Search engine optimization (SEO) is arguably the fastest growing marketing channel – it takes a dedicated team of professionals to stay on top of it. Early on, SEO was the wasteful practice of selecting keywords, picking any random strategy, and spamming links to websites and blog posts until you were ranked for those keywords. Luckily, Google caught on to this and its search algorithm is now constantly evolving.
So what’s changed over the years?
Content became king
By 2011, content marketing became the core of any successful SEO strategy. Google defined what it considers to be “good” and “trusted” content over time and ranked information accordingly. After 2011’s Panda update, there was no more mass keyword injections or favouring of high-volume content. From then on, the top-ranked sites were the ones that produced the best-quality content – and for Google, valuable content and audience trust are two hallmarks of quality. Even today, those who focus on quality writing and storytelling will have a considerable advantage in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
No more link schemes
A link scheme is an attempt to influence your ranking with links deliberately, such as “exchanging money for links” or “using automated programs or services to create links to your site”.
Google works hard to stop spam-based link-building practices and even penalizes violators. With the Penguin 2012 update, link schemes went by the wayside. For websites that wanted to gain the authority needed to increase rankings, their links had to be created and sent by humans and add value with quality content. Another good option for link building? Guest blogging.
Basically, if you haven’t had any guest bloggers write for your site yet, there’s no time like the present.
Keywords are out
The death of keyword optimization started in 2013 with an update called Hummingbird. This update introduced semantic search, Google’s way of deciphering user intent rather than mapping out individual keywords and phrases.
Now Google attempts to understand meaning rather than matching keywords, so campaigns based on keyword optimization don’t work as effectively as they use to. Don’t get me wrong; keyword research is still relevant. It can guide your plan to improve your SEO, but it isn’t the whole story.
On June 29, 2007, the iPhone first emerged. Smartphones have since become integral to society; optimizing for mobile audiences has become just as important. In 2015, mobile search trumped desktop searches for the first time and has been in the lead ever since.
Optimizing for mobile is basically non-negotiable at this point. Google’s 2015 mobile-friendly update, known as mobilegeddon, was designed to boost mobile-optimized pages in Google’s mobile search results. The significant influence of this update still impacts marketers’ decisions to this day, and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Pace and impact
For a while, Google made life hard for marketers by releasing what seemed like random updates that dramatically changed ranking calculations. If you had an effective strategy at one point, it was obsolete after an update. Luckily, updates now roll out more gradually.
Understanding the history of SEO will help you update your strategy and patch any holes you may have in your current efforts. To keep up, you’ll need to research each update that comes down the pipe or hire a team that can incorporate that information quickly.