Bruce Clay – SEO Pioneers

Pioneer: Bruce Clay

Bruce Clay is known as The Father of SEO. If you check the Wikipedia page for ‘search engine optimization‘ there are three names mentioned, Danny Sullivan, Matt Cutts and Bruce Clay.

Originally a mainframe programmer in the early 1990s at ACER, Bruce had already experienced a successful career before he became involved in SEO.

Having worked optimizing products for mainframes, Bruce was perfectly positioned in the right place at the right time. He found a natural transition into experimenting with ranking web pages in the early days of the internet and search engines.

Bruce started out his company on his kitchen table and at first, thought this was a second career he could do taking his Notebook down to the beach whilst having a beer. However, that quickly escalated into a love for a new industry that became his life.

Bruce has never approached SEO because as a job, but because he loved the competitiveness and loved to solve puzzles.

Early on, very few search engines did their own crawling. They all entered into partnerships to serve results. So, Bruce created the Search Relationship Chart which was an infographic showing the connections between all the main players at that time.

Bruce unintentionally created one of the first pieces of link bait and this turned out to be the best piece of marketing he could ever have done for his company. People were downloading, printing out and placing the chart in their cubicles and every print had his company branding on it.

The search relationship chart had 300,000 downloads in the first month alone and over time generated thousands of links.

Bruce attended and spoke at Danny Sullivan’s first SES conference. There were only 200 people at the event and the event was a different format from what we are used to today. There was an advanced track room that was a roundtable in a room with experts that people could directly ask questions.

Danny Sullivan attributes Bruce as the first person to start using the term “search engine optimization”.

This developed from Bruce’s previous experience as an engineer optimizing products. Because the work in the nascent field of SEO was about optimizing pages for search engines the term made sense. Literally – optimizing pages for search engines.

He didn’t trade mark or buy the domain ‘SEO’ or ‘searchengineoptimization’ as it never occurred to him it would develop into such a huge industry. He only started using the term to explain what he was doing.

Bruce is an advocate for ethical practice in the industry. In the late 90s, he wrote the code of ethics and has always taken his position seriously.

He believes there’s a lot of responsibility in SEO. If a business was to lose 80% of its traffic, it could go out of business overnight. So, as an extension to being responsible for their ranking and traffic, you are responsible for their business.

In this interview Bruce talks about how he:

  • Founded his company on his kitchen table and his first client was a White Witch.
  • Unintentionally created one of the first pieces of link bait and it turned out to be the best piece of marketing he could ever have done.
  • Is credited as being the first person to use the term ‘search engine optimization’
  • Got hooked on ranking, and what he finds so compelling about SEO.
  • Created the SEO Code of Ethics and the responsibility he feels as an SEO.
  • Dabbled with black hat and spam techniques, and why.
  • Is so motivated to help people learn in the industry, and why.
  • Only hires experts with 15 years of experience in his business, and why.

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