I just went to my 20th high school reunion. 20 years? Seriously? Where has time gone?!?
Like many high school grads/college students, I struggled with the age old question, “What am I going to do with my life?” It’s a question that wouldn’t be fully answered until I was well into my 30’s. But the way I see it, that’s not really my fault. See, when I was considering career options back in the late 90s, SEO and web marketing barely existed. But a number of people were starting to discover it.
It’s those people we pay tribute to in this article: The SEOs who did it before it even had a name. Who gave me an industry to work in. Not only that, but in this “fly-by-night” industry, these SEOs beat the odds and are still active today.
SEOs From the 90’s Who are Still Rocking SEO Today
The following list is in alphabetical order. If you know of anyone missing, please let us know so we can try to keep this list updated.
1. Adam Audette
Year started: 1996
Adam is the man behind one of the first and most prominent SEO agencies, AudetteMedia, where he helped clients from Zappos and Amazon to the University of Phoenix drive growth. AudetteMedia was eventually acquired by RKG, which was then acquired by Merkle, where Adam serves Senior Vice President of Organic Search (SEO).
Adam has an abiding passion for creating compelling experiences backed by scientific, data-driven tactics and strategies. He shares that passion at a number at premier industry events (SMX, Pubcon, MozCon, etc.) and with regular contributions to Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch. He is especially excited by the increasingly important intersection of user experience and inbound marketing.
2. Loren Baker
Loren has been involved in internet marketing since 1998, developing innovative digital marketing, organic search, content marketing and advertising strategies for such well-known organizations as Consumer Reports and Johns Hopkins. Perhaps even more notably, he founded one of the first and most popular search marketing blogs, Search Engine Journal (SEJ), in 2003. SEJ is still one of the best-known blogs in the industry.
In addition to his continued involvement with SEJ, Loren is an advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency. Current clients include ESPN, Copyblogger Media, SONY and Dreamworks Animation. He is also a leading industry speaker, presenting reguarly at SMX, Pubcon and other events. He has been featured on CNN, NPR, BusinessWeek, ZDNet, PRWeek, TechCrunch, Mashable and AdAge.
3. Reg Charie
Year started: 1994
Company: NBS SEO
Before there was Google, there was Reg Charie, who by his own admission has been “a total computer nerd” since he first laid his hands on a computer back in 1984 doing database work. He began dabbling in the “online stuff” in 1994. His disgust for the misleading SEO information and price gouging he witnessed in the industry eventually led him to forming his company NBS SEO (No B.S. SEO). He proudly helps small businesses succeed in SEO without spending a fortune.
4. Christine Churchill
Christine Churchill came into the marketing world from a non-traditional route, spending nearly 10 years as a missile officer in the United States Army, where she ran computer simulations and wargames. In the mid 1990s, after getting out of the Army, Christine combined her techie side with her marketing background designing web sites which evolved into working at the early Internet Startup NetMechanic. After the sale of NetMechanic, Christine started KeyRelevance in 2003. KeyRelevance is a full service Dallas Internet marketing company that specializes in helping businesses succeed online. Christine and her experienced team of online marketers provide a holistic approach to marketing with a variety of services including Pay Per Click (PPC) Management, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, and Conversion/Usability consulting.
Christine was a founding Board member of the Search Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and the Dallas / Fort Worth Search Marketing Organization (DFWSEM). Well-known for her in-depth knowledge of online marketing, she has been a national speaker on search marketing for over a decade at the major search conferences including Search Marketing Expo, Search Engine Strategies, State of Search and Pubcon Conferences. She has also has written widely on search engine marketing for publications including SearchDay, MarketPosition, Workz, SitePoint, SearchEngineGuide and NetMechanic, and has taught SEO classes through the Direct Marketing Association and International Association of Webmasters.
5. Bruce Clay
Bruce started his company in 1996 as a one-man SEO venture, and it quickly grew from there. We don’t have enough room here to list all of Bruce’s accomplishments, but suffice to say, they are extensive. Known for ethical and effective SEO, he is a past member of the board of directors of the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO). He was also awarded the 2013 History of SEO advisory board’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Not one to rest on his past accomplishments, he continues to speak every year at leading industry conferences. His insights are featured in well-known publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, PC Week, Wired Magazine and Smart Money. His book, Search Engine Optimization All-In-One For Dummies, is now in its third edition, and he hosts the popular, weekly podcast, SEM Synergy.
6. Stoney deGeyter
Year Started: 1998
Company: Pole Position Marketing
I would be remiss (and possibly out of a job) if I didn’t mention our own CEO. Stoney likes to say that he started Pole Position Marketing in 1998 from his bedroom and quickly expanded to his living room. Along the way, he pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing, a holistic approach that focuses on making your site a destination that brings visitors back over and over and eventually converts them. This concept was a major deviation from the “rankings at all cost” mentality that dominated the early days of SEO.
Stoney’s little company is all grown up now, applying the principles of Destination Search Engine Marketing from its very own building and employing several employees who each specialize in a specific web marketing discipline. When Stoney’s not in the office managing his “Pit Crew” or writing blog posts for PPM and industry websites, he’s speaking at major industry conferences across the country such as WordCamp, PubCon and SMX. Stoney is also the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period! But we know you all already have a copy . . .RIGHT? 😉
7. Todd Friesen
Year started: 1998
Widely known simply as “Oilman,” Todd is also entered the SEO world in 1998, beginning his career in search as the owner of Oilman Promotions in Calgary, Alberta. He has since worked with top-name clients like Sharper Image, Nike, Neiman Marcus and Accor Hotels North America on natural search optimization. He is an expert in search engine marketing, a former administrator at Webmasterworld and a former moderator for Search Engine Watch. You may have heard him on the popular SEO Rockstars on WebmasterRadio.FM, or seen him on the speaking circuit. He is a regular speaker at at Search Engine Strategies, WebmasterWorld Pubcon, SMX and other conferences. He is also a sought-after thought leader in SEO (Media Post, Search Engine Land) and serves as the Director of SEO at salesforce.com.
8. Ammon Johns
Year started: 1996
Company: Ammon Johns & Company
You know that if Rand Fishkin counts you as a mentor, you belong on this list. As a young web designer, Ammon (aka The Black Knight) noticed a demand for internet marketing services and started learning the craft. He quickly became an expert, posting tips and tutorials in various forum sites. He created many of the strategies commonly used today and many others that are so innovative that they cannot be replicated. His advice is so well renowned that it is said if he answers your question, consider it solved.
Twenty since he got started, Ammon is still at the top of his game. He’s worked for every size and type of business, from the largest corporations and multi-nationals right down to the solo entrepreneur and sole-proprietor business. He has worked in every conceivable market sector from News (CNN) to Financial Services (Legal & General, Aviva) right on down to blogging solopreneurs. He continues consulting for his own agency, Ammon Johns & Company.
9. Kim Krause Berg
Year started: Early 1995
Company: Creative Vision Web Consulting, LLC
Back in 1995, an introduction to American Online inspired Kim Krause Berg to teach herself how to build websites, which lead to her being hired to build and promote 13 websites. Long before usability was a buzzword and everyone began screaming “design for humans, not search engines,” Kim founded the first usability forum, Cre8asiteforums. In 2002, she coined the phrase “Holistic Usability and SEO” to refer to the ultimate goal of web marketing — happy users.
Twenty years into her career, she boasts a long list of internet expertise, including web design, organic search engine optimization, user interface and user experience, usability testing, conversions/persuasive design, accessibility compliance, information architecture, software QA functional/UI/user testing, requirements gathering and test plans. Whew! On top of that, she is a conference speaker, columnist, blogger and usability course tutor in addition to performing usability and website consulting through her company Creative Vision Web Consulting, LLC.
10. Heather Lloyd-Martin
Year started: 1998
Known as a fast-talking, high energy and tell-it-like-it-is redhead, Heather started her SEO copywriting career when Google didn’t yet exist, PPC wasn’t around and we were all on dial up modems. In fact, Forbes has described her as the “pioneer of SEO copywriting.” She’s worked with top companies all around the world – from search engines and television networks, to Fortune 50 companies and major publishers. Over the years, Heather has presented at hundreds of conferences, including SMX, PubCon, SearchFest, AWAI’s Web Writing Intensive, Search Engine Strategies, MarketingProfs and more in additional to training hundreds of writers through her own SEO Copywriting Certification training.
After all these years, she still thrives on SEO copywriting education and consultation. She loves helping clients unlock their search positions and boost their conversions and helping writers understand the art and science of SEO writing.
11. John Mitchell
Year started: 1998
Company: AccSys Business Consultants Ltd.
This Brit is an award-winning web expert and trainer. Starting off in programming and software back in the 70s, his experience in website optimization dates back to 1998, the year that the juggernaut Google entered the scene.
With his programming background, John loves the technical side of SEO but, always adapting with the times, he is embracing social media to help enhance SEO efforts. He still actively works on SEO projects that interest him, particularly for small businesses where he feels he can make a real difference.
12. David Naylor
Widely known simply as DaveN, he is another SEO pioneer from the across the pond. He entered the digital marketing industry in 1998, working with large international brands in a wide range of sectors. He has been quoted saying “SEO is knowing what the search engines want and giving it to them… so hard they f*cking bleed.” He has done that through the years via relentless study of the Google algorithm, allowing him to recognize changes before most SEOs.
He founded Bronco in 2003, which he continues to run with wife, Becky, and where he continues to be hands-on, working on client strategies. He also is a popular industry speaker (Search Engine Strategies, SMX) known for his down-to-earth delivery of valuable and timely SEO topic. Heck, even the search engines themselves have contacted DaveN to speak to their people.
13. Lee Odden
Lee’s foray into SEO started with web development work in the late 1990s. No surprisingly, his clients wanted to know how to drive traffic to the sites he was developing, so he learned SEO. He eventually moved away from web development to start his own digital PR agency, but he could not escape SEO. In fact, his current company, TopRank started as an SEO service of his PR agency.
Lee has been cited for his digital marketing and PR expertise in some of the most well-known business publications, including Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, Entrepreneur and Fortune Magazine. Like many on this list, his expertise makes him a sought after speaker. He has keynoted at numerous digital marketing industry conferences including NMX BlogWorld, Search Congress, Content Marketing Conference Europe, Online Marketing Summit, Social Media Junction, ion Search, meshmarketing and Search Exchange on the intersection of Search, Social Media and Content Marketing. He also has a long list of industry recognitions to his credit and is the author of Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing.
14. Jim Rudnick
Year started: Early 1990s
Company: KKT Interactive
From the days of Lynx and text based inter-educational only communications to today’s hyper-connected, Google-ruled world, Jim Rudnick has seen it all. He boasts over 28 years as an Internet Specialist, and a large part of that time was spent perfecting his SEO practice.
This Canadian SEO continues his work as the CEO of KKT Interactive and is a frequent speaker. According to his website, Jim still loves what he does and embraces each morning with excitement to face the day’s challenges. And if he needs an escape, he can always turn to his other passion, science-fiction writing — he is the author of The RIM Confederacy Series.
15. Danny Sullivan
If you have been around web marketing for any length of time and have not heard of this guy, you are not reading enough! Danny burst onto the scene in late 1996 with his study of how search engines indexed web pages. The results were published online as “A Webmaster’s Guide To Search Engines,” a pioneering effort to answer the many questions site designers and Internet publicists had about search engines.
He went on to found Search Engine Land and Marketing Land and serves at the chief content editor for its parent company Third Door Media. Widely considered as a leading digital marketing expert, he also produces the SMX & MarTech conferences and tweets too much on @dannysullivan at Twitter.
16. Terry Van Horne
Year started: Early 1990s
Company: SEOPros and SEO Training Dojo
Terry began developing and marketing websites in the the early 1990s, predating the actual term “SEO.” In fact, he says that when someone asked what he did, he simply said “I can get you found on the Search Engines.” Terry wrote some of the first articles on the subject that eventually became known as SEO.
As the industry became overrun by spammers and “cowboys,” Terry quit SEO for awhile, but he came back to co-found SEOPros, an organization of search engines, search engine optimization consultants, internet marketers and developers of remote technology. His goal was and is to help SEO industry gain legitimacy as a marketing profession. He also shares his knowledge and expertise through the SEO Training Dojo community.
So there’s our list. Who did I miss? Be sure to add your favorites in the comments!
Also, a number of these SEOs were kind enough to answer a few questions about the past, present and future of the industry. Check it out!