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Long-Time Voice in the Industry Jill Whalen Says Goodbye to SEO

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Jill Whalen of High Rankings has been a voice in the SEO community since SEO was in its infancy. This week, she announced she was officially leaving SEO in pursuit of other interests. In her newsletter, the High Rankings Advisor, she talked about her decision:

I realize that this probably sounds pretty crazy. SEO has been my passion for nearly 20 years, and business has never been better. I have lived, breathed, eaten and slept SEO since my kids were little! Never in a million years would I have imagined that changing. SEO was who I was. "Jill Whalen, the Queen of SEO." That was my internal and external identity, and all was well.

So why the change? Whalen talked candidly about it in a farewell note to her newsletter subscribers here (note that link takes you to the farewell note hosted on her new blog, where she’ll be talking about topics she’s passionate about today).

I caught up with Whalen to chat a bit more about her decision, her reflections on SEO, and what might be next for her. 

Jessica Lee: Can you paint a picture of what the world of SEO was like when you got into it, and what your mission was?

Jill Whalen: It's almost hard to remember what SEO was like when I first got into it. After all, it didn't even have a name yet. I had a parenting website in 1993 or 1994 that I wanted to bring more visitors to, so I simply tried to figure out what made certain pages show up in the search engines of the day, and others not. 

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There weren't very many (if any) services out there to do this, and there certainly weren't any blogs or articles about it! (Blogs didn't even exist, I don't think.) At the time, there were basically what was known as "submittal services." You could pay to have your website URL submitted to hundreds of search engines and directories. 

But of course, even back then if your website sucked, all the submissions in the world wouldn't bring you more traffic!

JL: What SEO fundamentals do you see standing the test of time?

JW: The one true SEO fundamental is to create a website that search engines will want to (or even have to) show to their users (i.e., the searchers). If you do that, everything else will fall into place. 

You also have to keep search engines in mind by ensuring that your content is accessible to them, plus you have to get the word out about it, so they know it exists.

These fundamentals have always been the way to SEO success and always will be. There's of course lots that goes into all that, however, which is what makes it so difficult for many.

JL: What did you most love about SEO and the business you built?

JW: I guess what I loved about SEO was that it came naturally to me. It's always been common sense. I often wonder what would have happened to me if SEO didn't exist because it just seemed like it was a perfect match for me. 

For whatever reason, I've always been able to look at websites and know exactly what they need to do in order to have search engines like them better. It was my super power!

As to the business I built, I'd say that I loved the freedom it gave me. I started the business as a mom at home, so it gave me the flexibility to do something I loved and was good at, while also being around for my kids. 

As they got older, I loved that I had the opportunity to travel around the country and the world because of my business. It's not something I ever would have imagined I would do previously.

JL: What did you dislike most?

JW: I was never a big fan of the icky work that comes with owning a business. Bookkeeping, taxes, etc. But through the years, I did find ways to  make most of the icky things easier. 

I also was never a fan having of ongoing clients. I'm not sure the exact reason, but I much preferred to do "one-offs" where I would tell them what to do and then send them on their way. 

The disadvantage to that of course is that you're always in client-seeking mode. But getting leads was never a problem for me, thankfully!

JL: What are some of your fondest memories of the search marketing industry?

JW: Those would probably be from my first conferences. I'll never forget the feeling of joy I felt from talking to others about SEO and not having their eyes glaze over!

It was also great to meet so many people in person who I had only conversed with through email or the phone. I've made some wonderful friends within the industry, many of whom I met at those conferences. 

JL: Is there anything you hope to see changed within the industry and its practices?

JW: Not so much anymore. As my farewell note to my newsletter subscribers stated, my work in the industry is done. If I still felt that there was more to be changed, I'd probably still be out there helping to change it!

JL: Are you planning to completely unplug in general? From the SEO industry? 

JW: No, I'm definitely not unplugging in general. That would be like cutting off my arms!

From the industry? Hmm ... I don't really know. I still have a passing interest in it, I guess. But it's more about the people. So I don't plan (at least at the moment) to unfollow or unfriend the industry people that I currently follow. 

But I have already been reading fewer blog posts and stuff. For now, I'm just playing it by ear. 

JL: Do you have any idea where you'd like to focus your efforts professionally in the future?

JW: Not so much! I've heard that if you allow things to just happen and pay attention, the universe will provide plenty of opportunities. My job is to just kick back and say,  "BRING IT ON, BABY!"

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