I recently reconnected with someone who I’d worked with over a decade ago. This was shortly after I began at SwellPath as an SEO specialist (entry-level). To paint a picture of what my work was like back then, I was asked to add internal links to blog posts on a client’s website. Since I couldn’t be trusted with access to the client’s CMS (and rightfully so), I had to navigate to each blog post, copy the text, paste it into a Word document, and then annotate which keywords and phrases should link out to other pages. We all have to start somewhere.
I loved doing that stuff. But, at the same time, I wanted nothing more than to prove myself. To get to the point where I could do cutting-edge work and make a big impact on my clients’ websites. SEO was all I thought about: while I was at work, while I commuted an hour each way between Beaverton and downtown Portland, while I was trying to fall asleep.
One of the great and potentially underutilized benefits of being very low on the totem pole is the version of freedom it affords. Back in those days, I was free from having to worry about the business. I was free from having to worry about keeping clients happy. I was free from being randomized by meetings, urgent emails, and raging fires in need of putting out. I’m not saying that a junior-level employee has it easy (they have a lot of little things and, usually, multiple superiors all throwing tasks at them), but I always had time to go down rabbit holes of learning and experimentation, in a way that I’m not afforded as the CEO of a 10-person company.
I remember investing hours (inside and outside of the office) in the pursuit of a big question (at the time) — how can we improve SEO on a website that’s built using Adobe Flash? Back in the early 2010s, Google and Bing didn’t crawl Flash. That effectively forfeits any and all SEO growth potential. The same client for which I suggested internal links had their core website (everything except the blog) built using Flash. And here I was trying to do a good job for them.
Over the course of a few months, I eventually got clued into SWFObject2, and that was an absolute gamechanger. Following a few experiments, I set out to build a text-based fallback for this site so that Google and Bing would have something to crawl when Flash invariably failed to load for their crawlers.
The person I recently reconnected with just happened to work at the (now defunct) company that built the Flash-based website. SwellPath was the SEO half of the consulting partnership. So when I heard from her for the first time in about a decade, this comment brought all these thoughts back to mind.
Ah yes. SEO for an all flash site (what?!) – those were the days ☺
And that prompted me to turn to one of my favorite resources on the web: the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I knew I wrote a post on that Flash problem, but it had been on swellpath.com, and that company had been acquired in 2015, but the business eventually shuttered.
Re-reading that post was an absolute joy. I can remember evenings like the one during which I wrote that post. Riding on the Trimet Max back to Beaverton, trying to snag an individual seat (the seats jammed up against other people offered minimal typing efficacy), writing a first draft blog post on my work-provided Toshiba laptop, and almost missing my stop from being so deep in Flow.
I suddenly feel like I can relate to high school and college athletes who fondly reminisce about their glory days and who seemingly never tire of telling the tale to others. If I had glory days as an SEO, they probably stretched from circa 2011 to 2014. I had a chip on my shoulder and was motivated to get the industry to notice me. I was in relentless pursuit of a goal that I feel silly to admit to now: I sought to one day be on a first-name basis with three of my “SEO heroes,” huge industry names. Rand Fishkin, Wil Reynolds, and Jonathon Colman. It’s not that them knowing me would get me anything. I didn’t want them to give me anything. Instead, I wanted to use that as a heuristic to let me know whether or not my contributions to the world of SEO were significant. If each of them knew who I was, it would indicate I was making the contribution I aspired to make.
Spoiler Alert: by 2014, that had happened for all three.
I won’t say that the glory days are over. It’s just that today’s glories are different from those of yesteryear. There are new challenges and other mountains to climb on other continents. They’re not worse, nor are they better, just different.
Here’s to the glory days that never die but continue to mutate and evolve throughout the decades. Like the Ship of Theseus, it’s hard to say whether it’s the same glory that’s experienced throughout or whether it’s new glory after new glory. I’m not sure that I need to know the answer.