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April 25, 2006

SEO Evolution

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You know, I can’t stop thinking about that article from Mike Grehan, and since I’m thinking about it, you, my faithful readers, get to hear about it too.

When the article first came to my attention, I read it as many did, calling for the death of “traditional” SEO as though there was no value there at all. But in re-reading and mulling it over, as well as taking into account that Mike is one of the brightest minds in the SEO world, I realized that I never actually disagreed with the article. I disagreed with the language. “Traditional” SEO is often misunderstood as on-page SEO, the addition and adjustments of Meta tags and on page elements, tweaking small details hoping to get big results.

SEO has never been easy. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. SEO has always been a game of balancing, weighing and understanding. Like most games, it is fairly simple to learn but very hard to master. SEO is also something of a moving target. The goal is to be the most worthy, the most expert, the most relevant in a way that is clear to both customers and search engines alike. The problem, or the opportunity, lies in the fact that “most” is a subjective term. You have to be better than your competition. And your competition is trying to be better than you. That’s why every last element counts.

Back in September, we ran an article in our newsletter entitled “The Changing Landscape of SEO”. Jayme pointed out then that in the bad old days of SEO, you could do things that are considered spam today and get to the top of the SERPs. Doorway pages were common, as was hidden text, images with spammed out ALT attributes and auto-generated pages. Thankfully, the search engines got smarter and SEO moved on.

But what really is “traditional” SEO? Is it strictly on-page elements? Getting your title tag just right? Well, no, of course not. Not anymore than doorway pages and hidden text were SEO back in the day. The definition of traditional SEO doesn’t change just because the techniques being used are. Search Engine Optimization means just that. It’s the practice of making everything about your webpage and website move in harmony to tell the search engine and your visitors exactly why your site is the best. In that respect, “traditional” SEO should be considered an ever-changing process, not something that can come and go, and certainly not something that can ‘die’.

We believe traditional SEO is a transformative, ever-evolving process. That fact is what makes SEO so difficult and addictive all at the same time — the rules are always changing. A few years ago traditional SEO meant utilizing methods that today are deemed ‘black hat’. Today it means incorporating user-behavior into our process and not just relying on on-page factors to get the job done. Traditional SEO hasn’t changed. The importance of tailoring your site with an SEO eye has not weakened. The rules and the way in which we go about it has.

We’re believers in the 80/20 rule that states 20% of the work will results in 80% of the results. Some will argue that on-page SEO may make up 80% of your rankings and that user behavior balances out the other 20%. Others will argue the opposite. Whichever side of the fence you find yourself on doesn’t change the fact that a comprehensive SEO plan will have to incorporate both, in a sort of ying and yang equation.

That has always been the difficulty behind SEO – perfecting and tweaking your site’s methodologies in order to produce the best results. In fact, getting your site at the top of the SERP is harder today than ever before. The players have gotten smarter and the game has transformed to become more difficult. The battle to show your visitors and the search engines that your site is the best, the most relevant, the most worthy has intensified. And site owners are having to respond to the challenge, coming up with new ways to make their site stand out. Which is, after all, what traditional SEO is all about.

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