I am a paid professional specializing in search engine optimization.  I happened into this aspect of my profession by mistake.  I decided to prepare seven town directories for the seven communities just north of Chicago that I was targeting.  There were close to 1,800 retail and service outlets in those towns.  In my usual obsessional fashion, I proceeded to photograph the exterior of the almost 1,100 independent businesses and prepare for each a one-page webpage within one of the seven directories.  Four stores objected.  The rest got a web presence at no charge.  For the chains, I just linked to their national sites.  This was in the year 2000.

The idea was to integrate all local commercial activity onto the web.  For the stores and services that contracted with me to build and maintain a multipage site, I was providing a bonus image with a picture in the directories.  I estimated that to keep the clients, I had to bring them traffic.  The directories performed that job, bringing my clients business (at no extra charge), thus helping to make it possible for me to keep my clients long term.

Something very odd was happening while I built out these directories, linking the prime positions on those pages to my clients.  The directories themselves were achieving top 10 positions in the country for their targeted phrases, such as “catering, crafts, bakery.”

Google was the search engine that liked my pages best.

In the year 2000, I had nine search engines whose results I was tracking when estimating how successful I was at getting high rankings for sites.  I needed a tenth.  Scanning a list of almost 100 small, new companies, the name Google jumped out at me.  I added Google to the list, a company I had never heard of, but I liked the name.

When I noticed that my directories were receiving high national rankings, Google provided my pages the highest positions.  Staring at my monitor at 4:00 one morning, unable to sleep, I saw the patterns.  I saw what I was doing that made Google grant my pages first-page rankings, often #1 positions in the country.

In the meantime, Google appeared as a national player, challenging the established firms, such as Yahoo!.

I started doing deliberately what I had happened upon by chance.

Over a matter of months, I achieved top 10 positions for such terms as “lingerie, mortgages, airline tickets” and many other highly valued terms.  I created a directory called Green Tithe that took the top 10 positions achieved in Google and through affiliate agreements began raising tens of thousands of dollars for environmental organizations.

I was having fun.

The fun ended on 11/15/04 when Google made a radical modification in its algorithm, downgrading the particular techniques I used, techniques that Google had seemed to adore.  I withdrew to working on regional terms where success was relatively easy.

Still, a sizable portion of my income comes by my working with small businesses to achieve high rankings for their sites.  There are six of us working in this small firm.  I’m the project manager, marketing department, sales department, accounting and search engine optimization guy.  I don’t do much design or website maintenance anymore.  I do no tech, pay per click or programming.

I came across this aspect of my profession, search engine optimization, by happenstance.  Much of my life seems to unfold influenced by the totally unexpected.


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