September 12, 2014 | Holly Yalove

What Is SEO and How Has SEO Changed?


The answer to the question "What Is SEO?" may be obvious to those who live and breathe SEO daily, but interest in this topic continues to rise and I have a graph to prove it (see below).

Exactly what SEO means today and how it can help increase website traffic is still a mystery to many. If you find yourself mystified, read on. If you're an SEO pro, this post is likely too basic for you, but try our 5-Day SEO Meal Plan for Marketing Directors.

Google Trends Graph: What is SEO? Google Trends Searches of "What is SEO" over time


What Is SEO And Why You Should Care

Pew Research Graph: Internet Usage Over TimeSEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which means optimizing a website, web page, or blog post so that it can be easily found in the organic (unpaid) results delivered by search engines.

Popular search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo have replaced phone books, encyclopedias, visits to the library, and even calls to mom (who we know is always right).

The 25-year-old World Wide Web is an integral part of daily life, with 87% of American adults now using the Internet, and 68% carrying web access around by way of mobile devices. With these incredible stats, it is no wonder the focus on "getting found" online is becoming more and more critical to businesses.

SEO is a focus for most marketers today because there are major benefits to beating your competition in search results. Since Google is still the top-used search engine (holding almost 68% of the U.S. search engine market share), it is my focus for this post. The closer your website is to the top of the first page of Google, the more visits your website will get. Website visitors are potential leads, so you want to get as many visits as possible!

To put a little data with that, studies show that users click one of the top 3 organic results on Google 68% of the time. If your site ranks a farther down you will still get some clicks, but spots 1,2, and 3 are the most coveted.

  • Result 1 receives 48% of clicks
  • Result 2 receives 12% of clicks
  • Result 3 receives 8% of clicks
  • Remainder: 32% of clicks

How SEO Has Changed

Many things impact your website ranking, and it constantly changes (check out Moz's history of algorithm changes). Over the years, great SEO has become less about the "techie back-end things" and more about providing great content that visitors find helpful, relevant, and sharable on social media. You can spend lots of time and money on on-site SEO, but if you never change your website or blog, your rank will continue to slip down.

Google frequently changes their algorithm in an effort to continuously improve search engine results. Because of these changes, many older SEO techniques will now get your site exempted from search engine results altogether. For instance, keyword stuffing is a big no-no. If you fill a page with lists of keywords or have sentences that are unnaturally keyword-heavy, your ranking will be damaged. Unnatural links from link farms instead of links from credible websites can also cause your site to be downgraded or removed from results altogether.

Focus on creating great content, and you can't go wrong.

Here are just some of the important algorithm changes Google has made since 2010:

  • December 2010: The roll out of "Social Signals" meant that yes, now your social media popularity can impact your ranking.
  • February 2011: The Farmer/Panda update was a big one, with a crackdown on websites with high ad-to-content ratios, content farms, thin content, and other content quality issues.
  • November 2011: The Freshness Update was focused on rewarding fresh content, making regular blogging even more important.
  • January 2012: Search, plus Your World and Ads Above the Fold - the Search, plus Your World change was a fundamental shift in personalization, prioritizing content shared by your social circles and increasing the impact of Google+ on search results. Ads Above the Fold devalued websites with too much ad space in the upper portion of the web page.
  • March 2012: Google stopped ignoring symbols like "%," "@," and "#."
  • April 2012: The Penguin update (initially named "Webspam update") penalized sites that are "over-optimized" with keyword stuffing and other factors.
  • May 2012: The Knowledge Graph update improved search results by making them less about exact keyword matches for each word in a typed phrase, and more intelligent, offering relevant results for things Google "knows about," like landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, movies, geographical features, works of art, etc.
  • August 2012: The DMCA Penalty penalizes sites that have repeated copyright violations.
  • September 2012: With the Exact Domain Match update, Google devalued low-quality domains that are exact matches for the keywords typed.
  • August 2013: Some biggies came in this month - the famed Hummingbird Update and In-Depth Articles. The In-Depth Articles change added an "In Depth Articles" section to search results on certain topics, helping searchers find long-form evergreen content. Hummingbird gave more relevance to content deemed to be high in quality and authority, and adjusted Google's search algorithm to have a better understanding of human languages, including complex phrases. We wrote a whole post about the Hummingbird update - you can read it here.
  • July 2014: The Pigeon Update shook up the local SEO world, as distance and location of the person searching (along with other factors) affected local businesses rankings.
  • August 2014: Google Authorship markup removal (Google authorship is described in our post about blogging best practices) drops photos and bylines from those with Google Authorship from search results.

What questions do you have about SEO? Ask them in the comments and I'll be happy to help!

For a deeper dive into SEO, and tips on how to improve yours, check out our FREE ebook.

How healthy is your SEO? Build a lean, strong web presence with our 5-day SEO plan for marketing directors.



Holly Yalove

Holly Yalove

As VIEO’s chief strategist and one of our principals, Holly Yalove serves as the head digital and inbound marketing strategy for our clients. She has used her extensive management, sales, and marketing experience to dramatically increase our digital marketing business, helping us become the well-rounded agency we are today.

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