January 14, 2021 Last updated January 14th, 2021 1,046 Reads share

How SEO Has Changed Over the Past Decade? a Brief History

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Another new year has started. Beginning the new year by reflecting on the past one is a common practice, not just in life but also in marketing.

That’s why, every year during the months of December and January, the web is flooded with articles about trends and predictions.

As radically unique as last year was, some things never change. The web is currently filled to the brim with articles talking about how 2020 radically transformed every aspect of marketing and how these changes will continue to affect us and our marketing strategies in the coming future. It has almost become a ritual for marketing SEO services to publish such articles about SEO every year.

While reading such articles can provide one with some truly great insights, what many of us tend to forget is that trends that are currently being hyped can lose their thunder without warning. 

For instance, in 2010, Google introduced something called “real-time search”. To understand what it was, let’s assume a situation where you search for your local business brand name. In the results, Google would pull any and all mentions of your brand name, including Tweets, blogs, news articles, and any other mention and place them in the search results. 

In 2010, this update was included in almost every article making predictions for the year. While some gave advice on how to adapt to this new update, others (who were right) predicted that the update will not have a long lifespan.

Sure enough, Google optimized real time search for a better user experience and the update faded into the pages of SEO history.

Even this year, there is a good chance that of all the predictions that are being made about the future of SEO, some will not even find a mention in similar articles that will be written one year from now. (Look at me, making predictions!)

That’s why, with this article, I want to do something different. With this article, I want to put all the other articles about SEO trends and predictions in perspective. So instead of a recap of what happened in 2020, this article will talk about everything that happened in the world of SEO in the past decade.

But before we begin talking about what’s changed, let us look at a few things that couldn’t live up to the predictions made about them:

How SEO Hasn’t Changed

Many things that were widely predicted in hundreds of prediction articles have not lived up to these predictions. Some have come close, but haven’t quite hit the spot. Here are a few examples:

Voice Search Hasn’t Revolutionised SEO

In hindsight, predicting that voice search will be one of the trends that will have a significant influence over SEO is an understandable move. After all, these predictions were being made at a time when voice-powered technologies like Google Home and Alexa were becoming accessible and affordable.

While voice-activated virtual assistants continue to enjoy a steady growth in their popularity, voice search hasn’t made the impact that was being predicted a few years ago.

Most of the Web Traffic Isn’t Video

Don’t get me wrong, the importance of video in marketing is absolutely critical. Almost every marketer that has used video for their marketing strategies reports good things.

However, there were predictions in 2015 that almost 80% of web traffic will be video by 2018. Yet, even this year, it is being predicted that video will account for over 80% of all consumer web traffic in 2022.

The Yahoo! Toolbar Has Not Yet Disappeared

Despite their widely known devious practices employed by Yahoo! to prompt inexperienced web users to install their toolbar without really wanting it, the Yahoo! toolbar continues to exist even after 10 years.

Besides all of the things mentioned above, another thing that hasn’t really changed is the popularity of the Google search engine. It continues to enjoy a majority share of the search market.

Now, let us look at what has actually changed for SEO in the past decade:

Demotion Of Organic Results

One of the most obviously visible changes in SEO has to be the new and updated SERPs. 

This is what a SERP page looked like in 2010. As you can see, local business listings were at the top, followed by organic results. As you can also see, the ads had started appearing on the top of the SERPs.

However, in their bid to improve the users’ experience on their search engine, Google has made some pretty dramatic changes to the look of the SERPs during the past decades. Many of these are aimed at presenting the users with the information they are looking for, right in the search results. This way, the users don’t have to visit a separate website to find the information they need. Here’s what a SERP page looks in 2021:

As you can see, the share of SERP real estate dedicated to organic results has diminished a lot. The modern SERP page is filled with ads (at the top AND the bottom), with question boxes, and of course, the Google My Business listings have been updated to take up a bit more space than before. Then there are also information boxes that pull information straight from one of the websites in the SERPs and display it on the search result page itself.

Google has also introduced Featured Snippets and Knowledge Graphs in the more recent past.

While this has obviously affected the amount of organic traffic that the top websites in the SERPs were getting, and users are finding a lot of answers in the SERP pages themselves, there is also some good news.

For instance, studies have shown that over 71% of Google searches resulted in a click on an organic result. This means users are able to identify the organic results and continue to place their trust in them.

Similarly, Featured Snippets and other similar features of the SERPs are all opportunities for websites to produce stellar content and stand out of the crowd of organic results. 

Google My Business listings have also proven to be incredibly helpful for consumers and local businesses alike.

Backlinking Has Become More Difficult And Fairer

Remember when link spam was a thing? Yes, that was almost a decade ago.

With the Penguin update that was rolled out in 2012, link schemes (here’s a definition of a link scheme by Google) were put out of business. Since then, Google has stressed upon the importance of natural links time and again.

To put it simply, a natural link is one that you had no influence in building. 

After the Penguin update, practices like guest posting became popular. Other ways to build links, like reaching out to press publications also became the go-to opportunities to build links. 

However, in the latter half of the previous decade, digital marketing saw a serious surge in its popularity. As a result of this, many big companies entered the link building game and because of this, even securing a space for a guest post on a high DA site, or reaching out to publishers, became more challenging.

Today, link building is the most important and the most difficult aspect of SEO. It is perhaps also the reason that quality SEO still cannot be automated with SEO tools.

At the same time, thanks to the death of link spam and link schemes, SEO has become more fair. In most cases, only the websites that are actively trying to help their users are able to rank high in the SERPs.

The Age Of Understanding User Intent

Another unethical SEO practice that was popular a decade ago was keyword stuffing. As soon as website owners realized that keywords are a ranking factor, they started stuffing their webpages with so many keywords that it came to a point of keyword abuse. 

Yes, there was a time when even nonsense and irrelevant content could end up on the top of the SERPs by stuffing it with enough keywords.

Thankfully, Google’s algorithms have become smarter with the Panda update that was rolled out in 2011. These days, while keywords still retain some importance, Google’s algorithms today are more focused on understanding the intent behind search terms.

It was these moves by Google that ensured that content remains the king (yes, this saying is still being used!) when it comes to SEO. In fact, some would even say that these algorithm updates resulted in the inception of the practice of content marketing.


These were just some of the things that have changed about SEO in the past decade. Reflecting on these changes, we can be sure that the future of SEO is bright only for those who engage in ethical practices like producing original and value-based content. 

Caitlyn Bell

Caitlyn Bell

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