Content is king. People have used that phrase for as long as SEO has existed.
However, the content that ranks well today is nothing like the content that ranked during the early days of SEO. That tactics that you used years ago don’t just fail to produce results.
They can actively get you penalised by search engines. This means you get less traffic, which results in less revenue. Your cost per customer acquisition shoots up because you have to rely on other methods to get people to your website.
You need an SEO strategy that helps you to avoid the outdated practices that don’t work.
This article explores a brief history of SEO, allowing us to see how it has evolved over the years. You’ll understand the tweaks necessary to make your strategy more effective. Best of all, we’ll dive into future SEO trends and the actionable tips you can implement today.
We’re going to tackle five aspects of SEO and look at how things have changed since back in the day.
SEO in 2021 and beyond: What you need to know
Back Then – Keyword Stuffing
Keywords are the first thing you think about when you hear SEO.
You need to put keywords into your content to let search engines know what you want to rank for.
In the early days of SEO, this meant writing content with the aim of stuffing as many keywords as possible into it.
Take this as an example:
That’s a perfect example of keyword stuffing. The writer clearly wants to rank for the keyword “content marketing” and has done everything they can to shoehorn the term into the piece.
This practice arose because of the concept of “keyword density”. The theory was that there was some magical ratio of keywords that you needed to insert to get your content to rank in search engines. Many put this density at 1%. If you had a 1,000 word piece, you needed to insert your keyword 10 times.
This actually worked when search engine algorithms were much simpler. However, tactics like these will get you nowhere now.
Today - Natural Use of Keyword Variations
Search engine algorithms understand your content a lot better now than they used to. They’re actively searching for readable content that provides value to readers.
Keyword stuffing doesn’t create that content. Search engines and humans alike want quality.
Today you need to use two techniques:
Use Keyword Variations Naturally. Once you’ve settled on a main keyword, think of all of the ways that you can vary it. For “men’s shoes” you could use alternate keywords like “men’s footwear”. You’re avoiding stuffing and Google’s smart enough to recognise the similarities between the terms. As importantly, use the keyword naturally. Don’t force it in five times for no reason.
Use Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords. LSI keywords are search terms that relate to your content. However, they’re not synonyms or variations.
For our “men’s shoes” example, some good LSI keywords could break down the types of shoes, such as:
- Dress shoes
These are all phrases that you’d expect to see in a piece about men’s shoes. However, they’re not direct synonyms of the phrase. They add a little more context to the piece so search engines can get a better idea of what you’re writing about.
Of course, that assumes that you’re writing a piece that comfortably incorporates the LSI keywords.
A tool like LSIGraph can help you to come up with good LSI keywords:
Figure 1 - https://lsigraph.com/analysis/
Back Then – Exact Keyword Matching
This relates to how you link to other areas of your website.
For example, if you wanted to link from a blog post to your website’s content marketing page, you’d create something like this.
That’s an example of using an exact match keyword as anchor text for a link. Anchor text aims to tell the reader what they’ll see if they click on the link.
That on its own isn’t a problem. It’s when you get something like this that exact match keywords become an issue:
Again, this worked back in the day. Today, it just tells Google exactly how you’re trying to influence search engine rankings.
Worse yet, a lot of SEO marketers would then create similar content for each variation of those terms.
Today – Intent Matching
Today, it’s all about matching your content to the user’s intent, rather than using exact match keywords.
That’s important if you have a lot of keywords that share a similar intent. If they all serve the same purpose, lump them together into a single piece of content.
Create a single page that serves the user’s intent in searching for one of those keywords. Don’t make them navigate through reams of exact match keywords and anchor text to get where they need to go.
Back Then – Only Using Keywords in the Title and Content Body
Your title element and the main body of your content are always mentioned as the main places to put keywords.
That led to most people focusing on those tags and doing nothing with any other tags.
They’d optimise a little and it would do the job a couple of decades ago. Today, focusing only on those two tags doesn’t get you anywhere.
Today – Well-Rounded Optimisation
Today, title tags and keywords in the body of the content are still important.
However, now they’re part of the bigger picture. Google will still look at them to figure out what the content’s about. However, there are other things to optimise that you can’t miss out on. They mean you can optimise for both search engines AND humans.
Headline Tags. These are the headings and subheadings that you wrap in H1, H2, etc. tags. Search engines look to those for more context.
The URL. Nobody knows what they’re looking at when they see a URL like “www.example.com/product/category1/f4057fvw9”. Try to include keywords or something else that indicates what the page contains in the URL. For example “www.example.com/products/smartphones/iphone7”.
Meta Descriptions. Searchers see your page’s meta description as part of result that search engines present to them:
It doesn’t improve your rankings on its own. However, it does show the searcher what they’ll get if they click on your page. If the meta description matches the query, the searcher is more likely to click. More clicks lead to more chances of selling. Plus, that user interest may influence your rankings.
Image Alt Tags. There are several reasons to include an alt tag for every image that you use.
Firstly, you’re improving website accessibility. People with limited visibility who uses text-to-voice software rely on alt tags to tell them what an image represents.
Secondly, you can slot a keyword into the alt tag without messing up your content.
Finally, good alt tags can improve your ranking in Google Images, which can become a great source of traffic.
Back Then – Unnatural and Spammy Links
There are all sorts of unnatural linking tactics that people used to improve site rankings ages ago.
Such techniques included:
- Placing a link to their website on as many directory sites as possible.
- Spamming forums and blog comment sections with links
- Asking for reciprocal links from websites that also wanted to build their link profiles.
- Placing links in website footers (this was especially popular among website developers)
And that just covers getting inbound links.
There are plenty of ways to create unnatural outbound links and internal links too. The use of exact match anchor text covered above is one. Some companies also try to hide links where you’d never think to look for them, such as on a full stop.
Even Google got caught using that last one under the guise of its parent company, Alphabet:
Search engines are wise to these tactics now and will punish you for building low quality links. You may find your website demoted in rankings. At worse, you can get a manual penalty that removes you from the index entirely.
Today – Quality and Relevant Links Rule All
One link from a high-quality and relevant source overrides hundreds of low-quality links.
Links also don’t have the power that they once had. They’re still important. However, it’s quality content that answers queries that should be your main source of links.
The stats bear that out too. A website with a blog attracts 97% more natural links than a website without one.
Content is the key to getting good links in the modern era of SEO.
Back Then – Web Design Focused on Intrusive Ads and Elements
The user experience wasn’t at the top of the website developer’s mind during the early days of SEO. They wanted sites with tons of ads and other elements that just got in the way. Pop-up ads are a relic of that period.
Again, many went overboard. These ads and elements became so intrusive that they distracted away from the content on the website.
That’s still an issue today. Take a look at this page:
It’s not easy to see what that page is about. It looks like a pop-up ad has even hidden the main body of the content.
Layouts like these became the norm because they generated revenue. Early search engines couldn’t detect the usability issues they caused.
Today – You Need a Seamless UX
It’s a lie to claim that ads don’t exist on modern day websites. They’re how a lot of webmasters earn their money.
However, the user experience (UX) is the key focus now. Sites that perform well offer clear navigation and don’t obscure their content behind ads.
They’re also designed to work well on all devices.
A great website displays as well on mobile devices as it does on desktops. In fact, that’s crucial as more people browse the web using mobile devices than they do using desktops.
You need to create a seamless UX.
A good UX keeps visitors engaged and prevents them from bouncing away. This shows search engines that people engage with your content.
Search engines are more likely to rank you if they see that people don’t immediately hit the back button after clicking on your site.
Quick Tips for Creating Content That Ranks
Let’s round this out with a couple of quick tips for how to rank in 2019:
- Create content for humans first and search engines second.
- Ensure your content matches user intent to increase engagement.
- Focus on creating a seamless UX that keeps people on your site once they’ve clicked.
- Ensure your website displays well on all devices.
- Present content in a variety of ways. For example, articles, videos, and infographics.
The Final Word
SEO has evolved enormously since the early days of search engines. The techniques that got results back in 2000 could seriously damage your website today.
It’s all about finding the right balance between creating user-friendly content that’s also good for search engines.
It’s not an easy task, which means you may need some help. That’s where Online Marketing Gurus come in.
Download our Ultimate Guide to SEO today. Inside, you’ll find up-to-date information that can help your business enjoy rapid growth. We even reveal some of the secret techniques that we’ve used to help others boost their rankings and attract more traffic.