How SEO Has Changed Over The Last Decade

Being involved in SEO for the last 10 years, I have seen many changes as Google refined its algorithm to both tactics to manipulate the rankings, and the introduction of new technology. Here I highlight some of the strategies that were used and how Google brought in changes to counteract them.


Onpage Optimisation in 2007

SEO in the mid to late noughties was easy. You basically found out what keywords you wanted to rank for, placed them sporadically around the site, not paying too much attention to copy, grammar or calls to action and within 3 months – 6 months for competitive keywords – you could rank a site.

I may be taking a too broad approach here to how easy it was, but basically, you had tried and tested methods that would rank regardless on how competitive a keyword was. You mentioned keywords in the meta tags (the bits that appear in a Google search), 60% of the overall text in the navigation, URLs and footer and considered it job done. This was the extent of onpage optimisation.

Onpage Optimisation in 2017

Whilst keywords are still important to point Google to what it is you want to be found for, how the copy sounds to a user, readability, calls to action, grammar are more important. Google now crawls more like a user and overly spamming the meta tags or overusing keywords is bad practice and could see the site penalised.

Nowadays people optimise as though Google didn’t exist. Google announced the Google Panda update, where duplicate content, poor user experience, duplicate pages and meta descriptions were penalised.

UI (User Interface)
Flat design vector illustration of mobile and desktop website design development process with minimalistic modern digital tablet, desktop computer and smartphone on a designer workplace in stylish color. Isolated on beige background

UI (User Interface) in 2007

Traditional SEOs without a design background paid no attention to UI – that’s a design thing they would say. Most had no idea what it even stood for.

The optimiser’s job was to optimise the site and rank for keywords, whether it converted or not was the designer/website owner’s job. Being top of Google was the aim of the game and if it didn’t convert then it was down to others to solve

UI (User Interface) in 2017

The job of the SEO is no longer about ranking for keywords. That is just part of the issue. In fact, in order of priority, it’s third on the list of goals behind conversion and traffic.

Instead of being accountable of where someone is in Google, the client pays a certain amount of money and expects a certain amount of return (whether that’s measured by downloads, sales, email captures or other metrics). Working with web designers and site owners to measure how long someone spends on a page, crawling issues, fetching and rendering of sites (how it appears to a user and Google should be the same), blocked resources, page speed etc are all part of the SEO’s job.

Mobile friendliness

Mobile Friendliness 2007

Why would you want to be shopping on your phone or browsing from your phone? The screen’s too small; it isn’t possible, more people search on desktops.

Being mobile-friendly was a ludicrous idea and a waste of time. If it looked good on a computer or laptop, then it would rank fine.

Google has just one index. Page speed didn’t matter and Google didn’t crawl JS/CSS easily and secure websites were just for e-commerce sites.

Mobile Friendliness 2017

Optimise for mobiles first. It’s a priority that a site is mobile friendly or Google may not rank it as highly. Page speed should be below 3 seconds as otherwise users will leave, according to Neil from digital marketing agency AMA “Google doesn’t want you to block JS/CSS as they can now crawl mostly anything on a site like a user.”

Google announces the mobile first index to be launched in 2018, where how your site looks on a mobile will determine where you rank in Google.

Link building

Link Building 2007

The meat of SEO and how you rank a site. 60% of all backlinks can be for your main keyword and page rank was the key. (A figure from Google on how trustworthy a site was from 0-10). High page rank sites, whether they were relevant or not, were the order of business. SEO friendly directories, social bookmarking, PR, forum posting and blog commenting in bulk.

Conversations didn’t matter, why would you ever contact another site with your own content? And a blog was just something you added to a website or was for bigger brands.

Google couldn’t possibly penalise you for links, as they would penalise everyone, so black hat didn’t apply to links. Ranking a website was a numbers game.

Link Building 2017

Possibly the biggest change in the SEO industry so far was regarding link building. Link Building is now called “Link Earning”.

In April 2012 Google announced the Penguin update. This was brought about because of the obvious manipulative tactics that were artificially placing sites with higher visibility using the tactics above. Using keywords in links could see the site penalised and in instead URL or company is used.

Tactics come and go quickly and sites are quashed when they promote unethical link building (anyone remember the Matt Cutts post on Guest Posting it’s done put a fork in it).

Creating content in a content marketing ecosystem

These days the buzz word is content marketing, relevancy, and authority. When looking at a site you determine is it relevant to the product/service/message we are conveying?, does it have any authority (page rank is dead so this is measured by external tools such as MOZ, Ahrefs or Majestic link profiling software).

Writing content to attract links naturally is the key and blogs, FAQs, news sections are paramount to success. Instead of looking at your competitor’s links, you are looking at your competitors content and links. Email outreach (emailing sites to link back to your content) is a common practice and link building has become more like old-fashioned PR.

How has the last 10 years affected your optimisation efforts?

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