Bruce Clay, president and CEO of Bruce Clay Inc. considers himself fortunate to have participated in the formation of an industry. “How many people can say that” Bruce asks in an anything but boisterous way. Bruce started his business in 1996 when he got serious and decided that this was going to be a real business. By “this” he says, there was no name, the few people doing search engine optimization at the time called it different things. SEO was a cottage industry, one where everyone was working out their houses Bruce recalls. Bruce never thought that he would leave his dining room table; his dream was a one person consulting gig with vacations, golf and living the easy life. But business came-a-knockin’ so Bruce Clay Inc. started growing. He remembers when he said no more than eight employees, and then it was twelve, and then twenty. Now Bruce is having an office built that can hold 114 employees in Simi Valley, California and he is in four countries.
In the early days Bruce simply optimized his clients’ websites by editing pages. There was no need to spend any time on developing links because links were not part of any search engines’ algorithm, Google wasn’t around yet. Bruce’s main focus was the search engine Infoseek. The primary advantage to Infoseek was that Bruce could submit a page and in one minute (literally in one minute he assures) it would be live on the index. His experience was that if you got a website to the top of Infoseek, you were able to get the site to rank elsewhere. In 2001 Bruce created his search engine relationship chart which he is still famous for today. Bruce says that you can tell he is old because he remembers when there were .mil (military) sites indexed in the search engines. You won’t see that anymore, he guarantees.
When Bruce started in 1996, there were no search conferences. But in 1999 the very first Search Engine Strategies conference was organized by Danny Sullivan and had around two-hundred attendees. Bruce was one of the speakers and he remembers sitting at one table in a bar with all of the speakers at the conference. Bruce places special emphasis on the word one as if he still can’t believe that there were so few people in the beginning. He also recalls how interesting it was to see everyone in the flesh. Many of them he had heard of on forums but did not know what they looked like. Bruce is happy that he was able to become friends and colleagues with the early people. Everyone was new and emerging, you could go out and have a drink and share your secrets, said Bruce.
Advice for new people – they should work for Bruce Clay Inc. (Bruce laughs as he says this but he’s not kidding, they are hiring). Additional advice is to attend courses and conferences. Bruce says the one thing that a new-comer doesn’t have that an experienced SEO does is knowledge of the pit-falls. He doesn’t recommend hanging up a shingle on day one; new comers need to go work for an established firm, attend, listen, participate and have their own site to experiment with. It is not a simple business to start, negotiating contracts, working with multiple departments; Bruce truly believes that anyone starting out will avoid failure by working for someone before they start their own business.
The future for Bruce is all about analytics. Behavioral search, personalized search, local search – every individual query is going to get a different ranking. There will be no way to run a ranking on a site and produce any kind of uniform statistic that can be measured according to Bruce. “We’ve got to understand that analytics is the only true measurement of whether you’re getting better or worse at what you’re doing. You can not anticipate or tune for other than I’m going to be a subject matter expert. That becomes your target” said Bruce. If the last thirteen years of Bruce’s career tells us anything, it certainly tells us that he is going to continue to grow and be a significant voice and impact on the search engine optimization industry.