When it comes to Dallas and Search Engine Optimization, you can’t define that it without mentioning my name. I’ve been called by the heads of other SEO firms the “Godfather of SEO”, and, truly, the Founder of SEO in Dallas, Texas. Why do my peers here in the DFW area call me this? Why do individuals who are struggling in their SEO and search engine marketing careers in the Dallas area seek me out, buy me lunch, and ask me for advice when it comes to the SEO market and SEO in Dallas? If you know the history around search engine optimization services in the area, you’ll understand why.
My Personal History of SEO
Back in 1996, I moved from Florida to North Texas. As a webmaster and technical for a telecommunications software company in Dallas, part of my job was to get more traffic to the company’s website. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was no clearly defined search engine marketing industry, and there were no SEOs. Search engine optimization wasn’t a thing–it didn’t have a name. But I was doing it in-house (in-house SEO as it’s referred to now), and driving millions of dollars of sales to the company I worked for. Around that time, the early 2000s, as an in-house SEO, I was invited to speak at a Search Engine Strategies conference in Toronto, Canada (my first speaking gig). Doing SEO for one company, in-house, allowed me to try a lot of different strategies, from creating all sorts of content to content on all sorts of domain names. I was buying exact match domain names like keywordkeyword.com and putting up websites that had that type of content. Long before this was a major search engine optimization best practice, like it is today.
My job at the telecommunications software company changed. While still the company’s webmaster in intranet webmasters, I spent the majority of my time doing SEO, right in our data center. I quickly became an SEO, when there weren’t many full-time SEOs. In fact, at that time, I don’t think there were any–most of the people I knew did other things as their full-time job, and their jobs did include getting better organic or natural search engine rankings for their clients. But since there weren’t any clearly defined SEO companies, or SEO agencies, it wasn’t a service. If there was SEO being done in the area, it was a side service that was typically included whenever a business got a new website. Web design firms in the area were the ones to do SEO, not full-time SEOs.
It all changed with one phone call. While I was working my in-house SEO job here in North Dallas, I got a call from a guy named Jim Gilbert. Jim had heard about what I was doing with SEO, how I was getting my company’s website ranked so well for certain keyword phrases. He had also heard (from whom I’m not sure) that I created my own websites and was doing affiliate marketing, as well. It was during that phone call that we discussed SEO, linking, and helping each other with whatever we needed to rank our websites better in the search engines. That meant linking each others’ websites together, and talking about any new techniques, tips, and tricks to get more traffic and sales.
Jim and I had several different phone calls over a period of time, and I believe it was only a few weeks. At one point, we discussed getting a few others involved who are in the area, perhaps having a dinner meeting or to just talk Search over drinks. Then, it happened. It was truly a turning point in the search industry. It all started with a search on Google, a search engine that was gaining strength in the search engine wars.
It was 2004, and Google was beginning to be the preferred search engine. So, I personally went to Google and searched for people in the North Texas area who were doing search marketing. Internet Marketing. Website Marketing. I looked for people in the area who were providing search engine marketing types of services.
Did You Know? Back in 2004, SEO in Dallas was called “search marketing” or “search engine marketing”. There was no distinction between Paid Search and Search Engine Optimization. Now, SEM or Search Engine Marketing is, in fact, paid search (Pay Per Click PPC). And SEM is not SEO.
Jim Gilbert and I decided on a date and time–it was February 2004. We wanted to get a group together for dinner or drinks, to talk, informally, about search.
DFWSEM: Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association
I personally invite 16 people who I felt were the best search folks in the area. The best North Texas area SEOs (even though SEO wasn’t a thing yet). It was 14 people, plus me and Jim Gilbert. That evening (I believe it was a Tuesday or Wednesday evening), 16 people showed up at the Hampton Inn on I35/Stemmons Freeway in North Dallas. I had reserved a conference room there, and a group of the brightest, most innovative, best Dallas SEOs met for the first time.
The meeting lasted about 2 hours or so, and at the end, we, as a group, decided to form the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association, referred to as DFWSEM. The next day, I bought the domain name, DFWSEM.org. I also made a mistake, a typical domain name buying mistake, and didn’t buy DFWSEM.com at the same time. Once the word got out about the organization, someone, anonymously, bought DFWSEM.com and used a local Starbucks coffee shop as the address on the WHOIS record. DFWSEM, the organization, didn’t get ahold of the .COM domain name for a few years after that.
I personally created, managed, updated, and hosted the first DFWSEM.org website, that you can find in the internet archive: https://web.archive.org/web/*/dfwsem.org. It was primitive, and certainly not mobile friendly. See the screen capture below:
After that meeting, the original group of 16 DFWSEM members decided to officially form the organization. We started meeting once a month, and one of the group’s members spoke at each meeting–conference style, presenting a topic at each monthly meeting. The first few years, there were meetings at restaurants such as Macaroni Grill in Addison. The location was moved several times over the years, from restaurants to hotels. But it kept going. The meetings went from 20 attendees to 50 to 100, to now as large as 200 attendees at one of our monthly meetings. Speakers are brought in from all around the United States, and speak on a variety of topics.
Since that night back in Dallas, when I personally invited 14 of the best Dallas SEOs, DFWSEM has grown into a leading local search engine marketing group in the country. So much so that there are a lot of other DFWSEM-like organizations that have been modeled after DFWSEM.
The first press release of DFWSEM was posted on PRWeb, a popular press release distribution service at the time: Search Engine Marketers in Dallas/Fort Worth Create Organization to Educate Businesses on the Benefits of Search Engine Marketing. The press release, back then, stated “The purpose of DFWSEM is to educate area marketers on the benefits of search engine marketing and search engine optimization as well as provide guidance to the local marketing community with regard to the best practices and latest developments in the search engine marketing industry.” Still, til this day, DFWSEM’s purpose has been to educate area marketers on the benefits of search engine marketing and search engine optimization.
The highlight every year for the Dallas SEO community, as a whole, is the State of Search conference, which is one of the premier national conferences in the digital marketing and search industry.
Dallas SEO and Bill Hartzer
Other than being the original co-founder (along with Jim Gilbert) of the Dallas/Forth Worth Search Engine Marketing Association, I can’t talk about Dallas SEO without being involved in some way. After leaving my in-house SEO position at the telecommunications software company, I managed the search engine marketing and SEO efforts at Marketnet, one of the original web design firms in Dallas, that had started offering web design services back in 1995. Based on my co-founding leadership at the DFWSEM organization, I got to know Mark Jackson, who runs Vizion Interactive, another SEO firm. I worked for Vizion for a few years, then moved on to running a group of about 25 Dallas SEOs at Standing Dog Interactive (now wPromote) for a few years. I quickly moved to being the head SEO and top Dallas SEO at Globe Runner, a boutique SEO agency in North Texas, based in Lewisville, Texas and then in Addison, Texas. From there, I ran operations at yet another digital marketing agency, Advice Interactive, a part of Advice Local. Advice Local provides Dallas companies and businesses local search listings. Businesses nationwide can take advantage of the Advice Local product, helping them get local citations and local listings, which help SEO.
So, my background has been in SEO, and specifically SEO in Dallas. I haven’t been tracking the number of times I’ve been an SEO Speaker. One time that I spoke at DFWSEM a few years back, there were more attendees than any other DFWSEM monthly meeting. And there there was the time I spoke at a DFWSEM meeting with Bill Slawski.
But it’s not just my experience, over 20 years now, in SEO, that defines me as a Dallas TX SEO pro. Now an SEO Consultant. Numerous people here in the Dallas area, who are now, in fact, leaders in the SEO space, have met with me. I’ve been to numerous lunches, dinners, and met with others who wanted to get into the search industry in Dallas. They’ve asked my advice. I’ve freely given it to them. I’ve provided them with tips, SEO tricks, networking advice, and even templates (documents) of SEO Audits. There are, in fact, several Dallas SEO firms who continue to use SEO audit documents that I have originally created as templates for the technical SEO audit work that they do for their clients. Several of the people who I met with a few years go now run their own SEO firms in Dallas TX.
Now, though, I continue my SEO work as a Dallas TX SEO Consultant. I’m still in the North Texas area, after 21 years, still performing SEO tasks, as a consultant. Many of the area SEO firms that I have told you about, those who now run their own agencies, outsource some of their SEO work to me. But, at the end of the day, I still enjoy doing SEO, working tirelessly every single day, getting more traffic and sales for my clients, helping, and teaching other SEOs the right way to do their work.