The Ghosts of SEO Past, Present & Future

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Search engine optimization professionals can learn a great deal from a story like Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”

The tale is one of transformation for its main character Ebenezer Scrooge, one from darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death, to a life of light, joy and warmth. What the Dickens story imparts could prove important to the legacy of SEO as a digital marketing practice as well, showing that an evolution is absolutely necessary today for websites engaged in optimizing for search engines if they plan on existing at all in the future. Essentially, the ghosts of SEO past, present and future can show us what to avoid, the mistakes we’re currently making and where SEO and marketing investments should be made moving forward.

The Ghost of SEO Past: Those who have recently begun a search engine optimization campaign often fall prey to a belief system that was, unfortunately, far too simplified – even simplistic many years ago (and at times, just a little dark e.g. black hat). SEOs of the past focused on page components – e.g. page titles and meta descriptions, anchor text and alt tags – as well as the pursuit of Web-based citations or links. The result at the time, which was effective in terms of ranking a website in some instances, were over-optimized pages that tended to be irrelevant to the user/visitor's query. The result of over-optimizing the website was a poor experience for consumers. Over time, search engines began to penalize those SEOs who were attempting to take advantage of these flaws (relevancy and popularity) in the system. The ghost of SEO past has taught the digital world and the SEOs that occupy it this: that the system can be manipulated, but it shouldn’t be.

The Ghost of SEO Present: If the SEO processes of the past were fueled in great part by ignorance, the search engine optimization practices of today are often fueled more by fear than anything else. Digital business owners (be they information publisher, e-commerce merchants or Web service provider) are chasing down real-time trends, feverishly publishing information in a virtual effort to capture the next visiting prospect and drive them to a potential sale. SEOs are also rapidly disavowing links for fear of what will happen if they are found in a bad digital neighborhood, and coding their pages with authorship markup because they don’t want to be the only one on the SERPs without that designation. It’s not necessarily a problem to chase trending topics, or spend time polishing your virtual image, but the result is often that SEOs and the digital enterprises that employ them lose sight of what’s really important – the actual long-term experience a user has with a brand and its content, products or services. The ghost of SEO present reminds us that what’s most important is the quality of a user's interaction with a website today.

The Ghost of SEO Future: The challenge for those responsible for search engine optimization in the future will be in avoiding the worry and anxiety of how search engines will evolve over time, and creating digital experiences that matter to consumers on their path to purchase or engagement/interaction. The focus on your future SEO efforts shouldn’t be link building, but relationship development; it shouldn’t be the development of content, but the development of authoritative (unique and meaningful) content, it shouldn’t be to manage the flow of PageRank from one page to the next, but to design a user experience that benefits site visitors and their quest for information, answers and solutions.

Now, SEO, go fetch a digital goose… the fattest digital goose on all the Web.

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8 comments

DavidC 12-24-2013 3:21 PM

Good article and there is one thing the creators of content could do to help insulate themselves from past ghosts that won't go away.

If you make content available in relation to SEO, the chances are that posts created several years ago are still in,circulation and because of the ever changing landscape quite probably say things no longer true, or in some cases are quite opposite to the best current advice.

If you don't have a workable system that either provides the date of first publication or some other indications of the age of the information, then there is a good chance a search engine will pick up pieces created at different times, risking giving incorrect information to the reader or having you look dumb by appearing to contradict yourself.

Dating articles and posts doesn't sound hard but I am constantly surprised that individuals and companies holding strong reputations often don't do this, resulting in confusion and potentially damaging their own credibility.  

AnnS 12-24-2013 8:25 PM

Everything I've read in the last several weeks on the current state of SEO says it's now DPR (digital public relations). Social indicators and support are important because it means people truly appreciate, stay on site longer as opposed to bounce off content, and share that content because it resonates with them. I've always encouraged people writing for the web to write for people first, and then your content will stay evergreen with new algorithm updates.

Affiliate Marketing Lessons 12-24-2013 8:27 PM

Great tips on the different seo trends from the past, now, and in the future.

It's all about giving readers what they want excellent original content then everything else will fall into place on it's own seo, social shares, opt-ins, etc...

NewTress Virgin Hair 12-25-2013 12:28 PM

Ann says something right in that so much of what is SEO today has become Digital PR and relationship marketing. In fact a ton of newer SEOs focus on content development, social media and PR, ignoring the older strains of link building. Oftentimes, this results in smaller tighter link profiles than websites of the past. is modern day SEO just dwarfing to a fraction of the possibilities of the past. Everything in SEO today points to building a community of core users where as the past pointed to building links yourself.

WEBii 12-27-2013 3:06 PM

I agree with the Digital PR direction, which we have been going for several years now. We have always seen an increase in conversion when press releases and relevant content is published, and conversion means relationship building, too. The integration of social media tools and growth of Google's social network adds to the "information sharing" aspect of things which is really more PR.

JamesO 01-02-2014 9:50 AM

For someone new to all this, It seems intuitive that unique and meaningful content is it going forward.  For an e-commerce site, does this assume the existence of a solid base of keyword research and use, proper page titles and meta descriptions, anchor text and alt tags,  site map, internal link structure to minimize link juice leakage, external links, next and prev tags, canonical tags, etc?  Or can all of that be forgotten and ignored?

Pete Prestipino 01-02-2014 10:43 AM

JamesO, I wouldn't assume anything, but, everything you mention is absolutely still neccessary - either from an on-site SEO perspective or for the benefit of the User experience.

JamesO 01-02-2014 10:57 AM

Thanks Pete,  Good to get confirmation, when reading it seems you only hear about the latest thing and not about the fundamentals that must be in place as a starting point.

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