What Your ‘X Taught Me About Y’ Post Actually Taught Me

Simple.

Absolutely nothing.

Seriously, absolutely nothing at all. True story.

It would be safe to assume that most of you reading this post have certainly witnessed or read these perversions in journalism recently. If you have not, then you obviously have been hiding under the proverbial rock. These posts have spread like wildfire in the past year and they only continue to get worse. It is a trend that simply needs fade away.

The Irrelevant Comparison.

The idea of comparing two dissimilar concepts and fabricating similarities between each is nonsensical with a side of pointless. How is comparing a prostate exam to social media helpful to anyone? It isn’t. What does a reader actually learn from such drivel? Nothing.

Before anyone jumps to conclusions or becomes defensive, I see the subtle humor in the idea. There is always room for satire. The problem is, it is one thing to be humorous. While it is another to write such a post with an attempt at giving actionable or invaluable advice.

Simply, this style of writing has been overused. It is like a new Nickelback tune that has been overplayed by every local radio station.

Check out the small sampling of titles that I have come across below this past year:

  • What World of Warcraft Can Teach You About Improving ROI
  • What Proctology Exams Teach Us About Social Media
  • What Steve Jobs Taught Me about SEO
  • What Jersey Shore Can Teach SEOs About Outreach
  • What Matthew McConaughey’s Abs Teach You About SEO
  • What World Of Warcraft Taught Me About Online Marketing
  • What Selling Knives Taught Me About SEO

World of Warcraft? Jersey Shore? Steve Jobs? Knife sales? Are you kidding me?!?! The titles listed above barely even dust the surface of these outrageous topics.

Yes. These truly are examples of published material. No. They didn’t teach me us a thing about [SEO|Online Marketing|Outreach|Social Media|ROI].

The Not So Bad.

While I am pointing out the negatives with this approach, they aren’t all terrible. The few that stood out in my mind are below.

What do these all have in common? The relationship is far more realistic. The personal experiences the author shares provide a unique value.

Although not to pick on Gaz (well, yes it is to pick on him), his post might have stretched the comparison between fatherhood and link building, but it is much more sensible and practical association than “Why World of Warcraft Made Me A Good SEO”. Don’t kid yourselves. World of Warcraft never made you a better SEO, nor would it ever. Although, it did make you better at nuking Hot Pockets in the microwave.

* Side note: Props to Mitch Monsen for writing the “Why World of Warcraft Made Me A Good SEO” post. The comments above are not a knock on him as an SEO or blogger. I’ll admit, I enjoyed reading the post when it was first published (I even commented on it). Sadly, if that was published today I probably wouldn’t have the same disposition.

Encouraging Creativity.

Much of this trends popularity can be shouldered on the authors desire to create a “buzz worthy” piece of content because they want to stand out. Here is a little secret, you’re trying too hard. The most interesting, valuable, and educational posts have never been derived from this type of cloning.

Instead of “jumping on the bandwagon” in an attempt at quick success, take a moment to brainstorm. Use your heads. Be original. One of the most creative posts I’ve read in a long time, in the SEO industry, was Emma Still’s “If I Were An SEO Dude” post. That my friends is creativity. Imagine if several hundred unoriginal bloggers decided to use this idea?

If you are really that determined to write the next “What X Taught Me About Y” post, don’t compare Keeping Up With the Kardashians to PPC. Consider writing “How Military Discipline Helped Me Be More Productive in the Office” or “What the Military Taught Me About Discipline”. That is an invaluable life experience which does directly influence your work habits. You simply cannot make that kind of stuff up.

Raising Awareness.

How do we solve this problem? We begin by raising awareness for “Unoriginal, Benign Content Published by Uncreative Nitwits” or UBCPUN (credit to Joel Klettke) for such tragic excuses of posts.

Would you like to get involved? Please, for the sanctity of my mental health follow the steps below:

  1. Create your own “What X Taught Me About Y” or “How X Made Me A Better Y” post title
  2. Tweet this post replacing my title with yours
  3. Mention my Twitter handle (@michaelkovis) within your tweet
  4. Use the hashtag #UBCPUN
  5. Funniest tweets will be added to a round-up post.

Alright. Alright. In all seriousness, this really isn’t a legitimate movement per say, but it will be fun. I am encouraging as many of you as possible to take part so we may all enjoy the results. This might even call for a poll so everyone can vote for their favorites.

TL;DR

The quote below is the very last sentence from a piece written by Barry Adams on State of Search entitled “What Part-Time Jobs Taught Me About SEO”. It the perfect ending to this post.

There’s just one job that really helped me become a better SEO, and that was doing SEO.

Conversation is always welcomed and encouraged. Feel free to drop a comment below to share your thoughts. Please also consider raising awareness for UBCPUN while sharing this article. If you aren’t already, follow me on Twitter and/or add me to your circles on Google+.

** Side note: This is actually a piece I had planned on writing for quite some time. In fact, the initial idea dates all of the way back to this past summer. Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday weekend I noticed this popular post on Inbound.org by Richard Falconer and began question the notion of even published my post at this time. Well, I decided that his post shouldn’t be any sort of deterrent for me or anyone else who comes across a similar situation. I felt that it would be best to acknowledge and clarify this situation then proceed as planned before there was any confusion as to if I took the idea and ran with it.

19 Responses to What Your ‘X Taught Me About Y’ Post Actually Taught Me
  1. Anthony Pensabene Reply

    good read. i don’t dis the use of metaphor or analogy, for I use/d in teaching, but i think the annoyance comes when the title/metaphor is leveraged for attention or bait rather than to instill learning.

    Emma’s post is a great display of marketing …not bait. she studied her market..the SEO industry, therefore, it went over well with that market.. (um, that’s what marketers are paid to do, right? sigh). the attention was deserved due to the content. she created great content..she didn’t have to bait attention..the content already warranted it – there’s a difference

    • Emma Still Reply

      Great post Michael! I’m glad you decided to publish this. There’s been lot of buzz and ridicule on Twitter about these kinds ridiculous posts (or at least titles…), so it needed to be talked about :)

      And thanks for the kind words Anthony. I’m glad someone understands the intent behind the post. It was merely a collection of observations that I thought the SEO Industry would appreciate!

    • Michael J. Kovis Reply

      Thank you Anthony.

      You couldn’t be anymore correct summarizing my thoughts behind writing this post. Are you psychic? ;)

      Emma’s post was indeed well done. After reading it the first time I couldn’t wait to use it as an example in this post.

  2. Alessio Reply

    I was waiting a post like this from you. And I agree with you. I did a similar thing about NIN and SEO in Don Rhoades’ blog, but it was more “emotional” than techy or nerdy.

    To me, if someone is using this type of post for describing a real life experience, it’s totally fine. The problem is when people start to use this type of post to describe something they consider pivotal for every SEOs in the world, and they are even SERIOUS about it.

    anyway, let’s close here this discussion. I think we talked already too much about this. Let’s write something when we believe in what we are saying, and not just for the sake of it.

    take care my friends,

    your friend Hans.

  3. Iain Reply

    Michael. Hello. You know me. You know I like you and I think you’re smart and witty and incisive. You know I’ve long since forgiven you for being a Patriots fan.

    But…

    I’m afraid I can’t hop on this bandwagon.

    I’m absolutely all in favour of encouraging people to strive towards excellence. I’m absolutely all in favour of leading by example. I like the idea of mentoring. I like the idea of engaging with writers to discuss their content and provide pointers. I’m even on board with criticising people who constantly ignore that kind of advice and churn out crap time after time.

    I’m not OK, however, with en-masse criticism of numerous pieces of writing based on nothing more than the title or the way the piece has been framed. I’m not OK with calling people out without reference to what they are actually writing.

    Not everyone is a thought-leader. Not everyone aspires to be a though-leader. Not everyone is even capable of being a thought-leader. Not everyone is operating under the same set of circumstances.

    Where are the compassion and the kindness? The empathy? Are we genuinely outraged by bad writing or lack of imagination? If we are, then why? Is it because we think these people can do better? Based on what? Is it because we feel we are being associated with the poor content in some way? Really?

    Ironically I feel that the attacks on this type of content are slowly becoming as much of an issue as any poor quality posts have ever been, if only because they are coming from people who have a reputation for producing worthwhile content themselves. What is this post adding to the conversation? What did Richard Falconer’s post do other than provide people with a chance to chuckle at the expense of others?

    About 10% of your post was advice, which leaves 90% observation and criticism. Richard’s post didn’t offer any advice at all. Contrast that with Jonathon Colman’s excellent post today which basically addresses the same issue, but is far more positive in both tone and approach. Sure, he touches on Richard’s post as well and expresses positive sentiment towards it, but he doesn’t call people out, he doesn’t ridicule or belittle anybody. He doesn’t reduce actual human writers to the titles they produce.

    As I said at the top, Michael, I like you and I agree with a lot of what you say, in fact I agree with most of what you say most of the time. I just think this post and others like it are focused too much on what is wrong and not enough on how to address that positively.

    I guess I might be a little out of sync with popular opinion here, but the criticism and the derision just don’t sit comfortably with me at all.

    I do think you write well though, you articulate your thoughts clearly and you clearly have a future in this blogging business!! Even though I disagree with the premise of the post, it’s still good to hear from you and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future and to discussing this with you further. May I offer my apologies for messing up your tidy page with the 500+ word comment.

    • Michael J. Kovis Reply

      Iain, you didn’t offend me one bit. Your opinion is always welcome and you’re entitled to disagree. The convictions you have shared definitely opened my eyes and enlightened me. However, I did feel the need to defend myself a little bit with a response.

      I’m not OK, however, with en-masse criticism of numerous pieces of writing based on nothing more than the title or the way the piece has been framed. I’m not OK with calling people out without reference to what they are actually writing.

      That is purely your opinion to dislike the criticism I conveyed, but it wasn’t directed at the titles only. It included the delivery of content within the post. Maybe I didn’t elaborate on this point effectively enough and assumed those reading would catch it.

      Not everyone is a thought-leader. Not everyone aspires to be a though-leader. Not everyone is even capable of being a thought-leader. Not everyone is operating under the same set of circumstances.

      I agree. I’m not holding anyone to the standards that compare to being considered a “thought leader”. What I am doing is holding authors accountable for lack of quality. Is my rant a little harsh and negative? Sure. My final intentions weren’t to sugar coat the topic.

      Let’s all be realistic. Writing provocative titles comparing two dissimilar subjects and failing to deliver with any type of value is utterly absurd. I never had a problem with this genre of post until authors began to fixate their attention on who could make the more riveting comparison instead the content. I used to really enjoy posts like this when they were done tactfully with class and style.

      Quite honestly, the initial idea I had wasn’t focused on writing a rant. I literally wanted to write a piece that was a little more insightful and positive, but it seems that after 4 months of bottling up my sentiments towards these types of posts got the better of me.

      My intentions changed. I decided to call this practice out and vent. Giving positive advice was no longer driving my decision to write this post.

  4. Adam Lundquist Reply

    I think you have some valuable points (especially any slam on Nickelback), but I have certainly learned from what X taught me from Y articles. Also I think that they make things much more interesting. One of my favorites is a post by Michael King about Kanye West and SEO. As someone who knows of Kanye West, this lead the article to be relateable to me.

    • Michael J. Kovis Reply

      Thanks for the comments Adam.

      I’ve learned from such articles as well. Michael King’s Kayne West post is a great example of creativity while providing unique value to the community. “How Watching Teen Mom Made Me Better At Link Building” is not.

      I’m all for creativity myself, but as I’ve mentioned in other comments, you had better follow through with the delivery. Regurgitating the same basic advice while attempting to compare it to something that shares no similarities isn’t creativity.

  5. Steven Reply

    I’ll bite on this since you referenced (but didn’t identify, interesting!) an article written by one of my co-workers (who is assuredly not a nitwit).

    “What A Kidney Transplant Taught Me About Marketing” is completely about a kidney transplant (the article was a written recap by an attendee of a live presentation that explained how a hospital [full disclosure: client] created a social media marketing campaign around a kidney transplant) – as opposed to a veiled metaphor [1. Use the right tools! 2. Make sure you wash your hands! 3. Don't forget the post-op care!].

    “The titles listed above barely even dust the surface of these outrageous topics” would be incorrect, in this case.

    While I generally agree with your assessment that these types of titles CAN enable schlock, it seems like a misstep to criticize industry colleagues in only your second post.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what readers can learn from this blog in the future.

    • Michael J. Kovis Reply

      Hi Steven. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I do sincerely apologize. I honestly believe I confused that post with another I read where someone compared their recent medical procedure to another subject. I remember reading this one now that you bring it up. I would be more than happy to correct the situation by removing it from the list.

      I’ll bite on this since you referenced (but didn’t identify, interesting!)

      I’ll bite as well. There is nothing interesting about me choosing not to identify the authors of the posts I listed or link to them. I chose not to simply because it served no purpose to give the authors credit.

      …it seems like a misstep to criticize industry colleagues in only your second post.

      I don’t want to take this the wrong way, but what does my “second post” on this website have to do with my credibility to “criticize”? This blog might be fresh, but it surely isn’t my first rodeo.

  6. Julie Joyce Reply

    While I agree with the idea that Michael proposes (that these types of posts are basically incredibly irritating) I also see Iain’s points so here’s my two cents…yes, those types of posts do annoy me but they did not, originally. I may have even written one and blocked it out. (oh right, I did a Goth’s Guide To Link Building) However, I think it’s a bandwagon everyone has jumped on recently and we see too much of them. That being said, I also don’t always feel like I’m 100% behind the topics that I write about but when you do your 50th “8 ways to use free tools to build links in your sleep” post and you’re still having positive feedback from someone you hadn’t reached before, you do feel like it’s worthwhile.

  7. Jason Brown Reply

    I love the satire look at what has been a growing trend in SEO self promotion. Matt Cutts even addressed this in a video 5 days ago. I may be wrong but I do not see any attacking of people and old posts. Maybe I should go back to reading the countless posts of SEO is dead, let me help you in a post Penguin world. May I offer up my own title of How Watching Porn taught me to be a better blog commenter for linking. Here is the Cutts video in case you missed it. http://t.co/tfJ9xuZf

  8. seoteky Reply

    Thanks for having my post stood up at least in a good way Michael. Indeed the mission on my post mentioned is to say thank you to the people who influenced me a lot to become better. No excuses though since other people will just call it ego baiting – http://bit.ly/SesBz3 I did saw a reasoning about this crazy posts on a hubspot ebook before, Dan Zarella’s term “combined relevance” on creating content but I just hope that people can still prove relevance out of their “What X Taught Me About Y” post:)

  9. Corey Freeman Reply

    I think I like these kinds of posts when they make sense. Metaphors and analogies can be a great way to simplify complex concepts, but I agree that this is a format that’s being overused and poorly implemented.

    My next post was going to be “What My New Puppy Taught Me About Blogging” but luckily my blog doesn’t threaten to pee on everything if I stop looking at it.

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