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How SEO Has Evolved over Time

SEODuring a recent phone call, a prospective client asked me about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how it has changed in the last 12, 24, and 36 months.

It’s a really good question because as Google and search behavior has evolved over time, so too has SEO and the tactics and strategies that we at Braveheart Digital implement.

In answering the client’s questions, I outlined three of the most significant strategies of SEO that have changed over time:

1. Rankings

At one point, every SEO agency used a ranking report to validate the success of their SEO campaigns. The report listed where a series of keywords ranked on search engines. The more rankings on page one or in the top three, the better.

Unfortunately, many business owners found that a high ranking for a keyword did not necessarily result in an increase in leads, sales, or revenue. The disparity between what the SEO agency saw as success (high rankings) and what the client saw as success (more leads, sales, and revenue) showed that simple ranking reports did not provide the same satisfaction to the client that it did to the SEO agency.

Even though a remarkably high number of SEO companies still use ranking reports, the reports lost their impact several years ago when Google started personalizing search results based upon your location and search history.

Today, we use a better metric:

Now in the initial phase of working with new clients, we ask: What are your business goals? How will you measure the success of your SEO campaign?

The most common response is that clients want to see an increase in traffic, leads, sales, or revenue through our SEO efforts.

Instead of ranking reports, our clients now see ROI reports that show the amount of SEO traffic and the corresponding number of leads, sales, and/or revenue associated with that traffic. By providing useful reports to clients, we make sure that our SEO efforts align with our client’s business goals.

2. Keywords

For the longest time, SEO strategies were built around keywords. SEO agencies compiled big spreadsheets with keywords and target pages in separate columns. Each web page was assigned a primary—and sometimes secondary—keyword. Long discussions were held about whether to target the singular or plural version of a particular keyword.

Now, Google drives traffic more effectively:

Today, Google is no longer keyword-driven. Now Google looks at a page and considers what the page’s theme is and what it’s really about. By being theme-driven, Google allows pages to suddenly accrue traffic from dozens of keywords instead of just one or two.

The image below is from Google Webmaster Tools and shows a page on a soccer website and some of the 78 different keywords that this one page recently showed up in the search results for.


Note the variations of the same phrase showing up over and over. These are thematic phrases that represent what Google believes the searcher is looking for. Many of these keywords are NOT actually on the page or in the meta tags, but they demonstrate Google’s interpretation of what the page is really about, which allows searchers to find the pages they really want even if the right keywords aren’t on the page itself.

3. Linking

In the past, the Google algorithm that determined the ranking of pages was developed on the concept of PageRank; sites that had the most links from the most ‘popular” websites seemed most legitimate and so, they appeared highest in the Google results.

As a result the surest way to high rankings on Google was to engage in heavy link building to directory and social bookmarking websites—sites that nobody ever visited. The odds of a potential customer clicking on one of those links and visiting your website were minuscule.

Over the last couple of years, link building has matured:

Automatic submissions have given way to finding high quality links on sites that your target audience visits.

For example, say your target audience are people interested in the environment. You would want to be part of this discussion on the Yale University site. They only publish original work that is written for an informed, but non-expert audience. If you are interested in reaching a global environment audience, then this Yale site is perfect as it a high authoritative link that will reach your target audience.

As technology changes and evolves, search engines become more sophisticated and adept at grasping exactly what we are searching for. To be successful in today’s competitive business world, you must have an SEO strategy that has also grown and evolved to meet the demands of technological advancements.

Does your SEO strategy still rely on ranking reports, targeted keywords, or directory submissions? If so, contact us today and let us help you upgrade your strategy to one that has adapted to today’s technology and can attract more leads, sales, and revenue!