Five Years of SEO: The biggest changes to an SEO’s job
Search Engine Optimisation

Five Years of SEO: The biggest changes to an SEO’s job

22nd December 2014

2012-03-21 16.57.51

If Google changes so much, an SEO’s job must change with it. But what were the biggest changes in an SEO’s job in the past five years?

I asked a group of experts on their views of what the biggest changes to an SEO’s job have been.

Michael King, Digital Marketing Leader, Thinker and Doer:

“That’s a hard question because in the real world a lot of SEOs are still confined to the meta tags and links. For those that are on the bleeding edge of things it’s become a lot more about content marketing. Rand also showed at MozCon that a lot of people are shedding the SEO title and having SEO be moreso a part of their jobs.”

James Carson, Founder at Made from History:

“I think that depends on how you defined SEO in the first place. There was always a lot of emphasis on link building, but that’s not necessarily ever been the most important part of the job. I think people who build and plan websites for the web still need to be good analysts, Information Architects, content marketers and PR / social media workers. SEO has always been a multi skilled discipline – the change on emphasis in the last few years is perhaps more focused on the latter part of that list, but analytics is a vital component. By and large, bad platform builds of the old days are numbered through services like WordPress and Magento, which take care of a lot of technical SEO. Certainly understanding what great content looks like, and how to create similar content to build an audience and think beyond the link has become more important.”

Anders Hjorth, MD at AZNOS:

“I would imagine a lot of SEOs will have had to re-invent their jobs. The most important change is to put “user” before “link” and “content” before “keyword”.”

Nick Garner, Founder of 90Digital:

“Going from a geek to a hybrid social engineer / Digital PR person.”

Barry Adams, founder at Polemic Digital:

“In terms of progressive tactics – i.e. tactics that advance a website’s search visibility – things haven’t changed much the last 2-3 years. Content marketing became the new hype about 3 years ago and has remained the buzzword du jour since then. Technical SEO remains important for large scale websites, and social signals still contribute to getting your content more widely seen.


What has changed are defensive tactics: every website needs to monitor its link profile to spot any potential anomalies and negative SEO attacks, historic SEO efforts need to be scrutinised and acted upon, and content needs to be re-optimised and tweaked to make sure it’s sufficiently unique and of good quality.


These are defensive tactics that take up a lot of time and effort, all intended to avoid a Google penalty or tripping an algorithmic filter like Penguin or Panda. SEOs are spending more and more time on this, which is not a good use of resources, but Google has forced us to. It makes SEO more expensive and more difficult, which I suppose is exactly why Google makes us jump through these hoops: It makes PPC look all the more enticing.”

Joe Hall, Senior Marketing Analyst:

“More risk mitigation. There are now more opportunities to violate Google’s guidelines than ever before. Tactics that were once considered kosher like guest posting, are now violations. Further more Google has been very convoluted when it comes to handling manual penalties. Sometimes for reasons that are unknown. Therefore, mitigating risk is vital. This is true for both tactical campaigns and strategy development.”

Kaspar Szymanski, SEO Consultant at SearchBrothers:

“SEO risk management seems to require more thorough clean-up efforts these days. Both Panda and Penguin flushed out years of flawed SEO practices.  To straighten these out and get a site back on track takes occasionally a lot of digging and investigating in order to be successful.  There are no hopeless cases. It still is possible to salvage any site, no matter how bad the situation seems to be. It just may take a little more effort. This appears to go along with an increased level of transparency and information sharing on Google’s side. As more data becomes available to site owners, it seems just fair to expect exhaustive results in return.”

Kate Morris, Director of Client Strategies at Outspoken Media:

“Marketing. It’s a marketing thing now. No longer is it all about the keyword optimization and it’s no longer just a numbers game.”

Bastian Grimm, VP Organic Search at Peak Ace:

“Not really a change per-se but the amount of time you need to invest to just stay up to speed just massively increased. That said you need to become way more efficient in managing multiple things / projects at once.  So coming back to the question at hand, what really changed is actually the profile / skillset you need to succeed in SEO. Whilst an SEO job 3-4 years ago might have been something like 80% “getting any link you can, to make a site rank” this has massively shifted to really “market your site properly” – the day to day work is now completely different.”

Russell O’Sullivan, Snr Digital Marketing Manager at Legal & General:

“Understanding that content for the user – I am still amazed that the term or job title for an SEO changed quickly sometime last year, when I was introduced to some guys who I knew were SEO’s and they said nah, my new title is Content Marketer Optimiser or something like that. Long gone are the techniques of the old days and more and more we are seeing that a small site with really engaged rich content being surfaced in SERPS overs larger publishers.”

Debra Mastaler, President and owner of Alliance-Link:

“Shifting from 100% traditional on-page optimization to finding ways to incorporate SEO and marketing tactics for a mobile, app driven social audience.   I have become more focused on marketing around my analytics and keeping tabs on industry trends than being worried about keywords and building links.”

Arianne Donoghue, Account Director at The Home Agency:

“I think it’s probably that SEO has become more creative – it’s not just about the technical side or link acquisition anymore, although these are still important. It’s now key to be able to do those parts alongside all of the elements that could be classed as “creative communications” – the PR, blogger outreach, content creation etc.”

Andre Alpar, MD at AKM3

“Definitely the broad switch to quality in the whole industry and consequently having to deal with the “bad” heritage of those who have done this switch too late. The innovation intervals are so short that education and explanation have also become a lot more important.”

Razvan Gavrilas , Founder & Chief Architect at cognitiveSEO

“Digital Marketers have to focus more on creating a happy user experience and generate campaigns that create interest and boost share ability. While doing this you will not only receive good traffic from search engines, but you will cover the entire spectrum of places that send you traffic such as Social Media Platforms and Referrers. It is important to not be 100% reliable on one traffic source, whatever the source is. Diversification with a strong focus on what works best if key when it comes to Digital Marketing. But always try new things. You never know what new digital marketing methodology that works on your particular case you may find.”

Kevin Gibbons, Managing Director at BlueGlass

“SEO has become too broad for one person now, but in the traditional sense I see the role being SEO strategists – supported by content production and outreach/promotion specialists.


Strategy always starts with one thing, data – and this is now the most important part of an SEO’s job. Without data you can’t analyse past performance, marketplace trends, or link profiles etc – and more importantly you can’t make key business decisions on how to best move forward.”

Lisa Williams, Digital marketing strategist, speaker, networker & columnist

“The biggest change to an SEO’s job is that we can no longer work in isolation. It used to be that we could make or share necessary technical changes needed for accessibility, or share a page document with meta data needed to provide relevance or drive link building that impacted authority. Now we need to work with other teams to drive collaboration across teams that impacts a more sophisticated model of accessibility, relevance and authority.”

How do you feel an SEO’s job has changed in the past five years? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter.

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Be sure to read the other articles in this series:


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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