In the early days of the web, search engine optimization was a fairly simple affair. Back then, all it took to achieve keyword dominance was a well-placed link and fairly repetitive use of your chosen keyword.

My how things have changed.

Today’s SEO world is insanely complicated; constantly in flux; and plenty of folks aren’t even sure if they should even still call it, “SEO.” (The naysayers prefer terms like, “web optimization,” that cover more ground.)

So what happened on the way from there to here? That subject was covered in some depth recently by Search Engine Journal writer Jeff Bedford in a posting titled, The Evolution of the SEO Professional. Here are a few of stages Bedford identified in that process.

The Beginning

How simple things were when Google was just emerging and the simple tricks that Yahoo! allowed made driving traffic a fairly simple affair.

Back then there was no such thing as black hat and white hat methods. Keyword stuffing, link farms, and even out-of-the-box SEO software packages provided easy shortcuts to web dominance.

That era didn’t last long as both SEO practitioners and search engines developed more sophisticated techniques that better served end-user needs.

This Looks Good

Once SEOs understood the basic principles of the business, they were content to set their clients up and move on. After all, what else would SEO involve besides some decent content; some carefully researched keywords; and few links seeded across the web?

Repeat as Necessary

While the previous era, which Bedford refers to as, Set-and-Forget, was nice while it lasted, it wouldn’t last forever.

Once SEOs discovered more advanced metrics, they realized that they would need to change things up on a regular basis if they wanted to stay in the hunt. They also realized that SEO had a lot more moving parts than they once thought and needed to be part of a bigger, more holistic strategy.

The Birth of Digital Marketing

Those holistic changes we just described were the birth of what became known as, Digital Marketing. This era is marked by SEOs who pay a whole lot of attention to end-users and make user experience a central part of what they’re doing.

Digital Marketing Grows Up

This is the beginning of the really sophisticated (read: much more complicated) era that put an end to black hat trickery and shortcuts. It’s also the age of true content marketing and a real understanding of what kind of metric really matters.

Digital Strategy Takes Center Stage

So here we are in what Bedford calls, the digital strategist era. This era is marked by SEO  practitioners who need to have their hands in many pots at the same time. Besides keeping up with SEO best practices, they need to understand social media, SEM and a host of other skill sets.

It’s not easy, and it’s likely to continue changing.

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