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Old 10-01-2006   #1
NewKidOnTheBlock
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Is SEO a game of outsmarting SE's?

Hello,

I'm pretty new to this and don't know much about SEO, etc., yet, though I'm pretty curious about it, already.

After reading quite a bit about it, it seems to me, that SEO is really about playing the game and trying to outsmart Search Engines. Or well not necessarily outsmarting them in a bad way (not at all), but figuring out how they work (which they usually don't want people to know) and then taking advantage of that information (though of course there's a lot more to it as diverse as this field seems to be).

Thx

P.S.: Maybe in a few weeks, I'll realize, this statement was totally wrong or maybe after the first answer already ;-).
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Old 10-01-2006   #2
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There are two major ways to approach SEO:

1. You VS The Search Engine
2. You VS Your Competition

These are two different paradigms, and tend to result in two different types of methodology to be used.

If you believe that it's the first case, then yes, I suppose that the goal is to outsmart the search engine, or at least manipulate it into doing what you want.

If you believe it's the second case, then the goal is to be the best result and then help the search engine understand that. In this case it's your competition you need to outwit.

You might want to put some thought into which approach you think is the one you want to spend your time on.

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Old 10-02-2006   #3
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Do you think the American Idol contestants think they need to outsmart Simon, or candidates on the Apprentice try to outsmart The Donald? That would be an odd approach, though one that people often take in SEO. It can work, but not for long periods of time. The best in anything are those that learn to outsmart their competition and learn, build or create something better, and then find a way to get others (or search engines) to notice.
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Old 10-02-2006   #4
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Actually, when I was done typing this, I realized, that it was obviously more the 'ordinary' outsmarting the competition thing..as if you're better than all of them you're gonna be #1 ..technically.. ;-)

So maybe a better way to put it would have been: You try to find out how the search engine works and the better you understand it's way of working the more of an edge you're gonna have on your competition, I assume?

thx for the replies!
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Old 10-02-2006   #5
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Thumbs up

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So maybe a better way to put it would have been: You try to find out how the search engine works and the better you understand it's way of working the more of an edge you're gonna have on your competition, I assume?
Beautiful, never heard it said better!
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Old 10-02-2006   #6
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Thank you @Marcie

@therest: I'm sorry for not describing your job properly...what I said at first must have sounded a bit like you're on the wrong side of the law...didn't really mean to say that, though ;-)
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Old 10-02-2006   #7
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I'll take this off on a bit of a tangent:

The interesting thing is that the engines are having a sort of wag the dog type affect on the web. It used to be that engines looked at all sites and decided which was the best based on their design, content, etc. Now, people are designing their sites specifically to meet the guidelines of the engines. At some point, once everyone is onboard this train I predict there will be several cookie cutter formats people use for their sites because they are most similar to the sites the engines like the most. I believe the same thing has happened in certain forms of print media, specifically newspapers. They may have different content but for the most part, they are all the same because they are a result of industry demand and success. The same thing will someday be true of web sites.

I welcome objections to this theory.
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Old 10-02-2006   #8
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Maybe we're outsmarting ourselves?

In the early days I spent a great deal of time in SEO, but that was before PPC and right about when banners were big. A lot of free traffic was there to be had and it only took a bit of optimizing to achieve solid rankings. Life was good.

As PPC grew my return on SEO shrunk. However the complexities of optimizing increased exponentially. So much time was spent optimizing with very little control over performance and cost, not to mention the marketing message itself. I know there are different business models where SEO's play an important roll and can turn fat profits. However, for us we found that there was a clear point of diminishing returns. What's been interesting to me is where that point has dropped back to.

For years I have done nothing more in regards to optimizing pages than standard stuff like proper focus on the page's content, titles, no broken links, keyword links, page naming and so on. This is no brainer, SEO 101 stuff and is just part of our process in creating a new page. However, I have top 3 rankings for virtually all of my industry's most valuable keywords (at least 50). And this is a competitive industry, not hemp tshirts, but lead generation. I'm not trying to boast, I can't because I don’t believe I have done a whole lot to make this happen.

So for us the diminishing returns start soon after a pages creation.
But lets flip that scenario around, and instead spend many hours mastering the secret techniques to top SE rankings. In either case, Me Vs. SE or Me Vs. Competition, if I could capture top positions for Loans, Insurance, and Legal services I would easily make profits that would justify the cost. Problem is, I'm more likely to play my way into the US OPEN and beat Tiger Woods and Lefty in a 3 way playoff. So for now I'm not spending too much time with SEO, nor have I quit my day job to hit golf balls 12 hours a day. The likelihood of a big payoff is just not there.

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Old 10-02-2006   #9
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SEO's have lost their level playing field

I think Discovery brings-up a good point about diminishing returns.

New sites no longer start on a level playing field, not in an SEO world where 8-year old domain names and thousand-link histories are an advantage.

I think the greatest draw for new SEO's used to be the perception of 1) a low barrier to entry, and 2) a level playing field.

On the first point, we've obviously come a long way since Infoseek's 1-hour submit-to-index time (those were the days.) But for the most part, SEO 101 can get you measureable visbility and traffic. Just not commercially significant visibility and traffic. This is the first threshold for an SEO to overcome, and is the "You vs. SE" component.

On the second point, I think that TrustRank and the whole age issue are skewing SEO away from a merit-based practice, and bringing us towards the same old prestige/presense/size factors that guide marketing and even business itself in the real world. This is where "you vs. the competition" come into play. And yes, you are still "versus" the search engine, but it functions as a yardstick more than anything else.

This doesn't mean "SEO is over." In a sense, link scoring was the first step in this direction, and we all got used to that. But now that historic performance and presense are factors in the mix, it's very hard for a new property to establish itself - even if it's better.

Of course, "better" is best measured by social bookmarking, which explains why that's become so popular lately...
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Old 10-03-2006   #10
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Lost my first post due to browser jam so here goes V2

Great post Ian! Well stated.

Take on your competition first, this will give you an idea of the playing field, what's required and how the whole space is linked together. Once you have explored a niche (lot's of domains, different content, hosting, link sets etc), keep moving and pick another unrelated niche and apply the same technique.

Once you can beat your compeditors and have a clearer picture of how Google vs Yahoo vs MSN work it's time to ramp it up and start taking on the engines. Track everything you do, deliver content via IP and learn the subtlties of Google, MSN and Yahoo, then work with that. Create lots of discrete well linked (unique links - don't follow the competition - think outside the box - keep all domains fed with quality inbounds unique to each domain) and slowly explore different loopholes to find the boundries.

I can assure you will be impressed by some things you can do with very little or no risk to your website(s). It's actually all quite fun!

Then you will have an idea of what engine's want, what works in each niche and you should also have a good idea of what seo/webmaster/blogger's doing what and watch and track them accordingly. Watch for new trends and business models and network well. You should endeavour to know most of your competition somehow. Invaluable info can be gleaned consistantly here.

The more of a bids eye view you can achieve while still keeping an eye on the KW's and SERP's the better. Aim to know all your competition and what they do to rank sites, then pick the eyes out and blaze new ground with each site you build. Don't waste time tweaking this and that, build a new page instead with your tweaking time. Pay to get your site fresh links (don't play follow the leader here, find virgin territory), pay for great content. Always think outside the box when doing development and content. Can you leverage an existing contact for content, or cookie cut web development projects?

Pick the best out of all you do and plant yourself on firm ground, use tips and tricks gleaned, but not to the point of being banned, unless aggressive burn and churn is what you want to do. You will find yourself in Black Hat (doesn't technically exist - as where is the border?) before you know it.

Grow your whole SEO knowledge in a managable fashion, keep your eye on all balls before you and you'll be outsmarting SE's and the competition before you know it. Also complement your personal studies with SEO content from Forums, Blogs and Radio - be sure to filter anything that you don't understand and make judgements on whether it's in your best interest to pursuit them or not. (Personally I never touched PPC as my time was best spent tracking SEO as it's certainly changed a bit in areas - I want to deliver my clients MAX ROI, not make Google any richer).

Quote:
New sites no longer start on a level playing field, not in an SEO world where 8-year old domain names and thousand-link histories are an advantage.
So why not get subdomain mini sites up on these and feed your new domain links and traffic? Presell pages perhaps?

SEO for Google has never been easier, you just need to realise it's a serious form of marketing and get clients that are willing to pay to play. The days of slapping a page up, linking it and ranking are over - unless you know where to link to it from, put the content on an appropriate domain and treat SEO as seriously as PPC.

With all these hack PPC SEM's out there driving PPC prices through the roof, you can easily justify selling leads and seo services at far higher prices. So not only has the barrier to entry increased, but also the total prize pool.

Adapt or die~!

- Ben
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Old 10-03-2006   #11
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Ranking on Google easy? I sure hope that was your sarcastic voice.
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Old 10-03-2006   #12
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No sarcasm. (You've heard of Google AdWords right.... j/k)

Follow a simple recipie and you'll be ranking on Google well before Yahoo. (MSN is straight forward enough.)

You'll just need a decent budget for a little unique content, a good domain with all the right 'Trustbox' signals and some serious Google crawls from trusted domains, maybe get an article or story done on your site. Buying yourself a page here and there (on old crusty domains) can do wonders as well.

Just abuse the trust Google are putting into old domains, link and think outside the box and be agressive with it. You don't even need an old domain name to do that.

Best of Luck!
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Old 10-03-2006   #13
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I've had sites for a few years and I have yet to find any logic to Google, especially with the latest supplemental results fiasco. MSN and Yahoo seem to be a lot easier to rank on.
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Old 10-03-2006   #14
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Once you work out the Google logic (if you want to call it that you'll understand what I mean. Basically it's all in the backlinks.

MSN and Yahoo are easier to rank on in ways, but Google still offers the best ROI. Jackson, maybe spend a little more time in the Google SERP's asking yourself why what ranks where might help!

+ if you find an all star page that ranks everywhere, perhaps flick the webmaster an email and get your banner or link up there.
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Old 10-03-2006   #15
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You hit upon the reason why I dislike Google so much...backlinks
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Old 10-03-2006   #16
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So I've read before, that SEO was a growing industry and that there were by far not enough qualified people for SEO. So I figured if you can become a good SEO, you should be able to work for good cash (keep in mind however, that this is definitely NOT(!) the only reason why I'm interested in SEO, but well I'm interested in languages, too, but won't try to make a living off of it knowing it doesn't pay well at all...).

So is this true, or is SEO really not something that pays off even if you're good? (talking about diminishing results, etc.)

I assume the only problem is that it's gotten harder and everybody can't just start and be effective at it - which on the other hand could mean, that the demand vs. supply is changing in favor of good SEOptimizers...?(though not really, if you have to put in too much work/cost to generate some profits)

What's really the deal with this, if you guys don't mind me asking?
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Old 10-03-2006   #17
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Well, since there isn't a major website in the world that I'm aware of that hasn't had SEO work done the "profitable for web owners" are is pretty clear, else full-time professional SEO's like myself would not be in business.

On the other side, SEO's can do pretty well. For example, I make a pretty good living, and yet have been accused several times of under-charging. Most professional SEO's make between 100-500 per hour normally, with a bunch working on either side of that range.

Myself, I'm normally $250/hr, but for government, and long term clients that goes down to $100/hr. For the industry this is pretty low, frankly. (uh, BTW, I'm not looking for new clients without references right now, so don't take this as a sales pitch or anything).

I live in a rural area and have fairly low expenses, so I don't really need more than a couple hundred K a year to support my family and have a comfortable life. I'm working on increasing that, but more as a business and personal challenge than a desire to buy a Rolls Royce or anything like that. Besides, it's fun.

So, yes, you can make a reasonable income on either side of the SEO fence (web owner or consultant). Most of the time, you make more on the web owner side, but it's not always the case.

You can, of course, also be broke all the time if you choose the wrong industry or business model, or are just starting out and are building your knowledge, reputation and resources. Just like in the bricks and mortar world.

When I first started out, my wife supported me, and I considered a $500 (total) SEO deal to be a big thing and a validation of my poor pitiful existence. It was not fun around the dinner table or at bill time, let me tell you that.

I was making far more working part time at various jobs (McDonalds, computer sales, bus driver, etc) than as an SEO. Since before that I was a senior manager of major international public company, it was quite the shock to the family to see me wearing a uniform and a little plastic name tag. My poor wife thought I'd gone nuts!

But I believed in what I was doing, and in the direction of where the web was heading, and was determined to take advantage of it. Too many times I had let opportunities pass by without taking advantage of them because I didn't have the money, or didn't want to lose my steady paycheck or benefits, or didn't have the full support of my family or friends. So I decided to go for it.

For the first 2 years, I was pretty sure I had made a horrible mistake, but kept my promise to myself to keep trying. Finally, I got a few breaks, along with some help and advice from some great people, including, but not limited to, Jill Whalen (and the rest of the HR mods), Barbara Coll, Bill Hunt, Mike Grehan, Kim Krause Berg, Andrew Goodman, Dan Thies, Bob Massa, Doug Heil, Debra Mastaler, Christine Churchill and of course Danny Sullivan and the fine folks here at this forum. Other sources like Jared Spool, WMW, and various newsletters, websites and books also help a lot. I've avoided listing everyone who has helped me and stuck with some of the more well known ones, not because I don't appreciate everyone else, but because the list would be very, very long!

If you think about it, that's a lot of people, and it's only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the regulars here, and a large number of the newbies, have asked questions or provided insight that forced me to think and learn, even if I disagreed.

From there, I just leveraged my own skills and work, came up with my own opinions on how things should be, and eventually built up a business.

If I can do it, so can you. Some tips:

1. Believe. This isn't about SEO or SEM, it's about selling things people want or need. As long as capitalism and the internet exist, there will be a demand for internet marketers.

2. You are not alone. This community is small, but very helpful and friendly compared to other business communities. I can't count the number of times fellow SEO's and SEM's have helped me, or sent business my way or just provided the virtual shoulder to lean on when times were tough.

3. Study and read everything. Assume it's all BS unless you have tested it yourself. Always test it yourself. Sometimes great advice from smart people is outdated and no good anymore. Sometimes the people who know the least are the best communicators, and make seemingly persuasive arguments with bad data assumptions and faulty logic. Think for yourself.

4. Take the high road. It's better to walk away from a client you don't really trust, or the latest "trick" in SEO that you are not sure of, than it is to get bogged down in details and schemes. You need to truly understand the rules before you can break them or make new ones. If you can't do SEO using traditional, safe and search engine approved tactics, then you are not skilled enough to try anything else. Non-traditional techniques are not a "god mode" or cheat code to be used when you are too lame to play the game properly, they are difficult and can be dangerous. You should also always be completely honest in all business dealings and commit to best practices wherever you can. It's not only a good idea, it will save your ass more times than you can count, if you are in business long enough.

5. SEO is more than little rules and templates about how to make websites attractive to search engines. You need to learn about marketing, writing, business plan development, usability, standards, information retrieval science, hosting and coding issues, ROI calculations, website analytics and a great many other things. I can teach "SEO 101 for Dummies" in a 3 hour course, but it takes about 6 months of study and practice to be good enough to handle basic SEO on non-competitive sites for a client, and at least 3 YEARS of study to actually be what I would consider a professional SEO. That's not 3 years of working as an SEO (though that's a big part of it) that's 3 years of study. If that sounds like you are kind of training for a university degree, then you are not far off. It requires a huge investment of time and work to be a professional SEO. Otherwise, if it was as easy as some think, the clients would just do it themselves and save the money. Some try that, and usually end up hiring an SEO when they find out it's not that simple.

Wow, that was longer than I was expecting it to be, so I'll stop here. Good luck!

Ian
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Old 10-03-2006   #18
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Thanks for your interesting and honest bio mcanerin,

I think we can all relate to that moment when we think to ourselves
"What the hell did I just do?". And the other moments when your friends and family say "what’s your job?" with that look on their face like you told them you married your cousin.

I know many of us made a transition from a "normal" job/career to an internet based one. The switch was a risk, a challenge, a bit scary at times, but ultimately a highly rewarding change.

I was a Finance guy in 94, when I decided to toss it all in for a net job. I gave notice before I had even landed a job... Confidence or Stupidity.. a bit of both I guess? Amazingly I landed a job before my 2 weeks notice was up. I was a “webmaster” oohhhhh for a company with over 400 employees. I didn’t have ANY experience in marketing nor being a true webmaster – I knew how to build websites and had some UNIX experience which back then was good enough! I learned on the job and relied heavily on the online community – It was around that time that I found Danny’s articles and SEW. 10 years gone by and wow, it all still seems so new and exciting.

So back on topic.
It sounds like many make a good living out of SEO and I'm glad for them - perhaps need to hire one! For me I have this philosophy; be a conductor not an instrument player. SEO can take a lot of manual labor. I can't scale that very easily without increasing FTE's. (Full Time Employees/Equivalents) I don’t consider myself just a straight out SEM either, as I do a lot of application development, business plans, and data analysis.

An earlier post mentioned a whole list of areas one should have experience in. If you are looking to make a career out of SEM/SEO I would follow his advice. Be well rounded, but don’t think you have to be an expert at everything. Learn what the pieces are and how to control them.

Discovery

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Old 10-03-2006   #19
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Hello guys,

thanks for the replies (that rhymed didn't it?;-)).

Quote:
I was making far more working part time at various jobs (McDonalds, computer sales, bus driver, etc) than as an SEO. Since before that I was a senior manager of major international public company, it was quite the shock to the family to see me wearing a uniform and a little plastic name tag. My poor wife thought I'd gone nuts!
In another thread, I read somebody said they would prefer to look for 'out of the box thinking' etc. traits if they were looking to hire an SEO/SEM professional...seems like most of you guys have this very creative often considered slightly 'crazy' trait (I think I got that, too btw lol).

Saying it takes about 3 years of study to be considered a SEO/SEM professional sounds pretty good to me. I'm definetly an extremely patient person (wasn't always) and know that a lot of time it takes hard work..but if it pays off, it's just so sweet. I think, I have this creative/crazy trait (especially being an avid reader) and am patient enough and think have the analytical/technical potential to become a SEO, because: during elementary and my early high school years..for about 3 years or so, I got up started programming small PC games, went to school, came back home continued programming, went to sleep...from around 14-18 years old, I was so into the stock-market, that I didn't have another hobby but reading about the stock market all day long and 'playing' it (I actually made mad money for a teenager, because I had always had an affinity for internet/computer related stuff and happened to buy the AOL's, yahoo's, Dell's and Amazon.com's :-D)...Afterwards my hobbies became foreign languages and I learned to speak fluent English and French (still trying to really perfect my French at the moment though) though I never went to a country where that language was spoken (BUT by using the INTERNET and chat rooms, on which I've been reading all day long for the last 6 or so years...I guess).

However, I had never been good at maths or physics at school, so I started to study business management (where statistics and maths were my best subjects so far)...but now I'm gonna drop out..because for the last 2 years that I've been studying for, I've probably spent WAY more time on the internet reading about all possible types of jobs there are, which I could do, that would be fun to me (and hopefully better paying than becoming a translator ;-( ). A lot of people are thinking, I must be crazy if I told them about that (there's this slight traight of craziness again ;-)), but to me thats worth more than having a bachelor's degree not really knowing if i'll be able to do something that'll be fun to me (and now I know I wanna go into a)SEO/SEM(/E-Commerce) or b)data mining/statistics if a doesnt work out).......so now I'm gonna start college again at a different university (as a business/marketing major....as I've also found out, that marketing is the traditional field of business, which I find the most exciting) in about 6 months (that's possible here in germany) and will then fully concentrate on getting my college degree.

However as you can tell if you've read what I've written so far, you can imagine that I really don't wanna wait or waste any time. So, right now I'm reading a lot of stuff about SEO/SEM in general..Ill go on a vacation soon and then if I find out that I find SEO/SEM really as interesting as I'm thinking right now, I'll probably spend 5-10 hours a day trying to teach me the basic stuff while I'm not in college (I'm telling you studying a language at a certain point does make you very very patient when you realize that after a certain point studying/ mostly practicing the language for about 200 ('net') hours during a 2 month vacation is really just a small step towards real fluency...) and then try to focus on it while I'm on vacation (over here we have about 4 months of vacation every year...).

So well..I guess you can see I probably have the right mind-set to HOPEFULLY become a SEO/SEM professional and hope that my dream comes true and I can make a living off of that after getting my college degree (and having practiced my SEO/SEM skills for about 4 years..btw, I'm 23 now).

P.S.: I have to say I find marketing and some things in business interesting, but when you add some technical stuff and the internet to it....it just becomes so much more exciting ;-)))

THX for all the advice so far!
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Old 10-03-2006   #20
mcanerin
 
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Be well rounded, but don’t think you have to be an expert at everything.
A very good point! You need to know about a lot of things, but there is no way you can know everything. Learn enough so you can at least do the basics and identify problems, and to be able to tell an expert exactly what you want in language they understand.

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I have to say I find marketing and some things in business interesting, but when you add some technical stuff and the internet to it....it just becomes so much more exciting
That's what I like about this business - you get to use both the analytical and creative halves of your brain. To me, that makes it a lot more interesting.

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Last edited by mcanerin : 10-03-2006 at 06:07 PM.
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