The Past, Present and Future of SEO

Written by: Jason Bayless | February 08, 2017

Much like their name implies, search engines have long been the go-to platforms for finding web content pertaining to specific subjects. Moreover, consumers have always had the same expectation when using them: getting meaningful, relevant results that are in line with their needs. With the over-arching goal of meeting this expectation, search engine giants have cracked down on unsavory optimization practices throughout the years through a series of combined efforts that are currently just as confusing and complex as they are seamless and effective. Following is a brief look at the past, present and future of SEO.

The Past: Spamming And Low-Value Content

During its inception, SEO was something that was generally left in the hands of IT professionals who worked according to technical best practices and did little more than manipulate code. Given that all web users were searching with either standard PCs or laptop computers, there was no need to build sites that were mobile-friendly and no concern about providing hyper-local results. In fact, creating websites during the earliest stages of SEO was so simple that many companies were garnering more traffic by simply creating duplicate websites with duplicate content. The savviest of these entities were even able to claim several of the top spots on the first page of results by having many identical websites with different URLs.

There are a lot of things that SEO has been known for throughout the years. Nothing, however, outshines the days of articles that were loaded to the brim with keywords, but lacked overall meaning and value, spammy links and duplicate websites. These early efforts at optimizing for search engines capitalized on unsophisticated algorithms and made the vast majority of quality online content hard to find. As search engines recognized the widespread attempts to exploit their algorithms they began to make these increasingly complex. They also started leveraging penalties for using spam tactics to get ahead and thus, the days of distinguishing between white hat and black hat optimization were born.

The Present: Structured, Ongoing SEO Plans That Are Value-Focused

Keywords remain important to the SEO process, but learning how to integrate these without overusing them has become critical. The driving force behind modern SEO is ultimately consumer needs. As such, the biggest and most popular of search engines have begun to prioritize factors such as page loading speeds, business location, website popularity (gauged via link profiles), ease of navigation and other consumer-centric factors. Companies have also come to realize that optimizing through white hat techniques might take a bit longer than black hat strategies did in the past, but it also provides a number of impressive benefits for their businesses. These include the ability to build strong and recognizable brands, establish industry authority and push consumers through the purchasing process. Much like it’s always been, content remains king, but instead of spammy articles and blog posts, it manifests itself in a vast range of forms including infographics, advertising videos, images and social media posts among other things. Moreover, few to no companies are paying for ultra-rapid, link-building services and are opting to build their link profiles organically, whether working with professionals or tackling this task by themselves.

The Future: RankBrain And Smart, Flexible, Ever-Changing Algorithms

After having established itself as the authority search engine, Google paved the way for the future of SEO with the development of its artificial intelligence known as RankBrain. While RankBrain isn’t exactly in charge of managing and implementing the Google algorithm, it does play a major hand in determining how sites rank. Moreover, as an AI technology, RankBrain is ever learning and ever expanding its capabilities. This means that the future of SEO will hardly be a static, definable thing. As it improves, so will Google’s ability to provide more meaningful and more relevant results to its users. One thing that web designers and site owners can know for sure, however, is has the intellect and the ability to eventually do away with black hat optimization techniques entirely.