Jill Whalen – SEO Pioneers
Jill Whalen – SEO Pioneer
Jill Whalen was an early pioneer starting with Bulletin Board Systems in the early 90s, moving into building and then ranking websites.
Jill has always been a vocal advocate for a white hat approach to SEO right from the start and it took the best part of 20 years for the rest of the industry to catch up with her.
In this interview, Jill talks about:
01:40 Bulletin boards and how she got into the industry as a stay-at-home mom.
08:55 Why she took her white hat ethical approach to SEO
13:27 How she built her High Rankings newsletter to 25,000 people relatively quickly
17:44 The first time she spoke at a conference and was too scared to go alone
21:42 The kind of clients she was working with
22:45 How she never did any active link building but still ranked number 1 for ‘search engine optimization’
25:54 How she moved into technical SEO
27:37 Who else she was interacting with in the industry
28:52 Her ‘rivalry’ with Bruce Clay
32:43 The competitiveness of ranking
33:15 Attending the early Google Dances
34:47 Her experience with the SEO community
37:40 When Panda and Penguin hit and what she had been saying for years came to fruition
38:36 Aggression and resistance from others in the community
40:22 Her decision to step away from SEO
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SEO Pioneers Jill Whalen Transcript
Today I’m speaking to Jill Whalen. Who started out in the industry in 1995 and is probably best known for the forum High Rankings. Jill has always been an advocate for a white hat approach to SEO, which she took right from the early days up until when she stepped away from the industry in 2013.
Jill, what was your gateway and how did you find your way into SEO? I believe that you started out through establishing a chat room for parents?
Jill Whalen: Yeah, thank you very much for having me. It’s fun to go down memory lane this way since I’ve have been out of the industry for 10 years.
The parenting thing came, it goes back further than that in a way. I was just a mom at home basically. At. In the early nineties my husband decided he wanted to go to law school and because of that we had to get a modem and this was 1990 or 91.
I had saved in the newspaper about a local BBS, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of those. It stands for Bulletin Board Service and you had to have a modem and then you could dial into this.
You could get email and play games and things like that. I had for some crazy reason, just cut that out of the paper and saved it for some day when I would get a modem. I don’t even know how I knew what a modem was. And then he had to get a modem for Lexisnexis when he was going to law school.
And so I dug this thing up and I figured out how to dial into the BB. You couldn’t do much back at the time I would play these dragon games with teenage boys, the only ones in there. And I was able to download little games for my kids, and this was DOS, there was only DOS back then.
And the BBS had some way of getting onto the internet. This was just almost like a little intranet. It was really complicated how to do it, but somehow I managed to figure out how you do this. And the guy who ran it was so impressed. He’s like, nobody else can get online, can you write some directions out of how you do this.
He gave me free internet for however long and because of that service, I was able to create a personal web page. I think we just called them a homepage. We called them homepages. It was just about my family, I mentioned, talked about my kids and things like that.
Then I was online to the IRC Internet Relay Chat. You could hook up to that. And that’s where I started a parenting chat room in there because it was basically all sex talk, sex chats for the most part. You’d go through the list, you could look at all the lists of who’s talking and, it was all people trying to have online sex or whatever they used to call it.
That gets old pretty quick. And so I’m like, I’m just gonna create a parenting chat room and you could just create anything and then people might see it in the list and join. And, people started joining in. And from there I decided to make a parenting website to go with it.
Then the guy who runs the BBS tells me you might be interested in this and he told me about submitting your pages to search engines and directories. He just sent me a link maybe to some service that did that.
He goes, you might be interested in doing this, he knew I had some home pages and I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before that was really how I got in there. When I started thinking about this all. That’s how I remembered it. And then I was recently just looking at the Wayback machine.
Some of my old sites, the old parents room and this was probably what you would call one of the first like mommy blogs as they were later starting to be known as. There were only two or three other parenting websites, so it got a lot of traffic.
I wanted to figure out how to get traffic. And so I looked up things to see if I put parenting chat, because that’s basically what it was about. You could get to the chat room from the website. So I just looked to see what would show up if you put parenting chat into the search engines of the day, which was, Excite and Web Crawler.
I don’t even think at that time Alta Vista had even come about, that didn’t even come until 95, I believe. I just noticed it was whatever words were on the page, would be what would show up. And I’m like, okay, that’s easy enough and it makes sense.
This is a web page about parenting chat, so I’ll make sure that’s clear. And sure enough it started showing up and it was getting watched traffic. I couldn’t tell you how much, because I don’t even remember the numbers, but considering there weren’t many others out there, it did well and then I started.
People in my chat room wanted a webpage, web homepage, whatever they were called. And so I made one for her and I just would do this submittal stuff and put the right words on the page for some parents.
I maybe made $500 or something the first year that I was doing stuff like that, which was actually annoying to my husband because you had to fill out taxes and things and it wasn’t really enough money to bother with. But, then, I don’t know how I found out about the internet marketing email lists.
It wasn’t even iSearch at first. I think John originally had these email list things for web design and stuff, and then it branched off into isearch, but I’m not sure how Danny ended up with it. That would be a good question for him. John Audette owned it first and I believe actually used to work for John Audette and Detlev.
And Marshall Simmons, actually Marshall Simmons was the moderator of that email list at the time. And so I just would share what I was doing and how, and what worked and stuff and just telling other people and so people were starting to, they would ask me stuff because they, they would just see my things.
I think it was from one of those newsletters, this guy, I don’t remember his name, but he was offering this contest, who could rank, show him a site that was ranked for, at a certain position for certain keywords.
It could be one of your own clients or your own sites and for a specific amount of time. It had to keep ranking for a certain amount of time. One of my websites just won that whole contest because everybody else had it ranking for a few weeks because they were doing spammy stuff as they did.
And mine was just telling what the site was actually about and mine stayed up there. And my client’s sites would do really well. I had things like a gift basket site. I would get clients through this email list and I would get more clients after, I announced that I had won this contest thing and Danny Sullivan used to refer clients to me because he wasn’t doing any actual SEO work.
I had like gift basket sites that would rank for gift baskets, things like that, because there wasn’t a whole lot of competition back then. I had this one site that was for erectile dysfunction, or something like that and to be able to rank stuff like that white hat just by saying what you were about on the page. That’s basically my introduction to all that stuff back in the very early days.
Shelley Walsh: What actually led you to take that approach of white hat? Obviously at that time, the majority of people were starting to move into spamming and manipulation. What was it that you felt was a better approach, of the white hat approach?
Jill Whalen: It never made sense to me not to, because it worked. So I didn’t understand why you would try and trick search engines if you could just say what your site is about, how I did.
I had a few clients that tried to get me to do things. I had one client that sold movie posters and he wanted all these doorway sites. He had a main site and he wanted like five different sites. He had different domains for them. And I tried it because that’s what he said he wanted.
And I tried to, it didn’t work or didn’t work well or it didn’t last long. And I kept trying to, tell ’em, just make your main site good because that’s what people would do back then, these doorway sites.
They would be very specific to a certain keyword and then they would just direct them to the main site. But it just never felt right to me for one thing. I tried different things. Like hidden text and stuff like that. But again, like it never made sense.
Why hide the text when you can actually just put it on the page? And every time I tried, spammy stuff it just never worked as well as regular stuff. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right. I don’t know.
Shelley Walsh: When you started out, was it just self-learning that you found this approach that was working for you?
Jill Whalen: Yeah, I basically invented what they now might call content marketing I would say. I just did it, but I did it for my own site. Before I had High Rankings as my business, I was doing a newsletter with Heather Lloyd Martin.
I was doing a newsletter with her called Rank Right. We’d put up the newsletters on the website and they would show up for stuff. The only problem with that was people didn’t realize that we actually offered services too, because it was on a separate domain.
And so people would like, can you recommend someone to do this stuff? I’m like I can do it for you. But when she and I parted ways and I started doing my High Rankings newsletter. It was better for me, businesswise because people realized I actually did this stuff.
The newsletter provided such great content I would optimize the title tags or whatever on the archives of the newsletter and that would bring a lot of traffic and business. And, I was ranking for the phrase search engine optimization very high for many years. Which tells you something too. Just by putting it on the page.
It was all just self-taught, trying stuff, experimenting with things. And yeah it was just my own thing. I remember going to conferences and things and listening to people thinking what do I know I don’t know anything. Or I go to Webmaster World Forum and they’d be talking about stuff.
I’d be like, I don’t even know what these guys are talking about. And then I’d look at my sites and my rankings and I’d be like I guess it doesn’t, I don’t really, I don’t really need to know what they’re talking about. What I’m doing is working and I just I shared it with people.
I love to just share what I did and what worked. That was another thing that people weren’t doing. It was that giveaway free stuff. I told everything very specifically everything you had to do to rank a site. And if you had the time and wanted to do it what I said you would do well.
If you didn’t have the time but you’d rather spend money, you could hire me. And that was basically my home marketing plan.
Shelley Walsh: Why do you think that more people weren’t taking that approach? Because from what you’re saying, it worked. It works right from the start.
And it sounds almost like a lot of the spamming techniques that people did were quite a lot of energy and in time investments to get them working. So why choose that and not an organic approach?
Jill Whalen: You know, that’s the million dollar question. I never understood why, but many people were doing it.
I had 25,000 people on my newsletter and I got many emails from people all the time thanking me that they’ve built a whole business by reading my newsletter. And many SEOs got their start from reading my newsletter. And then the forum I don’t remember which came first, but people, there were many people that were doing it that way, sometimes you only would hear about the scammers and stuff.
Shelley Walsh: When did you start your newsletter list? Was that right at the beginning, early 95?
Jill Whalen: Not that early. I don’t remember when we started Rank Right. Probably around 2000. Because I found Heather. I was doing copywriting myself or my client’s websites, but I realized that, probably a professional copywriter could do better.
I was a pretty decent writer, but I like doing the technical stuff better and so I just went looking. I just put copywriters into whatever search engine was around then and I read every copywriter’s copy and I hated it.
And then I saw Heather’s writing and I’m like, bingo this is the one. I contacted her, so she started doing writing for my clients and then we started the Rank Right newsletter together. We met for the first time at the first conference. We both went to the Dallas search engine strategies conference, and that was the first time we met in person.
We had already been working together for, I don’t know how long, but, so that was, I think, 2000. That was almost 2000. The end of 99 or 2000, or maybe 2001. I don’t remember.
Shelley Walsh: How did you actually start to build your list? How did you start, because you say you got up to 25,000 subscribers.
How long did that take?
Jill Whalen: It built really fast. Now it’s a good question. I really don’t remember. There was nobody else was doing stuff and I was ranking highly for search engine optimization and so I guess people just found it and they just signed up for it. And it was, first I did it every week and it was Like I said I told all, everything to everyone and so yeah, people good content gets people to come, I guess it’s not true the build it and they will come, but it was good content and it was findable and.
And yeah I don’t know. I know when you think about it now, I think it would be really hard to get like 25,000 subscribers to something.
Shelley Walsh: Yeah. It’s quite an impressive list size and if you consider like in scale, the size of the, in the whole internet back in the late nineties was fractional compared to the size of the internet today, so there’s a much smaller pool of people to target. So that was, far more impressive to build something of that size back then.
Jill Whalen: Yeah it, I know when I think of it now. Because later after I retired I started doing some other stuff I was interested in and I put a, I just switched over to a new newsletter and I couldn’t even get a thousand people.
I think maybe I stopped doing it now, but it’s maybe up to like a thousand or maybe 2000 people are on it. But yeah it’s a lot harder to build.
Shelley Walsh: Is that always your approach right from the beginning to just give away everything, give away as much content as you could.
Jill Whalen: Yeah, it seemed it wasn’t, I didn’t plan it. I didn’t know I was just a mom at home. I wasn’t a marketer. I just used common sense and I’m like, this makes sense to do. And it worked. And, I just would see what worked, what would bring clients and what would bring subscribers.
I just have a natural inclination to share what I know to share knowledge, which did seem to be a common thing in our industry for people in general. And at the first conference that I went to, I was speaking there, it was just one of those round tables. I probably wouldn’t have gone if I wasn’t offered to speak just because I was, I’m actually a very shy person, but online people thought I had this big, huge personality and then they’d meet me in person and they’d be like, really?
Shelley Walsh: So what was the first conference? Was that SES?
Jill Whalen: Dallas I believe? Yeah. I believe it was Dallas. Soon after that, Heather, and I got invited to speak in Amsterdam and I was so afraid to do it and go by myself. So I’m like, I’m only can do this if my partner Heather can come with me.
And so they paid for us both to go there because I was just too scared to go by myself to Amsterdam. I was scared shitless to speak. It was this big audience, this big thing. I didn’t even know how to make, we didn’t have PowerPoint.
We were like flying by the seat of our pants and I was so scared. I remember Heather was like patting me on the back at the rehearsal thing and I was like, ready to just run. Once you do it a few times though you get better. I was still always nervous till I got a lot better in the last five or 10 years.
Shelley Walsh: I know that feeling very well. Having been on stage a few times myself, it’s terrifying.
Jill Whalen: The thing is, it’s funny because I loved it, like, once I got over the fear, I really loved it. After I did it, I would be so excited. And I did start doing my own classes for just small groups for the last, five years or so of my business too.
And that was really, I really loved doing that. Teaching just seemed to come naturally. I hated telephones. I still hate the telephone. And I wouldn’t even talk to clients my first couple years in business. I would only like email with them and if they they wanted to call or whatever. I’m like, Nope. Sorry. Nope. Not doing it.
I just set my own rules and did that and because I was really good at writing about SEO, but at first I wasn’t good at talking about it out loud in person. So eventually it started blending together a bit where my online persona and my other personas finally started to merge a little bit more and I was able to speak about it better.
Shelley Walsh: So that’s quite interesting cause I think a lot of people watching today particularly back in 1995, they won’t realize that communicating only by email was very radical and actually incredibly rare to, to actually refuse somebody to speak to them on the phone. They must have really wanted to work with you to accept those terms.
Jill Whalen: Yeah I just always made up my own rules because I didn’t care. My husband was doing okay once he got out of law school. We weren’t doing okay at the beginning, so for me it was always just like fun and I just loved it. So I didn’t even care about making the money, so I was able to take clients that I wanted to take and tell the others to go jump in a lake.
I learned early on about bad clients, how to get one bad client and you’re like, nope, never doing that again. And it was nice to have that luxury of being able to take the ones I wanted. And it was funny too because I’d get so busy, I’d get too busy because I charged really low rates at first.
I used to have a lot of people mad at me in the industry because they’re like, you charge too low, it’s bad for all of us. And I’m like too bad I don’t care. I’d get too busy so I would just like double my prices and I’d still get as many clients, if not more. It was funny.
So every six months I just doubled my prices and then it became a game. Let’s just see how much I can charge and how much these companies will pay.
Shelley Walsh: What kind of clients were you working with? Did you have a specialist niche?
Jill Whalen: I didn’t really, it was all kinds of clients.
They were smaller businesses a lot of times. But then bigger ones too, yeah, all, just all different kinds. Towards the last half of my career I was mostly just doing SEO audits. Because I never understood, the way I optimized it never made sense to me to do these monthly things.
I’m like, there’s nothing for me to do every month. We optimized it, it’s done. Like that was the beauty of my kind of optimization. And so I never understood how you could charge monthly fees.
So I then just started doing audits and I would tell them everything they needed to do in the audits. And this was for mostly bigger companies because they were somewhat pricey, the audits but it was a little annoying because most of them wouldn’t do anything. It was almost like they had to tick the box that they got this audit and said they did SEO but then they wouldn’t do it.
But the ones that did it, it would work every time.
Shelley Walsh: Were you doing any active link building?
Jill Whalen: Not so much to a certain extent. Deborah Mastaler and I are very good friends and very early on reached out to me and so she was my official link building person. I would, we would do that, but they were all not like, It was never spammy links.
It was always a form of marketing, the way she built links and so I did do that with the clients that could afford it, but never get fake links or spammy links or anything like that.
Shelley Walsh: Did you ever actively produce content specifically for links for any campaigns, producing any pieces of link bait?
Jill Whalen: No, that wasn’t really as much of a thing that, that became more of a thing after I left, or, it probably was to a certain extent the thing. But I didn’t personally do stuff like that. I didn’t get into that detail of level of stuff.
Shelley Walsh: So just your content was just naturally producing links by itself.
Jill Whalen: Early on, yeah. More towards my last half of the career was more about technical stuff. I really saw that half the web designers out there didn’t know how to design a search engine friendly site to be crawlable. And so much of SEO became technical that it was more almost just about telling people all the technical issues, how the search engines were. I did a lot of internal anchor text, stuff like that. Would tell the clients that stuff. And it became about title tags and the content on the page and the technical issues. I guess this is what I used to call it, to make page rank flowed that the important pages were linked to from the main navigation on the page that was critical and I’m assuming still is.
Shelley Walsh: Just winding back, did you, have you, did you have any computer science background or coding background?
Jill Whalen: Not really. I got married right away out of college and then, and I was working at a company. I lived in Massachusetts at the time for Prime Computer, I loved working at this computer company.
I was just doing word processing. They just had like mainframe computers and you had a terminal on your desk and I would do word processing and I just loved right away. I just loved computers from the very start and I would try to use their word processing program to the fullest extent you could and some of the other things that they had.
I always just liked stuff like that. And then I did learn HTML myself. I had to learn HTML to do my webpages back in the early nineties. So I was very familiar with looking at webpage code for. For a long time and even still, I still sometimes find reason why I need to look through HTML go and I’m not even doing any work like that.
Shelley Walsh: How did you learn about crawling and the technical side? Because the majority of people now working in technical SEO have computer science or an extensive coding background. Were you just digging through and self-learning?
Jill Whalen: Yeah, everything was self-learning and reading all the newsletters and other people’s thoughts. So I would get ideas and try them out or whatever, but when I learned about page rank, it just made sense about the internal page rank of a site. And it wasn’t just, people would think it was about the URLs.
And how long the URL was, or how the directories were in the url. But it wasn’t about that. It was more how they were linked within the site, but people used to always get confused thinking that the URL string itself was the key. And I didn’t believe in stuffing URLs with keywords either.
I always thought that was almost like pointing out to search engines that you’re optimized. I always wanted it to be subtle. Like, you don’t want, you don’t want search engines to say, oh, here’s an optimized page. We hate you and we’re not gonna rank you.
Shelley Walsh: I’m quite fascinated listening to your approach is quite unusual actually.
To jump in and do that amount of self-learning to become so technical without having the coding and expertise.
Jill Whalen: I was basically on my computer like 14 hours a day.
Shelley Walsh: In those early days, who, I mean you, you’ve mentioned that you partnered with Heather, Lloyd Martin and Deborah Mastaler
Who else were you interacting with?
Jill Whalen: Christine Churchill, we met at a conference. I think maybe, I don’t know if Deborah already knew her or not. And I remember seeing Christine speaking. I was just kind at the back of the room and saw her speaking and like, who is this beautiful woman who is so smart?
I was enamored by her and then we became friends and I had some friends from my forum, Scotty Clayborne. Yeah. And we used to do high ranking seminars together. Deborah, Chris, Scotty. Oh, Matt Bailey. I think we knew him from the forum. The four or five of us would do, they were my High Rankings seminars.
But we would travel around maybe once every few months and do seminars together. And that was a lot of fun.
Shelley Walsh: Just going back to the work you were doing at the time, is there any particular sites that you managed to rank that really stand out for you, that were real successes, that you felt were real achievement, that perhaps were difficult or challenging to rank for?
Jill Whalen: The ones really early on, I was surprised. Like I said, there was that one about some kind of erectile dysfunction and gift baskets and things like that, but I don’t remember. I was always happy to have ranked pretty well for search engine optimization for my own website, because you know you’re competing with supposedly the best of the best.
I did have this ongoing thing with Bruce Clay because he was always ranking for it too. In my mind, he was like my enemy. I used to talk about it to my kids. I remember I’d be like, ah, that Bruce Clay, he got one over on me again. And then one time I was at a New York conference and my daughter was going to school in New York at the time.
So she came over to the hotel and she’s in the elevator, me and who comes in? Bruce Clay. I introduced her. And we get out later and she goes, Bruce Clay? Bruce Clay?
Shelley Walsh: I actually spoke to Bruce last year. Did you enjoy the competitiveness of ranking?
Jill Whalen: Yeah, I did. The fact that they could make fun of me all they wanted, but I was getting results and and, yeah. So there was a competitive nature it was a game.
The making money part was a game too, like I said.
Shelley Walsh: Did you go to any of the Google events early days?
Jill Whalen: I did, I was at some of the Google dances out in San Jose conferences. Pretty much was at every conference SES had and then later SMX, at least the US ones and some of the international ones.
The Google dance was fun. My husband even came to one of those and my oldest daughter, I think my son was at one for some reason. They came and they had a lot of fun.
Shelley Walsh: What was your experience of the SEO community? Did you get on with everybody?
Jill Whalen: It was, especially in the early days and before I had my sort of core group of friends, it was different too, because you’d hang out with different people. Like, I remember hanging out with Greg Boser. A bunch of people, we were all in this hotel bar one night and Boser would tell great stories and he’d be telling all these stories and then they closed the bar.
Somehow he figured out a way to actually get more beer from the things. I’ll never forget that. I always think of that. And then there was the time I was pretty good friends with Mike Grehan and we were gonna do an interview, he was gonna interview me.
But we were so shitfaced, it must have been in England or someplace, and they actually had vending machines with alcohol in him. So we were like getting more. And apparently we did this interview and then he tells me like the next day or a couple days later we erased Andrew Goodman’s interview that he had.
Mike somehow deleted that whole other interview and then for our drunk one, that probably made no sense. I don’t think it ever went live. If he has it, I would love to hear it. That was the thing with like, we do a lot of drinking. It was like, I had been, I was a mom at home and really wasn’t drinking or stuff like that, or, partying.
And it was like being back in college when you’d go to these conferences. The best part better than the drinking was you’d get to talk about SEO. At home, people’s eyes would glaze over. They asked you what you did. I would just say some, oh, just, web stuff or whatever, but when you’d get to talk to people that knew what you were saying that feeling was so good, but I would literally have to come home as an introvert.
I’d have to come home and dry out for one thing. I couldn’t drink anything for like a week and I just have nobody talk to me. Just go away kids and husband and leave me alone. I just needed to recharge and be quiet and sit at my computer by myself for a day or two.
Shelley Walsh: Was it 2011 Panda and Penguin hit, a lot of everything that you had been advocating came to fruition?
Jill Whalen: It seemed like it. None of my sites were injured except my sister’s, my sister has a business and I did just free optimization for her and for some reason her site, I had no idea why her site got hit in one of those.
It was like exactly a year kind of thing, like the, a year to the date when it came back. I looked at it and luckily she hadn’t paid me. But none of my paid clients, nothing else. But for some reason my sister’s business and it was a pretty big business she had or still has, but it was just really weird how for no apparent reason hers was hurt. But no other site, no other client sites, none of my sites were hurting any of those pandas and penguins.
Shelley Walsh: It was quite a turning point in the industry. I think when at, when things really changed quite a lot after that.
Jill Whalen: It was nice to be validated in a way because, again, that was, see guys, that’s what I’ve been saying all along.
Shelley Walsh: As you were advocating taking this common sense approach. Did you actually get any real resistance from other people or aggression or, How did other people react towards you?
Jill Whalen: Maybe because of my own judgmentalness I would get it back to me. I’d be sitting there going, oh, I don’t know, you really don’t have to do this, don’t have to do all this link building stuff. And, people who were making their business doing that, of course, were mad at me.
I was very self-righteous. I can look back and see how I behaved and I just would say anything online, I was very bold behind my keyboard. Not in real life, but I was very bold and so I would provoke people and so I would get it back. I had some guy make a site called ‘SEO Bitch’ about Me.
That one was a little annoying because it would actually show up for my name for a long time, which I didn’t like.
Shelley Walsh: Oh, wow. Did you have any other like direct targeted aggression?
Jill Whalen: That’s the main thing. You’d have sparring fights on forums and, stuff like that. But not like at conferences. Everybody was generally civil. I don’t know, they might have snickered behind my back at me or something, but I didn’t care. I had a very thick skin and I would say whatever, it never bothered me and people would be like, wow, I can’t believe that you’re like that.
You’re not afraid to post these things. I’m like, why? Why would I be?
Shelley Walsh: When it came to deciding to step away in 2013, what led you to that decision? I presume SEO had been such a big part of your identity. What led you to make that choice?
Jill Whalen: Yeah, it was really weird because it surprised even me. I was drinking too much, not from conferences, just in general, and I was not eating healthy.
I had never eaten healthy most of my life. And I had gained weight and I just realized that I needed to change my life a little bit, lose some weight and get healthy and I decided it was gonna have to be a lifestyle change. I never believed in going on diets and things like that, so I’m like, all right, I’m just gonna change my lifestyle and learning to do different things and enjoy things.
I was still doing the SEO and I was still doing my newsletter, but I remember having to write the newsletter one day and I’m just like, I just don’t feel, I just don’t wanna do this. I’ve been doing it every other week for hundreds of years, and I’m like, I just don’t wanna do it.
I had a proofreader that used to proofread it for me. And so I messaged her – I’m just not gonna do it today, I’ll probably do it, next week or in two weeks, but I just can’t get myself to do it. She’s like, okay. And then, it just hit me like the next day or something.
I’m like, you know what? I’m done. I’m done with SEO.
I’m just more interested in walking in the woods and eating healthy food and stuff like that, and I just felt like I had already said everything you could say about SEO and there was nothing left to say. I also felt like people knew now, like that you had to do all the things I’ve been saying for years now.
After I retired, I realized, I guess that wasn’t quite a hundred percent true. I was wishful thinking but I did feel like there were many more people talking about doing SEO the same way I had been saying for years. So I felt like I could safely retire and it wouldn’t just go into the spammers hands or something.
I literally just wrote a letter online. I think it’s still on my new blog where I just said why I was leaving. It surprised me because I had no intention. It was just like I woke up like, no, I’m done.
Shelley Walsh: Has that decision changed at all, have you regretted it or do you still stand by it?
Jill Whalen: Never regretted it. I had a few clients, I had to finish up some stuff. Over a couple months. But no, I never looked back. For a little while I would still read some stuff about it and occasionally I still will now.
But I never regretted it. I started right away writing a new newsletter about healthy eating and the new stuff I was learning about. I still love to write and I love to share. So I did that for a few years. I wrote a book about anxiety and If anyone’s interested, called victim of thought, seeing through the illusion of anxiety, which basically just told my whole journey.
I talk about my SEO history in the book and stuff. I transitioned that way by feeling like I was still doing similar stuff but on a different subject. And now I pretty much am retired all together. I don’t even do that stuff. I might have a quick Zoom chat with them just to talk to them, but otherwise I’m pretty much not.
Shelley Walsh: Do you think it was because you transitioned into doing another newsletter. Do you think it was perhaps more a passion for the problem solving and the learning and the writing that you really loved, and then you just were able to transition that to a new area or was it actually SEO that you did love originally?
Jill Whalen: I did love the SEO but I really became a writer. I realized I was a writer and it was the sharing and writing about it. I’ll say, I’m a very good writer for that kind of stuff, for explaining things to people. That was, I, I think of that as my superpower.
I’m able to explain to people in writing in very simple terms, complicated things. And I think that was a lot of my success in the SEO world. I did use that same power in my new work too and I had a passion for doing that.
I love to boil things down to their essence. There’s something about that and I like when I talk to people I’m like, get to the point.
Shelley Walsh: So what did you do with your newsletter list?
Jill Whalen: Nothing. I tried to transition them to my new newsletter, but they weren’t interested.
I didn’t just put them on the list because I had never found that to be ethical. So I said, here’s my new one. And I had people who like both my content, people who used to follow me in SEO and then followed me in the new stuff I talked about, which is cool.
Shelley Walsh: You didn’t think of selling your list to anybody else?
Jill Whalen: No, because people wanted me and that was the problem. I couldn’t really sell my company. It was me, I would’ve liked to have sold the company. I actually just sold the domain High Rankings, just this year.
Somebody offered me enough to make it worthwhile to do it. I still was using the email address and things and it wasn’t worth it for like a few hundred dollars.I got a few thousand dollars. It wasn’t a lot, but it made it worthwhile.
Shelley Walsh: What do you miss about SEO? Do you miss anything about it?
Jill Whalen: I miss my friends, I miss speaking at conferences. I miss yeah, mostly that’s it, but I don’t miss the work or SEO itself.
Shelley Walsh: I can’t imagine leaving the industry myself, but yeah, maybe one day.
Jill Whalen: I really don’t think SEOs changed. I’m pretty sure if I ever decided I wanted to get back and do it, I could jump right back in and without having to learn too much more. I could be wrong because I haven’t been paying attention.
Shelley Walsh: You never know, Jill. Maybe one day you might actually just wake up and have that epiphany yet again the other way, and just go, okay, Jill, today’s the day I’m gonna get back to that computer. I’m gonna get back to that keyboard.
Jill Whalen: No, unless I somehow lost all my money or something and needed work, not gonna happen.
Shelley Walsh: I think probably now’s a good time to just wrap up. I will say thank you very much for speaking to me Jill, and I hope you enjoy your retirement.
Jill Whalen: No problem. Thank you for having me. Great speaking to you.
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