I have been involved in the online world now for quite a while now so I am not strictly a newbie. Since around 2001 in fact. It started when I opened an internet cafe in a small town called Gaucin, situated in heart of the Andalusian mountains range of southern Spain.
My father had some property there and one of them had been developed as a bar but never used. Things where getting stale for me in the UK so I thought I’d head out there and give Spanish life a go. I was young and had no ties after all.
Within days of opening the bar and installing a couple of PC’s, I was getting some good trade. It was mainly tourists coming to send emails but soon the local ex-pats started showing an interest.
It was not before long that I was being asked to build websites for the local businesses. Although I had no formal training in web design my background was in IT. So I soon picked it up with the help of a cracked copy of Dreamweaver (it was owned by Macromedia back then) and Photoshop 4.
My first client was James Stuart, an estate agent in Sotogrande. He needed an enhanced online presence to help sell their properties.
It was not long after launching this that I began building my own. It was called www.goingtogaucin.com and featured local villas that were for rent. Originally it was to advertise some of my father’s new apartments that he’d built. However I soon had people asking me if they could pay me to include theirs and it became a good advertising portal as well for the area.
I had purchased a directory link from andalucia.com which was one of the most established tourist sites for the region back then. I am not sure what has happened to it now but taking a quick look it does not seem to have changed much! The link cost around £60 for the year and instantly gave me some PR and traffic. At that point I had no idea about SEO. In hindsight I see that the link helped my site rank quickly and had generated decent traffic that converted quickly.
I remember one of my clients coming up to me and saying he had just taken a booking within a few weeks of going live. I was quite surprised, yet extremely proud of myself!
Anyway, the internet bar lasted about 2 years and was successful. I learned a lot about the Internet and made some decent cash for myself. By the end, the premises turned more into an office that just happened to be equipped with a fridge full of beers. Friends would come over to get drunk and listen to downloaded music. Napster had ended at that point and Limewire was now the P2P client of choice.
By the winter of 2002, my girlfriends season had ended and as Gaucin was a summer location, we decided to move down to the Costa del Sol where we both found work in Marbella. She got a job for a local advertising agency called Copywrite and I with a large estate agent called Interealty as a web designer. We had a fantastic apartment on Avenida Antonio Belon right near the beach in the centre of town.
It turned out that my new boss, a great guy called Conor O’Conor was very much into Google and SEO. My interview mainly consisted of looking at some of my sites and their SERPs in Google. He was impressed at the rankings I had achieved and this alone seemed to qualify me for the job. My web design skills were a little haphazard to say the least!
Over the weeks and months I began to learn about Google, algorithms and SERPS. I learnt that the companies original domain, www.interealty.com had been blacklisted for spammy link practises and they had rebuilt the site onto a new www.interealty.es domain and start all over again. Despite this we ranked top 3 for “Properties for sale in Spain” and the other top drivers of traffic.
I was instantly fascinated with this new world. He had shown me webmastersworld which was the leading forum back then for all things search related and sent me links to white papers written about the Google algorithm. He warned me not to spend to much time studying it as it was a bit of a time black hole and that I would learn all I had to from his direction.
I spent that winter and spring building sites. Lots of them. Some estate agent satellite sites for each of over 40 office locations, and when that was done, I built sites for tourist information on those same locations. Basically we captured all the traffic that was going and filtered it through to the main property database site that was essentially a lead capture machine. Simple yet effective.
Once the contact details were in, the outbound sales team would hit it hard and if the client actually got on a plane, the estate agents would hit them even harder. It turns out a little too hard…
Conor ,who also owned a web design agency in Marbella called Sane Internet was also big into affiliate marketing. Although I did not fully realise this at the time. He asked me to design some site elements for a airline ticket aggregator site one of the developers was building. He also showed me www.hoteles.com, an expedia like project. It was years later that I fully understood what he was doing. He had the resources to get these sites put together very quickly.
Back then, a new site, with a good link or two, if timed correctly, could be indexed by Google in a couple of weeks and ranking in the top 3. Google worked in a different way back then and would update on a roughly 6 week cycle where new sites would be included in the index.
Then you had the “google dance” just before an algorithm update where all the data centres would light up, all giving different results. The webmaster community would get very excited around this time…
I enjoyed my time at Interealty and learned a lot from Conor. Unfortunately, I had to leave Spain that summer due to some personal issues and returned to the UK. Conor, if you are reading this, thank you for turning me on to SEO!
A while ago I looked into Interealty to see what had happened since the big property crash. Some research on a forum revealed It turns out bad things happened and towards the end agents became pushy and clients lost deposits. They are bust now as are most Spanish agencies that once thrived during those times.
This role set me up to spend another 10 years in the industry, albeit in more managerial positions for blue chip companies. I seldom had to get my hands dirty until my career changed direction last year. I am now back on the front line, working directly for clients plus enjoying building my own niche sites for extra income.
I have to say I have not felt this alive around work for a for a long time!
Well that wraps up my early days as an internet marketeer. It has been a nostalgic experience and I thank you for allowing me to indulge myself!
The next posts will be more focussed on my learning and mistakes made on my new IM projects and hopefully how you can avoid them. There have been quite a few…