When search engines were first introduced, SEO tactics were few and basic. Most importantly, it was easy to trick search engines into ranking your pages at the top of SERPs. As search engines have progressed, they have become far more complex, adding ever more ranking factors into the mix.
SEO has by no means finished developing. Every day, Google makes slight adaptations to its algorithm, and sometimes it makes major changes that require a complete change of your marketing strategy. Understanding where SEO began, where it is now, and where it may be in the future is beneficial to ensuring that you keep adhering to best practices.
SEO: The Past
As soon as Google was released, IT professionals found holes in the algorithm that would allow them to cheat their way into the top rankings. In these early days, SEO was more about technical practices than marketing. Users who wanted to gain visibility for their websites relied on tactics like mirrored sites, microsites, and keyword stuffing.
Google would not be the successful company it is today if it had not fought back. Algorithm updates at the beginning were few and far between, but by 2003, Google was rolling out updates on a regular basis. In addition to increasing the complexity of its algorithm, Google began penalizing sites that continued to utilize black hat tactics in an attempt to reach the top of SERPs.
From around this period until the present day, ever more ranking factors that once contributed to SEO were gradually phased out. A few that fall into this category include:
- Keyword meta tags. These were originally used to explain to search engines what pages contained. In 2009, Google announced that keyword meta tags would no longer act as a ranking factor. Websites that still use these tags are at a disadvantage, as they show competitors what keywords the site is targeting.
- Description meta tags. These used to serve the same purpose as keyword meta tags, but they also no longer contribute to rankings. However, description meta tags remain useful for improving click-through rates.
- Title elements. Although these still remain as a ranking factor, they are becoming less important. Search engines now turn to page elements for a better picture.
- Heading tags. Another element that plays a minor role, heading tags are far less significant than before. As the workings behind the Google algorithm are secret, experts often debate how necessary H1 tags are for organic rankings.
SEO: The Present
SEO today revolves around content. Google judges content according to quality, relevancy, and interest to users. To reach a high position in SERPs, marketers need to follow best practices rather than cheat their way to the top.
The best way for Google to determine the quality of content is to turn to social sharing. Whenever users share, like, or engage with content, search engines know that they have found the information valuable.
Just because keyword stuffing now leads to negative SEO doesn’t mean keywords are no longer important. Rather, you need to implement a smart strategy for keywords. Research which keywords work best for each page of content and limit to just those, fitting them naturally into your content.
In recent years, there has been a shift from desktop devices to mobile. Websites need to optimized for every screen size.
Google, along with Bing and Yahoo, relies on schema markup to understand what a page contains. Additional HTML tags are essential for this purpose.
Content management system
Users want a cohesive experience when they interact with your website. Isolating your content management system (CMS) fails in this regard and therefore hurts your SEO.
Site loading speed
Site speed became a ranking factor in 2010 and is still important today. Webmasters can improve the speed of their websites by using a content deliver network (CDN), by reducing image sizes (but without sacrificing quality), and by choosing the right CMS.
Users need to be able to find what they are looking for with little effort. If they become frustrated, they will leave your website. Google will see that your site has a high bounce rate and low average time on site. Intuitive navigation can provide users with a good experience, but it is even better if you offer a great experience. By offering dynamic content, your website will offer users what they want to see.
SEO: The Future
Looking forward, we can be sure that Google will only continue becoming smarter, which will lead SEO best practices to further evolve. Whereas it is impossible to know exactly what the future will bring, we can make educated guesses as to what may be in store.
As we mentioned above, it is users who are looking for a personalized experience when they interact with a website. The likelihood is that this will be even more important in the future. With so much content competing for attention, there is no chance for your site to be relevant to everyone, but you can provide individual users with exactly what they want.
SEO may progress in this direction to the extent that keywords, posting frequency, and backlinks cease to matter. Instead, Google will be looking for pages that offer the target user a valuable experience that they will want to share with others. You can prepare for this now by thinking about users as individuals and by optimizing your website for each one of them.