terrified about the work ahead, but I’m also very committed. I feel like this book could be a great capstone to a career in SEO as I begin to think about what’s next for me as an entrepreneur over the next five years.

As we enter year two of this pandemic, I’m falling into a new equilibrium. One where extensive travel has been replaced by focused work time. Really, it’s being forced to sit in one place that given me the space to dive into writing a book.

That said, I’ve got many goals I want to achieve for 2021 and I need to maximize all of my time in order to make them happen. So, while you may not see me speaking at many virtual conferences or spending as much time as I used to on social media this year, I cordially invite you to stay in the loop on the whole book process by signing up for the mailing list.

I want the community’s feedback as I build this so I can make the resource that will help support the growth of SEO as a respected technical function into the future. I hope to make you all very proud!

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