Similar to the versioning used for the web (web 1.0, web 2.0, web 3.0), I like to version SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as well.
In SEO 1.0, in order to achieve high rankings, SEOs simply needed to include the phrases they wanted to rank enough times to get to the first positions. Back then, it was all about keyword density, meta keyword tags, etc… What is commonly known now as on-page optimization.
With the arrival of Google, SEOs had to adapt. Google is “a large scale hyper-textual search engine.” This means that the search engine relies heavily on links and the information associated with them.
We responded with SEO 2.0. That is, we trade, buy, beg, etc.., for as many links as we can pointing to our sites with our desired keywords in the link text.
Google has updated its algorithm multiple times, but the links always carry a lot of weight. We only need to look for them in the right places.
On-page factors are still very important, but as many have demonstrated it is possible to rank for keywords that are not included in the body of the page.
I consider the title, meta description and headings very important. They do help the rankings, but the most important benefit is that they need to be treated in the same way we treat Google ads in Adwords.
The page title and meta description are what visitors see when they search. We better have great titles and descriptions that motivate the searcher to click through. Having the keywords on the heading of the page is also important so that the visitor feels she is in the right page and doesn’t hit the back button.
Now with the introduction of personalized search, a new battlefield has emerged.
Every user can have a potentially completely different page of results for the same search based on his searching and browsing habits, physical location, etc…
Users will be happier but as SEOs we will face our most difficult challenge. Links will not be as important as before.
I think that visitor traffic and loyalty will be the primary measures search engines will use to identify worthy websites.
As SEOs, we need to start focusing more on learning marketing skills than in learning technical ones. Understanding what visitors want, and giving it to them, will be paramount for success.