SEO: Knowing Where You’re Going by Knowing Where You’ve Been
The transformation of SEO, the ultimate shape shifter
If a piece of content is written and nobody knows how to find it, does it really even exist? While this comparison to a giant tree falling in the woods may seem a bit far-fetched, your content and your brand’s message will not carry value if readers can’t get to it. That’s where SEO comes in, and if your content is appropriately optimized for it, it can help turn your otherwise silent message into the proverbial loud, crashing tree.
Here’s the tricky part. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed SEO aficionado and your current strategy isn’t broken, it’s still probably time to fix it. The one thing that you can count on when it comes to SEO is consistent change, emerging best practices, and increasingly-tighter regulations. Staying ahead of the game is the name of the game – and if you want to know where SEO is headed, then it’s important to know where it’s been.
A brief history
In 1991, the very first website was born and as you can imagine, many more rapidly followed. This website baby boom created the need for a virtual card catalog; a way to help unearth the information that was relevant to readers and filter out the websites that weren’t applicable.
The first search platform to arise was called Excite, and it came to fruition in 1993. Yahoo and Google were next in line, thus creating the first semblance of SEO. Fun fact: Google was initially created by two guys names Sergey Brin and Larry Page, whom named it BackRub. It didn’t take much time for the name Google to emerge and quickly climb its way to the top of the SEO charts.
The initial foundation for SEO was based in keywords. All one had to do was type in specific keywords to help filter their search results. As you can imagine, this created a kind of dog-eat-dog world. The simplicity of this keyword approach, coupled with a complete lack of rules and regulations, allowed marketers to very easily manipulate the system. They did things like stuff their content full of keywords and useless backlinks to improve their rankings.
These shady tactics were later dubbed Black Hat methods, and they created the need for some serious monitoring and SEO policing to ensure quality content showed up in search.
Old School Black Hat SEO
The latter half of the 90s was an important time for the Internet and the search engines that helped us to navigate it. More and more people were adopting the web as the new way of connecting with information, but the quality of that information, while abundant, was questionable.
This was in part due to the overwhelming number of Black Hat SEO tactics that marketers were utilizing to help improve their rankings. Over time, these unethical strategies were identified and deemed undesirable, but that process took some time. Actually, when Page and Brin were devising Google, these Black Hat Tactics were some of the problems they designed it to solve.
Here is a look at some old-school, Black-Hat shenanigans:
Keyword stuffing: Because the earliest forms of SEO literally connected Internet users with information containing the keywords used in a query, businesses stuffed their content full of them. Certain words and variations of the same words were found to be repeated over and over again, adding zero value. Some would even add keywords and then make the font the same color as the background so the reader couldn’t see them. Keyword stuffing was used to improve SEO rankings and help lure advertisers, but nowadays, Google views this as one of the oldest tricks in the book and can spot it from a mile away. Don’t even try it.
Useless links: Another way marketers used to scam their way to the top of the search results was by cramming in a bunch of links to spammy websites within their copy. Search engines used to hand out kudos to sites that utilized links to other sources, or even other pages within a particular business’s website, but quantity was rewarded over quality. Businesses would even cram keywords into their spammy link anchor text for a double Black-Hat whammy. Today, you’ll be penalized for this and rewarded for linking to reputable sources and using natural anchor text.
Keyword titles: Just like keyword stuffing, businesses used to riddle their article titles with keywords, making them hardly legible and undeniably spammy to the now SEO educated mind. In today’s world, people view titles as a promise to deliver on the information they’re seeking, so SEO trophies go to content producers that make them attractive, creative, and trustworthy.
Limp content: Most people understand that quality content is king, but back in the day, the actual substance of a written article was secondary to cramming in loads of keywords and high numbers of spammy links. Businesses were being rewarded with good SEO rankings for doing almost nothing at all, and this shortcut may have been the most efficient because creating quality content can take a lot of time. Now, there are tools that actually scan content and penalize you for anything low-quality, so you’d better be original.
Staying ahead of the game
Again, if you want to stay ahead of the SEO curve, then you need to remain agile and adapt to change quickly. Companies focused on sharpening their SEO game are now looking outside the bounds of Google and considering the rising impact of platforms such as Amazon. Product searches on Amazon have grown 73% over the last year, so optimizing your content for that arena is shaping up to be even more important than other widely-used search engines, specifically for e-commerce.
The moral of this story: keep your nose to the grindstone and stay educated on emerging SEO best practices, even if they’re outside of your current comfort zone.
SEO has come a long way and it will continue to evolve. Keeping up with it requires an ethical code, skill, and continuing education. It’s no easy feat, but good, bad, or indifferent, it is no longer an option to fall behind if you want to remain relevant.