Rank Theory #9

this is why we can't have nice things

Let’s say you’ve got this newsletter.

Every week you sit down and write on the same topic. SEO: a zero-sum game, and here you are, teaching the enemy how to beat you.

So you convince yourself you’re playing a longer game. Someday a big publication will invite you onto the team to publish to a grand audience. Or maybe there’ll be a lucrative Director of SEO gig somewhere down the line just because someone loves what you write about each week.

You’re lying to yourself, but no one knows you better than YOU, so it is easy to keep the lie going.

You’re not just shouting at the void each week, no. You’re helping real people—delivering real value! Just enough truth to make it convincing. Just enough humor in the telling to make the poison taste good going down.

It won’t pay off in the short term, you tell yourself. There’s a lot of work in building an audience and earning trust, but you’re going to put in that work, you’re convinced, because the payoff is going to be amazing.

You’ve got to track algorithm updates, take them apart like a body on the autopsy table, putting the vital organs in embalming fluid to preserve and use to teach. Look at how they all fit together inside a body. Look at the intricacies of the capillaries, the specialized function each individual one provides to the whole.

Diving deep into a keyword or a niche, telling everyone “do this not that,” showing the raw tactics laid bare. You’re giving it all away just to build some credibility and trust—but this air of authority is just a sleight of hand where you distract with pretty words and a clever turn of phrase. The buildings on this street are just facades, a face with painted on lips that, up close, makes one wonder how they were ever fooled into thinking it was anything else. You have the same lack of vision as everybody else. You’re an imposter, but you hide it well.

It happens over time.

Build a persona that sounds real, a point of view that’s relatable or catchy. “The cynical guy,” the “self-hating SEO.” Share the newsletter with friends and friends of friends.

It happens over time, people come to trust you and rely on your advice. Under your recommendations their sites move like celestial bodies, from protostars to main-sequence stars, the elements fusing together in a spinning core, heavy metals forming and bending space around them with a weight that becomes gravity for high rankings, which drift in steady orbit like satellites.

Your audience grows over months of hard work. What began as a way to give back to the community that helped you when you were young and wild-eyed, dreaming of something more than the 9-to-5 grind became a way to distinguish yourself in a very crowded space. You shared the kind of SEO tactics no one was talking about, marrying a love of building websites and domain names with a reckless creativity. If you killed a site, you learned something that helped nurture the next one.

But the board changes beneath your pieces, becoming a different game entirely. The energetic thrill of discovering a new tactic is now just a repetitive motion like hands on an assembly line. You do SEO experiments just to say you did, so you can write about them to an audience of strangers. The Darwinian tests begin to eat their own tails. The currency of your life becomes numbers on a graph. Two steps forward, three back. Subscribe. Unsubscribe.

There are only so many different ways to say the same thing, but you push on because the dopamine hit when someone shares your newsletter on Twitter is the only flash of color in the increasingly grey palettes of your work life. The statue you built of yourself becomes your actual self; the myth you perpetuate becomes the reality of you until you no longer remember who you really are and what you set out to accomplish.

And for what payoff? A prisoner tied to a pillar but the prisoner built the pillar, braided the rope, and tied the knots himself. You walk around in circles, wearing a path in the land that you walk and walk and walk.

Anyway, here’s this weeks newsletter:

(that’s it for this week! See y’all next Friday :) )