- What Is SEO, Anyway?
“Search engine optimization” has always been an odd term as it’s somewhat misleading. After all, we’re not optimizing search engines.
SEO came about when webmasters optimized websites. Specifically, they optimized the source code of pages to appeal to search engines. The intent of SEO was to ensure websites appeared higher in search results than if the site was simply left to site designers and copywriters. Often, designers would inadvertently make sites uncrawlable, and therefore invisible in search engines.
But there was more to it than just enhancing crawlability.
SEOs examined the highest ranking page, looked at the source code, often copied it wholesale, added a few tweaks, and then republished the page. In the days of Infoseek, this was all you needed to do to get an instant top ranking.
I know, because I used to do it!
At the time, I thought it was an amusing hacker trick. It also occurred to me that such positioning could be valuable. Of course, this rather obvious truth occurred to many other people, too. A similar game had been going on in the Yahoo Directory where people named sites “AAAA…whatever” because Yahoo listed sites in alphabetical order. People also used to obsessively track spiders, spotting fresh spiders (Hey Scooter!) as they appeared and….cough……guiding them through their websites in a favorable fashion.
When it comes to search engines, there’s always been gaming. The glittering prize awaits.
The new breed of search engines made things a bit trickier. You couldn’t just focus on optimizing code in order to rank well. There was something else going on.
So, SEO was no longer just about optimizing the underlying page code, SEO was also about getting links. At that point, SEO jumped from being just a technical coding exercise to a marketing exercise. Webmasters had to reach out to other webmasters and convince them to link up.
A young upstart, Google, placed heavy emphasis on links, making use of a clever algorithm that sorted “good” links from, well, “evil” links. This helped make Google’s result set more relevant than other search engines. Amusingly enough, Google once claimed it wasn’t possible to spam Google.
Webmasters responded by spamming Google.
Or, should I say, Google likely categorized what many webmasters were doing as “spam”, at least internally, and may have regretted their earlier hubris. Webmasters sought links that looked like “good” links. Sometimes, they even earned them.
And Google has been pushing back ever since.
Building links pre-dated SEO, and search engines, but, once backlinks were counted in ranking scores, link building was blended into SEO. These days, most SEO’s consider link building a natural part of SEO. But, as we’ve seen, it wasn’t always this way.
How is marketing different from SEO? Well, it is, but if you look at the history of SEO, there has always been marketing elements involved. Getting external links could be characterized as PR, or relationship building, or marketing, but I doubt anyone would claim getting links is not SEO.
More recently, we’ve seen a massive change in Google. It’s a change that is likely being rolled out over a number of years. It’s a change that makes a lot of old school SEO a lot less effective in the same way introducing link analysis made meta-tag optimization a lot less effective.
Google is likely applying different algorithms to different sectors, so the SEO tactics used in on sector don’t work in another. They’re also looking at engagement metrics, so they’re trying to figure out if the user really wanted the result they clicked on. When you consider Google’s work on PPC landing pages, this development is obvious. It’s the same measure. If people click back often, too quickly, then the landing page quality score drops. This is likely happening in the SERPs, too.
So, just like link building once got rolled into SEO, engagement will be rolled into SEO. Some may see that as a death of SEO, and in some ways it is, just like when meta-tag optimizations, and other code optimizations, were deprecated in favor of other, more useful relevancy metrics. In others ways, its SEO just changing like it always has done.
The objective remains the same.