“Hi, I’m Heather, and I’m the original content goblin.”
I saw the announcement drop on a friend’s Facebook page.
My friend’s name is Daron Babin, and he was laughing about how the article “The people who ruined the internet” made him look like a villain.
So, of course, I had to read the article. (Here’s the link. Warning: It’s long.)
The article started out feisty, with lines like, “What happened to the cottage industry of search engine optimization experts who struck content oil and smeared it all over the web?”
I’ve often longed for a retrospective article discussing the early days of SEO, with a Halt and Catch Fire vibe. (If you haven’t watched it, do. It gave me so many feels.)
After all, it felt like the Wild West back in the mid-to-late 1990s. We were a bunch of well-meaning geeks, caught up in the rush of an industry’s early days and setting best practices on the fly.
Back then, most companies didn’t have websites. Google didn’t exist. Everyone was on freakin’ dial-up.
Just think about that for a moment. The SEO industry started on freakin’ dial-up.
The highlight of any conference was sitting in dark hotel bars and sharing SEO tips and stories. We freely shared information because nobody else understood what we did.
I learned so much from those smart people.
That’s why it hurts my soul to see paragraphs — paragraphs that appear in a national publication — read like this:
“So who ends up with a career in SEO? The stereotype is that of a hustler: a content goblin willing to eschew rules, morals, and good taste in exchange for eyeballs and mountains of cash. A nihilist in it for the thrills, a prankster gleeful about getting away with something.”
As the founder of SEO writing, I feel I get to claim The Original Content Goblin crown.
Yes, “content goblin” made me laugh. But COME ON!
First, the author makes it sound like everyone who started in SEO made bank and is living in Florida, attending alligator conferences for fun (seriously, read the article.)
Although some folks did cash out, the majority of folks I know are solopreneurs. They have dry times and occasional cash flow issues. They stress about clients, their families, and taking vacation time. They aren’t magically rich because they started the SEO industry.
If anything, many of us (myself included) walked away from buyout offers because the work was more important. Did that fund my 401K? No. But it made my soul happy.
But more importantly, we weren’t all living on the edge and scamming every company we could. Did some people do it? Sure. Did Google know who they were? Yes.
Back then, the super-smart “Black Hat” SEOs and Google representatives were friends. They respected each other’s skills, and were respectful of each other.
It was a different time.
Did we make Google search “worse?”
Nope. That’s got nothing to do with us.
If anything, Google, throughout the years, has tried to make the search results better.
It may not feel true. But it is.
Sure, SEOs use our skills to help our content position. But at the end of the day, Google is the decider.
For instance, Google can say that massive amounts of incoming links will help your rankings one day — and change its mind the next.
SEO companies (or SEOs) didn’t change those rules. Google did.
What helped drive positions in 2003 is different than 2013 and in 2023.
And we play the game by Google’s rules.
Are there disreputable SEO companies, even today? Yes.
I cringe when I hear about bad SEO firms doing crappy work and charging three times more than I do.
At the same time, SEOs (and SEO writers like you) provide a service.
— We help small business owners who would have no idea how to position on their own.
— We drive business (and money) to companies who may acquire most of their leads through our efforts.
— We can help good people get recognized for their smarts as thought leaders.
I know I’m not someone who “profits off of other’s misery” and who deserves to be attacked by an alligator (again, read the article.)
And neither are you.
Would I trade any second I spent pounding stages in those early days and sharing the SEO writing word?
I remember those times as Wild West crazy, yes — but exciting and transformative.
SEOs didn’t ruin the internet. We built it, monetized it, and made it easier for people around the world to access the information they needed.
If that makes me the original content goblin, so be it.
Now, get off my lawn.
Danny Sullivan, the godfather of SEO, was interviewed for this article and was not…portrayed well. Here’s Danny’s breakdown of the interview.