Heather Lloyd-Martin SEO Pioneers

Heather Lloyd-Martin – SEO Pioneer

Heather was the original writer for SEO who became involved in the industry from 1996 in the very early days and since that time has contributed much to the development of writing copy for SEO and for users. Forbes magazine described Heather as a pioneer of SEO copywriting.

Heather spoke at many of the early conferences and attended the original Google Dances where the search community were welcomed into Googleplex for social events (read parties).

Heather has an incredible energy and her passion for good copywriting and the SEO community is infectious.

As a note, if I look tired or bored halfway through this interview, it’s because I had a coughing fit during the interview which made my eyes look glazed. I loved every minute of my chat with Heather and we also chatted for some time off-camera on a personal level. She is a wonderful human being.

In this interview, Heather talks about:

04:09 How classic direct response marketing underlines SEO copywriting
05:52 Starting working online in the mid-’90s
07:49 The Women Talk Business Programme and how that helped Heather get started
09:49 Starting to find the SEO community and meeting Jill Whalen
11:30 Adapting copywriting skills to start writing online
14:05 The skills and position that set Heather apart
18:54 The attraction of SEO rather than online copywriting
20:45 Keyword research tools and techniques in the 90s.
25:35 Connecting with other SEOs as the industry formed
29:18 The reactions from technical SEOs at the time
32:00 The Google Dances at Googleplex, partying hard and meeting Larry and Sergey
39:53 Attending early conferences and favourite events such as SES Chicago
45:16 How SEO copywriting has evolved over the years
51:00 How ChatGPT might impact the industry and what could change
54:55 What skills remain the same and still apply today
01:00 Missing the community from the early days and how cooperation was so important to the industry development
01:05 SEO Pioneers after dark series!

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SEO Pioneers – Heather Lloyd-Martin Transcript

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
And there’s a lot of people who believe that SEO started around, I don’t know what, 2010, 2007 or so after the recession. And they don’t realize that there was all these people that were trying, they were doing so much back in the day, trying to bring search into the mainstream. You knew you were part of something big.

You didn’t know what it was. And you were grateful to be there for every moment because every moment felt exciting. Every moment felt cool. And everyone you were talking to was so fucking brilliant in their own way. Especially back when nobody really understood what we were doing, we were guaranteed that we could fly to a conference, be around our people and everyone got it.

And not only did they get it, but they were excited to learn what you knew. For us old timer geeks, it’s fun to watch the videos and be like, Oh yeah, so you’re telling that part of the story, but we all know what really happened then.

Shelley Walsh:
Hello, and welcome to SEO pioneers. Today I’m talking to Heather Lloyd Martin, and Heather has been described by Forbes magazine as a pioneer of SEO copywriting. So I’m sure that Heather has got lots of interesting stories to tell us and I’m very looking forward to speaking to her about them. I’m going to jump straight in today and ask Heather Heather, what’s your background?

And would you label yourself, describe yourself as an SEO first or a writer first?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh, that is a wonderful question. I love that. So my background is as a writer. So prior to getting into the wild world of SEO, I started as a copywriter and primarily as B2B. So I would write marketing copy about Plate freezers for fishing boats, because that’s a wonderful thing about being a writer or an SEO.

You find out all these industries you had no idea about. And then as I was working that gig, and it was an in house job, hated it.

Back in the day, at the very beginning and it’s SEO has shifted so much because back in the day it was so very technical oriented and nobody wanted to talk about the marketing or the writing or anything else because then it was just here’s what you do with the website, here’s how you code it, here’s all the things you do to get this ranking.

And people weren’t talking about the other part of it if you want these folks to convert. So it was taking all of these Old style direct response folks and then translating what they said into what works today. So one of the folks that I would read who’s still an active copywriter is Bob Bly And he wrote the copywriter’s handbook, right?
and we talk about how to do this and how to set up the personas and back when I was in my early 20s like Oh, wow. Okay. This makes sense. So entering that into search, it made perfect sense because we wanted people to take that next step after they saw the website positioning top 10 in, what was it back then, AltaVista?
Google wasn’t even a thought back then.

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah, I find it really interesting. I’ve always said that, SEO, it’s still what underlies SEO is classic marketing. And if you’ve got those classic marketing skills, it informs you. And it, it took a while for it to catch on, but it’s just all come full circle, hasn’t it?

What year were you first, when you were first getting online?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Okay, first online was early days. When we had the Mac SE30s and it was AOL, so we’re talking maybe 90s?
96 / 97 and I was heavily into AOL back those, in those days, and I had the handle of Heather L1, which, if AOL was still around like that, you would never see it was like this cool handle that was hard to give up. And so that’s how I entered into it is like getting online the discussion groups and on all of that and then realizing, oh, there’s the World Wide Web outside of this gated community.

And through that, there was getting to know people through discussion groups. iSearch was one of them, the big one back in the day that I’m sure a lot of people had mentioned, but then there was another one that I was involved with that was called WTB, which ended up to be Women Talk Business.

So it was very early networking days prior to when we all do this on websites or Insta or Facebook or Slack. Where people would post stuff and say, Hey, I’m having a problem here, or I need help here. And that’s where we would have a curtain, a certain core group of women in the early days, helping each other out.

That’s where I believe I met Jill Whalen, because she and I would have been part of that back in the late 90s, early 2000s, both figuring our way around what is this SEO? What is this internet new opportunity that we can start leveraging?

Shelley Walsh:
That’s interesting. It’s quite nice to hear that even like in the mid 90s, there was a women in business.
Now we have the women in tech which is a really a big thing now, but that it even existed back in the 90s.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Women talk business. Yes, it is cool. And it’s wonderful that even back then there was, cause there weren’t that many women in tech.

There weren’t that many people in technology then. And with the AOL chat rooms, a lot of times you met the weird guys that were like, Hey baby, what you doing? If they figured out you’re a woman. And so it was this really cool safe space back in the day to where you could learn from other women and find out what was going on and help each other grow.

And it’s. It’s awesome how that has morphed and changed and had different attention to different things throughout the years to where I still believe there’s a pretty nice mentorship with a lot of women that will help younger women in the industry. figure out what’s going on, get, learn how to do speaking gigs, learn how to do writing, whatever they want to do for thought leadership.

So I love to see how that’s continued on because it’s not that case in all industries. And with SEO, there has been a lot of, I think there’s been a lot of mentorship with younger women coming up.

Shelley Walsh:
How did you find the group by the way?

Heather Lloyd-Martin: Jeez.
I surfed back then like I surf today. So probably it was one of those AOL groups where I knew there was this discussion group somehow and I got involved doing that.

And probably there was a certain amount of networking too. I’ve always, one of the cool things about. How I’ve been wired throughout the years is I’ve always worked alone behind the laptop and use this kind of interaction as the way I beat people as so even back then it was a cool way to be like, Hey, I’m doing this new thing to let’s trade ideas and do you know of other groups or organizations or places that might need someone like me to help them out.

Shelley Walsh:
How easy did you find it in the other days to actually start to branch out and find communities?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
There was probably a certain amount of word of mouth, but also a lot of searching or our are seeing things that other people had posted somewhere else and then realizing, Oh, that’s another place that I can look.

So for the early people that wanted to get into it, it was going down almost like a hyperlink rabbit hole of finding one resource. And then somebody mentions another, and then you learn about that. That’s how I learned about, I searched back in the day of it might’ve been through Jill or Jill might’ve learned through someone else or somehow, but she’s finding.

Oh, there’s other people that are talking about this geeky stuff and here is this curated newsletter where you can see the best questions according to the moderator and the best answers from industry professionals. This is really cool and today we take that for granted because we have so many ways to reach these people.

Back then, to be able to know that Derrick Wheeler had posted something and responded to me, or Marshall Simmonds, or Detlev Johnson, that was like a big thing. Greg Boser, another person I know that you interviewed for this. And so that was another way that we almost had. We’re able to build celebrity back in the day because we saw who was posting, who wasn’t posting and got to know people’s personalities and skill sets through that.

Shelley Walsh:
So when you started working as a copywriter online did you, was it just a natural progression of your existing skills or did you find you had to evolve it or adapt it in any way for online?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
It was very natural and it happened very quickly. So there was. There was a time when I was married back in the early days and I was starting to grow the business, but it wasn’t a huge priority.

I was starting to get my feet wet, learning SEO, doing all the stuff, learning SEO writing. And then my husband died and suddenly I was left with no income and I had to build a business really fast. So fortunately back then, either through hustle or good luck or timing or whatever. I was able to build a business really quickly and work for clients in terms of writing website copy.

I wrote a lot of website copy for cosmetic dentistry. I can talk about cosmetic dentists to this day and talk about veneers versus this versus that. But just to be able to build out all of this web copy. And back then again, Not too many people doing it. So you would tell people I write website copy and they’d be like, whoa, what I was just thinking about having a website and you can help me.

So it was because it was also on people’s minds that this is new. It might not be every business had a website back then, but businesses were starting to get the idea that this is important for us to do. And so I was already pre positioned to help these folks because I had been doing it for a long time, relatively back then.

And they were looking for someone like me. So it was. It happened quickly, but it became very easy and I learned how to network with web designers and like Jill was how that worked out. She was doing the design and she needed someone to write the content. So those kinds of synergistic relationships happened pretty easily back in the day and probably still do, but back in the day when everything was new and exciting, it was cool to be like, Oh, you have a complimentary skill. Let’s work together and see what kinds of things we could do.

Shelley Walsh:
As you started to evolve your skills, what kind of changes were you making to introduce SEO? Cause you came from traditional copywriting and nobody knew what SEO was. So as it began to evolve, what were you doing? Can you think back to any specific things that you were introducing and learning that started to set you apart with the copywriting you were doing for websites?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
The big thing that set me apart was that I was doing SEO writing, and that was so new back in the day, nobody knew what it was, but I was actually profiled by writers digest late 90s maybe early 2000. As an SEO writer, here is a new niche for writers that you might not have heard about before. So in that way, the positioning was happening for me in that here was this opportunity for freelancers who are always looking for an opportunity or writers to get involved in this new type of writing that they had not heard about before.

So new techniques back then were just adding keywords to copy, and that blew people away. And so There were a couple of objections that we were overcoming back in the day when it came to SEO writing. One is that people did not want to read copy, so people would want to have pretty websites with lots of graphics and they didn’t understand even back then you needed to have some content on the page to position.

So we were overcoming the objection of people don’t read, which we will have seen happen throughout the years of SEO. There were also the objections that people had where they didn’t want to have a website with a lot of information, because if you had information on your website, no one would call them.

This was a big thing in the B2B world. Often what I was doing in those early days is not just introducing, Hey, you have to have keywords on the page and here’s how to put them in a way that doesn’t start interfering with how the copy sounds, but yes, your readers do want to read. Back then adding keywords to the content was totally different in that It was more, it was more of a percentage deal.

I don’t want to say keyword density, but it was like, make sure you have your keyword on the page at least three times or more, and your copy is at least, X number of words. So there are a lot more guidelines that we talked about. Not necessarily because they were hard and fast even back then.

But also, just to give people an idea of how to write for this new type of content. And It was an early struggle as it can be, because of course, people want to shove in every keyword they could. So teaching them like you don’t need to do that. There were the people who didn’t want to research key phrases at all, because it was such an early step or new step.

And this is something that we still deal with today. If people don’t want to do the key phrase research, but they still want the rankings on those particular keywords. So it was like. moving a ship slowly into a new direction and trying to show people, hey, if you’ve been a copywriter for years, this isn’t a threat to what you already know.
This builds on the skills of what you know, and you’re able to reach your readers in a new way with that implied threat of, but if you don’t do it this way, what’s going to happen is that you’re Your content isn’t going to position the way you want it to and that you’re writing all this content for nothing.

So that’s when we saw in the early days of web writing, a lot of writers would specialize in either writing website copy or SEO copy. They often didn’t do both, and there were companies that would say, I just want to have website copy, not realizing that needed that extra step to have that optimized.

Today, it’s slightly I would say it’s different in that companies usually know that if they want to position in Google their content needs to go through an extra step for that, and to have that to have the SEO writing best practices folded into that strategy. But back then, there was still controversy of I have a website.
Isn’t that good enough? Do I have to do this too, in order to get it to position the engines? How are people even searching in the engines? So there was a lot of education back in those early days of, again here’s a skillset you have. It’s awesome. I’m not asking you to reinvent the wheel or write crappy content.

I’m just saying, here’s an opportunity where you can do something similar, but different and reach people slightly differently.

Shelley Walsh:
What was it that made you go down the SEO writing path rather than just being a web copywriter?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh, that’s a good question. Probably because of opportunity. I saw a web copywriter and that seemed fun and interesting and I liked all of that but there was something about SEO and having that little bit of technical geeky stuff that intrigued me. Because even though I’ve always been a writer, I’ve Focused on those types of communication skills.

There’s a big part of me. That’s a geek. And I think that’s what has helped me be successful throughout all of these years is that geeky part of me that can understand basically what’s going on with a site that can communicate with I.T. That likes to learn all of these underneath the hood things that helps make a website go so well. Yes, the content is fun and digging into conversion theory and how to write headlines and all of that has its own geeky joy for me, but it’s. Shoring that up with the technical part of SEO, I think that’s what’s kept me in the game as long as it has, because website copy, give or take, you’re right in the same type of thing.

But look what’s happened with chat GPT over the past. What three and a half months, boom, everything changes. And that’s the type of thing that I love: waking up in the morning and figuring things will probably be similar, but different than how they were the day before. And that’s okay. And I like to work on that edge of uncertainty.
Shelley Walsh: Doing the keyword research in those early days. Because obviously that, must’ve been a very new thing and you can’t have had the same tool, obviously, you didn’t have the same tools and access to data as we have now.
Heather Lloyd-Martin: WordTracker. WordTracker was around back in the early days, back early enough.

Jill ended up finding them, however long ago, and worked with Andy and Mike, and then that’s how the key phrases started flowing, through WordTracker. And then us early geeky people were also pretty good, even back then, of figuring out, all right, how are people searching? What words do we want to start thinking about using?
So we were already starting to do that manual key phrase research process in our heads prior to having the tools. The tools, of course, helped us as they do really narrow stuff down. But yeah, it was all early days. And so that’s why when I teach about how to do this. A lot of times I’m teaching the manual of okay, you’ve got a tool that will tell you this, but let’s go into Google search results page and really dig into what you see there.

Because for me, that’s the more natural way to do it than looking at a tool and helps internalize the data a lot more. I can start realizing if the data I’m getting is good for me or not right for the moment, but yeah, it was all word tracker and it’s so funny to think of like how all the people who else came up submit Wolf then we had the guys from, oh, geez, I’m trying to think like web position gold was back there, but I don’t think they did key phrase research.

I don’t think they did key phrase research, or maybe they did ranking reports or a lot of big ranking report companies back in the day. So yeah, we all figured it out as we went along and back then we never talked about search intent. It was good enough to have like women’s tennis shoes as a keyword because it wasn’t competitive like it was like it is today.

So it was super rudimentary even in the early days, but still a lot of fun because you have. a persona like you would with any other creative document. And so you know who you’re writing to, but then the key phrase research helps you really dig into what do I want to say? How do I want to say it to these people?

How do I want to work in these search terms that I know they need to see in order to, have my page convert plus? Help the reader feel like that they’re in the right place. How do I work this in a way that builds That shows information and builds empathy and everything that you want to do with that So it’s fun to see how the key phrase research can help almost set a an outline of how you write what you write and gives you that Even more insight of how people are thinking Yeah.

Shelley Walsh:
I think it’s also the psychology. I do masses of keyword research, but I just, I love the psychology and also the fascination with the random insane searches that you find when you’re digging into the tools, really obscure keywords.

I’ve seen some really hilarious things in my time, but it’s the psychology of it. It’s a sociological insight into how people are thinking and how the masses and, The way people search, I just find that addictive.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Yeah. Oh, it’s so cool. And that is even in the early days, that is how I would get folks that were resistant to key phrases research, SEO writing to get into it.

Because I would say, here’s a way to dig into what your prospects, your readers are thinking, the questions that they have, and before. Back in the old days, we would have to talk to people and go to trade shows and run surveys and all of these things that we might still do today, but that we today we have so many other more seamless, easy ways to get that data were back then it was harder to get that data and mine it and use it the way that we needed to use it.
So it’s so fun to be able to have all of this at our fingertips and say, Oh, people are interested in this incredibly obscure key phrase that might only pop up a few times, but if people click on it, then it’s like a hundred thousand dollars easy. Awesome. Okay.

Shelley Walsh:
So who else were you mentioned Jill Whalen that you met through the so was it women talk business group? Yes. Yeah. Women talk business. Who else did you first start to connect with in the early days?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh, geez, through that group. I’m not even sure how many people are around doing stuff anymore. I was trying to remember names last night.

Oh, gee, folks all got to know each other and are still friends today. So we’ve got, Shari Thurow, who is brilliant with what she’s done and everything that she’s done for the industry Detlev Johnson, Greg Boser, Marshall Simmonds, Derek Wheeler, Kat Seida I don’t believe Kat’s in Search anymore, but she’s doing her own brilliant stuff, Barbara Kohl so you’ve got, there were very Few people that were, and of course Danny back then, before he was a Googler and was like us, just figuring this out as we went along.

Chris Sherman. So we were this core group of people back in the day that, because there were only a few of us that knew how to talk about this, we would go from conference to conference, and at first it was domestic and then it became international and we’d be flying to. Search engine strategies, London or search engine strategy, Sydney, and talking about it there and seeing how different countries are might be like a little head or a little behind and learning from other people of what they were doing back in the day.

So it’s. It’s funny how if I think back and I can think of 20 people that I was interacting with I’m sure there were more. And now when I think of search and everybody that encompasses. There are like hundreds of people that I could probably name off the top of my head or folks that are Really good at what they do and super well branded and have contributed a lot over the years but back then not a lot of us, but we all became like each other’s brother and sister because we were learning as we went along and you know figuring out how to work with clients and hearing about oh I, this client came to me and I don’t really want them.

Could you use them? And then helping people build their businesses that way. We would talk about things like that too. And so that was a really fun experience that I’ve never had since. I’m not sure if I ever will have again of a group of core group of people. Building this industry, figuring things out, and then being, for the most part, completely cool with, do you need business, I need business, let’s help each other through this, because we’re all trying to do this and figuring it out together.

And for, and I’ve talked to other people that have been in early days of search that might have been a branded speaker or worked on the sidelines. And they say the same thing of like back then you knew you were part of something big. You didn’t know what it was. And you were grateful to be there for every moment because every moment felt exciting.

Every moment felt cool. And everyone you were talking to was so fucking brilliant in their own way. And we respected the hell out of each other. And we still do.

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah this industry, it’s full of some incredibly smart amazing people. I feel really privileged to know some incredibly intelligent people who are friends through this industry.

As you started to connect with the technical SEOs how were they perceiving what were you doing? What kind of reactions were you getting from them? Were they happy to embrace you, embrace the kind of work you were doing and work with you? Or did you get any resistance?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
That is an excellent question because traditionally the marketing person does not hear that you don’t get a lot of respect from technical because you’re talking different languages and I get that. It’s odd that never happened to me. Back then I was like one of very few people that came from the marketing background.

There were probably others. I can’t remember who but I was one that was focusing primarily on the writing. I talked about the tech but I was mostly the writer. So even I expected at conferences, coming in as, the token woman, creative writer, working with all these geeky guys that they’d be looking at me like yeah, no and I dunno why they happened either because we were all in it together.

Because I respected them and I learned how to talk as much tech as I could, and even to this day, I can do it and I will preface everything with, I can take this to a certain point in the conversation. I know what I know, and then I’m going to back off and defer to you, but we, I want to still have those high level discussions and Every technical person that I’ve ever come across, whether in the industry, early days, or even now working with like in house clients that might have the technical person who doesn’t quite know search, but they know programming and websites really well.

I still have those kind of very respectful relationships where they know I don’t know what they know. I know they don’t know what I know, but together we can create a really kick ass campaign for the client or whoever that we’re working with. And so that has always been really cool. Like most of the guys in search at that point, early days were technical geeks.

And I. And I still consider them like my big brothers from the industry, and I feel so fortunate that I have those kind of interactions because I know people that have come from a marketing background and they didn’t quite feel as respected or they felt like they weren’t listened to quite as much. And for me, it was always.
Easy. So however that worked out, whether that was time, place, personality, however, I feel very grateful that I’ve always had a really wonderful relationship with anything, everyone from the technical side, and they’ve been able to respect my knowledge and vice versa.

Shelley Walsh:
So back in early days, when did you, do you remember a first encounter in Google?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh let’s see. We heard about the Google stuff. We were talking about AltaVista and all of that, and then Google came in. And I remember the first, you’d asked about the Google dances, like when Google came in and they started making a big, they started wanting to take over the world. It was obvious that’s where they were going.

Going to the Google dances and have seen the Google representatives at every conference that was that helped everybody get used to what Google who Google was at that time what they were doing. So when I was running programming conferences for the Direct Marketing Association, Google back in the day was always really good about having a representative come and talk to People and maybe it was about how Google search worked, how people could position.
And that was always an interesting thing for marketers because they were able to connect directly with who they thought was controlling their search rankings. Today in our world, we’re used to having that kind of access back then it was a big deal. We started other search engines, like we didn’t start thinking about AltaVista for a while, Yahoo started to drop away and they had their paid inclusion.

That was a big thing. But then suddenly Google just stayed more and more popular and that suddenly the conversation started shifting from optimizing websites for Bing or back then it wasn’t Bing, was it but for Microsoft or for Yahoo, whatever. Then it started looking at who’s getting the most market share.
And that market share was slowly and surely they started to be Google. And so that’s when a lot of what we talked about became very Google centric and Google that. To their credit, at that time, they were like, Hey, we’ve got this dance. Visit us at the campus. We’ll bus all you in.

Fill it full of booze and food. And then we’ll say, let’s see how this goes. And that’s where a lot of this shit happened back in the day. Granted we had the events and people would speak, but like it is in a lot of other places, the networking, the real, here’s how things work.

At the networking parties, it happened in the bar. You probably heard during these things over and over how much stuff happened in the bars after the sessions. And that’s just because that’s how we all got together, talked about what was going on. Same thing happened. We were at Google. We all got together, talked about what’s going on, had a good time when we were doing it.

Shelley Walsh:
Have you got any interesting stories about what was happening at Google down the scenes? I have to ask.
Heather Lloyd-Martin: I can’t narc on the people who did certain stuff. There were things I think stolen off the campus that somebody might’ve gotten up.

My thing is I always wanted to get into one of the Google buildings. That was it for me because they had security posted.So I would go to security guard, I have to use bathroom, I have to use bathroom.
And that was like my thing, but back then it was. That was another thing about search is that we were really good at what we did and really smart, but we were all in what was it like our late 20s early 30s it to a certain extent. And so we would party really hard. And maybe people aren’t talking about that on these interviews, but I will. We partied really hard and had a lot of fun. And the Google dances was one of those places where we would make that happen. And thank goodness back then, this is when cell phones weren’t. A normal thing, even. So there weren’t people snapping pictures everywhere. We could be safe doing what we did because we had that code of silence of what you do, you’re not going to talk about because you’ve been watching me do the same thing.
So together, we will get up the next morning and pretend like none of this ever happened and do our thing.

Shelley Walsh:
What happens at Google Dance?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Exactly, and if you talk about any of the webmaster radio parties with Darren and Brandy Babin, same type of thing, great parties, super fantastic networking, but same kind of code of silence, but they were also a way for us to get to know each other, network. Trade information. So although there was that fun party aspect for the way that we worked as search marketers, it was how a lot of stuff got done. So when I used to do stuff for the direct marketing association, they’d say, we want to have a breakfast meeting at 6.30 in the morning with all the search marketing colleagues. I would say, no one’s going to show up. I’m not going to show up.

Shelley Walsh:
When you we were at the Google dances were Larry and Sergei active at those?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
They were the first one. I’ve actually got a picture somewhere where it was Detlev Johnson introducing me to Sergey and Larry and they knew us back then.
And I say knew in air quotes. There’s probably some folks that they knew more of. I would imagine Greg Boser would be one of those just because Greg has always been so brilliant with how he does stuff and loves to push that all low. But still small group, small community. So we all were able to say that we knew Sergey and Larry and we’d have the photos of us being taken with them.

So we could show our clients like. It’s not just us saying that look, so it’s funny that you look back in these now and I look at the photos and oh, I was blonde back then and nobody had gray hair, everyone looks so young because we were so young. And they would come in and do their thing.

Now I think it was. Maybe two Google dances that were, they were more visible. There might’ve been more, other people might remember that, but I just remember the one of Oh my God, look, who’s there. We know that this is so cool. And now they are, and we’re used to that.

Shelley Walsh:
So they weren’t, so they weren’t in there partying hard amongst everybody?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
They kept the separation. I don’t remember that. I do remember one person who was that, that was part of Google back in the day that has since moved on, but a lot changed when Google went public too. Before it was a little bit more free for all and then as soon as Google started going public then people started.

I remember the Google dance when Google was just about ready to go public or just right after. And it was different because suddenly those people that we partied with were just like, Hey, you’re a brilliant dude. That brilliant dude was like the number three hire at Google and suddenly worth a gazillion dollars.

And that was like the beginning of all of that happening for some of us of seeing people we know go from just normal person to suddenly, you know that they’re worth a lot of money because Google.

Shelley Walsh:
So you were quite active in the conference circuit as well. What was the, can you remember the very first conference you went to?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Search Engine Strategies, Boston. Yes, Search Engine Strategies, Boston. And it was writing for search engines. It was the topic and it wasn’t really a conference where you would have a. Speaker. There probably were that, but there was a big ballroom and there were tables, little round tables, like where people would eat scattered throughout the ballroom.

And they’d have like little tent cards if you want to know about this come to this table. And so Jill and I were on the writing for search engines table and I was petrified.. So we did that. We did that there. Before that, Jill and I had done a conference in Amsterdam, and Danny Sullivan wasn’t able to make it because his wife was going to go in labor then, so we needed someone to talk about search.

So that was like the first official conference that I did back, and they even had a gong. I don’t know if Jill talked about this, but if you went over time. On your speaking gig that they had a big gong in the background and the moderator would be like And that was the way that they got you off the page.

So I did not want to be gone so going to round tables was easy and then after that it was like Let’s have Heather come in to talk about search and strategies Dallas and then it was San Francisco was another one. San Francisco was awesome back then. I was at the Fairmont. And It was just talking about writing for search engines, but back then, after that first panel, the round table discussion, then we got into more like Jill would talk a little bit and then I would talk a little bit on an actual stage.

So we moved up from the table to the stage and then it became like a normal part of how the conferences ran is there would be a writing for search engines track or session somewhere in the programming.

Shelley Walsh:
Are there any of those earlier conferences that stand out to you as one of your favorite events?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Search Engine Strategy Chicago. That was probably mid 2000s, prior to the recession. And they had somebody, it was Jim Staub from Position Tech somebody else, I can’t remember who, they rented out the Buddy Guy nightclub. And they were able to get Buddy Guy come in and play a couple songs. And that was an incredible experience.
One, because in Chicago and we’re at Buddy Guy’s night club and we’re all partying and having fun and dancing and enjoying each other’s company. But just because it was just such a fun time. To remember something that we never would have had any other exposure to any other time. And like, how often do you get to have Buddy Guy come in to do this private thing for you for a couple of songs?

And plus we were doing our thing. We were still sharing information with people and feeling really good about how we were helping it. That it’s. One of the really awesome things back in the day, it wasn’t just the people or the parties or the fact that we were all in this fast moving industry and all of that.

But for me, at least it was knowing that what I was talking about, what my friends were talking about what we were doing. Was having such an impact on people’s lives. We were hearing about how people were able to build businesses because of what they learned from us or get out of bad jobs and start something new because of what they learned or companies that today are huge.

But back then were really small and growing and we saw how they were able to grow because of that. So that part was exciting. So that the parties were awesome. The conferences were. Fun search engine strategies, Chicago or San Francisco, the early one. That was awesome. Any of the San Jose ones because you’re right, right there in the middle of it.

But the things I remember are the highlights of there was a party here, the speaking gig there getting on a plane and seeing my friends in Sweden and being able to and feeling like I had come home because that’s where my family was from. Those are the things that, that, when I think back, make up the quilt patchwork quilt of what I remember about the SEO industry. All of these awesome experiences with awesome people in Awesome places doing awesome things.
And I just stuffed this interview for the word. Awesome. I’ll hyperlink that to go to another wedding.

Shelley Walsh:
So how do you think online copy SEO copywriting has changed over the years? Do you think it’s evolved?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
It’s evolved. There was a time that it was really shitty. Real shitty. Back when keyword stuffing worked, thin content was in prior to Panda. There was a push to we can see now with chat GPT of content is easy to push out.
Let’s just push it out. We don’t care what it sounds like. We just want to have pages with keywords that people can land on. And. Although that’s never been what I talked about or stressed, of course, people would do that because it was working. And yeah but, and then we saw from, like I mentioned at the beginning, people didn’t want, thought, oh no one wants to read.

We don’t want words on the website. And then it went to people don’t want to read that much. And then suddenly it evolves into people want to read 4,500 words on a recipe. Or are they. Some sort of white paper. So we want to give them all the words. And I feel like finally, we’re starting to realize that copywriting and even SEO copywriting, we might have loose best practices or rules, but it’s all down to What is good for the reader?

What do they need to see? What answers their question better than anyone else? And that might be that you write something longer because that’s what fits the query and that’s what people need to see. Or in many cases, it’s not like that. So It’s seeing how people have evolved from wanting to have hard and fast rules to note it to knowing that it can be really squishy and that we’re making a lot of educated guesses along the way through tools and what we can see on Google and what we know our readers want.

I’ve also seen throughout the years there has been an uptick on people wanting to learn how to write better and this I find really satisfying. It’s not just, I want to learn how to put words on a page, because anyone can do that. I want to learn how to use sales writing formulas in a way to help structure my content slightly differently and resonate with the reader faster.

I want to be able to dig into a reader persona and come up with the right voice for the client, not just one that’s easy for me to kick out because I’ve written a bunch of content that day. So that emphasis on good writing in looking at how to evolve your craft, looking at say chat GPT and not looking at it as a enemy, but as like a writing assistant, things like that have been exciting to watch because I remember that.

What I choose to talk about conversion and ask telling people you need to write to have a goal in mind and people would look at me funny no, we’re just writing for rankings. And today there’s a whole different conversation about what we write and how we write and how we even repurpose what we write.

So we’re not on this constant hamster wheel of content. Content creation. And I find that again, that’s exciting that we’re having different conversations. So as SEO has evolved, as the tools have evolved, as our knowledge has evolved, as the technology has evolved, then the writing has also evolved. And we’ve learned that people will.

Read if we’re giving them the right words to read that people do want to have useful information on a website, if it’s presented in a way that resonates with them. And that we have to get out of thinking it’s all about writing it for Google. We now are much better at writing things for the reader first, knowing that the secondary goal of course, having that position in Google to where we can have maximum findability going on. So there has definitely been an evolution for the better. Now, will ChatGPT change that a little bit? Of course. And I think that there will be a push for some people, not the folks that are in this Every day, but for some businesses that will look at this like this is the holy grail.

We can kick out all the content we want to for 20 a month or for free. So there might be that little bit of like flooding the index with crappy content, like we saw back in the day pre Panda when we were all spinning content, not me, others when people would spend content and. I think that once folks realize that’s not going to work, then they’ll back off from that and start looking at what does saw that happening with Panda.

I’ll probably see that happening again. I do know that. Anecdotally, from what I see in the people contacting me that more companies are interested in not just how to rep for Google, but. How to connect with their readers, how to write in a voice that their readers will love and feel like, Oh, this company, this person, whatever is the resource that I need.

And that’s so gratifying to see how that again how that conversation has shifted throughout the years.

Shelley Walsh:
Do you think with ChatGPT, people, again, they’re going to, as you just said, they’re going to use the tool think that it’s going to take over and do their job for them, but then realize that actually it’s just a tool and the tool is only as good as the person operating it.

So you need to have somebody who knows what they’re doing, right?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
I’m telling my writers now, my certification group, it’s like you, you may lose clients depending on the type of clients that you work with, because if you have a business who is, where they’re worried about money they read the news, they think, Oh, any second now, something bad is going to happen.

It would make sense if they went towards a less expensive option, if they thought that could help them, but to your point that they’re going to realize that. Okay, it’s a tool, but you’re still going to need a writer to help with that, to smooth stuff out, and it’s just going to take one crappy article, one big mistake, one something, or none of their content positioning.

So there’s always going to be that education as the technology changes, there’s the education of how does that technology work with what we know about human psychology, how, with what we know about how people use websites, and what we know now is like, That kind of content, the with ChatGPT is now, it’s probably not going to position in Google without a human going in and touching it and updating it and doing all the things.

So we know that because we’re in it, we see the capabilities and the limitations. There’s going to be companies that don’t yet, but they will see later about how it is a tool, but they’re always going to need that person to help them figure out how to best present their brand online.

Shelley Walsh:
We’ve already seen examples, haven’t we, of tools that are uplifting misinformation.
That, that’s going to be the big thing, you can’t just have a tool kick out an article on some random topic without actually knowing the topic in depth itself, to know whether it’s full of mistakes or not.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Exactly. Exactly. I think I did ask it to write something about me and it was wrong.
I don’t remember what I had worked for an agency or started with an agency, and it wasn’t a huge, it was a mistake, but for someone who wouldn’t have known, it’d be like, Oh, that makes sense. Heather started with an agency back in the day, but it was still wrong.

Shelley Walsh:
I think it’s going to be really interesting.

I think there’s going to be some fantastic applications of how it can be used in some interesting ways creating. Small your own sort of small AI database on a subject that you can train it yourself. But yeah, I’m going to be really fascinated to watch what happens, but I’m still ultimately not concerned that for high value writers that it will replace.

I think the low end of the market is going to get washed away for sure. Easily, yes. Yeah. Anybody who has value who approaches writing in the same way as yourself does. I don’t think there’s going to be any concern there. In fact, I think there’ll probably be even more demand.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Exactly, because those subject matter experts, the people that can create high conversion copy, they’re going to be safe no matter what happens. And that’s another thing that I recommend to writers or people that are established or coming up in the world is your work doesn’t speak for itself unless you can show, hey, I was able to drive this kind of income for a client or do this, reach this kind of goal.

And you can’t get that kind of result with chat GPT, but when you’re going in and selling services, if you’re able to say this is what we’ve done for other folks that it makes you more valuable, it helps you get paid more and that to your point, you don’t worry about the technology aspect because you know what you bring to the table is so much better and different than anything that could ever be produced out of ChatGPT.

Shelley Walsh:
Just circling right back to the beginning, what skills do you think that you learned in the 90s have remained and still apply today?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh, that’s a good question. Back in the 90s, Even back then it was what does the customer, what does the reader, what does the person, the website want to see, what do they need to see to be able to stay on the website as long as possible and where.

Where I had come from back then was writing, say, catalog copy, right? And so one of the things about catalogs is that you have a catalog and you are flipping through a catalog and there is no other competition for that catalog, unless you’re a hoarder and you have a thousand other catalogs in your house.
But online, it’s so much different and that you’re competing with all of these other sites that are just a back button away. Today, of course we know that. Back then, that was revolutionary. Of what do we do now to get people’s attention and help them realize that they are in the right place and start building.

It was like early community building, even if all we were doing was writing website copy. And so one of the things that I take to everything that I’m doing today is that thought of what can I do to help people feel seen, to help people feel like they’re going to be able to have a safe place to get their questions answered, to make their transaction to whatever, and that they know that the person who wrote the copy of the company, they You know them, they see them, they understand those pain points and as things get bigger and bigger, as technology grows, as we get spread more apart as humans, especially during the pandemic, where it felt like we didn’t have any connection, that urge, that need to be seen and understood, even if it’s by a blog that you’re reading content that clicks with you and makes you feel like, yes, fuck yes, this person gets me, that yeah, Is what’s needed more than ever.

And that’s a lesson that I learned back in the 90s and that I would continue hammering on today and make even more important. The technology is great, but it can do for it. It’s awesome. I get awesome that we can do so much with what we have. And today, what we can do is so much different and bigger and better than what we did back then.
But at the end of the day, we’re still connecting with people. We’re still asking them, Hey, can you want to come into my world and learn a little bit about me? And maybe you want to work with me and buy from me. And the more we keep that person in mind, and remember that they’re a person too, with hopes and needs and desires, and that we can help them then I think The more our sites will be successful, the more that we will feel personally successful to it goes back to how I love search.

Yeah, I love the geeky part. I love the writing. I love training people. But at the end of the day, I love knowing that there have been people that had that light bulb moment that what I’ve said has helped them see their work in a different way or. Improve their websites or connect with their readers. And so that connection for me is the most important thing of everything that I’m doing and everything that I’ve always done.
So that’s probably why it’s not like a geeky tip. It’s more Hey, remember people are people wherever they are. And the more you can connect with them, maybe the happier you’ll be, the happier they might be, and that’s okay too.

Shelley Walsh:
That’s really interesting actually, because. Where everything’s going at the moment was a big drive with AI.
It almost feels like we are trying to move away from humans and towards machines, whereas actually fundamentally it’s connection. Like you say, it’s human beings connecting, which is the foundation underneath everything. And keeping that in mind is really important while we’re all getting lost in this evolution of how machines are developing.
Yeah, it’s going to be fascinating actually to see. Where things go in the next few years. Maybe it might full circle right back to all about humans connecting again

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
I would like to see that because the other part of my business where I do coaching primarily to women who are 50 and above one of the biggest things that they say is they don’t feel seen.

And we hear about that from women or from people that are of a certain age, but I feel that’s not just happening with people that are of that age, that it’s younger people too, that they aren’t, they don’t feel as seen or connected as they would like, because we might have this. But it’s not the same as, in person or someone who really feels like that you can, that is feeling what you’re feeling.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if throughout all of this, then we see another push towards how to build community, how to, and different ways than just on Slack channels, right? Or having a blog in ways that we have a hybrid of. Building out community and maybe those are the businesses that will survive and thrive through all of this is that they’ve got that community aspect as well as they sell a product or a service.

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah. Interesting. It’s circling right back again to the very beginning of the industry. And I know a lot of people say this, a lot of people I’ve spoken to have said that one of the things they miss the most is the community. Heather, what is it? What do you miss the most about the early days?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
The community. The community for sure, because it especially back when nobody really understood what we were doing. We were guaranteed that we could fly to a conference be around our people and everyone got it. And not only did they get it, but they were excited to learn what you knew. And everyone was able to talk about that and to share those stories and to trade information back and forth in a way that felt cooperative and not competitive.

So that early community of flying in doing our thing, talking to people offline and building that out. That was such a gift. Again, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to replicate that in my life, but I am so grateful that I had that because those core folks, the people that you’re interviewing people that you will interview those are the people that will always, even if I don’t see them for 20 years, I will still continue to consider them family.
I would still get on a plane and fly to them if they needed me. And how much can people say that about folks that you met 25 years ago? That’s pretty fucking cool.

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah, it’s that word you use. Cooperation. And, for me, doing a lot of the research, talking to everybody that I’ve been talking to, that’s something that comes up, and I do feel that would the SEO industry have evolved as it did if we hadn’t had that cooperation and also the sort of the forums where everybody was helping each other.
It was such an integral, important part of the early days. And that’s really, I feel what has formed the industry and helped the industry. I feel like we’re losing that a little bit now. It’s changed so much.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Yeah, it is true that I feel like we’ve lost that as well. And part of that is just new players.

Of course, they don’t have the history because why would they? And also because there’s so many more opportunities. It’s not like search engine strategies is the only place that people can go to learn about this anymore. Ad tech, there were very few conferences back in the day. Now there are.

A myriad of ways that people can learn about this and people might have their guru, their expert that they might follow and they do everything that person says to do or goes to the things they recommend, but it’s not the same as. Being immersed with the same people all the time and learning about them on a personal and professional basis and having that kind of cooperation.

So it’s still there with some people, but with that sense of community, but it’s not the same. And I miss that a lot.

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah, I think because it was so new as well. When it’s been such a small and a really new industry, you were having to learn together. Whereas now, obviously it’s, it’s a mature, slightly maturing industry 25 years on.

We’re facing different issues and different approaches. Whereas back then it really was, Oh my God, we’ve all got to learn together. We all need each other.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
And we were fighting for brand space back then too. It’s like now people think SEO and Oh, of course you need that as part of your marketing platform.

Back then we were trying to tell large companies, you need this. You need this now. If you don’t do this now, you’re going to fall behind. And that intensity isn’t quite the same anymore. But back then, trying to get people to come along, Come on, let me help you. Come on, this will be fun. That was pretty cool then too.

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah we’ve been talking a while now, Heather. I think we’ll start to wrap up. It’s been really interesting hearing your stories and it’s just, yeah, it’s so good to reminisce and look back to the early days. Is there anything else? Before we wrap up, anything else you perhaps wanted to say?

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh, jeez, we’ve covered so much. I think the biggest thing that I have coming out of this is just a sense of gratitude. And that’s why I was so excited to be on this podcast. I’m excited to see that you’re interviewing other people because I feel like the history of SEO got lost. And there’s a lot of people who believe that SEO started around, I don’t know what. 2010, 2007 or so after the recession and they don’t realize that there was all these people that were trying, they were doing so much back in the day, trying to bring search into the mainstream. And so to be able to honor the people that have done what they’ve done, Kim, the Sharis, the Greggs, the Jills, all of those folks is such a wonderful gift.

And thank you for that, because for those people. That are thinking about should I do this? Should I get into this career? Do I want this? What is this going to be like to be able to see those stories or watch them from back in the day of people reminiscing for me to know that history for any industry or anything is such an incredible gift.
And I hope that it’s the same gift for other people as well. And if nothing else. For us old timer geeks, it’s fun to watch the videos and be like, Oh yeah. So you’re telling that part of the story, but we all know what really happened then, which is going to be like, you’re interviewed the after dark edition.

Shelley Walsh:
That’s a good idea. Oh, I like that. Maybe I do After Dark.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
You come to an event, you get us all drunk, and then you start to get us talking, and then it’s oh yeah, it’s like back at the old pub cons where people were on stage drinking.

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah, I like that idea, yeah, I think I’m gonna start inviting people into a room with a lot of booze, and I’ll be with my video camera.

A bit like Matt Cutts with his notebook back in the day. It’ll be Shelley Walsh with the video camera in the background,

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
flying people and alcohol. It would probably work,

Shelley Walsh:
For the record, I don’t drink. A bit like Matt didn’t. So yeah, I’m always the sober one in the room who remembers everything.

I probably shouldn’t say that, should I? Yeah, I don’t remember anything.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Or that’s a great way for you to make money. Later on, I’m like, hey, remember that one story?

Shelley Walsh:
Oh, no. The one thing that people who know me know about me is I never ever repeat anything. I’m very true.
Oh my God. I know so many interesting, so many stories, but no, they stay with me. I never share publicly.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
That’s going to be interesting on the people that you interviewed, because I have a feeling that you’ll have the same kind of reticence of I would really love to share the story with you, I can’t because of all the stuff that involves, because even I’m thinking, oh yeah, there was that one party and there was that one time and there was that, but I don’t want to get the tech later.
I’m like, Heather why did you share that one?

Shelley Walsh:
Yeah I’ve got a few of those on film, which people have been, if they’re willing to share, then obviously I’m willing to broadcast, but yeah.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh yeah!

Shelley Walsh:
Heather, it’s been fantastic talking to you. I’ve absolutely loved it. You’ve got a great energy.
It’s been brilliant. I shall obviously wrap up at this point and say thank you very much, Heather, for being a pioneer. And being on the show.

Heather Lloyd-Martin:
Oh, awesome. Thank you so much. This has been such a remarkably fun interview and I appreciate you so much. So thank you.

Thanks Heather. Bye. Thank you. Bye.

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