SEO Community Spotlight: Raleigh

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Written by Patrick Stox –

SEO communities around the world are struggling to get back to normal after COVID-19. Ahrefs is looking to highlight different communities globally to see if we can reignite some of them. If you want your community featured, send me a message.

Raleigh, North Carolina, is where I’ve called home for more than a decade. It’s a community that I know and love, so I’m featuring it first. It also has one of the largest and oldest SEO communities in the world.

But why Raleigh? And what makes it special? Let’s find out!

History of SEO in Raleigh

A lot of the SEO history in Raleigh goes back to a single company: Websourced. I’m told that, at one point, this was one of the largest digital marketing companies in the world. 

That was 20+ years ago and before my time. But I do know that many talented SEOs worked there like Jenny Halasz, Andy Beal, Garrett French, Bob Misita, and many more.

We play the six degrees of separation game with Jenny. The idea is that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. It’s amazing how many people she has trained have, in turn, trained others in the field—and not just in Raleigh.

Ashley Berman Hale also deserves a huge shout-out for starting one of the earliest communities, the Raleigh SEO Meetup. Founded in 2008, she ran it until 2011 when she moved and turned it over to Phil Buckley. Phil ran the monthly events until 2014 when Frank Jones took over. Frank brought me in (Patrick Stox) and, later, JR Oakes to help run things.

Raleigh SEO Meetup isn’t the only group, but it’s been the most impactful and well known.

We’ve got a few different groups in Raleigh, and we’ve been lucky enough to keep them free for people over the years, thanks to some amazing sponsors. 

This isn’t easy, though. Most of the similar groups in the U.S. have gone to a membership model and/or have fees for attending the events. It’s always a struggle to keep the lights on.

But we’ve been lucky to have people passionate about the SEO community who spend a ton of time and great effort to make these events happen. 

On top of that, we’re lucky to have a talented pool of local speakers, a community that supports new speakers, and enough recognition to a point where we (sometimes) pull in bigger speakers.

We’ve had speakers such as Mike King, Joy Hawkins, Bill Slawski (RIP), Rand Fishkin, Casie Gillette, Kevin Indig, Scott Dikkers (co-founder of The Onion), Gregory Ng, Susan Wenograd, Paul Shapiro, Eric Enge, Hamlet Batista (RIP), and many more over the years.

Rob Delory presenting about local SEO at the Raleigh SEO Meetup
Rob Delory presenting about local SEO at the Raleigh SEO Meetup.

Raleigh SEO Meetup 

  • 4,000 members
  • 250+ events
  • Founded in 2008 by Ashley Berman Hale
  • Currently run by Frank Jones and Patrick Stox

Raleigh SEO Meetup labels itself as the most successful SEO meetup in the U.S. This was definitely true at one time, and we could pull 150–200+ people for our monthly events.

We’ve had a lot of formats like conference-style presentations, informal hangouts, live audits, SEO training sessions, lightning talks, and discussion panels over the years. 

In the good times, we had nice event spaces and provided food and drinks. In the bad times, we were at a restaurant, bar, or even a library.

We tried going back to in-person events after COVID-19, but we just don’t have the draw yet. We had some great speakers, but there was little interest in the events. 

It might be that people lost the habit of coming or weren’t aware we started doing the events again. I think we’ll just have to get back out there and plug along. But for now, we’re still doing online events and some occasional lunch meetups.

Triangle Marketing Club

The group focuses on things beyond SEO, but much of its content is also relevant to SEOs. Chris has had a few issues getting the group going again after COVID-19. But he’s back at it each month, and the attendance is growing again.

Beer & SEO  

  • 700+ members
  • 75+ events
  • Founded in 2008 as the RTP SEO Meetup
  • Relaunched by Rob Delory, JR Oakes, and Patrick Stox
  • Currently run by Rob Delory and Patrick Stox

This group was growing pre-COVID, and we saw 50+ people at some of the events then. The content here was always more advanced, and we never expected a huge turnout.

We haven’t had an event for this group since COVID-19 hit, but I think it’s about time we try again. The turnout at the Raleigh SEO events and Triangle Marketing has us scared, though, because they traditionally experienced a much higher turnout.

The largest running conference in Raleigh is Digital Summit, which started in 2008. Founders Eric Gregg and Scott Hedrick are from Raleigh. 

Before the series was sold, they held the premiere conference for the series locally. This event was called Internet Summit, and it attracted upward of 2,500 marketers each year.

We also have the Raleigh SEO Conference, which is much smaller at fewer than 200 attendees. This is another event that we just haven’t done since the pandemic but, hopefully, we can get it going again next year.

Ashley Berman Hale presenting at the Raleigh SEO Conference in 2018
Ashley Berman Hale presenting at the Raleigh SEO Conference in 2018.

There were some other conferences over the years like the Digital Marketers For Business (DMFB) conference, which doesn’t run anymore. There was a different conference being planned when the world shut down, and I’m still hopeful that it will move forward soon.

Passionate people make the community special and help it grow. We’re really lucky to have awesome people who are willing to share their knowledge and hang out with others.

There are a lot of experts on different topics. I’ve already mentioned many people. But some others who live here or used to that you may know include Mark Traphagen, Casie Gillette, Jake Bohall, Russ Jones (RIP), Chris Long, Heather Lloyd, JP Sherman, Tony Spencer, Chase Granberry, and so many more.

There are also a lot of unknown SEOs who are really good at what they do but aren’t public facing. Plus, there’s a constant stream of new SEOs entering the field. 

We also have reps in the area from some of the SEO tools and resources like Ahrefs, Lumar, seoClarity, and Third Door Media (Search Engine Land).

There are constantly new SEOs, marketing people, and business owners who come out to the events, allowing the community to grow. In addition to the events, there are a lot of random get-togethers.

Raleigh also seems to attract a lot of remote workers. It had one of the highest rates of remote workers for any major metro both before and after the pandemic. 

There are lots of great in-house SEOs, freelancers, affiliates, and a surprising number of famous YouTubers in Raleigh. We have a lot of folks in the gaming niche, probably because Epic Games of Unreal Engine and Fortnite are right next door in Cary, North Carolina.

One of the world’s greatest content creators, Mr Beast, grew up in Raleigh. A couple of years ago, he built downtown Raleigh in Minecraft

There are a lot of great SEO companies in the Raleigh area. Some of the ones that are constantly winning national SEO awards are Go Fish Digital, Hive Digital, and Locomotive. Ayima, which many people may know because of its Redirect Path plugin, also has a presence and history in Raleigh.

Three Ships is another company that I think deserves a mention. It partners with and grows companies. It also acquires companies to grow them. I think it’s leaning somewhat on the Red Ventures model. Red Ventures is just down the road in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has many employees in Raleigh as well.

There are many great companies that work with more local clients too. Some of them have been operating for nearly 20 years. Others are newer to the market but have talented people. 

Do y’all remember a few years ago when it was announced that iContact had acquired Moz? I was surprised by this because that was a company name I hadn’t heard in a while, and iContact is just 12 minutes from my house (according to Google Maps). I was fairly amused.

How can we reinvigorate in-person SEO events? 

It’s been hard to get things going again after COVID-19, and I’ve spoken with many other organizers with the same troubles. Running these events is a lot of hard work. If you have a local community, thank your organizers and ask how you can help. They will greatly appreciate it!

We want to know your thoughts on how we can get things going again, and we want to feature other communities so we can bring more awareness to them and spark people’s passion for SEO.

If you want your community featured, send me a message. This doesn’t need to be a physical community; it can be a virtual community or group. I’d prefer if someone passionate about their community is willing to share it in their own words, but I’m happy to help if you’re having trouble communicating your thoughts.

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