A couple of years ago, when I was the head SEO here at StepForth Placement, that was the way I would open all letters, notices or bulletins to our clients. “Dear Friends”

While “friends” might not be the most appropriate business-like greeting, it was the one that I felt best suited the relationship I wanted to establish between the company and its most important assets (and renewable resources), our customers.

For the most part, the salutation fit and many lasting friendships based on mutual respect, trust and honesty have been established. Though the term friends might be seen as sort of flakey in a business sense, I think I have had the good fortune in my career to find ways to use the word well. Thanks friends.

This is perhaps the most difficult letter I’ve ever written to the growing number of “friends of StepForth” as it is my public resignation letter. About three weeks ago, I gave my real-life friend, mentor and employer, Ross Dunn notice that, by August 1, I will be leaving the firm to strike out on my own.

On August 1, I am opening a new sort of search engine marketing agency named Markland Media. (www.marklandmedia.com – coming Aug1)

It was a tough decision to make. I take an enormous amount of pride in our small firm. The staff members know what they are talking about. I enjoy the intellect, talent and humour of my coworkers and StepForth provides the best work environment I’ve ever experienced in a small business.

When Ross said he wanted to build a business based on absolutely ethical search engine optimization and marketing practices, he really meant it. That means a lot to me and I think that commitment stands as one of the company’s greatest long-term assets.

I remember a few years ago, before the firm had grown to take on more staff, Ross and I were discussing the pros and cons of moving the business (and ourselves) away from Vancouver Island and over to the mainland megalopolis of Vancouver. We decided against the move, even though it would have certainly meant more business and much faster growth, for two reasons. The first was the slow paced lifestyle on southern Vancouver Island is unbelievably rare and precious. The second was that while the move would have brought a lot more money into the firm, it would have likely come at a sacrifice of production quality and our dedication to learning. I think I had worked for Ross for about nine months at the time but it was an instructive experience that forged a lasting respect for the way his thinking and ethics worked.

Many search marketers express frustration that they can’t relate to their coworkers or that their employers are unable to relate to them. That has never been a problem around here.

StepForth has earned its reputation as one of the best boutique search engine optimization and placement firms in the world. I leave with unending respect and affection for the company and its staff.

I wanted to take a few short paragraphs (or perhaps a page) to explain the motivations behind my decision. They are all positive and, if this life-altering experience goes the way I am hoping it will, the synergies I see in the search marketing environment will keep me involved in one way or another with StepForth for years to come.

I believe that the search marketing industry is at a threshold point in which the environment it works in is rapidly segmenting into several definable and cross-pollinating channels. My personal interests in online marketing are expanding far beyond the arena of pure SEO. I wish to explore them further than StepForth’s dedication to pure SEO allows. I think this has come across in several blog postings that are increasingly straying away from SEO related materials.

I see search engine optimization as the common sense foundation of a well-rounded online marketing campaign. Over time, I believe the SEO industry will gain the respect of traditional advertisers, advertising agencies and other web or social marketers simply because SEO is increasingly important. It is also increasingly arcane and almost impossible to fully grasp unless you already have a deep background in it. SEO is not dead or even close to dying. On the contrary, it is about to morph back to the techno-artistic playground that originally attracted many of the old-timers to the industry.

For the record, and possibly for the final time in this space, SEO is not about manipulating search engines. SEO is about using the best practices of web design, content creation, accessibility, usability, copywriting, and other marketing disciplines, to make a website or web document as search engine and live-user friendly as possible. Though complex, the concept is simple, it works, and it is effective.

As a common sense foundation, SEO provides the base from which other forms of online marketing can and should be built on top of. As new tools and technologies are introduced to the environment, several new marketing venues or channels are opening up. I think that many of these channels are interconnectable and it is those connections, along with the opportunities to run multi-channel online ad campaigns that get my intellectual and creative juices jiving with my keyboard each morning.

Over the years, I have played armchair quarterback by observing and commenting on many of the goings on in the greater online marketing universe. Next month, I’m going to take to the field. I plan to use the services of some of the best specialists in this increasingly segmented and specialized field to provide what I consider a full-spectrum, well-rounded online marketing strategy for clients.

I plan to continue my association with StepForth in several ways. First of all, as far as I am concerned, StepForth has first right of refusal for virtually any pure SEO business that comes my way. Scott and Ross are among the best, most knowledgeable and most ethical SEOs on the planet and I have tremendous faith in their expertise. Secondly, I will continue to write a column for the StepForth weekly newsletter. I love this space and highly value the readership of the newsletter. Next, I am available as an SEO consultant through StepForth. (While Markland will provide several levels of consultancy, pure SEO consultancy is best left to StepForth, which has invested in the tools, technology, and server infrastructure necessary to do the job properly.) Lastly, I am going to continue in my role as SEO trainer for new staff at StepForth when and if needed. As I said several times before, I highly value my relationship with the crew here.

I also want to reiterate how important the friends, supporters, and clients of StepForth are to me. Over the years, your stories have literally become my stories. Our clients are the best. I have had the honour to meet too many wonderful and interesting people during my tenure here to mention but, if you even have the slightest inkling that this might mean you, it probably does.

Thanks friends. It, and you, has been great. This isn’t necessarily goodbye or farewell but it does mark a huge transition for me and for the company I have grown up with. My last official day at StepForth is July 15 but I have a spot of vacation time so my last real day here is June 30.