I started out as a web designer/webmaster and began learning SEO and online marketing to promote my own websites. I read tons of blogs and hung out in forums like Search Engine Watch. I cut my teeth on some SEO techniques with my own sites, and I learned that blogs and forums are no substitute for experimenting yourself. SEO Book was like a Bible to me when I first started, and I still reread it every now and then.
In 2004, I landed a job doing SEO and SEM (and webmaster duties) for a small marketing company. I went to SES in NYC in 2005 and 2006, took lots of seminars there, and talked to many smart people. Recently, the marketing company I worked for decided to call it quits. Now I've moved on to a much larger company with a wide range of SEO and marketing duties, and a nice big budget to play with.
I never really intended to pursue this as a line of work when I began learning, but I'm glad I stumbled into it. It's very cool to be part of such a young and rapidly growing industry.
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