SEO: Then and Now – Reflecting on Ever-Changing Search Engine Optimization Practices

Whether you are brand new to SEO or have years of experience, the world of Search Engine Optimization is an ever-growing, ever-changing practice. In fact, the recommended practices a year ago (or even a month ago) are no longer the same as they are today.

A big aspect of Search Engine Optimization involves the practice of staying current on what is most accepted, recommended and most importantly, effective. It is also why SEO is not a one-and-done process, but rather an ongoing progression.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways SEO has evolved over the years.


Search engine optimization has a foundation on keyword searches; so naturally, keywords have always played an important role in SEO strategies.

People stuffed keywords everywhere and anywhere to point search crawlers to numerous terms in which they wished to rank. This included multiple variations for the same keyword stuffed in the Meta Keywords, Titles, Meta Descriptions, and even in hidden text blending with the background. While these strategies may have worked in the early 2000s, they’re now highly problematic and can cause spam signals, which negatively impact search rankings.

Now: As search engines updated their algorithms to combat keyword abuse, industry practices became more refined. Now, search specialists conduct in-depth keyword research using sophisticated tools to understand which keyword variations are searched most frequently and the level of competition in each market or geographic region. Taking a more informed approach, marketers then include those targeted terms in digital messaging rather than attempting to stuff all of the terms.

Content Creation

Writing content and publishing it online is a long and proven strategy to help build a strong digital presence, influencing organic SEO.

Then: In the past, content was king in the sense more was better. People wrote low-quality, re-hashed, (and even artificially spun) content and flooded the Internet in hopes search engine crawlers would consider their website to have significant value because of the volume of content. While the search engine crawlers saw it as a quality signal, the content was text-heavy and nobody cared to read it.

Now: An effective content strategy revolves around content creation for humans instead of search crawlers (machines).  As the artificial intelligence used by the search engine crawlers improved to understand and decipher quality of content, the content creation practice improved alongside it. SEO professionals and digital marketers realize the content is more effective when it has real value to qualified traffic rather than simply a fluffy ploy to game the machines. Today, content creation is no longer text-heavy paragraphs, it’s written in a way that’s easily digestible, includes high resolution images, and provides real value.


The number of websites linking back to a website sends a quality signal to search engines that it is a credible site, boosting organic SEO.

Then: The goal was to get more, more, more backlinks! People published and re-published countless articles and blogs anywhere on the web that would give them a backlink. People purchased low-quality backlinks from spammers and reaped the SEO benefits. Then, in 2012, Google rolled out the Google Penguin algorithm update to penalize those who sought to artificially inflate the number of backlinks pointing to their website. Many of those who benefited from link schemes saw a significant drop in traffic and were left to clean up years of spam.

Now: While backlinks are still helpful in vouching for the credibility of your website, it’s highly frowned upon to partake in artificial backlinks building schemes. See what Google has to say here. Further, backlinks from low-quality websites do not carry SEO value. Today, it’s recommended to only build backlinks in a way that is natural, through means that provide value to users. Rather than focusing on building backlinks, it’s better to build a quality product with a quality content strategy and the backlinks will follow. Trust us, we’ve seen it happen!

Local SEO

When a person is specifically looking for a product or service near their location, effective local SEO strategies help the business rank higher while improving likelihood of click-throughs.

Then: In the past, search engines weren’t as savvy at delivering location-specific results tailored to the individual person conducting the search. Searchers became accustomed to typing the location name within their search query. Search marketers helped rank for location-specific queries by optimizing the website with location-specific keywords.

Now: Search engines are more intuitive and understand when a search query warrants local search results without requiring the location name in the query. For example, a search for “Chinese restaurants” returns local results. In order to rank higher in local results, the focus revolves around claiming and optimizing local listings such as Google My Business and adding structured markup to the website, such as

It’s a win for users and businesses that search engines are able to deliver more location-specific results as the ways to optimize for local search are progressing for the best. Interested to know more? View the 2015 Local Search Ranking Factors.

Ultimately, the SEO environment is ever-improving. Search engines are continually updating algorithms in attempt to deliver higher-quality search results and promoting a positive user experience, a better outcome for all.

As a business, it’s important to stay on top of the ethical practices and adapt to the new (and greatly improved) search environment.

Need help with your Search Engine Optimization? Contact us to learn more about’s Digital Strategy and Consulting services.


About Author

Courtney McKeown is a Digital Marketing Director at With 12+ years of experience in the Internet industry and an emphasis on SEO, Courtney understands the evolving nature of digital marketing and the importance of staying current on the latest practices. At, Courtney supports initiatives ranging from SEO, Paid Search, UX, Analytics, Social Media, Email Marketing, and Automation. Courtney recently moved back to Chicago from Los Angeles and will regret the decision every Winter for the rest of her life. She enjoys travel, cooking, dining out, watching sports, and spending time with her family, including her Standard Poodle named Otto.

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