This is my last official post in the role of News Editor at StepForth Placement. As of the middle of the month, I will be a free agent. As of the end of this post, I am on vacation-time. Its a strange feeling.

It has been an incredible adventure and a true privilege working here for the past six years. In that time, the website optimization and search engine marketing sector has grown from a tiny cottage industry to become one of the most significant sectors operating on the Internet.

When I started at StepForth, Google was a garage level start-up. Lycos, Alta Vista and Infoseek were the major search engines and Yahoo was considered a directory, not a portal. Top20 placements on forgotten engines such as Northern Lights, Magellan, and Excite were once as important to me as Top10 Google results are now.

Six years ago, banner ads were the most creative form of online advertising and formed the bulk of the website marketing industry. Animated .gifs were still kind of cool. Back then, consumers were afraid to offer their personal information online. Today, they don’t even think about it, allowing vast amounts of personal information to fall into the data-mines of a vast number of professional trackers.

I used to see technology as electronic applied mechanics. I now see technology as people. That might look weird in writing but I have had a number of privileged peaks behind innumerable curtains and have learned that the Wizard is, in reality, a number of creative and talented people.
Website optimization used to be played like a game with the search engines providing both the playing fields and the scorecards. Today it is a full-time responsibility for many search marketers just keeping up with the various marketing channels presented by one search engine.

When I started my search marketing career, search engines were seen as the cutting edge. Today search engines are closer to the mainstream with social networking in the form of image, file and contact sharing moving to the forefront.

While a lot has changed over the years, as much remains the same. The spirit of entrepreneurialism online is wild, unfettered and infective. So is the spirit of helpfulness and cooperation. I continue to participate in a number of search engine marketing forums and discussion groups, most of which can provide expert level advice to newbies and experts alike. The only difference between peoples general attitudes towards the Internet today and peoples attitudes back then is that online businesses and operators tend to be a bit wiser and better informed than before.

The Internet continues to be the ultimate equalizer for small businesses competing against the advertising might of much larger corporations. Its use is changing, as more people become web and technology literate. The Net has become an ultimate equalizer for individual and collaborative content creators trying to get their materials noticed by a now global market.

Most small and many known bands, for instance, share their music through their MySpace accounts, getting notoriety as friends notify friends about something they liked. Similarly, services such as YouTube, Technocrati, and Flickr allow creators of video, text and image content to share their work with the most popular getting the most attention. The distribution opportunities offered by the Internet enforce a quality conscious meritocracy as opposed to the lowest-common-denominator corporate content that constituted the consumers’ previous options.

Perhaps the best synergy between independent content creators and the search marketing industry is going to be found on a couple of the old school search entities. Yahoo is developing the Yahoo Publishing Network allowing members to share and use content available across the network. Ultimately, individuals can become their own network publishers, financing their efforts on paid search advertising and commissions for selling music and other products through the greater Yahoo network. Lycos is planning a similar network, as is AOL.

Search marketing is changing as rapidly as the search environment changes. SEO is still extremely important but the techniques used to achieve first page placements have changed several times over the years.

Six years passes and everything about search marketing (and the Internet environment) has changed, except the people. Doing business on the Internet is all about communication and communication is all about people. Happy long weekends for folks in North America. I’ll see y’all in a month or so in a new format. I am going to continue writing regular columns, including some for StepForth news. I will continue to work with StepForth as a consultant.

Again, it all comes down to the people whether they are clients, readers or colleagues. It has been an amazing six years. Thanks folks.