How I Started Out In SEO
It was about 2001 when I got my 1st PC
For my age this was very late but as I was working in the construction industry at the time I had never really seen much need for one.
As soon as I did get one though I was hooked and rather than coming home from work and spending 4 hours watching television I would now get straight on to the PC as soon as I got in.
My SEO Career all started with Usenet and GeoCities
So I had my 1st PC and time on my hands so what do I do?
As a kid I loved Lego, Stickle Bricks, Mechano, Airfix Kits, Drawing and writing little Stories – I would often escape in to my own little world either playing with my kits or creating stories/pictures.
When I got my 1st PC I kinda reverted back to my childhood and one of the 1st things I discovered I enjoyed was creating little websites on the likes of GeoCities or the free website space provided by my Internet Service Provider.
I soon realised I didn’t like the way site builders did things, so started learning HTML and the place I initially turned to for research was Usenet and boy did that open my eyes!
Registering and Hosting my own Domains and Websites
Having learnt a bit of very basic HTML and knowing site builders weren’t for me I started looking in to domain registration and hosting and then started thinking about what I could build a website about.
I was still working on the building at the time and saw lots of new building regulations coming in relating to disabled access – I also started researching the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) and saw that new laws related to accessibility were imminent.
Seeing that very little was being done regarding the new regulations and even less relating to the DDA I thought, how about building a website for Wheelchair Ramps
TJ – The Accidental SEO
I now had my hosting set up, my domain registered and my 1st website, and although I still didn’t really know what I was doing, at least I had a subject to build my website about.
I had no idea about copyright or using other peoples images, so all I basically did was find somebody who made wheelchair ramps and copied their images and information.
I mixed this in with the information I knew about building regulations, the DDA etc. and eventually had very simple 7 or 8 page website which I was basically just using for playing, experimenting and learning.
I was still working in the building industry at the time when the strangest thing happened – My mobile phone rang, I answered it and it was somebody wanting to buy a wheelchair ramp.
I explained it was just a demo site, that I didn’t actually sell wheelchair ramps and thought no more of it – That was until the next week I received another call and the next week 2 or 3 calls.
By now I was wondering why I was suddenly getting these calls and when the next person phoned I asked them how they had found me and they said – Google!
When I got in I got in that evening I went to Google, searched for Wheelchair Ramps and there in the top position was my simple, little, play around demo site – I had accidentally become an SEO 🙂
Google – What’s Google?
When the person told me he had found my site in Google, my initial reaction was what’s Google?
I had heard about it previously but never really knew what it was, so after hearing I was number 1 on it I thought I better go find out more.
I went looking around on Usenet and found the newsgroup Alt.Internet.Search-Engines and as the old saying goes from there the rest is history 🙂
Like the rest of Usenet at the time Alt.Internet.Search-Engines had a few flame wars, lots of bickering, a bit of willy waving but if you lurked about long enough it was a great source of information.
I learnt more about SEO put my learnings to practise on my wheelchair ramps site and it soon started attracting more enquiries.
Feeling it was stupid not capitalizing on this interest I contacted the company whose images I was using and asked if I could become a retailer of their products.
They agreed to this so my next step was setting up a business and within a few weeks I was up and running and had sold my 1st wheelchair ramp 🙂
I was still working full time during the day but would check my emails as soon as I got in, check my Google positions and get back on to Usenet
I was soon ranking high for numerous other wheelchair ramp related keywords and phrases and started adding more and more products to the site.
I wasn’t making a fortune but just selling a ramp every few weeks paid off all my hosting fees, domain registration fees and left me with a nice bit of pocket money.
As the site got better I was selling more and more ramps and I was getting close to the stage when I would have to think seriously about giving up work to concentrate on the business full time when suddenly something happened which changed my views on Google completely – The Florida Update.
The Florida Update
I got up one morning did a quick search in Google and the results were completely different with my site nowhere to be seen- Thinking this was just a blip I went of to work as usual expecting it to be back in the top spot of Google when I got back in – But no, it was gone.
I immediately went on to Alt.Internet.Search-Engines where I found others talking about the same thing, I also visited a few of the SEO forums that I had started frequenting and the talk was everywhere with people having lost everything overnight.
It was not long after that the Google Update was given a name – The Florida Update
With my rankings gone it was time for some serious research, testing and experimenting
I had numerous other little websites that I had built for testing purposes and playing with – one of those being sim64 and now was the time to push these tests to the limits.
A few weeks later my newly revamped wheelchair ramps site started climbing the rankings again and was soon back ranking even better than it was before.
I had learnt a very important lesson – Never rely 100% on Google as rankings can just disappear overnight.
The SERPs Competition – 2004
The willy waving and bragging had gone up a notch in Alt.Internet.Search-Engines so when somebody suggested an SEO Competition it gained a lot of interest.
Some quick rules were knocked up and the aim of the competition was decided – See who could rank highest for a particular word within a set amount of time.
The word chosen was SERPs an acronym for Search Engine Results Page.
As I was using my sim64.co.uk site for testing I thought I may as well use it for the SERPs Competition too so quickly set a page up for it SERPs (unfortunately, the original page is no longer there as I replaced it when the Nigritude Ultramarine competion started – More about that later)
Unfortunately within the 1st week there was a lot of squabbling about rules being broken, somebody set a blogger site up that ranked high, abandoned it and someone else took it over and the competition just fizzled out with no one really knowing what was happening – A lesson for the later SEO Competitions – Have the rules and aims of the completion set up clearly before the competition starts.
What I gained from the SERPs Competition
Although it was very brief and poorly organised I learnt some important things from the SERPs competition which would later set me up as an SEO
2. The importance of anchor text
3. The importance of page titles
4. The importance of site structure
5. The importance of clear navigation systems
6. The importance of headings
7. The importance of synonyms
8. The importance of authority
9. The importance of social (nothing to do with what people consider social nowadays but more about relationship building, teamwork and having a you scratch my back I’ll scratch your mindset)
10. The importance of content
One of they key factors was when I was link building.
When I say link building I don’t mean the rubbish that was occurring in the mid 2000’s but proper relationship/linkbuilding.
I sent an email to a popular blogger of the day who I read Jason Kottke, not just requesting a link but telling him about the SERPs competition the aims of it and where on my site he could find out more if he was interested.
I never got a reply but did notice a few days later that he had written a post simply titled Serps! which included a link to my site.
After The SERPs Competition
Before the competition had started I had made the decision to use a website that I would carry on using after the competition had ended.
The main reason being that I thought why put a lot of time and effort in to a site that would be scrapped after the competition had ended.
So the competition basically fizzled out and ended prematurely but I kept my site up and kept adding more and more to it and building up it’s authority until it got so strong that could add a new page to it about virtually anything and it would rank well in Google.
By now another competition had started Nigritude Ultramarine organised by SEO forum SearchGuild and sponsored by the Australian affiliate network Dark Blue (hence the title, Nigritude Ultramarine).
Nigritude Ultramarine was a 2 part completion with a prize for who was ranking highest after 1 month and a main prize for the site ranking highest after 2 months.
Unfortunately there were no 2nd prizes as sim64 came 2nd in both stages 🙁
The 1st stage was won by a forum site called forums.merkey.net and the main winner was popular blogger and tech guru Anil Dash
Mangeur de Cigogne Competition
At the same time as the Nigritude Ultramarine was going on someone posted in Alt.Internet.Search-Engines about a French SEO competition called Mangeur de Cigogne (which roughly translates as Stork Eater) no one on the Newsgroup seemed interested but I was intrigued and went and had a look
Mangeur de Cigogne was a French Search engine optimisation competition organised by promoweb
They also had a forum that the Mangeur de Cigogne competitors frequented and although it was in French I decided to brave it and introduce myself as TJ.
I was pleasantly surprised by the reception I received so decided to enter with my sim64 site.
I soon realised that the language barrier would make it too tricky for me so instead of trying to win myself I sort of partnered up with 3 or 4 competitors and used the little network we had created to help me with Nigtitude Ultramarine whilst I helped them with Mangeur de Cigogne.
After both competitions had finished I was sat there with an extremely strong website which ranked highly for virtually anything (described by my French friend Laurent Bourrelly as an Exocet missile) and I wasn’t really monetizing it.
Sim64 Affiliate Marketing
It was about this time that I 1st ventured in to affiliate marketing.
I joined the popular affiliate forum – A4U Forum and soon learnt about affiliate programs, joined a few, and started earning affiliate commission.
My 1st real success came from an in-car speed camera detector system called Road Angel which I built a page for on sim64 and which was ranked number 1 on Google for the phrase Road Angel above the official Road Angel site.
At one stage I was earning £57 commission on each sale and selling half a dozen a week
This may not be a fortune but I learned to put a page up, rank it high, move on to something else and keep having lots of pages bringing in small amounts.
My next big thing was broadband – I had numerous pages ranked high for numerous broadband related phrases and was making £20 commission per sign up
Then my big break happened I started on Mobile phones but what I did different to most was I predicted what handset was likely to be popular in a few months time, built a page for it and optimised the page for the title of the handset.
At the same time I was doing this I went to an A4U get together, got chatting to one of the affiliate network guys who was working on behalf of T-Mobile (Big Malc) and he set me a challenge, if I could rank high for the phrase Motorola V3 and send the traffic to T-Mobile they would pay me £2k
2 weeks later sim64 was number 1 on Google for Motorola V3 and true to his word I not only got my £2k but was also getting my commission on the handsets I was selling on T-Mobile.
After the mobile phones came ringtones – I didn’t do a great deal but was top 3 for Crazy Frog ringtone in Google when everyone wanted it and was selling 30+ downloads a day at £3.00 commission a time.
At one stage when the broadband, mobiles and ringtones were all doing well I was making well over £500 a day and this was before I had even started using AdSense (more about that later).
Although I was making good money from the affiliate work I was starting to lose the enjoyment of it, the ringtones were dying out, there were too many rogues in the mobile industry and the mobile deals were changing on a daily basis. Broadband comparison sites were talking over the broadband market and I just couldn’t be bothered trying to compete with my lousy web design skills.
It was about then that Laurent had a trip over to the UK and Jez and myself arranged to meet up with him in Henley-on-Thames
We got chatting about affiliate work, I mentioned I was getting pretty sick of it and he suggested why don’t I have a go with Google AdSense.
Sim64 and AdSense
I signed up to the Google AdSense programme, put AdSense on some of my more popular pages and was immediately making £30 – £40 a day for doing nothing 🙂
Liking the idea of making small amounts per page but not having to do any work, I added AdSense to more and more pages and was soon making £100 a day on top of the affiliate commission, the direct sales from my ramps and big commission I was earning from very occasional wheelchair lift sales.
The day I had the perfect storm, a ramp sale, a lift sale, a good affiliate day, a good AdSense day and I earned well over a £1000 pound was the day I decided I would give up my day job and concentrate on SEO full time.
The story continues at – Always Expect The SEO Bubble to Burst
Bookmark this page so you don’t miss the next instalment on 06/12/2017