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The Evolution of SEO Strategy: Ten Years of History

Marcel Casella October 13, 2016

SEO Strategy Evolution

Ten Years of Change in SEO Strategy

We’ve talked at length of the future of SEO Strategy and current best practices, but what of the past?

Looking back at the history and progression of this craft can be extremely valuable. It serves both for having a reference and helping to predict the next movements of modern search engine giants.

Let’s cast an eye back and go over how SEO was in 2006. It goes without saying that much has changed. But in what respect? You might be surprised at how permanent some core features of SEO have been over the years for such a dynamic field of work.

Who was big?

Similar to the current scene, Google was the giant in 2006 but still had its competitors snapping at its heels. The share of Google for search amounts has been on a somewhat consistent decline, with Bing being the main competitor who also happens to provide the results for Yahoo searches.

The key difference back in the day was MSN – remember that? It was MSN and Yahoo that were the main contenders up against the ever-present Google. The market was even a little more fragmented than is arguably the case currently with further providers such as Ask Jeeves and AOL carving a small share of all searches.

As MSN changed in its face over the years from MSN to MSN Live though to just Live the service remained similar despite such a number of rebrands. Google was still far ahead in terms of share of all internet searches and this remains to this day with Live having since become the Bing many of us know and use.

Meta Tags. Meta Tags Everywhere

2006 certainly was different in this respect. Nowadays we’re all focused on the seemingly bottomless task of organic content and social. However, ten years ago the scene was remarkably different.

Meta description and keyword tags took the lion’s share of ranking in the eyes of 2006 Google. Many an SEO burned the midnight oil trying to get their head around this code and how to best squeeze rankings out of what they had available.

A common sight was more stuffing than a Christmas turkey. Tags were crammed to the brim with keywords whether they were spelled correctly or not. The code for Google was at a point where there was value in adding in spelling variations and plural versions of your required keywords. This was largely due to the lack of contextual understanding. Google has since released many updates that dealt with this issue, and made this way of thinking useless.

Now Google knows better

We’re all familiar with the comfort of smashing your fist into a keyboard and getting the results we need from a barely legible input.

Sadly ten years ago this wasn’t possible and as such putting whatever inventive variations an SEO could think up into meta tags was the way to success. The focus has long since shifted from writing for the engine to writing for the user. It’s not without its headaches, but we can all agree that providing sincerely high quality content and still working SEO alongside that is a good place to be.

It’s also a great point that the move away from keywords has benefited SEO experts. It was previously the case that a savvy SEO could easily take a look at your keywords and instantly suss out the focus of your current marketing campaigns. It’s hard to even call this competitor analysis more than it is handing the competition your plans on a plate!

We’re in the happy situation today that it’s all about contextual relevance. Google and other engines are smarter than ever and intent is the key focus.

Videos and Photos? Are You Mad?

This one certainly took many by surprise! Ask an SEO ten years ago how relevant videos and photos were and they’d tell you little to not at all.

The game has completely changed now. Our recent articles go over the changes rocking the marketing and SEO world today. Namely, the steady shift over from desktop to mobile and from mobile to voice and video search.

While the phrase “content is king” still holds true it’s now the case that photos and elements of video are invaluable for a part of modern SEO work.

The Magic 4% – Keyword Density

Oh yes. A favourite memory of many an SEO and copywriter everywhere. For all, keyword density was “the thing” back in the wild old days of SEO.

If you tell a modern SEO to cram in a product name or string of words to 4% of a total article word count they’d tell you to go home and read a book!

The truth is that back in the day this was a very powerful and effective part of the SEO strategy toolkit. Ranking was much more linear or binary than it is now and keyword density was the go to method for ensuring that any linked content was pulling its weight to the maximum.

Over time this became a little silly. The number of blogs flooding the internet with garbage content became a serious problem and one that Google rightly moved to correct. Now we live in a world where such blatant attempts at gaming the system are penalized automatically by search engine providers. You certainly won’t get away with that one any more.

Can you see what it is yet?

It’s easy to take a look at facts like the above and see where SEO strategy has been changed over the years. We no longer write for SEO, we write for the user.

Language is an interesting thing. Ask ten SEOs whether they would describe this change as “progress” or “forced” and you’ll likely have a split response. It’s undeniable that SEO ten years ago was less varied than it is now. Modern efforts have to incorporate an array of factors that seems to constantly expand – it’s a juggling act in the truest sense of the world that nevertheless requires constant research and awareness to ensure success and avoid punishment.

A fond look back for some and a shudder at the way it used to be for others. The fact is that casting an eye to the past can help give reference for the future.

Here’s to a good ten years!