Is Traditional SEO a Thing of the Past?
Before the development of the search engines that we all use today, webmasters had to index their sites manually and most of us found websites via directory listings. As the Internet grew, these early methods for searching out information online became impractical, and during the 1990s the first web bots were developed that would later evolve into the search engine crawlers we know today1. As websites began to be indexed by spiderbots that used an algorithm to rank them by the use of keywords and the number of links into and out of the page, the practice of search engine optimization (SEO) became a more prominent part of everyone’s Internet marketing strategies.
What began as a tool for webmasters to use for having their sites indexed in the right place in the search engine results pages (SERPs) was soon abused, however, which began the game of leap-frog that has continued between SEO marketing and the search engines ever since. The dependence that the crawlers had on keywords saw the development of various keyword stuffing techniques, which in turn led to more sophisticated analysis of keyword usage in webpages. Similarly, the importance of links to a page’s ranking in the SERPs led to link farms, which are little more than websites of paid-for links to other low value pages that the owners and webmasters are trying to get ranked more highly in the SERPs. Obviously, these low quality websites aren’t what the search engines want to return for their users, and so the search algorithms have evolved again to take these practices into account. The two most significant changes to Google’s search algorithms in the last couple of years, Panda and Penguin, have targeted just such practices, while the algorithms have been gradually steered towards being able to search on more semantic principals.
Semantic searching is aimed at producing results that are better at anticipating exactly what information the user is looking for when they make a search. This is done by using more than just keywords to index the content of pages, and takes into account many of the contextual associations within the content in order to determine how valuable it is. The new credos of the search engines is to give organic content the highest ranking possible as it is likely to have information that is most valuable to users. This means that SEO practices, like link building and using good keyword density, are becoming less relevant than producing good, high quality content. In fact, Matt Cutts from Google’s web-spam department went as far as to say that it would be good SEO to avoid doing any active SEO at all2.
While many of the good SEO practices of the past may no longer be beneficial, it would be a mistake to ignore SEO altogether. Optimizing pages for the search engines is still important to ensure that they are indexed correctly in the SERPs, and focusing on content that is relevant to the keywords that you are targeting is just as important as it has ever been, perhaps even more so now. The way that the search engines are analyzing links now makes including good quality links an essential part of good SEO, but makes many link-building schemes a waste of effort. These changes to the search algorithms don’t spell the end of SEO; they make it more important now than it has been before.
The real difference now is in the way that we should apply SEO. Good SEO now begins with producing high quality content with a natural spread of keywords and a reasonable number of links to authoritative websites.