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SEO has changed a lot over time.
In 2017, good SEO essentially revolves around delivering quality content and a good user experience while following Google's stated best practices and accumulating backlinks.
There is a lot more to it than that of course, but these guidelines are a good place to start when it comes to wrapping your head around this complex industry.
Professional SEOs work hard to keep up with Google’s algorithm changes, as a failure to do so may cause them to use outdated tactics which can hurt their clients' websites, rather than help them.
With this in mind, here are some important things you should know about the evolution of SEO, and how it might be affecting your website and business:
Google Updates and 'The Good Old Days'
Back in the old days of SEO (about five years ago now), there were a lot of dodgy and spammy SEO practices going on.
From cloaking (hiding content from search engines), to sneaky redirects and keyword stuffing - SEOs and webmasters had gotten carried away when it came to ranking websites.
In a transformative move, Google rolled out successive updates to its search algorithm (Panda, Penguin & Hummingbird being the main ones), changing the face of the SEO industry forever.
Overnight, people saw their websites crash down the search results, and there was a huge panic as the industry struggled to transform itself.
By and large, the disruption caused by the Google updates was welcomed. After the dust had settled, a new era of SEO was ready to begin...
UX Is King
The key lesson that came out of all the upheaval, was the realisation that the needs of the user must be put first, not the desire to rank for a set of keywords.
The concept of UX (User Experience) is often brought up when discussing web design, but it can also be applied in a more general sense to the ethics behind online marketing.
Nowadays, most SEOs focus on producing user-friendly and user-oriented content in a website that’s fast, easy to use, and intuitive. This is a SEO strategy that benefits both users and search engine crawlers, and so far, has stood the test of time.
If you are looking for SEO services, make sure that a commitment to your audience and customers comes first. You should always be thinking about how SEO can benefit your users and customers, and all good SEOs will factor this into any conversations with you.
The old adage 'content is king' (technically a misquotation of Bill Gates) is often rolled out when discussing modern SEO.
In essence it means that in order to succeed as an online brand, content creation, curation, and marketing need to play a big part in your online strategy.
This is still very much the case: almost all businesses online are investing huge sums of money into content marketing, and the hype shows no signs of slowing down.
For smaller businesses, the prioritisation of content has largely been a positive thing: it’s allowed individual voices to rise up through the power of blogging, and find an online audience.
Highly personal, emotive content has captured people online, and made some people and businesses a lot money.
Good SEO content is a mixture of keyword research, audience insights, data, and creativity. Whether you create content in-house, use freelancers, or have a mixture of both: make sure that content quality takes precedence over quantity.
You are probably better off publishing content slightly less frequently, but upping the quality and relevance.
We are now officially living in a mobile-first world (and this may one day become a device-first world as 'Internet of Things' gathers speed).
The emphasis on mobile has led to a shift in SEO: abandoning a traditional desktop-first way of viewing a website to focus on local searches and responsive website content.
Mobile SEO has pushed businesses to think about their sales funnel, and ensure that their website is doing all it can in order to drive enquiries and orders.
When you are dealing with such a small space, visuals and information architecture become increasingly important.
Global SEO, Differing Interpretations
There are still some SEO practitioners who are struggling to keep up with the changing times and haven’t abandoned old practices.
There is sometimes a particularly marked divide between SEOs who work with clients, and SEOs who prefer to work for themselves.
As the internet reaches more corners of the world, global SEO is rising up, and some newer search markets have yet to feel the full force of algorithmic changes.
As the world continues to shrink, we are most likely going to hear more about global SEO and its ramifications.
The Rise of DIY SEO
A big shift has taken place in people’s ability to take control of their own SEO destiny: people tend to work with freelancers and agencies in a more collaborative, open manner.
This increased transparency in the industry has led to a huge normalisation of SEO, and more and more people are happy to factor SEO into web budgets. As content becomes more of a focus, brands are encouraged to engage with inbound marketing on a deeper level, encouraging collaboration and cross-pollination.
Even the way in which modern content management systems and websites are built has evolved in order to factor in technical SEO.
As well as long-standing SEO favourite WordPress, newcomers like Wix and Squarespace and ecommerce leader Shopify are allowing entrepreneurs and small businesses to build websites that have a good SEO foundation, leaving the final tweaks and fine-tuning to SEO freelancers and agencies.
This partly ‘DIY’ SEO model has also led to some confusions and harmful mix-ups: it’s still advisable to speak to an SEO expert before launching a new website to ensure that all the crucial technical boxes have been ticked.
Video, Voice, VR: Where Next?
The future of search is exciting: there are plenty of new devices and formats that are creating waves in the industry.
From an increasingly voice-led search market, to a proliferation of online video - SEO is constantly evolving in order to tackle these new challenges.
At the same time, emerging technology like VR, AI, and IoT devices are shifting the boundaries of the internet.
SEO is essential to being found online, but make sure you find a provider who’s willing to put in the work and align themselves with your business goals. SEO has great ROI when compared with other digital disciplines like social media marketing and PPC, but it has to be done right.
Victoria Greene is an ecommerce branding expert who loves to help businesses grow online. She’s also a freelance writer and runs her own blog at victoriaecommerce. An early adopter of online marketing and tech, Victoria likes to keep her ears to the ground when it comes to digital innovation.