How SEO Has Evolved Over The Years
As I write this on New Year’s day, I can’t help but reflect on how SEO has changed during the more than 12 years since I first started optimizing websites. I was browsing through my hard-drive looking for a document I had saved that had various article ideas in it, when I stumbled upon a file from the year 2000 in which I had written an outline for a potential SEO workshop I was thinking of teaching. I never did do that workshop in 2000, but did eventually hold the first of our High Rankings Seminars two years later. The seminars had a good run from 2002-2007, but this year I decided to instead focus on our SEO services, as well as our new SEO Training Classes.
When I spotted that old workshop outline from 7 years ago, I thought it would be interesting to compare it to the current workshop outline we’ve been busily putting together for our upcoming class. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I sometimes feel that the more SEO changes, the more it stays the same. Would the old outline be focusing on the same things we’re focusing on today? Or would it be completely irrelevant in today’s highly competitive world of organic SEO?
When you’re as deeply entrenched in SEO as I am, you often don’t notice the incremental changes that happen along the way. You simply go with the flow and make minor adjustments whenever they are necessary. Of course, all those minor adjustments can add up to major changes in the way you do SEO after enough time passes. Before you know it, your process is completely different and you didn’t even know you changed it! (As an aside, this is a good thing for people like me who are resistant to major changes in life!)
So, let’s take a look at what was in that old 2000 workshop outline document:
Introduction – Google has over 1.3 billion pages indexed.
Hmm…a quick look at the Google home page, and I realized they don’t show the number of indexed pages there anymore. I guess the page war they used to have with the other search engines got boring! I typed the word “the” into the Google search box, and it came up with 9,890,000,000 pages indexed. Let’s just call it 10 billion. That’s nearly 10 times more pages indexed than in 2000.
In SEO terms, that means there’s 10 times more competition for most keyword phrases — ouch!
Next up in the old workshop outline was “SEO Considerations” listing the following:
- Body Text Copy
- Title Tag
- Meta Description
- Meta Keyword
- Link Popularity
Not really too far off from what we might talk about in 2008, but I currently leave out talk about the Meta keyword tag (other than to mention not to waste time on it). Although, it appears that in the old document I was planning on saying basically that as well! Hooray!
Today of course, we also leave out any discussion of submitting to search engines. In 2000, I was advocating submitting the home page URL and then leaving it up to the search engines to crawl the rest. Back in the 90’s, many of the search engines of the day (especially Lycos and Excite) would suddenly drop any given URL from their indices for no apparent reason. I had a little section of the old workshop outline for explaining that people might want to resubmit if their URLs were suddenly dropped, or after a redesign. Nowadays that’s neither necessary nor helpful, and submitting isn’t a topic of discussion for the current classes, other than to say it’s not necessary.
The other SEO considerations are of course still discussed in great detail. My old outline didn’t provide exactly what I was going to talk about in terms of the design, but I ran across another old file on my computer from a similar time period that outlined some of our High Rankings services at the time.
One aspect was “reorganizing the navigational links on your site (as necessary) so that each page is linked to every other page on your site (which is important because the search engine spiders need to be able to ‘crawl’ throughout the different pages of your site in order to index them properly).” Which tells me that way back in 2000 I already realized the importance of site architecture when it came to SEO. That was somewhat surprising to me, because it seems that many SEOs still haven’t figured that aspect out today!
Additional topics in the 2000 workshop outline were things like “The Difference Between Search Engines and Directories,” as well as a whole section on “Submitting to Directories.” There was mention of Lycos, Excite, WebCrawler, Go (Infoseek), Yahoo Directory, DMOZ, and LookSmart. I find that highly amusing, as it seems like decades ago when we obsessed over those engines and directories!
We definitely don’t bother with any those topics these days, although they were a significant part of my presentations in the early SEO seminars in 2002. I even had a whole case study about the Yahoo Directory. These days I rarely even recommend submitting to them, as their directory is no longer a place that brings website traffic. DMOZ is a submit it and forget about it deal, and LookSmart is…umm…some sort of PPC thingee? (As another aside, I remember when LookSmart was brand new and owned by Reader’s Digest. They had editors who scoured the Web to find the cream of the crop websites. Ahhh…the good old days!)
The above info was basically going to fill up the morning of the old workshop, and then in the afternoon the plan was to look at some of the attendees’ actual websites and make suggested improvements. That’s actually very similar to what we’re planning for our upcoming workshops, as well. Although in the 2008 version, there’s a lot more to it than simply “reviewing the tags and code” as I had in my old outline. For the competitive SEO landscape of today, we plan to arm the attendees with a complete SEO strategy. Anyone who has SEO’d more than one site knows that the strategy is going to be different for each and every website.
So yes, things have definitely changed in the SEO world since the year 2000. It’s important to note, however, that the fundamentals have not changed as much as you may think they have. What an SEO spends their time on today will probably be somewhat different than they did in 2000. But the one element that will never change is the same one that I’ve been advocating forever—whatever SEO methods or strategies you use, the thing that will get you the furthest is creating an awesome website!
Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings, a search marketing firm outside of Boston, and co-founder of SEMNE, a New England search marketing networking organization, has been performing SEO since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
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