Back in the year 2000, the landscape for search engine optimization (SEO, for short) was very, very different than it is today. It was a bit like operating in the Wild West: there weren’t many rules, and the outcomes weren’t always admirable. Fast forward to 2020, and the experience is more sophisticated, the expectations greater, and the stakes higher.
Yet, even with all the differences between SEO practices in 2000 and 2020, there are some standards that survived. Let’s time travel a bit to look back on where – and what – the past 20 years have brought to those of us working in the industry and those we serve.
The Changing SEO Environment
It’s a bit shocking to look back on how we approached optimization for search engines in the early 2000s. Sure, we had loose guidelines on what to do, but it certainly felt like they were suggestions more than anything – especially compared to the current protocol.
Here’s an interesting comparison of some of the standard practices from then and now:
Back in ye olden days, before keyword research was in play, SEO professionals would simply choose keywords that seemed to make sense for a website page and repeat them over and over. This is known as keyword stuffing, and today it would actually harm the ranking of your web page.
Image caption: SEO in 2000: Keyword stuffing was all the rage. (Image source: seopressor)
Nowadays, keyword research is an important step in choosing our keywords. It helps us understand what types of search queries are happening and how often, as well as the competition we’re up against if we target those queries. In other words, it helps us map our content with the most relevant keywords that give us the best chance for ranking in search engines.
For example, “best laptops” has a high volume of monthly searches, but it also has a high level of competition, so it could be difficult to rank well for that keyword. Your content also may not match the search intent for that keyword.
As far as keyword stuffing in your SEO practices, it’s a no-no. Instead, industry professionals know to use keywords more responsibly where they’re a natural fit. Of course, there are strategic locations and approaches to placing keywords on a website page, but it can be done without going over the top.
If we look back on the metadata (think title tags and description tags) we wrote two decades ago, we would definitely see a trend: more real estate.
In 2000, you had 70 roomy characters to write your title tag, which is the first line of text that displays for your page in search results. Today, best practice is 55 characters or less (and some even recommend keeping it less than 50). That’s because search engine results pages are accommodating way more than content, including ads, featured snippets, rich snippets, knowledge panels, shopping, and more.
In this recent search, the first organic result doesn’t even display until just above the fold. (Source: Google Search)
As for meta description tags (the longer text that displays under your title tag in search results, that describes what the page is about), I remember writing more than 200 characters of text in those early days. Today, the recommended length is less than 165 characters, with some even recommending less than 155. Again, the reason is simply less space in search engine results.
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While content length has been debated as long as I’ve been working in SEO, back in 2000 the recommendation was 200-300 words. Nowadays, that hardly seems like enough room to get warmed up.
Long-form content with 2,000 words or more correlates to higher rankings, according to articles like this one. But that doesn’t mean shorter content doesn’t rank high. Just look at my own article in the number 3 spot for organic listings; it’s a 296-word article.
Even if it’s shorter in length, well-optimized content can rank high in search. (Source: Google Search)
More Recent Updates to SEO Practices in 2020
One of the major differences between SEO practices in 2000 and 2020 is the number of potential ranking factors, which now number in the hundreds. It makes 2000 seem like a simpler time.
Among the more recent changes is Google’s Page Experience Update, which includes the user experience as a ranking factor. Set to begin in 2021, this update further solidifies Google’s commitment to user satisfaction, which they have introduced in previous announcements about:
- Page load speed
- Mobile friendliness
- Security features like https
- Privacy pages
Some Things Never Change
While the differences in past and present SEO practices are vast and wide (and too many to cover in a single blog post), there are some standards that have remained throughout this time.
- PageRank: Google’s way of measuring the importance of a web page, still going strong
- Inbound links: Links coming from relevant, quality, third-party websites to your site
- User Importance: Google’s commitment to improving results they show to users
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