Last weekend, I saw someone post that Eric Ward was dead. The name rang a bell for me — someone from my past in online circles — but I couldn’t quite connect it, and asked an online friend from the 90s if he knew him. The name didn’t connect for him. Still, it was really familiar, but I couldn’t quite figure it out.
This weekend, the other shoe dropped: one of the members of my mastermind group for online entrepreneurs posted to the group about it. Yeesh: Eric had been a member himself, in 2005 and 2006. (I knew his name sounded familiar!)
Ward was known online as “LinkMoses” — pretty much, he was the oldest link strategist on the Internet; a public relations and marketing niche to help get traffic to web sites. When we met (online, of course!), he told me, “I remember then-grad student Marc Andreesen’s first distribution of Mosaic (fit on a floppy), and I was online the day Jerry Yang and David Filo first turned Yahoo loose.” That would be 1993 and 1994, the same time I was researching “new Internet thing” — which led to my creating This is True in my home office in the evening after getting home from my Day Job at JPL.
Eric was the guy some unknown early online business dude named Jeff Bezos hired when he launched his new business, which you may have heard of by now: Amazon.com. In April 1997, Websight Magazine named Eric to their list of the world’s 100 most influential people on the Internet. “They then naturally went out of business,” Eric laughed. When one of the superstar members at the time saw Eric’s group application, she commented, “He basically invented linking as a marketing tactic.” She should know: she was even better known in the online marketing world than he was.
What got him into the business? In July 2006, someone in the group asked about the value of the kind of linking strategies he did. In reply, Eric pointed out he was listed first on Google for the term “link building expert” (and some other examples), but “Please note that these rankings are not due to anything I have TRIED to do, so I could lose them all tomorrow and don’t really care.” because “On my site I go out of my way to tell people I don’t build links with the sole intent of improving [search] rank. However, it so happens that my approach to building links will improve rank along the way.”
In other words, an honest strategy, versus the fakery that most “Search Engine Optimization experts” try to sell …by spam. And I just checked: Eric is still number one on Google for that phrase today, more than 11 years later.
Eric shared his ideas quite freely, trying to get site owners to get publicity the right way, not by spam and scam: he spoke at Internet industry conferences, like Search Marketing Expo, Search Engine Strategies, and the Direct Marketing Association. He wrote for SearchEngineLand, SearchEngineWatch, WebMarketingToday, Search Marketing Standard, MarketingProfs, and Ad Age, as well as his own site, EricWard.com. And, once I made the connection, I looked in my archives and remembered how much he gave to the group, too.
When his sponsor let us know about Eric’s death, a 16-year member was shocked. “I knew Eric,” said Dr. Audri Lanford; her Scambusters site is, I think, the oldest anti-scam web site online. “He did quite a bit of work with us in the early Scambusters days. When I initially saw this thread, I thought he was applying to join [the group]. Eric was a great guy with impeccable integrity. This is a huge loss.”
Eric “died suddenly” on October 16, at 58. There’s mystery about the cause of death, but there are clues it may have been suicide. If so, that makes me sad: such pioneers often struggle to make a living, especially when they choose to wear a white hat rather than employ scammy tactics that so many others use.
So once again, another of the “good guy” pioneers of online business is gone, and way too young at that. Rest in peace, Eric.
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