Google then and now.

Some Things in SEO Never Change

With all the changes going on in the search engine world these days, like Google adding a fourth paid ad to the top search result listings and replacing their head of search with the man who’s driving their AI initiatives like RankBrain, one would think there are no true constants left in SEO. I know I am not alone in noticing all the changes that are happening in the world of SEO but when I look back to an article I wrote over a decade ago I am reminded that many of the core principles and even actions in SEO have remained the same or changed very little. Here are five of the core SEO concepts that really have changed very little over the past decade and likely won’t change much moving forward, they are:

Site Structure

What about it? Since the beginning of search it’s been important to structure a site so that search engine spiders can crawl it and will prioritize the right content in the right way. While the technologies of sites have changed over time and some of the old tricks to fool the engines no longer work, the core idea regarding structure remains the same – structure your pages so that the Main Content is easily accessible and is given a high priority by Google and structure your overall site and navigation to be sure that the bots and users can get through your site easily and quickly.

Why won’t it change? Google will always prioritize the content made most readily available to the visitor higher than the other content on a page. This is simply to ensure that the user intent is matched with the expected experience. The way you structure your site and the content on a page has and always will help Google to decide whether or not you are providing the searched-for information to the user. Further, the internal linking structure and sitemaps help Google crawl and prioritize pages properly. Until recently it seemed that Google was relying on XML sitemaps however with the latest guidelines, they’ve taken a step into the past recommending a human-readable sitemap as well to aid in the speedy crawling of your site.

Anchor Text

What about it? Anchor text ties the target page to the term used in the anchor. Due to much abuse and over-use, anchor text weight has diminished but it has not disappeared as a factor. Use of keywords in the anchor text of a link (either internal or external) is and has been a ranking factor since links first started adding weight to a site. It is considered a best practice to use anchor text but do not abuse it!

Why won’t it change? While overuse can be seen as spamming and draw penalties, the proper use of anchor text in links is listed in the new Webmaster Guidelines as a best-practice and therefore should be used. Right now it makes sense that Google is recommending anchors most likely to aid in teaching AI about relevancy. Something to consider heading forward is to look at the other natural anchors to your pages and competitors. Finding other terms that the bots can use and understand as related/relevant will help safeguard against drawing penalties but in the end it still comes down to using anchor text and not overdoing it … just like a decade ago.

Titles & Descriptions

What about it? Title tags hold and have always held high SEO value, that hasn’t changed. While the optimal length has changed over time, that’s about the only thing that has so keep including them and use tools such as this one put out by Moz a couple of years ago (https://moz.com/blog/new-title-tag-guidelines-preview-tool ) to help you with creating them. Description tags on the other hand have changed in how they are valued, while they themselves used to be a direct SEO factor a decade ago, their weight now lies more in their impact on clickthroughs. Much like a decade ago, there is value in a description tag, it simply has a different purpose. Description tags can still be a value to SEO provided they’re well-written for users.

Why won’t it change? Titles and description tags will always be important as they’re what displays in the search results. For this to change Google would either have to determine that they can do them better, which isn’t likely, or devices and/or user behavior would need to change dramatically to the degree that a textual summary of the ranked page content is unnecessary. Either of these may happen one day in the distant future but not anytime soon.

Links

What about it? Links have been a critical part of the ranking formula since the launch of PageRank as a factor or basically, since the birth of Google. I was writing about them in 2004, I was building them in 2001 and a Moz survey of experts rates it as the top ranking factor in 2009 …. and 2015. While some of the specific strategies to build them have changed, the principles around why they work to improve ranking has not.

Why won’t it change? The problem with ranking a site based only on its content is that content can be optimized fairly easily by a talented SEO. This would leave Google with many sites that “deserve” to rank #1. The engines need a mechanism for determining authority and popularity and links do both. Of course, what links work and why can and has changed dramatically, but if we look back to why Sergey and Larry decided to factor them in to begin with we’ll see that it’s not a change in philosophy, just calculation. The links Google wants to count are the links that are naturally created, those that are actually votes for the content on another site. This 3rd party validation of a site’s content value will be necessary for the foreseeable future though as we saw with their recent warning about nofollowing reviews for products received free, that validation needs to be provided without incentive – even if the review itself is legitimate.

This continued attention to links and what is and is not allowable in their eyes certainly indicates that Google has no plans to pull them from the algorithm anytime soon.

Content

What about it? Undeniably the largest constant in SEO is content. In 2005 I wrote that search-effective content was:

  • Unique
  • Well-written
  • Focused on the audience
  • Researched

Sound familiar? That’s because the same rules about content that applied then apply now and are unlikely to change.

Why won’t it change? While some subtle aspects of content change over time based on users and their preferred medium for specific types of information; the core rules around content and content optimization have and will remain the same: Provide the user what they want, when they want it, in the format they want it in and make sure that the content is unique, engaging and authoritative. Content is the purpose of the Internet and indexing it is the purpose of Google. This will only change when the Internet shuts down and so appeasing the user should be its core aim.

The Takeaway?

If we look through the constants we can see they touch pretty much every aspect of an SEO promotion. That’s because they are common sense marketing strategies. If there’s one takeaway from seeing which areas of SEO have remained essentially unchanged over time, it’s that each action should be looked at in how it serves the user. From their initial query being entered to the final conversion – if a page, image, game, download, article, etc. fits the user’s needs and engages them and encourages them to share it you’ve done your job and that’s what Google wants to see.

5 Comments

  1. Rick Lucas says:

    Excellent article. I wonder if you could expand on the best practices for anchor text. I am not sure I am taking advantage of anchor texts the way I should be. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Rick.

      That’s a bit of a tough question to answer as there are no hard-and-fast rules and I have to believe it’s a bit sector-specific as well. That said, here’s my general rule for internal and external …

      Internal – when I’m dealing with internal links I’ll use keywords whenever I can provided it makes sense to a user.

      External – I generally try to go about 50% anchor and 50% branded and URL-based with the 50% anchor text distributed among 5+ permutations (ex – “blue widgets” and “cheap blue widgets” etc.)

      Hope that helps. There are likely other ways people have found that work but this general distribution has held up pretty well.

  2. Great Article it its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. its was really valuable. thanks a lot.

  3. Mark Bnny says:

    I would like to add one more thing in these things which is the quality content. The content on the website should be relevant and informative for the user. Besides this all the tips are very nice these things are ust for any website.

    • Interestingly I was thinking of adding a bit on content but 10 years ago it “only” played a role in conversions and didn’t really have much to do with rankings (Google wasn’t evolved enough at that point to be able to judge content well). To that end I couldn’t include it in this piece as it was meant for direct SEO ranking factors but from a web marketing perspective it’s definitely held up and certainly will until Google is no more.