In Memory of Phil Payne, A Google Webmaster Central Legend

Dec 19, 2012 • 8:40 am | comments (20) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEO & SEM Forum News

Phil PayneIt is rare where I have guest writers contribute to this site but in this case, I felt it was appropriate to have a respected friend and member of the Webmaster Central Top Contributors club pay respect to an SEO, a Webmaster and a person who spent a tremendous amount of his time helping others with their Google problems, write this post. Sasch Mayer is the author of this post but all those part of the Webmaster Central community is a part of this.

I have personally quoted Phil's words and contributors here countless times. I have learned from the man and I will deeply miss him. You can see many of his posts at the forum over here. There are more details about what happened and people paying respects to Phil at Google Webmaster Help forums.

A couple of days back, news reached the Webmaster Central forum that Phil Payne, one of our longest-standing and most respected members, had passed away suddenly. To say that this came as a shock for us is something of an understatement. All of us are stunned and grieved. As a mark of respect, Barry has graciously afforded the Webmaster Central community an opportunity to share a few words in memory of Phil's passing, so, as a fellow Google Top Contributor who had known Phil for upwards of six years, I will do my best to do this memory justice.

On occasions such as this it's customary to sanctify the deceased, to ignore his flaws, and to elevate him into sainthood with flowery speeches. But a poetic eulogy would basically be doing Phil's glorious individuality a gross injustice, and if I tried to concoct such an accolade he would, in all likelihood, return to haunt me despite his atheistic life philosophy. There is one thing I will say, however: During a career spanning almost fifty years in the IT and Internet sectors, Phil amassed a positively awe-inspiring professional knowledge-base. In fact, I think it's safe to say that by the time I first ventured into the Webmaster Central forum back in 2006, he had already forgotten considerably more than I knew at that stage.

We started our relationship, perhaps inevitably, with an argument over a woman. One of my first ever posts in the forum had inadvertently caused offense to one of the regular lady contributors (you know who you are) and Phil, in a fit of gallantry, promptly jumped to her defense in his usual haughty fashion. I barely escaped with my life on that occasion; a lesser man would surely have perished.

But that was his way; he would jump to the defense of those he respected, and he was ever-ready to argue the point on matters he felt strongly about, or on those he boasted a deep knowledge of. Phil was gruff at times, and he most definitely did not suffer fools gladly, yet he was always ready to aid those who reached the forum desperately looking for help with their websites. The fact that, despite having posted considerably less in recent years, he is still ranked sixth on the list of the all-time most active contributors in Webmaster Central is perhaps the best testament of his overall dedication to the forum and its countless users.

A firm believer in Occam's Razor, Phil would invariably use it to cut through the fog of supposition, guff, and over-analysis, often to pinpoint the root causes others failed to spot with amazing alacrity. According to his own professional experiences the simplest explanation was usually the best, and more often than not it actually was. This did, of course, lead some forum users to become insecure and challenge Phil's reasoning. To such confrontations he would usually respond with his favorite battle cry of "Do not insult my intelligence!" before cheerfully proceeding to out-logic his antagonist in short order.

Over the years, more than a few forum users also accused Phil of having some strange ideas, both about Google's wiley ways, and about Black Hat SEO in general. With hindsight, however, it would appear that more than a few of these ideas were prophetic, rather than kooky, in nature. For instance, not many will remember that Phil was among the first to identify the trend of domain farming a few years ago. He was also among the first to predict that Google would eventually take a dim view on the practice. This, once again, did lead to further 'heavy' discussions with some eggspurts professionals, along with more cries of "I don't give a flying ferdangle!" But that is, of course, another story.

What more can be said by someone such as myself, someone who interacted with him more or less daily, but who knew him solely in the virtual world? By his own account Phil was an aficionado of pub-rock concerts and a connoisseur of real ale. He was the guy you'd see sitting inside the speaker cone, pint of beer in hand, with a blissful smile on his face as he gently vibrated to the throb of the bass. But maybe it's best if I let Phil tell you about who he was, through his own biography on the Isham Research website. After all, who better to give you an insight into the glorious, knowledgeable, eclectic individual who was Phil Payne than the man himself? Just for giggles, you might also want to check out his Devil's IT Dictionary, as used by Matt Cutts.

In conclusion I can only say that Phil Payne was no more or less perfect than you or I. Ultimately we are all of us just human. However, for Webmaster Central and its community he was, in the immortal words of Chaucer: "a true, a perfect gentle-knight."

We'll miss him...

Sasch, the Webmaster Central TCs, and our resident Googlers.


With the deepest respect....

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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12/19/2012 02:33 pm

Thank you, Barry. This was a great article. RIP, Phil. You taught me so freakin much. The IT industry lost one of the great ones.

David Amerland

12/19/2012 02:43 pm

Barry, this is an excellent piece. It is a real loss for many of us.


12/19/2012 02:44 pm

I had been following the chit-chat thread and was hoping that something would be posted here for the seroundtable audience. I hope all of you will read through the blog, laugh out loud with the IT dictionary (disturbing the cube farm, surely) and waste some company time in honor of this man. Great post::sad topic

Maggie Tattersall

12/19/2012 02:56 pm

Thank you Barry, and Sasch for such a great picture of Phil. A true portrait of a friend, Bionic and TC we have known and learnt from for so many years. You are, and will be, missed, Phil.


12/19/2012 03:15 pm

Thanks for giving us the opportunity of paying our respects to Phil. We appreciate it.


12/19/2012 04:00 pm

Thanks for putting this together boys. I still read it all with a heavy heart, but it's so good to see some of the real Phil shine through in this piece.


12/19/2012 04:13 pm

Great Post Barry! Not knowing the man first hand, I immediately recognized the name in the post as a major Google Webmaster contributor. He voluntarily helped others as needed which reflects who he was as a man. Hopefully he is in a better place now, rest in peace....

Wendy Tinley

12/19/2012 04:14 pm

Thanks for this - I'll email the link to his son and daughter, I'm sure they will appreciate the heartfelt words about their Dad.

Susan Moskwa

12/19/2012 06:51 pm

Wonderful post, Sasch -- spot on. RIP Phil.

RIP Phil

12/19/2012 07:50 pm

Phil is the only poster that was actually nice. All the rest, lysis the b*tch is #1 at this, Sach and others suck. They are rude and are on a power trip (without having any power)


12/19/2012 07:51 pm

Why didn't one you googlers post about this?

Bill Zaybub

12/20/2012 12:07 am

This the only way you can get off li'l boy?

Richard Hearne

12/20/2012 01:39 am

Please don't degrade something that tries to honour Phil with your negative views about others. It's the wrong place and the wrong time.

Brian Ussery

12/20/2012 03:48 am

THANK YOU, Barry & Sasch for this wonderful post and tribute.

Wendy Tinley

12/20/2012 11:19 am

Received a reply from Phil's son: "That looks wonderful, thanks!"


12/22/2012 04:12 pm

Thanks Barry

Wendy Tinley

12/24/2012 11:44 am

Heard back from Phil's daugther this morning: "Thank you for this. A fitting and genuine tribute to the awkward and bright man that was my dad. Even when he was at his lowest ebb his sense of indignation never faltered and his enjoyment of an intellectual battle was evident. I'd be grateful if you could pass on my thanks to Barry and Sasch and anyone else involved. "Thank you for this. A fitting and genuine tribute to the awkward and bright man that was my dad. Even when he was at his lowest ebb his sense of indignation never faltered and his enjoyment of an intellectual battle was evident. I'd be grateful if you could pass on my thanks to Barry and Sasch and anyone else involved." From myself: This is an extraordinary good piece about Phil... Thank you Sasch

Barry Schwartz

12/24/2012 11:51 am



06/12/2013 03:08 pm

I had the pleasure of knowing Phil through an Audi Quattro forum, I never got to meet up with Phil as my restoration project dragged on & on. Phil helped me out on so many occasions with such in depth technical advice & adapting his advice for the not so technical minded. He ran his own web site dedicated to this iconic car which is still available for all to use. I used it only today to gain some info. I got the feeling he called a spade a spade and I enjoyed his banter with other forum members who rubbed shoulders with him.. I missed the chance to have Phil over to do the final set up of my car as I had planned and feel there is no one else I would entrust it to now.. So I will slog on with the help of Phil's web site. Cheers, Davey.

Wendy Tinley

12/18/2013 09:05 am

A year on and Phil is still remembered with affection. R.I.P. Phil, miss you calling round for a glass of wine or two and an exchange of SEO thoughts and ideas.

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