Bill Slawski was a legend in the search engine marketing industry. When he died suddenly on May 17, 2022, the shock waves were felt globally.
The Master Explainer of Google patents, Bill worked up to his position as Director of SEO Research at Go Fish Digital by being the most brilliant mind in the industry.
Bill Slawski and I were long time friends and professional colleagues. When he died, industry insiders knew immediately that I would be devastated. It has taken me a long time to find a peaceful place in myself settled enough to tell you about his earliest days when he was just entering the field of web site marketing.
The Guy Who Appeared and Stayed To Help
I met Bill online in 1998 when I joined a club for small businesses run by a woman named Carol Daly. I helped her members when someone had questions about web design or website promotion.
In those days, it wasn’t called SEO yet.
I had a club too, called the Cre8pc Website Promotion Club. Bill joined it. We were a tiny band of people fascinated with the idea that websites could be online businesses.
Search engines and directories carried promises of fame and fortune to anyone who could figure out how to wrestle them. Bill had a knack for explaining and I had a knack for asking questions.
The two clubs grew and mine attracted well known experts Ammon Johns and Jill Whalen, plus a host of people I didn’t know but who would become famous someday.
Behind The Curtain
It was several years before I had the nerve to share anything personal about my life with Bill. I owned a club, websites, and then launched a larger forum for web designers and marketers, but the truth was that I was struggling.
It took me a long time to admit to Bill through email, that I was unemployed, a divorced mom with two young children, facing eviction and broke.
He listened. He didn’t judge me. His way of providing support was to help me keep the club active and become the co-admin when we decided to move it from a club to a forum. This became Cre8asiteforums.
One day we realized that we lived not too far from each other. He was in Delaware, and I was in Pennsylvania, both of us close to Philadelphia and New Jersey beaches.
As we got to know each other, we figured out that we both used to go to City Gardens in New Jersey to listen to punk bands and were there at the same time.
The first time I met Bill Slawski in person was at one of Jill Whalen’s High Rankings seminars. I’ll never forget that day. I wasn’t expecting that he would be there. He was my first real friend and supporter. It meant a great deal to meet him in person.
By then the SEO industry had exploded and there were many communities where people could join, learn, and argue with each other.
Photo op with some of the team from High Rankings. Bill always wore a suit.
With Bill (aka Braggadocio) as my co-admin for Cre8asiteforums, we added Ammon Johns (aka Black Knight) and Jill Whalen (High Rankings) when we took the community out into the world in 2001 with newer software and more community bells and whistles. Jill later went on to run her own SEO forums.
Ammon and I had known each other since around 1995. He was one of my mentors and he liked Bill. I was nervous about running a much larger forums but trusted their guidance.
When It Crashed
Years into running Cre8asiteforums together and building our individual careers, Bill and I would sometimes be at the same search engine marketing conferences as speakers or bloggers.
At an SES in San Jose, I had met someone on the plane who was attending that conference and he rented a car so that the 3 of us could drive up to the Googleplex. We were like fans going to a rock concert.
There was a dark time in our history when Bill was engaged to marry a woman who did not like me. She was determined to destroy our friendship and my career.
There was a surprise birthday party for me when I turned 50 in King of Prussia in Pennsylvania. Bill wanted very much to attend, despite the fact that our friendship was unraveling. He sneaked up from Virginia where he was living with his fiancé to be there. She would not be happy to know he came. I think we both knew it was our goodbye.
He left Cre8asiteforums.
We wouldn’t talk for 10 years.
The PubCon Bar Talk
My days in the SEO industry were ending as my interests and skills were in UX and Accessibility and how they intersected with search behavior and neuroscience.
Bill had moved to California and got a job out there. He seemed content. I don’t know what happened to his engagement and I never asked. A world of career growth and life had happened in 10 years. I remarried and gained a step-son. My kids had grown. I was a full-time consultant.
Cre8asiteforums was closed in 2018 after a 20 year long run.
I had heard Bill was going to Pubcon and I was unsure what to expect if I happened to see him. I was nervous.
He walked into the bar and sat next to me on a bar stool and somehow we started to talk about our work. Like old times, we dissected theories and pounded out the ideas we had in our heads. Our fascination for the intersection points for web design, search and people was still on fire and we simply picked back up as if those missing 10 years didn’t happen.
It was my last conference.
A New Opportunity to Converse with Bill Slawski
Bill and Ammon had launched Bill and Ammons Bogus Hangout. Some old friends would drop by there and I had an open invitation to join in whenever I could.
Bill always made me feel welcome there. I could ask any questions and not feel dumb.
That was the underlying foundation for Cre8asiteforums. We believed that no question was too dumb, and everyone was welcome.
Bill Slawski was a gentle soul with a mind that could unravel the mysteries of search engines. His contributions to the industry are unmatched.
He loved the sea.
He loved photography.
He loved nature and cared deeply about the environment.
He was humble and sought no fame.
He was a quiet legend whose work supported anyone who wished to learn.
I believe he found his greatest joy in teaching.
It’s how we met.