Examining the last 20 years of SEO

Oct 30, 2020 by
Examining the last 20 years of SEO

It’s quite astonishing to think how far we’ve come this century. There were periods of human life where we barely made progress for hundreds or even thousands of years; living in the same caves and using the same basic tools without ever even dreaming to reach for the stars. Today, it’s almost as if every week or every few hours, there’s some major new development. Time moves faster today than it ever has before and, as such, even something as relatively ‘new-fangled’ as SEO has been through a cavalcade of changes and evolutions in just the last two decades.

So much is different and yet so much is the same

Essentially, the one thing that is the same in SEO in 2020 as it was in 2000 is the fundamentals – make a site for users first and then optimise it to get the best search engine results. Where the major change has happened is in content quality.

The first major shifts to the status quo arrived back in 2012 with Google’s now-infamous Penguin algorithm update. This was the update that moved the earth underneath our feet and effectively salted the soil for the old ways. It did this by completely changing the way that the search engine recognised links. In ‘the old days’ there were no rules around how you built backlinks, which meant thousands of websites were being created specifically to link out to other websites and the companies who created these websites charged cold hard cash for backlinks.

When Google dropped this update, it’s not histrionics to suggest that hundreds of businesses were either rendered obsolete or were forced to completely change their businesses model, pretty much overnight. It honed in on spammy links and manipulative link building to clean up an industry that had become, by that point, a little bit of a quagmire. The world of SEO can be quite neatly divided into the ‘before penguin’ (BP) or ‘after penguin’ (AP) years, and honestly, the AP years have been far more productive.

What does the future hold?

Most SEO experts will tell you that Schema will play an increasingly large role in how SEO is conducted in the coming years and it will probably continue to grow in power and complexity going forward. Schema refers to the microdata tags that are added to your HTML to improve the way search engines read and represent your page in the results page and we’re only just starting to understand how useful and flexible they can be.

It’s also likely that there will be a continued focus on improving user experience, which means ensuring sites are optimised for desktop, mobile and voice search and that the more aesthetic aspects of website design and development, in general, will begin to play a greater role. Generally speaking though, the song remains the same since 2012.

When SEO began, it was a bit like the Wild West – an unregulated den of thieves all out to make a quick buck from empty websites stuffed with keywords and backlinks that barely made any sense. High-quality content wasn’t considered a ranking factor and many websites, as a result, were completely incoherent. Today, however, content truly is king and long may it reign!