How Has SEO Changed Over The Last Decade?11 min read


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has a pivotal role to play in any digital marketing effort.

SEO, as it is popularly known, is a series of techniques, steps, and tactics that are necessary for application in your process of content creation before publication on the internet.

SEO is such an essential component of digital marketing because of how powerful it is in broadening your reach, increasing your chances of success, achieving high returns on investment and ensuring growth.

Although the rules of approaching Search Engine Optimisation in terms of ranking factors is not what it used to be ten years ago, as a result of the rapid growth and increased saturation in the use of digital marketing. 

Therefore, there had to be certain updates and upgrades in how search engine algorithms function. This constant algorithmic change instantly made Search Engine Optimization relatively complex from what it was in the early days.

Ten years ago, the core search engine algorithmic ranking factors were keyword integration and backlinks, but now the ranking criteria has changed completely. 

You need to note that the particular search engine algorithm I will be referring to in this article is Google’s, which is the most popular and frequently used search engine by web users.

The most important evolution of Search Engine Optimisation over the last decade has been to ensure a pleasurable user experience.

All other characteristics in this change are second to this because their integration allows for the utmost precision in the provision of relevant search results to the query of users.

Here are some ways search engine optimization has changed over the last decade based on new additional and essential ranking factors.

The Need for Social Signals 

One of the greatest new components that have become a characteristic feature of SEO over the years and has proven to be valuable and priceless as a ranking factor is social media.

This is because of the level of preference given by the search engine algorithm to brands with a solid social standing.

Social media can be an avenue for you to establish yourself as an authority within your industry.

If you can grow your social media following organically with real user presence and actions, the search engines recognize your brand as authentic, legitimate and credible.

This credibility over the years has become a crucial element in determining your website’s ranking because all Google wants to do is present web users with those options that are most likely to satisfy their queries.

Also, search algorithms have been programmed to favour brands with a huge buzz around their social media pages.

With the use of social media, you can integrate a feasible content development and management strategy that can eventually attract a surge in organic followers.

This can lead to an increase in the level of engagement your social media platforms receive in terms of likes, mentions, shares, comments, etc.

You can then take advantage of this traction by creating links back to your webpages.

These increased social media signals indicate to the search engine’s algorithm that your content is valuable and relevant to a broad audience of users that are now trooping in from a different angle entirely.

In the last decade, the dual combination of social media and SEO if applied tactically sets into motion a unique and dynamic cycle that can lead to higher rankings on search engine result pages.

Emphasis on Mobile Responsiveness

The last decade came with a surge in the popularity of mobile devices coupled with an increase in mobile-based searches as compared to desktop searches. This meant that more users started using their mobile phones to carry out search queries. 

Google recognized this shift and sometime in 2015, rolled in a new mobile-friendliness update popularly referred to as ‘Mobile-Pocalypse’ within the digital marketing sphere.

This sudden system update emphasised the need for websites to be mobile-friendly and compatible.

Also, web-users are constantly on the move, making their mobile devices a convenient, easy and simple way to lookup any information they want.

This trend represented a gradual shift from sole dependence on the traditional model of using desktop computers to carry out a search query online.

The enforcement of this new standard by Google in ranking websites is one of the ways that search engine optimization has evolved. Your brand has to adapt and get on board with these new changes or risk getting left behind and losing a huge chunk of your potential market share. 

The last decade also saw the implementation of a thing we like to call VEO (Voice Engine Optimisation). Voice Search is voice recognition technology that allows people to perform google searches by speaking into a device.

These devices can be mobiles and computers to home assistant devices. Google voice search queries have gone up significantly this decade, in fact, according to ComScore, 50% of all web searches will be voice searches by 2020.

An animated gif of an old flip phone.


So, it’s important to understand these developments and include them in your digital marketing strategy. 

The Demand for Relevant and Quality Content

With a rise in the number of internet users, saw a corresponding increase in the demand for relevant content.

Content that contained vital information and answers on a wide range of everyday issues were on the rise to popularity.

Before there was a specific mechanism to penalize websites that were using dubious tactics in generating poor content, it became difficult for users to easily find materials that could be of help in answering their questions or providing much-needed solutions to a host of problems.

Google recognized this and in 2011 introduced the ‘Panda Update’.
This new feature meant that keyword stuffing and content spamming was no longer tolerated in the search engine optimization field.

This system update was put in place to prevent websites with poor or low-quality content from achieving high rankings on Google’s search engine result pages.

Google has been regularly updating its Panda Update against the publication of poor content, to convey the message that content is king!

Customers would be given access to only those websites that have taken their time, effort and resources to generate high-quality content that is rich with the necessary information relevant to a web user’s query.

Long gone are the days when you could get away with poor content generation.

Nowadays, Google has made it one of its prime duties to penalize publishers who do not pay attention to providing content of substance and value to web users.

The Importance of Page Speed

Page speed is how fast or slow your webpages load or respond to a request by a web visitor. Early on in the game, page speed was not a ranking factor in search engine optimization.

There are lots of different ways of measuring page speed. Here are three of the most common:

Fully Loaded Page – This is how long it takes for 100% of the resources on a page to load. This is the most straightforward way to determine how fast the page loads.

Time to First Byte – This is how long it takes for a page to start the loading process.

First Meaningful Paint/First Contextual Paint – This is the time it takes for it to load enough of its resources to read the content on your page.

But with time, behavioural data on user searches described a pattern in which websites that had a page speed of more than 3 seconds, were most likely to experience a higher exit rate by users who just click away and head somewhere else.

This made page speed to become a vital component in search engine optimisation especially when Google introduced its page speed tool and subsequently disclosed that how fast your website loads will have a lightweight influence on your website’s ranking.

Faster page speed does not make up for other components of search engine optimisation where you may be deficient in such as poor backlinks or low-quality content.

This means that with an improvement of your page speed in combination with other vital search engine optimisation factors, you will be able to ensure overall user experience and an increase in conversions.

A website loading gif.

Furthermore, if you have a WordPress website and need help speeding it up, check out my guide on this topic; 

Crackdown on Fake Links

Backlinks in the early 2000s were one of the major ranking factors in search engine optimisation.

There was an increase over time in a dubious practice of generating low-quality links from unreliable sources to improve a website’s ranking.

During the space of ten years, Google started an intense campaign through its Penguin update to punish, ban or delist websites that were engaging in such link schemes.

Quantity is important with backlinks and there’s sure to be a couple of spam backlinks for your website already.

But if there are too many of them, it’ll look like you’re trying to use shady SEO tactics to manipulate your rankings.

As a result, Google can take action against you. That’s exactly what they created the Google Penguin algorithm for. It aimed to fight against bad links and, while generally making the internet a better place.

For those who were in violation of the algorithm, it could destroy your website along the way.

This update led to an emphasis on effective link building techniques such as natural link generation strategies and valuable link generation from potent websites.

It would be a much better investment to hire an SEO Agency, one that provides a full-scale digital marketing strategy that handles all of your SEO needs including link building.

You hire the agency and they optimize your site for search engines. This usually includes some sort of link building component.

Making Website Security a Priority

The increase in the number of data theft and breaches led to an increase in fears and concerns from web users.

In line with addressing web user’s concerns, Google updated its algorithm sometime in 2014 to address the issue.

This update saw a new preferential ranking for websites that have a secure socket layer (SSL) certificate over their counterparts that did not.

This meant that websites with a high level of encryption had a slight advantage over websites that did not.

Although other existing ranking factors were still of crucial importance, Google’s still prioritised the safety of web users.

This meant that at any time the system could determine the level of preference it would give to a site.

However, it had to satisfy the ranking factors if placed side by side with a website that is defaulting in some key areas.

If your website isn’t currently using HTTPS protocol, it needs to jump to the top of your priority list.

An SSL certificate lets your website visitors that they’re interacting with the proper server and nothing else can alter or intercept the content they’re viewing.

Without an SSL certificate, all the traffic going through your website is insecure. This means that any information that is sent to your website can easily be read in plain-text.

For example, they could steal login information such as passwords, and even sensitive payment information like credit card details if you don’t have an active SSL on your website.

HTTPS protocol will also improve your search ranking. Google is rewarding websites that use this security measure.

This is a comforting feature for your visitors and when they visit your site, they’ll see a green padlock next to their URL.


It’s also important to note that Google’s crawlers can often detect malicious URLs and penalize your website for hosting spam.

If search engines detect malicious content on your website, your SEO ranking will suffer. If lots of users are reporting your site as spam or unsafe, you could be added to a search engine blacklist.

Once you’re on that list, it’s extremely difficult to get off.

Summary

With the number of internet users on the rise, you can be certain that there is going to be a continuous evolution in search engine optimization from its current principles and operating standards.

This is because search engine optimization is an ever-changing phenomenon that strengthens the internet and the websites on it.

By keeping up to date with new trends, you will be able to swiftly adapt and integrate any new factor into generating high-quality content, ensuring superb user experience and improve all other essential areas that form the backbone of any successful online marketing strategy

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