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SEO: Then and Now

SEO has been around more or less as long as there have been search engines. Although it seems like some blogger or another is heralding the impending death of SEO every few months or so, SEO has yet to fade into oblivion. The very core of SEO is to change; to make adjustments to one’s site to adapt to the search engines’ algorithms, the changes in consumers’ online behavior, the expanding online world and so forth. SEO isn’t about to die anytime soon, but it is constantly evolving to meet the needs and challenges of the times.

This is a look at SEO as it was in 2004 and how it has morphed to fit the modern world of 2011.

SEO: IT or Marketing Department?

Back in 2004, many marketing departments looked at SEO as a technology and not as a marketing tool. It was all about coding and web development and was often lumped in with other IT “stuff.” The singular goal of SEO was to get a site to rank number one in the search engines for a given keyword. Period. Now, SEO is tied in with every aspect of marketing online. SEO can be used to build a brand and online reputation, help create a community of targeted consumers, and more. Rank is no longer the principle focus, albeit still a very important result. Nowadays, SEO is squarely about marketing.

Linking Best Practices

Links were and continue to be the bread and butter of SEO. However, the way companies go about building inbound links has dramatically changed over time. In 2004, I was working for a large SEM firm. We had a full-time employee that was hired solely to develop link exchanges for our clients. Since then, link exchanges, paid links, spammy anchor text, cloaking, and the like have all been soundly labeled “black hat” by the search engines. Directory submissions were wildly popular in the early days of SEO, and while there are a few good ones left that can provide a quality link, they aren’t usually valuable for much else.

Nowadays, link building is synonymous with trust building. If you were to compare a very spammy, black hat site to a quality site, you would find that the spammy site (even if it has more links) is usually linked to/from other low quality sites. A website that is seen as an authority figure will have a much more diverse and valuable link portfolio, even if it is smaller. In 2004, quantity could trump quality. That is no longer the case for 2011.

Search Engines

Remember when AOL was King of the Internet? Now we all giggle at anyone who still actively uses the former giant. What about InfoSeek or AskJeeves? Do you still search using AltaVista? In the early days, the Internet was littered with various search engines, each with unique pros and cons. In 2004, Google was just one of many. Now, we use Google as a verb when we want someone to conduct a search. The general consensus of many SEO professionals is that when we optimize a company’s site, we are going after the Google SERP. Bing has been slowly chipping away at Google’s share of the search market, but for the most part Google is still the dominant player.

SEO Tools

Back in 2004, conducting keyword research was the single worst part of SEO. You couldn’t trust any data on search volume to be accurate, so in the end we pretty much had to guess. I remember sitting down with a thesaurus to come up with keyword variations! Good keyword research tools didn’t exist. Can you imagine optimizing each page of a 1,000 page website with no data to guide you? Luckily, today we have the Google Keyword research tool to make that task much easier and help streamline the process.

Google Analytics, a tool every responsible website owner should use, was only fully implemented in 2006! Before then, site owners had to purchase analytics software or use a generic hit counter (which didn’t tell you anything much other than number of visitors) to monitor their site’s analytics. Nowadays, we don’t make any changes, big or small, to a website without first consulting our Google Analytics information. The information found there helps shape and adapt our SEO campaigns for the better, and we can make decisions knowing they will point us in the right direction.

Social Media and Sharing

Social media didn’t really exist in 2004. Facebook, the 800 pound gorilla of social networking sites, was barely operational in early 2004. We certainly didn’t have Twitter and LinkedIn. While smaller social networking sites did exist, social media as we know it really exploded in recent years. Back in 2004, if you wanted to connect with someone online, you sent them an e-mail or an IM message. Now we message, Tweet, post, share, Like, bookmark, and much more. Content gets passed from person to person at astonishing speeds. We can build relationships with people worldwide all thanks to social networking.

SEO has even begun to envelop social media. The search engines have started incorporating data from social networking sites into their algorithms to help organize search results. Suddenly, the information your friends used to share on Facebook or Twitter amongst yourselves is impacting the general search results.

Mobile

The first smartphone, a BlackBerry, was released in 2003. The concept that you could be connected to your e-mail wherever you went and without a computer was revolutionary. Suddenly the Internet was mobile. The subsequent iPhone releases and Android phones furthered our online connectivity, and now smartphones are dominating the cell phone market. Local search has become an increasingly important part of SEO, all because of mobile phones and tablets. Google Maps didn’t even exist in 2004, yet now we can search for an address and get directions on our GPS enabled mobile devices.

Consumers and companies alike want to be able to connect with each other on the go. Since we don’t ever have to disconnect from our online lives, mobile marketing has developed to allow companies to target consumers no matter where they are or what they are doing.

This is by no means an exhaustive líst of all the changes that SEO has undergone, just in the last 7 years. But hopefully this has given you a better idea of just how much the game has changed. The next time you read a blog or article that says SEO is dead, remember that SEO doesn’t really die. It just evolves to meet the needs to the times.

About The Author
Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing a full-service Boston SEO firm that also offers social media marketing management services. With over 12 years of Internet marketing experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by posting daily SEO tips to his blog, the Search Engine Optimization Journal. Contact Nick Stamoulis at 781-350-4365 or nick@brickmarketing.com

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