How Working in SEO Has Changed Over the Years

google-2004 *

Wow. It’s almost a decade ago that I started practicing SEO for clients seriously. Until then I focused on web development and did only the obvious stuff when it comes to search engines (hello meta tags!).

I remember making a cool Flash website for a photographer and trying to get it indexed afterwards by Google and other search engines. It was 2004.

Despite having textfiles read into the Flash animation I had to deal with the common SEO issues Flash has. After that I assumed to be knowledgeable enough about Google etc. to apply for a job with a tourist oriented site optimizing for some competitive terms.

Boy, was I wrong. It took them a month to notice that I’m not good enough to get them to the top of Google quickly but during that month I learned so much about SEO that I decided to stick with it.

It’s amazing to see how much has changed ever since and how much has stayed the same.

I already tried to offer a blog to my first client in 2004 but he quickly abandoned that project. I looked up their site recently, and they still don’t have one.

From custom sites to CMS and WordPress
A decade ago WordPress already existed but it was an ugly blogging system for the tech-savvy but uncool bloggers. Most Content Management Systems were clumsy and bloated and often expensive.

Building sites from scratch was still common.

I was building them myself in PHP, JavaScript, Flash, HTML and CSS. I didn’t want to learn mySQL and meddle with data bases so I looked for something to do that was less about programming and more about the content and the people. SEO and blogging was growing fast so I could join in the fun.

At the beginning you still had a lot to do with HTML and coding but the more social and creative aspects have grown in importance year by year. At first it was about finding the perfect CMS for SEO or the ideal ecommerce platform. In most cases you had to code the SEO friendly features yourself, later extensions appeared.

WordPress developed meanwhile. The first sites started to use WP as a CMS.

Even larger sites tried CMS as a back end. Designers started to create high quality premium WordPress themes instead of building templates or custom web designs.

Today most sites use WordPress. its’ by far the most popular CMS in the world. Joomla and Drupal are still there too and very large sites need other systems or custom solutions but WP is the industry standard. Some well-known SEO specialists simply specialize in WordPress solutions for SEO and beyond.

 

From link exchanges to blogger outreach
In the early days you would focus on getting links from as many domains as possible. After link popularity the next step was domain popularity. That led to the need to exchange links with more strangers than before.

Until then it was sufficient to swap links with a few other SEOs and to “build your own network” aka linkfarm by creating lots of sites yourself. I did not believe that such a strategy was sustainable so I never really engaged in building sites just for the link of it. Also

I didn’t have enough link-rich SEO friends to exchange links with so I had to start with strangers anyway.

The Google changes that led to the rise of domain popularity were already the first step to the humanization of SEO.

You had to attract other webmasters in a way. They didn’t care about your site’s looks or content as long as it was PageRank 6 or even better 7. Anything under 4 was too poor to get something of value in return. I remember when my girlfriend said one day that she doesn’t want to hear the word “PageRank” ever again.

In 2013 we do blogger outreach instead of swapping links.

Some argue that it’s just old wine in new bottles but there are differences. You do not have to meet in dark corners of the Web and privately exchange links with other SEOs. Many people still try that but it’s far more rewarding to reach out to high quality bloggers who most probably already interested in you and your products.

 

From keyword-stuffed content to enticing content
In the early days of SEO it was all about keywords. For years the perfect page title was [keyword singular | keyword plural]. The text onsite had to start with your keyword, feature it in the headline, the secondary headline etc. This was way before social media. So the only way to get the people to see your site was to rank for the exact keyword.

Why waste the precious space in the title for adjectives?

SEO copywriting was mostly about keyword rich text. Nowadays we have content creation that reaches beyond text, images and videos. It’s purpose is not solely to rank for a keyword anymore. You are actually writing to attract and keep an audience. You need to entice people with content not just tell bots to index your site and rank it high.

 

From link bait to regular content
Content was once the exception not the norm when it comes to SEO. At first it was all about links. You could rank with sites that had no content beyond sales copy just based on the backlinks. Then the first social media sites like Delicious or StumbleUpon appeared and people started to create link bait. It was often simply amazing content people loved on the Web.

Then the search landscape changed gradually until so called content farms too over center stage.

 

Cheap, shallow and mass-produced content has been a huge business model for a few years until search engine Blekko appeared on the scene and declared to be spam-free including content farms into its spam definition.

Google had to react and clamped down on low quality content created solely for SEO reasons.

Since then so called content marketing has been hailed as the new better SEO but to a large extent SEO has just become more about content creation, curation and promotion. Today you have to create “great content” on a regular basis. Google discourages links and demands more free content from webmasters.

 

From clueless clients to highly-aware ones
Some SEO veterans on Twitter and on Google+ have argued that SEO awareness has grown, but not the level of education about search engine optimization. 10 years ago most people didn’t know what SEO is while today you will get a lot of potential clients equipped with lots of prejudice and assuming that they need 30 PR5 links in a month, ideally for 99$.

That’s true, most people have heard about SEO by now but most of them still do not know what it is.

So you have to deal with a great deal of stereotypes, misconceptions and too high expectations. Also many business people will still assume that content, social media or conversion optimization is NOT about SEO so an SEO consultant has to shut up about them. Ten years ago they didn’t know what a blog is. Even in 2008 I had difficulties to explain to clients that they need a blog or what the ROI of it is.

 

Are you working in the SEO industry for 5 years or longer? Tell me about your impression too. How has dealing with SEO professionally changed over the years?

Many thanks to the veterans who have contributed their impressions already ion Twitter and Google+!

* Google logo from 2004 found on Google Truths

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