June 11th, 2015
Back in 2004, in the earlier days of Brave Agency, it didn’t matter if your website was brochureware or e-commerce, SEO was a lot easier. Most people didn’t actually understand what it was, and you only had to try to explain to someone the way Search Engine Optimisation works to watch their eyes glaze over. SEO was mainly based around ensuring that the keywords were included in as many places as possible, and as often as possible. While this wasn’t necessarily “best practice” there were no real repercussions from it, since Google had no idea how to stop people from breaking the rules. Tools that gave sites their SEO scores were only based on how many times these targeted terms were included in each area. Link building was basically just about submitting to directories, and the biggest problem was how time consuming this was, so tools were soon available which allowed users to bulk submit to as many directories as possible. Luckily, SEO isn’t like this anymore. No one worried about the user experience, how the site looked, if it was readable, helpful, or even better than the sites that were ranked lower.
Google is now on top of things, and actual skill is required in order to succeed at SEO. Users also expect sites that are helpful and well written, and a site stuffed full with keywords will just mean a high bounce rate as users immediately click away from your site and go to your competition instead. Google has come such a long way, that the dodgy tactics which once worked can no longer be implemented. However the fundamentals of SEO have stayed the same.
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How Basic SEO has Changed
You may have asked yourself “how do I undertake my own SEO” and whilst there are many people who would argue that basic SEO has completely changed, the truth is that if you go right back to basics, SEO hasn’t changed at all. Many people forget the basics of SEO as they look for new ways to improve a sites ranking, forgetting about how SEO actually works. While the overall picture may be different (such as some practices which help influence the overall rankings), the basic on-page tactics are still the same. Many people refuse to believe that practices which were valid 10 or 11 years ago are still relevant today – it is also why a lot of people believe that SEO is still just about key word stuffing. The truth is, SEO is still about improving the visibility of websites within search engines organically. This is still the same after all these years. Ten years ago we were working with:
- Meta Descriptions
- H Headings
- Title Tags
- Internal links
- Meta Keyword tags
- Alt tags
- ContentMeta Descriptions
Apart from Meta Keyword tags, everything else is still relevant today. It may be debatable whether they still have the same ranking signal or strength that they once did, but all of them should still be optimised, as they all provide Google with signals of their relevance.
While Meta Descriptions may not be a ranking factor, they’re still a selling point. Google uses and displays them, they should be considered as a call to action for your site, enticing users to click through. With this in mind, a good Meta Description is a big factor when someone decides to click through to your site, or is lured by a competitor.
H headings used to be one of the best ranking signals available, by ensuring that the keyword was in the H heading you were good to go. In addition, you should also be using them to format your page and create crawl-friendly code. They should be both meaningful and natural, and used as heading tags to split the page up and make it easier for your readers to scan the page.
Unfortunately you can no longer optimise your Title Tag, and Google now displays whichever Title Tag it thinks is most relevant. Back in 2004 Title Tags were usually just filled with as many keywords as would fit in the space Google would display.
10 years ago, we could link to everything, with footer links, image links, and plenty of terms in our copy that could be turned into internal links. Sites were basically just stuffed full of links. These days, links should only be on a page if it adds value to the content. Adding anchor text rich link everywhere won’t give you much success. However the internal link structure is still important, especially when it comes to the people who will actually be using your site. Your site should be easily navigated, pointing users to related content, adding value to their experience.
Alt Tags used to be simple. In 2004 it was just a case of adding the keyword to the Alt Tag, without any real descriptions, or meaningful information. The more times the keyword was mentioned on a page, the higher you ranked. These days, Alt tags shouldn’t be ignored, but they definitely shouldn’t be spammed.
Remember keyword density? In the past most people aimed to include keywords a number of times, so that it made up around 4% of the content on that page. Many people also would just add the keyword as many times as they could, hoping to rank higher, but often making the content annoying and hard to read in the process. These days, we should all be writing for our audience. Spamming your own content is a good way to raise alarm bells – if you are not careful Google will quickly notice, deem this as black-hat and in return, penalise you for it. Keywords are of course important, just make sure that the content includes them naturally and you shouldn’t have any problems.
Much of this information may seem obvious. As we mentioned, these are the basics of SEO, there are other techniques and all of your practices should be carried out as part of your evolving strategy and monitoring of performance. The most important thing to remember is that you should be addressing each element individually, but never in isolation – considering the user experience along with the ranking of your site. Don’t ignore them simply because they may be considered “old school”.