Media Post, looking for content, is running a series of “how I got into this mess” articles. One caught my eye, Summer Stories: How I Became A Researcher. So he got into search research in 2003, a little after I started my search research projects on behalf of Creditcards.com. At the time, there was lots of “general” information out there, and lots of really technical detail from the quasi-tech side of the industry.
At the time, I remember a discussion with my father of all people. A relative was managing PPC campaigns for people, and he was adamant that the organic side of search that I was doing was a waste of time, that the future was all PPC, and Google was going to have to follow Yahoo/MSN to PPC on top. Why the up and coming search engine would follow that path that knocked Yahoo from top dog to also ran was unclear to me. I also saw the economics of PPC, in a competitive market, profits go to zero, because as more people bid on the traffic, eventually the PPC price equals the expected revenue, and there is no margin.
Had I not worried so much about the long run, I would have augmented the organic with a nice PPC business. Nonetheless, it’s amazing what is available now, off the shelf in 2009, that was impossible in 2001-2003. Back then, mod_rewrite existed, but no other URL manipulation. Most designers pushed content way down with embedded tables in the HTML, and other things that nobody would do now. Our single table based layouts that let us move some content to the top was revolutionary at the time, now easily handled with CSS Layouts.
Every designer now understands usability, back then, they refused to read books on it. The days of being able to grind out a few dozen pages in a competitive area and grab a top-5 rank for years may be gone, and buying PR 9 links for $50/year are gone, but the new opportunities at the intersection of search and social media are fascinating.
When I entered search in 2002/2003, I was a newcomer, because I hadn’t cut my teach in the Lycos/Altavista days. Now, I’m watching the learning process for a new round of Internet Marketers, and it’s amazing to see what tools they have that we had to build, but then again, they are up against people with a decade of experience and a pile of custom tools on then.