How SEO has Changed

Posted by Helen on Friday June 23rd, 2017.

Today we are looking at how SEO has changed over time

We will look at the positive and negative effects of such a heavily documented strategy across time and how this has impacted businesses.

So here’s the deal…

For a business to compete within the search engines, namely Google, it has to incorporate a SEO strategy. This should be executed within the realms of the Google Quality Guidelines with business owners understanding the requirements of longevity. Understanding the fundamentals of SEO is the difference between a successful and failing campaign and as we move through this article, various tactics will be highlighted whilst we discuss how they have evolved in-line with user-friendly orientated algorithms.

From a professional SEO’s perspective, it’s frustrating when thinking back to the earlier days of this discipline and how some would use extreme shortcuts in order to gain rankings. Keyword stuffing, article spinning, the purchase of cheap links from link farms and cloaking (hidden text) were unwanted methods that unfortunately worked for lots of websites. Delving into history however, why wouldn’t this work? ‘Back in the day’ an algorithm update could take months to roll out. SEO’s had two options. They could do whatever they had to in order to gain results or use forward thinking in-line with the user whilst predicting how they would want to view and use a website. Whilst the latter wouldn’t necessarily offer instant results, it worked in-line with Google’s way of thinking in terms of Penguin, Panda, Pigeon etc and meant a website would continue gaining trust amidst a world of seemingly bad practice. The results of such bad practice? Whether straight away or months/years down the line, we are talking penalty, the loss of rankings and traffic and overall a dramatic drop in sales. We could take it one step further and mention the fact that smaller businesses folded over night merely because of bad practice. Recovery from this point requires time, effort and expense alongside the uncertainty that a website will ever be fully trusted in the search engines again. Scary right?

Let’s take a look at five ways in which SEO has changed over time. We will investigate both historical and up-to-date information.

Google SERP iPad

Content: It was always King but over time it has become the ruler of the world!

Yes, you read that right…

Historically: Circa 2002 we know that ‘websites a plenty’ were all beginning the SEO battle. Optimisation would focus upon a number of keywords based upon their search volume and competitive nature. Numerous keywords would be targeted on a single webpage with content written purely surrounding these terms and results often presenting a poor user experience. BUT the search engines responded to this method.

Presently: Today content needs to meet the needs of the end user head on and therefore should be unique, shareworthy and targeted to a specific demographic. Required to be optimised, added to and promoted, a SEO’s job includes offering brand consistency throughout in order to gain awareness, trust and engagement. This of course should have been the aim historically as well as presently and moving towards the future.

Mobile Search

Historically: Previous to the existence of the Smartphone (and back in the days of dial up internet) optimisation was carried out purely for the desktop as this was the ‘go to’ choice. It was the only choice.

Presently: Technology has evolved. It’s huge! A study carried out in July of 2016 suggests that we touch our smartphone, on average, 2,167 times PER DAY! From this we can surmise the importance of mobile optimised websites and applications. The SEO’s job requires technical elements whereby pages load quickly and effectively in order to avoid a high bounce rate. Just think, ‘two second rule’. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tools offers scores and guidance on how to increase these.

SERP’s

Historically: Wow… where to start! SERPS have changed subtly yet often over time. Let’s go back to 1998 when Mr Page and Mr Brin (Google’s founders), were busy determining their PageRank algorithm. At this time, just 10 results were found per page, all of these organic. Sounds bizarre doesn’t it? Come 2000, all change! With the development of Adwords, SERPS became busier with four paid ads displayed ahead of organic. Changes would be constant from this point.

Presently: Maps, news, images, video, shopping and more have become fundamental components of a search engine results page, but only ever in terms of positive user experience. Positive attributes to the modern SERP’s include instant results which are displayed when typing, autocorrect of spelling errors, alternative suggestions, inclusion of synonyms and many more.

Keywords

Historically: Research available traffic for a number of keywords, target a single page and get those terms in as often as possible. When a page was optimised in this format, Google would offer trust and worth meaning higher rankings all-round. Good user experience? Not so much!

Presently: Evolution of the Google algorithm (which we shall discuss further shortly) saw Panda and Penguin wiping out the art of keyword stuffing. The introduction of Hummingbird meant search engines could now deal with semantic search. As we move forwards, Google really has a handle in terms of understanding the actual meaning of a string as opposed to individual keywords. User intent has been factored into the algorithms of today.

Algorithms have Chilled: Questionable to a degree!

So what’s the real story?

Historically: Over the years search engines have been required to establish a fair ‘set of rules’ for web owners to work within. These rules have always had user experience at the heart of the agenda. Some SEO’s however would try to look for shortcuts and with this in mind it has taken time, effort and dedication. Back in the day, the roll out of an algorithm update was not only heavily anticipated but predicted and discussed by professionals months in advance. Anyone partaking in the efforts of search engine optimisation would need to ensure their strategies were squeaky clean in a bid to avoid penalty.

Presently: Whilst algorithm updates are no longer as vigorous and potentially intrusive, this is because they don’t have to be. Google’s Quality Guidelines are clear cut in 2017 and if SEO’s stick to best practice there quite simply will be no issues. Algorithms run a tight ship and further tweaks will only ever help to enhance the user’s experience. Target single keywords on any one webpage, write share-worthy and unique content across the board and build quality links from reliable sources. Stick to these rules and you are working with, not against the algorithm.

It pays to note that the five SEO elements we have discussed are not the only ones that have evolved, merely those we felt most worthy of pointing out and as time progresses it will certainly be interesting to see how the Google Algorithm further adapts.

But wait! That’s not all..

SEO, a forever strategy right? One so complex that only highly trained professionals who understand the jargon can get involved with? Whilst the former is accurate, the latter – not so much. Yes, it certainly pays to have a savvy SEO working on a website and should they have historical experience, that’s even better. BUT… (and here comes the extremely bold claim), ‘Any business owner can execute a SEO campaign’. Pretty certain there is tumbleweed floating across the world right now as you read that scary statement, but if you think about it, the fundamentals are straightforward. Google’s quality guidelines are simple to understand. The top five elements we have mentioned above all center around one main focus – user experience. Top five SEO tips for those starting out:

  • Ensure your website offers a fast page speed load time
  • Focus on one main keyword per page
  • Write unique, share-worthy content
  • Share content via reputable sources such as social media
  • Understand that link farms are detrimental

In essence, this is SEO and as long as these guidelines are followed a website will build up trust within the search engines and when it comes down to it, this is the main aim. Increase trust, push relevant keywords to page one of the SERP’s, gain dedicated traffic and grow customers. Job done.