The following post is more than just my entrepreneurial story, it’s part of the history of how an online industry called SEO began, because I was there right when it was born.
I always tell people I started out in web design as a way to create an online shop window for Niki Owl back in 1998 or so. That’s when I picked up a book about HTML and started playing around on the computer that my tech brother had built for us at home. By then, I had already accumulated about 3 years’ worth of handmade greeting card designs that people had asked me for, as well as a bunch of handmade Niki Owls that I simply gifted to friends and family. I saw the online universe as a way to expand my little creative empire and I wanted to explore it. And people around the world even started placing orders for customised Niki Owl gifts.
Google had just been established in 1998. Yahoo and AOL were the online powerhouses at the time; both for email and for search.
As a result of building my own website and showing it to people, I started to get asked to build websites for them too. I got paid some decent cash, and I used this to reinvest in my creative aspirations, including Niki Owl.
Soon after, I met someone in Marbella who was building a new company whose focus was SEO (search engine optimisation) for the real estate industry. He’d already given me some tips on how to find and implement keywords for an existing client of mine who wanted to know how he would ammortise his initial website investment. Seeing how quickly I had positioned my client for his target keywords, the other guy offered me a full-time job and basically paid training in SEO.
“Hey Karin, what’s SEO?”
“SEO is how we position websites high up on search engines to help people sell their products and services.”
Suddenly, I was immersed in a far more technical world than I had been used to, but I was surrounded by great people and professionals – designers, programmers, server admins. Some of those people became my friends and colleagues and remain so to this day. You guys and gals know who you are.
A few months later, I attended the second London Webmasterworld PubCon, held at the Cittie of Yorke pub, to represent the company I was working for. It was my first time flying out of Spain. It was a conference for people in the website development and marketing world held at, yes, a pub. Because sharing industry tips and doing business is usually done better over food instead of in stuffy conference rooms.
In a large hall full of men, I was the only woman there who was actually dedicated to SEO. The only other woman – from the US – was into affiliate marketing. The handful of other women present were the wives of the men dedicated to marketing and technical stuff. Those women ran the admin part of their businesses.
It didn’t really dawn on me at the time that I was perhaps pioneering something right there and then. This was 2002.
After several changes in the company later on, I was the only girl left among a group of guys. We got along well, but when I realised there was going to be a change in who ran the company, I decided it was time to leave. I didn’t feel comfortable with the leadership change. This decision to leave was supported by my best friends who encouraged me to go off on my own and potentially make more than what I’d been earning as a salary.
I took that leap and went “freelance” in February of 2003 after 18 months in that company. I was a bit scared at the time, because bar one friend who wanted me to work on a project, I had no set guarantees for new clients.
Life kept gifting me with kindness though. Within two weeks of leaving that company, I was getting calls from my now ex-clients asking me to come see them personally. They wanted me to continue working on their projects. I never felt that I was taking anything from anyone, because these were not the biggest clients, although what they paid me added up to a bit more than what I’d been making from my salary. So I got off to a good start. Plus, they called me, I didn’t seek them out.
This is what happens when you do good work and build trust.
I had some ups and downs, as anyone doing business on the Costa del Sol will tell you. There were loads of cowboys shoving smoke and mirrors wherever they could. I had to learn how to stand on my own and not be taken for some dumb blonde chick.
Out of continuing to do good work though, my clients referred their friends and colleagues to work with me. Things grew from there.
I earned a good name and reputation for myself, pulling from the values my dad had taught me early on. I was even crowned with a “title”, which now sounds a bit cheesy to me, although I know it was coming from a place of respect from my peers and clients. Most of the tech guys I worked with saw me as some sort of equal – doing something they didn’t know how to do but complementing what they did. And I saw them that way too. Very rarely did I come across some egotistical a-hole who thought the sun shined out of his behind. Plus, my tech boys protected me. I was gifted with a sense that I was working in at least a part of the world where there was none of this “men vs women” BS. So I simply tucked in and got on with my work and I let my clients do the talking for me about the results we were creating.
And then, social media happened…
When social media started to take over people’s ideas of online marketing, all they wanted was the “shiny new object,” even though in the beginning there was no way of measuring results, which we already had pretty well established from an SEO perspective. A lot of people thought SEO was expensive but they didn’t understand the ROI it gives, and social media couldn’t provide any such figures at the time. Whilst things have evolved in the social media arena, I will always be a stalwart defender of SEO. For me, it’s the foundation of building any website, and remember… a website is an extension of your business. You need to have that mapped out well to help you build what you want to build offline and online.
Social media can be fickle, SEO builds a long lasting foundation. That first SEO client I told you about? His site continued to rank no.1 on Google for “english lawyers in marbella” for years after I stopped working on his site, with nobody else doing anything to it, and even with new optimised lawyer sites popping up (he’s since passed away though).
What I find interesting, is that in today’s world of making women stand out for their achievements in what is often considered a man’s world, few people seem to show interest when I tell them I was one of the first women in this industry (at least in Spain that I know of — is there anybody out there?). Perhaps because social media is more prevalent in people’s minds. They think of the online world as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube… and I guess that’s okay. I’m not going to force anyone to show interest if their interest is elsewhere. Also, I don’t need the recognition, because I guess I got it at the time I most needed it to build my confidence in the field early on. It’s an interesting observation at best and kind of shows you the pulse of where people put their focus these days.
Just remember this when you think of online marketing:
We wouldn’t have what we have now if some curious creators and geeks like us hadn’t played around with code to see how far we could rank a website on a search engine. And of course, those who came before us to build the very technologies and systems prior to search engines. Each element has played its part in the evolution of our online universe. Social media algorithms were originally built on the concepts of keyword searches and associated behaviours that first were studied in pure online marketing and SEO. There wouldn’t be University programs dedicated to SEO and Internet Marketing if not for us. And I take healthy pride in being part of that group of people who saw something potentially big in doing so and building an industry that didn’t exist before.
If SEO is a means to showcase information, then social media is a way to direct the people looking for and sharing that very information. They go hand in hand.
Personally, I’m not particularly happy with how social media has taken over people’s brains. I’ll work with the tools, but never condone how they’re being used negatively or their detrimental effects on children’s attention spans and essential human interaction. I believe moderation is key and, in some cases, complete abstinence until one reaches a certain level of maturity and consciousness. In terms of its marketing use, it has to be a conscious application.
Whilst my own work has evolved over time, taking interest in personal development to help people optimise their lives from the inside out, not just from the outside in as regards to their online businesses, one thing’s for sure; I will always be a constant optimiser – whether it’s helping people optimise their thinking or their online strategies. This is because I discovered that if people believe they can be successful, they will be; but if people believe they can’t (or expect everything to be handed to them), they generally won’t be, and this affects their businesses as well (this is super simplified and I’ll be happy to talk about this in more detail if this piques your interest).
Thanks for reading my story and cheers to everyone who has somehow participated in the positive evolution of this weird and wonderful digital realm.