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What Is SEO and How How Has It Changed Over the Years?

More often than not, business owners at the mention of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) imagine it to be a simple means of increasing sales. Several business owners have tried SEO at one time or the other in the past and found that it did not work out as sleekly as they expected it to. The surprises people encounter are a result of their deep-held misconceptions about SEO. What then is SEO? This article attempts to give a well-grounded explanation of SEO and why the new SEO works better than you can imagine!

Having worked in SEO and ranking website market even before it was rebranded to SEO, I am equipped to offer you some inept knowledge of the changes in SEO since the beginning of the current millennium and everything you should look out for in the SEO offers presented to you by an SEO Agency.

We’ll be taking a walk down SEO lane to examine the ways it has come to be what it is today and how best you can apply it to your business to get the best of its offerings for your website.

SEO in the year 2000

Excite and Lycos were the biggest search Engines at the onset of the m=new millennium. In those early days, the internet was a drag, only a small chunk of UK’s population utilized the internet and they did this with a “dial-Up” system that was slower than a snail.

At the time, websites were made up of a couple of pages containing the most basic information to make load within 20 seconds. The idea of SEO at the time was to sneak in as many keywords as possible into these pages so that they can be found for the searches easily without having the appearance of spam to visitors.

The launch of “Adwords” by Google in 2002 was predicted to be the death of SEO as people can now pay to be visible online on a platform that is currently rated as the best search engine.

When Yahoo purchased Inktomi, AltaVista, and FAST in 2003, it spelled the end for most of the smaller search engines, it was at the same time that Google began to clamp down on spam practices of certain websites. When Google found that natural listings encouraged visitors to retune to their search engine, they realized that “Adwords” wasn’t going to kill off SEO, this realization caused them to recognize professional SEO experts and to welcome good SEO content while still frowning on Spam.

The first-ever website to be banned from the internet received its matching orders in 2004 when Google took her first action against websites that were spamming them. Apart from banning the website, Google also brought up legal action against the SEO Company responsible for the spam.

One of the major practices at the time was the ranking of websites through linkbacks. It was a common thing to buy or exchange links around 2006 when this practice was in vogue, some websites even had had a designated web page where they would list companies and the links that led to the company’s website. This practice continues to this day.

Between 2004 and 2008, Google took the mantle as the major player in the game of search engine. Because of their status, they began to take action against bad linking practices and businesses that engaged in such. They tightened up spam censorship and tried to curtail the buying of links. That decade ended with the stamping out of “naughty” SEO practices as Google’s new criteria for ranking websites changed to the quality relevance of website contents to the search being carried out.

Following the SEO of the 2010s

Search engines began to take cognizance of social media websites from 2010 to 2015. Hence search results were littered with tweets and posts from Facebook. (Imagine running a search for your company only to discover the bad PR you are receiving on Facebook or Twitter. Brutal.)

Google’s “Caffeine” update helped to bring images and videos into the search engine results.

Taking cognizance of previous searches, Google launched a “Personal search result” which meant presenting search results tailored to the individuals involved based on their previous searches. It caused a bit of an uproar at the beginning because people falsely thought that they were at the top of Google search when in essence, they were only there. After all, the search was tailored to their previous search history. You get the real picture when you run a “Google Incognito search” which is more generic.

When “Google panda” and “Penguin” came in, they made “Link exchanges” obsolete while Google made out strong penalties for every website attracting visitors with irrelevant links. To allow websites provide relevant links to other websites without the risk of penalties for either party, Google introduced “No follow links”, this marked the start of ‘safe linking’ here, we find that quality and relevant content was now the key to ranking in the search engines.

A 2014 report showed that;

  • 78% of UK citizens accessed the internet every day which means that about 21 million people have gained access to the internet since 2016 when it became possible to directly compare records.
  • 24% of the population used their mobile phones to access the internet in 2010, a number which was more than doubled by 2014 with a total of 58% gaining access to the internet through their mobile phones.
  • Online purchases moved to 74% in 2014 as opposed to 53% in 2008. Clothes were the most popular online purchase with a 48% sales.
  • 67% of the adults in Great Britain were aware of internet storage space services but those who utilized the service to store data were only a meager 35%
  • 84% of the total households in Great Britain had access to the internet in 2014 as opposed to 57% in 2006.
  • 91% of households chose to use fixed broadband internet connections.

The statistics above show that as of 2014, most of the UK was well acquainted with the internet and gaining access to the internet via mobile phone s was booming.

SEO of 2015

One of the major Charge engine changes of 2015 was the commencement of a rule that penalized websites that were not mobile-friendly. To make it easier for mobile users to understand your website, you have to incorporate a smaller screen of information for the mobile user to read and understand. To push their points home about the need for mobile-friendly websites, Google began to place websites that automatically changes its size and format to fit mobile screens higher in their rankings.

Local companies in the United Kingdom began to gain small advantages over the larger national corporations because a good portion of UK populations used their mobile phones for local searches.

The landscape of SEO especially the way SEO agencies viewed their work changed when Google introduced “Semantic touch,’ a system that helped Google return results based on the quality of the contents of a page instead of the keywords. Big words became less important as internet users became more innovative with their searches, preferring “Long-tail Keywords” which led to the growth of website visitors and most importantly, conversations.

Where is SEO Today?

The parameters and processes connected with search engine optimization can be said to have outgrown the term; SEO.

Before now, all you had to do was tweak the content and structure of the website but the terrain has changed and there is so much more you need to do to get a high ranking on search engines and also fully engage your customers. Experts suggest that the process be regarded as Digital marketing. The old practices were hung up on big words, a single keyword per page could do it in the past because ranking was there was then.

The Old SEO

In the current Landscape, semantic search has become the major driver of SEO while communication is the main goal as opposed to the initial focus on ranking.

Semantic search refers to the situation where Google searches scan information on a page and not just the description on the page. A typical example would be to use the “Baker Manchester” example. The SEO of previous years would have taken its object to be ranking the business as “Baker Manchester” or “Baker in Manchester” or “best baker in Manchester” – this, of course, holds true for a business that offers a certain solution for panic buys (In a situation where speed is paramount and the need for proper information is only a secondary consideration).

The practice that serves websites better at the moment is to work on contents that generally offer quality information and guidance and contains ‘long-tail keywords” (Long-tail keywords often include 3 -4 words searches).

An example of such would be “best baker in Manchester” “reviews for the best baker in the Manchester area” semantic search helps Google to get the best information to the user quickly and also to help them have a good experience while they are at it. Semantic search also serves the need of a business owner who would prefer that the right people click on their website link and not have someone visit your website when you have nothing to offer this individual.

This is the biggest change Google has implemented so far in terms of keywords and it will be here for a long time. SEO or digital marketing as it is currently known is no longer about ranking, it is instead about the number of unique search terms you can be found for and how you can convert these into paying customers.

Website Content

Over two years ago, Google suggested to SEO agencies and SEO professionals that 300 words on a page were all that was needed. The reiterated their position last year with a statement that the minimum content should be 500 words.

To review a website, most of which have between 150 -250 words on the page, has become the norm. There are two possible approaches to this, Google could lower their standards as most websites do not meet up or a website owner could take it as a challenge and jump ahead of the competition by meeting the content requirements of Google. Which of these scenarios do you think is likely to come into being? Would Google lower its standards or would website owners be forced to improve their content? When Google demanded that websites be made mobile-friendly, they didn’t go back, websites stepped up to meet them, it won’t be any different from the content demand.

The fact is that about 800 words are enough to capture a semantic friendly search, one that maintains relevance and avoids the sin of being overly wordy.

Here are a few things you should practice;

  1. Begin with a page title – here you say what the page is all about. This is where you can go big with Keywords if you want.
  2. Ask a question with your headline
  3. Explain the content briefly in the first paragraph.
  4. Add an image or video.
  5. Spend some time on proffering a solution.

Let’s use the Manchester baker as an example;

  1. Page Title: Best Baker in Manchester
  2. Headline: Are you looking to get the best baked goods in Manchester?
  3. First Paragraph: Ella Cakes offer a classy and tasty bakery service in Manchester, we offer tastings and samples of our products and can bake some of the best confectionaries at 12 hours’ notice which is why our customer reviews and feedbacks speak highly of us. Call Ella Cakes now!
  4. Add an image showing an array of your confectioneries.
  5. Longer description: What kinds of confectioneries do we offer? What varieties of cakes, buns, etc. Attach some quotes from customers.

This offers you several benefits;

First, everyone who just need the services of a baker goes through the first paragraph, view the image and the confectioneries (Which shows your authority and professionalism) and make a call or visit Ella Cakes. Others who need more information will go further down the page. This cannot be considered cheating at SEO since you are proffering pertinent details to the search engine user, they should praise you for this.

Secondly, your website will be well primed for semantic search. Search engine users can find your website for a combination of the words on the page. The bakery can be located by potential customers simply looking for a baker, best baker, best-baked goods, Ella bakery best bakery in Manchester, etc. If you happen to be the owner of Ella Bakery, would you rather be found through multiple terms or simply rely on one big keyword? This is why Google is hung up on Semantic search and why you too should get on board.

The old SEO system was aimed at providing content for the search engines, today you must aim to create contents that provide value for your customers and this process is way simpler than it sounds.

Here are some quick questions to guide your understanding;

  • What were the last common inquiries customers have made about your business?
  • What problems were these customers trying to solve?

Write about these problems and their solutions.

Building Links

Getting as many links as possible from wherever they can be gotten, as many as possible were the old system of link building. A large company contacted us early this year to ask for solutions to their SEO problems and they were very alarmed when we suggested that they jettison their 1.4 million links and return them to their website. They were horrified at our suggestion because they had spent lots of money over the years to gather the links all of which were irrelevant. Of course, they did not understand that the more of these things you have, the more adverse effects they have on your website because they emphasize the irrelevance of your website to Google – not minding the actual relevance of your website.

The current SEO landscape values a few important links more than a million irrelevant links. The best links are those built on through engrossing relationships. Take our Baker, for instance, a few links from an event planning website or a local confectionary vendor may be just enough.

Social Media

A few years ago, when you suggest that a business should own a Facebook page the follow-up question is usually; ‘Facebook? Isn’t that for kids and jobless people?’ the next statement is “That’s not out market” the story has changed. Facebook, when used right, has the capability of driving more traffic to you and directing paying customers to your doorstep and your website. Research has found that Facebook’s largest users are aged 25-34, followed closely by the 35-44-year-olds and then the 45 – 54-year-olds. These groups are followed by those aged 18-24.

Statista’s Report on Facebook user’s Ages in the UK

What Facebook offers you is the opportunity to build a brand, engage directly with your customers, get customer reviews, and get feedback directly from your customers on all of your products. A review given to your products on Facebook is seen immediately by the reviewer’s friends and for each person that likes or comments on the review, more people are brought to view your reviews. This reaches more people faster than the reviews on your website ever could. Facebook allows your network to grow and reach several audiences you never really imagined as people are constantly asking their friends’ opinions on what brand to use. Direct links are easier on Facebook.

Periscope, a company recently purchased by twitter allows you to stream a live video from your phone and this is the next thing for social media. What can our Manchester Baker do with this live streaming apparatus? You can video your baking process, show the world a glimpse of the yummy cakes being placed in the oven, and have thousands of mouths watering even before your cake leaves the fire. This is the same as owning a free television airing for free across the world. Big companies may want to periscope some of their brainstorming sessions and get feedback from the customers.

Video Marketing

There was never an old video system for SEO since videotaping in the modern sense didn’t really exist then and when YouTube came onto the scene, they were basically for displaying funny cat videos and such.

This has all changed. YouTube has grown into the second largest search engine in the world. The funniest part of this is that YouTube is owned by Google. There are over a billion YouTube users all over the world and each minute sees over 300 hundred videos uploaded onto the platform. Research has found that it will take around two years to watch all the videos that are uploaded to YouTube in the space of an hour which means that you will have to be watching a video for every minute of the rest of your life to be able to watch it all. A 2018 research by Google states that 73% of searches result in a person watching a video, another way of viewing this is to look forward into the future; in a few years, when 10 people key in a search for your business, about 7 of them will be watching a video, 2 will be directed to a website.

The proliferation of video technology and the result it offers is the reason most digital marketing companies create videos for their clients as part of their digital marketing services.

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