No matter what you may hear or learn about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), there is only one true constant: change. I’m unsure just how many times I’ve discussed this in the last few weeks, but there is a definite lack of understanding and confusion that still reigns amongst the people I speak to (both clients and colleagues).
People turn to Search Engines (namely Google) to look for products and services from brands they both know and don’t. SEO is the process of affecting a website’s organic visibility in search so that you can acquire more website traffic, customers and sales.
My time within the digital space has seen a lot of changes and collectively, what those changes have asserted is that SEO is no longer just a verb. It can no longer be considered retrospective, ancillary and laborious to a business and its website.
You can no longer simply just “SEO” a website, much like you cannot just make a person famous. To be famous, you have to say certain things, behave a certain way and receive exposure (good and bad) for the things you say and do. Today, a business and its website must approach SEO in a similar fashion.
To understand why, we must look back and consider what has changed. Here is a rough timeline of known events and their significance as interpreted by me. Keep in mind however that this list is by no means exhaustive and merely scratches the surface of the updates that have actually taken place.
Let’s jump straight into mid/late 2009 where Google had just previewed its Caffeine update and launched Real Time Search Results. For the first time, real-time search of Twitter feeds, Google News and other newly indexed content was integrated and shown within its search results. Social was becoming important, as was new and relevant content.
By mid 2010, Caffeine was in full swing and because of it; Google was crawling and indexing the web faster than ever before. Google Places then integrated local businesses within location-based search queries and not long after, one of the more significant updates (in my opinion) took place. Google’s Brand update now meant that they started allowing the same domain name to appear multiple times on a results page, whereas previously, domains were limited to 1 or 2 listings.
With the continued growth of social by the end of 2010, social signals were confirmed as factors within Google’s algorithm along with Google Reviews. Where your business was physically, what your customers had to say about your business and how you treated them, were all now important SEO factors which directly impacted on how your website performed in organic search. Google was starting to gather, translate and factor real-world information about business to then refine and better their search results.
During 2011 another big change landed. The +1 Button was followed by Google+, which finally launched after a number of social media failures. Google had launched a serious attack on Facebook and within 2 weeks had 10+ million users on its platform.
By early 2012, Google had even started to integrate Google+ authorship into its search results with the purpose of giving higher rankings to content tied to verified user profiles. They were rewarding users for embracing their social media platform and needless to say, this update reaffirmed the fact that social was here to stay and so too were real-world factors.
By the end of 2012 and right through to mid 2013, Google’s Exact Match Domain update had led to many large-scale devaluations of non-brand/heavy keyword driven domain names, further supporting the Brand update of 2010. For the first time ever, Google was promoting www.brand.com over www.keyword-keyword.com.
Panda and Phantom updates were also in full flight by this time, handing out warnings and severe penalties of their own for artificial and abusive link building practices. For years within SEO, aggressive link building tactics were extremely commonplace and often regarded as fundamental to ranking in Google’s algorithm. Much like a cyclist who didn’t actively want to dope but felt obliged in order to stay competitive, business owners who abused this system are still paying that price.
By relating these updates to one another and appreciating how they’re associated, you can start to understand just how Google wants businesses to focus on their brand and build omnipresence of an honest and reputable company both online and off.
Domain names should be your brand, never a target keyword. You should create, post and share relevant and valuable content. Links to this content will then be earned and not bought. Online conversations should be real and helpful, just as they would be in person.
SEO has changed in a big way and subsequently many industry professionals have since changed their practices and titles from “SEO” to “Online Marketing” or “Inbound Marketing”, etc.
Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz perhaps summed it up best during his company’s official rebrand to Moz on May 2nd 2013:
“SEO is bigger than just SEO - as hard as I've fought personally and we've fought as an organization over the last decade to make marketers and organizations think more holistically about organic search, the branding of the past remains. SEO is seen as a narrow set of activities that move rankings up and bring search visitors in. To truly help with SEO, we have to do more than just place keywords, make sites accessible, and build links, but first we need the influence to make these changes. A broader marketer is often granted that influence, while pure SEOs still, unfairly, must strive for it.”
What Rand means by the end of this paragraph is that throughout this entire period, Google increasingly changed their algorithm to consider various other on-page structural elements and engagement factors. Early 2014 for example, Google refreshed their Page Layout algorithm that penalized sites with too many ads above the fold. And let’s not forget what Brand mentions are set to do to the industry…
Today, SEO needs to consider much more than it has in the past. Industry knowledge and absolute ability to genuinely help customers cannot be outsourced as traditional SEO once was. No one can treat your customers better, or develop content with the insight and relevancy needed to succeed, other than the people within your business.
Today, SEO is a result of doing a lot of things well.
 Google+ Authorship was removed entirely from search results by the middle of 2014. But Google+ is well and truly here to stay.