Everything You Need to Know About the Competitive Internet, You Can Learn from ‘Rounders’

I wrote an article on my view of the SEO world titled “You Can’t Fade the 20 Wisemen.” The premise behind my article is the contention that there is a small cabal of real SEOs that actually “do” SEO, and there are a bunch of others who are just out there thinking they are doing it, but really aren’t. My key theme is that whatever the common SEO or marketing person is doing for SEO is probably old news.  The real SEOs, or “wisemen,” have moved on. They don’t even call it SEO anymore — it’s the Competitive Internet to you. Thank you. Now they are kicking the rest of our asses in the social media world as well.

So, I wanted to write about this, but I needed the right analogy.  Here were the three ideas I tossed out:

  1. Sopranos/Mafia Analogy — overdone.  While the secret society and the untimely deaths make a lot of sense for me, I just feel like that’s not unique enough of a topic for my post to be interesting.
  2. The Matrix — I loved thinking about representing the marketing/seo everyman going about what they are doing not realizing they are in this netherworld, but I am not smart enough to make some of the other moving pieces of that movie work for me. Also, the internet is full of Matrix fans who would undoubtedly assail me for some bad quote, etc.
  3. Reincarnate the Wisemen — I did really love that analogy.  The Wisemen refers to the 4 guys in the restaurant in the movie “Training Day.”  While everyone else in LA ran around doing their day-to-day business, everything went through the Four Wisemen and you didn’t know it.  But I can’t pull it off again because 1) I would be doing it again and 2) they play a brief role in the movie and I couldn’t really get any more in depth.

Where did I end up? Poker… Yes, it’s a fad and a cliché, but that’s what makes it perfect. Since the World Series of Poker on ESPN (and numerous amateur million-dollar victories) and the advance of online gaming, people have been jumping on the bandwagon in droves and calling themselves poker players, or even “professional” poker players for that matter.

What made poker the perfect analogy was the fact that while ALL these people are out there playing poker, there are really very few pros.  These guys think the World Series is kiddy games where they watch you, wait for you and then take your money on the cash tables at the Mirage.  This is the perfect setting — a bunch of people who think they know what they are doing and a small handful that really do.  In the world of Competitive Internet, there is a limited group of true pros and if you’re not in these guys’ loop, you are out. This is fact.

So, I decided to bite an old article written by one of my favorite online writers Bill Simmons, who wrote a great Rounders and Roundball article in his Page 2 section of ESPN.com and use the movie “Rounders” as an analogy to the real world of the Competitive Internet.

“All the luck in the world isn’t gonna change things for these guys. They’re simply overmatched. We’re not playing together, but we’re not playing against each other, either. It’s like the Nature Channel. You don’t see piranhas eating each other, do you?”

This quote is the essence of the article: a completely appropriate representation of the Competitive Internet today. Mike McDermott, our main character, is at the Mirage with his poker crew. They are all poker sharks waiting for their prey. The sharks represent the Competitive Internet wisemen or masters, while the other guys coming to sit at the table are the online marketing managers trying to “do SEO” with the help of a “For Dummies” book or data gleaned from Marketing Sherpa (still my favorite site, don’t worry, but you know what I am talking about).  The Competitive Internet guys know each other, they try to kick each other’s ass, but they will collaborate and will often times make side deals with each other to go take down some revenue or complete a project.

“Why does this still seem like gambling to you? I mean, why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY SINGLE YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? It’s a skill game, Jo.”

Look the Competitive Internet is skill, but these guys test a lot before they find out what works, so this quote really works for me.  Mike McDermott’s girlfriend is calling poker “lucky.” Above is McDermott’s indignant response.  Like McDermott, the Competitive Internet guys believe they are all skill and they are right the majority of the time … but there is a big luck factor too as most of their discoveries of inefficiencies or Internet tells are the product of throwing things against the wall and hoping things stick.

“ ‘Y’have it?’ he asks me. ‘Sorry John, I don’t remember.’ I got up and walked straight to the cashier’.”

Amazing scene and totally contrived. Nonetheless, in this scene, McDermott sits down with Johnny Chan, one of the world masters in Poker and bluffs his way to winning a pot.  When Chan asks him if he’s got it, McDermott tosses the cards and replies with the quote above. If you know a true Competitive Internet master, then you know how this goes. They will talk exploits, money, sex, gambling, girls, but then you talk about HOW they got 300 links in two hours or a key business search term onto the first page of Google organic, and you get radio-silence. They “don’t remember” (read: will never tell you and probably won’t tell their mothers).

“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker”

Guess what, my boy Brian Provost (read him at Scoreboard Media) can sniff a rat by an email you send, the questions you ask or your moves on the Internet whether in PPC, SEO, anything. He knows if you are worthy or not very quickly.

“No, 15 grand in five days, I can do that. I’ve gone on runs like that before.”

This quote is about runs, and certainly CI boys go on runs. When they find a hole, they beat the hell out of it until the opportunity dries up and they move on. Their mortgage lead runs of a couple years ago were epic money-making efforts. (Pop quiz: who made the most off sub-prime and never had to talk the regulators?)

“You know what cheers me up when I’m feeling [expletive]? Rolled up aces over kings. Check-raising stupid tourists and taking huge pots off of them. Playing all-night high-limit hold’em at the Taj, where the sand turns to gold. Stacks and towers of checks I can’t even see over.”
“[Expletive] it, let’s go.”
“Don’t tease me.”
“Let’s play some [expletive] cards”

Juxtaposed with:

“You keep grinding out that rent money, Joe. It’s noble work you’re doing.”

Competitive Internet guys, the real ones, the wisemen, they are not suited for 9-5 work, driving the aerostar, and paying the mortgage.  They are swashbucklers, gamblers, night-owls (like Magic-the Gathering type guys). If you are trying to figure out if you know a CI ninja, see if he is on IM at 3am with four screens going — 1) Making money in credit card PPC; 2) moving a legitimate site up in organic rankings; 3) working on the latest viral campaign to hit the social networks; and 4) Pickem: Partypoker, espn, porn …They don’t grind, they go for big wins.

Had to put this in, I get pumped on this quote in the movie.

“The judges’ game. I’d heard about it for years on the street, before I was even in law school. A rotating group of ten or twelve judges, prosecutors, and professors. They all have money, and in my playing days it would have been pretty sweet to have any one of them owing me favors. Only problem is, no one can get in the game anymore. One rounder, Crispy Linetta, sat under some pretense, but when they found out he was a pro, he couldn’t cross the street without a legal hassle. Even his regular club, Vorshay’s, got shut down. Place’d been open since 1907.”

The Competitive Internet guys are constantly trolling for new places to fish — e.g., they are looking for inefficiencies all over the Internet.  They aren’t hackers, and the ones I respect are not illegal, but they know a sucker when they see one.

“In Confessions of a Winning Poker Player, Jack King said, ‘Few players recall big pots they have won — strange as it seems — but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.’ Seems true to me, ’cause walking in here I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I can’t stop thinking how I lost it.”

That damn Google Algorithm.  The best guys get slammed by Google. It’s a way of life. When they make changes to algorithm, it’s like you played the hand perfectly and someone beats you on the river. When Google makes changes, Competitive Internet guys face “bad-beats.”

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • I lost my shirt one night playing poker. Is it possible to lose my shirt on this thing you call the Internet? I might stop looking for it if that is the case. Please advise.