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The Zen of SEO: Earning Links by Helping People


While many people use Zen solely as a synonym for “awesome,” I’d like to show that you can translate your Zen practice into your work as an online publisher.

Helping people without judging them is one of the main tenets of the awakened Zen practitioner.

How does it differ from the fake servility of many businesses? What could be the Zen of SEO, then?

Does earning links by helping people selflessly really work?

In my last post on earning links without content creation, one paragraph offered some pretty obvious but rarely implemented ideas on helping people to make links. Some might even suspect that these ideas were far off because there is no incentive to link to you once you fix someone’s blog after it got hacked, for instance. That example was taken straight from my own experience.

As a budding blogger still struggling to come to terms with WordPress, I thanked a helpful geek with a mention.

A virtual friend of mine who was a web developer who specialized in WordPress back then helped me a lot with my corrupted databases. I linked out to him out of gratitude more than once. This guy did not ask me for a link in exchange. He just liked my blog and thus helped me. Nonetheless, he reaped the reward.

What is Zen really?


Let’s rewind a bit and provide some context. My father has been reading a lot about Zen and practiced meditation when I was a teen. I was too young to grasp the whole meaning of it back then, but I was interested in it despite that.

When I was around 20, I even went to see Zen master Seung Sahn speaking together with my father. He said things like, “The grass is green, the sky is blue, who is hungry shall eat, who is tired shall sleep.” Zen Buddhism is a very down-to-earth kind of spiritual practice.

Zen is not even a proper religion, as you don’t believe in much and do not have to read holy books.

It’s almost like sports for the soul. Zen is mostly about meditation. I only meditate regularly for a year now, so I am by no means an expert on Zen. Nevertheless, I was already able to use a lot of the wisdom derived from Zen for my own and sometimes common good. You can apply it to everything.

The advanced Zen practitioner has the opportunity to become “enlightened” and become a Zen master. It’s not a career goal or like a black belt in karate. It’s just what naturally happens once you become aware of yourself and your surroundings through meditation. When you learn to shut up your mind, you can listen to your intuitive wisdom.

What happens when you become enlightened?

Sometimes, while meditating, even an absolute beginner like me can catch a glimpse of what is referred to as enlightenment. It’s nothing special, really. Science has shown that the abilities Zen masters have are the same all of us have as kids. You may have heard of things like

  • “achieving awareness”
  • “letting go of the ego.”
  • “becoming one with the world”.

This might sound a bit like some new-age guru nonsense. In essence, it’s rather getting rid of the clutter of civilization that obstructs us and recovering our child-like abilities.

Zen masters do not let their minds prevent them from grasping reality.

An average adult does not perceive what really happens. Such a person only sees what s/he expects based on past experiences and prejudice. A Zen master asked by a beggar for help will assist right away, while a “normal” person will react with disdain, pity, or even fear without acting at all.

The Zen master will not judge the beggar and ascribe a category to him like “beggar,” who is “probably too lazy to work” or an “alcoholic.” He will see a human being needing help and act accordingly without even flinching. Luckily, you don’t need to become enlightened or a Zen master to help people.

Can I help you?

How often have you heard the sentence “Can I help you?” when you entered a store? Despite its literal meaning, this expression can mean many things, usually something along the lines of:

  1. Can I sell you something?
  2. Who the fuck are you, don’t dare to shoplift here!
  3. Why do you have to bother me? We close in an hour!

In some cases, the can I help you will be genuine, but mostly in little villages where small business owners are truly working for themselves, not some underpaid employees who don’t care at all.

I often get asked, “Can I help you?” to get rid of me because I don’t wear a suit and a tie when entering stores. Most businesses are dealing with visitors the same way online. At best, they ask implicitly, “Can I help you?” but they mean, “Can I sell you something?”.

Instead, you have to ask yourself for real:

  • How will my website help people who do not buy anything?
  • How will it help the general population?
  • How will it impact the world positively?

In case you’re in business just for the money, you are doing it wrong. Criminals earn more cash without helping anybody beyond themselves. Business is about improving the lives of other people, customers, employees, and strangers.

Is money everything you care about?

Just compare a money-centered, selfish business approach with that of a doctor, lawyer, or police officer.

Imagine what would happen if they only cared about the money. The doctor would only treat affluent patients. The lawyer would defend mobsters because they pay best. The police officer would be open to bribery and protect interests, not the innocent. Some people work like that, but they are not very popular.

A business that does nothing to improve the lives of people is selfish. On the Web, it will be the least popular. In real life, a company can do good by investing in infrastructure. This can be as simple as providing bike racks for customers and other people alike in front of their store. Online, this can be

One of the most important reasons why Google is still so popular is that they give away their products and services for free and only charge (often selfish) businesses. So, in order to become popular on the Web and earn many shares and links, you do not need to perform a specific task I or others tell you to.

You don’t need content creation, but you neither need broken link building or helping people with hacked sites.

You know best how you can help people in your area, niche, or industry. You know what your specialty is and what the people need. The best way to find out is to meditate a bit so that you clear your mind and actually see what matters. There is no one-size-fits-all advice for earning links other than to listen to your inner voice (not your autopilot babble of the mind) to find out yourself.

* Creative Commons image by Steve Johnson.