Vanessa Fox – The Person to Whom Webmasters Owe the Greatest Debt of Gratitude

Vanessa Fox, Webmaster Central’s long time head of operations, announced her departure from the company today. There’s more specific news about that on her personal blog, so I won’t dwell on it here. What I do want to do in this blog post, and hopefully in the comments below, is to express our thanks to Vanessa. I don’t believe that anyone, outside of a few of Vanessa’s close friends, realize how much she’s done to help Google’s public image, their bottom line and their relations with webmasters, nor do most of us know how much Vanessa’s done to fight for webmasters internally at Google. I’d like to explore some of those issues briefly.

Webmaster Central was not only Vanessa’s department, it was her baby, her idea (right from inception), her show. If not for Vanessa, we might never have had the dedicated team of webmaster relations specialists (people like Jonathan, Amanda, Trevor, Susan & Maile). We might never have been able to send sitemaps to Google, see data about our sites (particularly the link data, for which Vanessa was always a fantastic advocate), verify ownership, select a preferred domain display or do any of the hundreds of other things that Webmaster Central enables.

It’s not just Vanessa’s work, though, that deserves our praise – it’s her empathy, heart and constant attention. If you’ve ever talked to Vanessa, you know that she reads blogs, forums and posts voraciously – and unlike many who might have held her position, she never brushed any of it away. When she was criticized on her presentations, she’d get upset about it and work to make them better. When Webmaster Central took flak for an issue, she was right there trying to make things better. Vanessa pointed out blogs to me that I’d never read, criticizing small issues that I was never aware of, and taking those concerns right back to Google. I don’t know that we’ll ever again see that level of dedication or true empathy for the plight of webmasters.

Now’s also a good time to thank Matt Cutts, whom Vanessa partially worked under during her stint at Google. Matt has done a tremendous amount to push the progress of webmaster relations and his support, too, has always been appreciated by our community. However, I would say that interacting with both of them, Matt, while more able to share specifics, certainly also has the tougher shell (possibly from the years of taking flack from crafty black hats). Vanessa, on the other hand, cared so much, so incredibly deeply about issues at Google, that you almost felt bad showing her problems or concerns. After getting to know Vanessa a bit more, I continually had the fear that she’d be up until all hours of the morning slaving over something that had affected the SERPs or reporting inside the tools.

Quite honestly, I’m very happy for Vanessa. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the incredible load of work and stress that she was burdened with during her last few months at Google, and I believe that Zillow will give her something of a reprieve (if you don’t, I’m coming for you, Barton). I’m also thrilled to hear that she plans to remain active in the search world – it would truly be a tragedy to lose her insight, experience and personality for good.

Vanessa Texts on 1 of Her 2 Phones at SMX Seattle, 2007
Vanessa Texts on 1 of Her 2 Phones

Gorgeous, Green-Eyed, Mystery Girl Steals Vanessa's Name Tag
Gorgeous, Green-Eyed, Mystery Girl Steals Vanessa’s Name Tag, 2007

Vanessa Fox Talks to the Crowd at the BlogHer Conference
Vanessa Fox Talks to the Crowd at the BlogHer Conference

Vanessa Gets Interviewed by Rand fro WebProNews
Vanessa Gets Interviewed by Rand fro WebProNews

Vanessa Laughs Alongside Susan, Danny, Lisa & Matt
Vanessa Laughs Alongside Susan, Danny, Lisa & Matt

And now, I have a favor to ask of everyone who reads this post. Please, please, leave a comment either here (that’s to assist you lazy RSS readers) or on her blog sharing your experiences either personally with Vanessa or with Webmaster Central. I think Vanessa deserves to know how much her work has meant to all of us, both personally and professionally (and often financially). Let’s not her forget how much she did to change our perspectives and our interaction with one of the most important companies of the era.

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