SEO: What’s Changed in the Last 11 Years?

It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years since I first sat in the chair at Bronco as an SEO, 11 years since I left to pursue other products, and 7 months since I came back to the warm embrace of Bronco’s bosom. During my absence, I’ve lost my remaining hair, had a brain tumour, founded and closed a company of my own, and spent 8 years working on a site that no longer exists.

Life, as they say, rolls ever on.

To read the comments under SEO blog posts you’d think that nothing has changed in search. It’s still a gaggle of people plaintively asking why their site has tanked, or crowing about a sudden surge in traffic, or complaining about the quality of Google’s results (which mysteriously always seems to coincide with a drop in traffic for their site).
SEO has changed vastly during that time. But also, SEO hasn’t changed at all.

I’m looking at a PowerPoint I helped pull together for a speaking engagement Dave had in 2010.

The title page alone says it all:

The full presentation is available here, if you can be bothered, but it shows just how little has changed in terms of technical aspects. Site speed. Good structure. Original content. Semantic mark-up. Canonical URLs. Clean code. High text/HTML ratio. You know the jig.

But off page? That’s a whole new world.

My old emails are still here, and I’ve been poking around and blowing the dust off them to see how things have changed.

Back then, we were running a huge private blog network – keeping a team of freelancers and writers busy writing a set number of posts for each blog every month, with keyword links to clients scattered amongst other links to competitors and authority sites.

I have scores of unread emails from link sellers and brokers, offering me links from this or that site – boasting of their PageRank (for you kids out there; this was still very much a thing – although the writing was on the wall 13 years ago). Almost every site is no more.

It’s a reminder that nothing on the internet really lasts. Much of the work of an SEO today is (or should be) looking for opportunities to gain equity through partnerships, news coverage and striving to create great content.

Of course, really that was always the case, but it was a lot easier to shortcut a decade ago with some software and an email contact in Estonia.

Finally, though, the big thing that has changed – and I’d love to be proved wrong – is the relative lack of an SEO ‘scene’.

Looking back on the old articles I penned for the blog back in the day, literally thousands of people would read them, and hundreds of people would comment. A blog post about content would generate days of lively conversation.

Much of the commentary these days takes place on social media – particularly Twitter. I no longer know who the ‘big names’ of SEO are, as the industry has consolidated into the hands of bigger and bigger agencies. I’m sure there are great people flying under the radar as they always were, but it seems there is less cutting edge experimentation looking for exploitable flaws in the digital landscape and a lot more focus on solid practice.

I guess it’s better for us all – but at least some of the colour has been drained from the landscape. SEO was a frontier town in the wild west of the internet, but has gradually become a suburb in the general marketing toolset that almost every digital agency offers their clients.

One thing that hasn’t changed though is Bronco’s dedication. I know how much work gets put into every client. I see the results every day. I’m glad to be back.

And above all? I’m glad they’ve still got a frequently replenished biscuit tin.

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