I couldn’t help but add my thoughts on the recent commentary about the Search Engine Optimization field â€œA-listsâ€ and “generations” of SEOâ€™s by Andy Hagans, Danny Sullivan, Todd Malicoat, Rand Fishkin and Graywolf (who is right-on about Mike Grehan.).
I didnâ€™t make any lists but, as an SEO Ancestor, I can still spin a tale or two.
When I Was Young, I Walked Five Miles to Search Engine School. Uphill. With No Shoes
When I started teaching myself SEO in 1996, Danny Sullivan, Jill Whalen and Fantomaster were my teachers. I launched Cre8pc.com that same year to begin keeping track of all the search engines and how each of them ranked and indexed web sites. In 1998, I launched a discussion group in what was then â€œEGroupsâ€ called â€œCre8pc Website Promotionâ€ because in those days, we didnâ€™t refer to it as SEO.
I became an online teacher by virtue of sharing my passion. Like others in those days I shared SEO skills and advice in newsgroups, where Iâ€™d run into Fantomaster and small forums like MarketPosition, where I met Ammon Johns (a.k.a. â€œBlack Knightâ€) in the late 1990′s.
It was Ammon who first provided the glimpse that web site promotion and organic search engine optimization were related to web site marketing and he preferred to use the term â€œSEMâ€. Heâ€™s always thought of himself as a marketer. Understanding how search engines work just added value to his skills. He was the first niche example but was quickly followed by Ralph (aka “Fantomaster”) and his foray into cloaking. Jill and Heather had their newsletter and others, like Detlev, provided months of discussions.
In The Old Days We Worried About Many Search Engines and Directories
Those were the days when SEO was fun as heck to do. There were lots of search engines to get client web sites into, not just one or two like today. In my day, we had 10 strong contenders and lots of minors to play with. Each of them refused to sit still for long. They changed business models constantly. Part of my work was just keeping up with these changes, passing them on to clients and making adjustments to submission campaigns. Because, you see, in the old days, we submitted web sites to search engines and directories for clients.
We tracked progress. We tracked rank. There was no Page Rank score. There were few fees for submission. There were many tools to use, including software and web-based submission software, but hand-submitters like me were in demand because we oozed the thrill of SEO. There were scams everywhere and it became one of my own personal missions to alert web site owners on what to look out for.
I Saw The Signs
There were several signs that I was going to retire from performing SEO services. Pay per click bored me to tears. Pay for inclusion was tolerable for a short time until every search engine wanted money. Inktomi was the big player then. In 2000-2001 Alta Vista began dropping web pages by the hundreds of thousands. That sent a lot of web site owners into a panic. The other shock was Yahoo! demanding $299 per year to be added to their directory and if your site didnâ€™t meet their guidelines, they didnâ€™t refund the money.
I had, on my old SEO web site, a text-based version of something similar to Bruce Clay’s Search Engine Relationships chart. His was prettier to view. Both of us had to monitor search engines to death to keep our data current for our web site visitors. He eventually won the battle, because after awhile I left the industry, though I continued to consult on SEO when asked for help by friends.
The Company I Worked For Trained Me in Usability and Software Testing
The move to usability was purely by accident, but once I had a taste of it, I was hooked.
I launched Cre8asiteforums in 2002 to cover web design, with a huge portion being SEO and search engine discussions. My blog followed shortly afterwards. Sadly, I took down the old Cre8pc web site with all the years of SEO related content it contained. My binders of old search engine information are in storage.
The In-between World Called “Niche”
Today I work with SEOâ€™s who have added usability and accessibility services to their own. They like knowing I understand what they do and I stay clear of their â€œsideâ€ of projects. They let me do mine. While they focus on search engines, I focus on the people who use web sites once they are found.
There are other people like me, who speak at SEO conferences and have their own businesses, but did not make the official lists of who you should know in SEO.
Christine Churchill works on PPI/PPC and landing pages. Debra O’Neil-Mastaler is the link building expert. Matt Bailey, for statistics and accessibility, Karon Thackston for copywriting and Scottie Claiborne is fantastic with usability design. Theyâ€™re all part of the High Rankings team led by Jill Whalen and all of them are proficient in SEO/SEM, as well as their added areas of expertise.
None of them seek fame and glory, but they each participate in the industry in their own way. Christine, for example, was on the original SEMPO Board. Thatâ€™s pretty â€œA-listâ€ in my book.
Sometimes people ask me why I still attend SEO/SEM conferences when I can. SEO is still in my blood. I write about SEO. I like to see how the industry has grown. When I started out, it seemed as though there was only 10 of us and I was one of the quiet ones, plugging away and memorizing every nuance of search engine life. Sitting in a sea of attendees at SES Conferences leaves me in awe of how great the need has grown for what SEO/SEMâ€™s do.
It also makes me realize how valuable my own niche is, and will be in the coming years. My approach to web site usability is totally grounded in SEO practices. Much of my advice is complimentary to SEO/M goals. When someone speaks of needing help with SEO along with usability work, I have a stable of SEO partners to recommend.
In the end, I have had the gift of time on the Internet. Those who have found niches and specialize may not fit into the tidy “A-list” wrapper but they are my kind of mentor and peer anyway.