When websites where first uploaded, the concept of Search Engine Optimisation barely existed. It was important to see if you could get your URL listed by Open Directory and the Yahoo directory, and this was done by doing an oh-so-humble submission together with a brief description of your website’s contents (any attempt at marketing would mean immediate denial of registration).
But these were the blissful days when I was one of just a handful of freelance copywriters to be found on the web and AltaVista was the search engine of choice.
Then along came Google….
How Google caused the evolution of SEO companies
Google purported to get better search results through its complex algorithms, with an important element being backward links (i.e. other websites linking to your website). This worked great for a time, but of course before long a whole industry grew up based around the premise of getting your website on the first page of Google for specified keywords.
There were white hat and black hat techniques of SEO. Black hat methods included having hidden text, keyword stuffing, cloaking and mirror websites. And as Google caught on to these underhand tricks, websites that used them got punished by being banished to the bottom of the pile. A kind of death by invisibility.
So to some extent SEO specialists had to clean up their act. A lot of them started concentrating on backward links which were still seen as strictly white hat. This quickly led to websites full of articles whose only purpose was to provide links to websites in need of them.
How SEO companies went down the wrong road
An army of copywriters, working for a pittance and for whom English was often their second language, came into being to write the articles. Link farms and spam blogs grew up – the web was full of material that had no real purpose other than SEO. And often the websites that used these techniques thrived.
But now suddenly the landscape has changed with Google’s introduction of the Panda and Penguin updates. All the evidence is that Google is going in hard on backward links which are more like spam than genuine articles or comments. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the SEO community, presumably because this leaves them with little left to manipulate – which is presumably exactly what Google intended.
Content is king for SEO companies
So will this mean the death of SEO companies? Who knows? As a collective beast they’ve always shown remarkable powers of recovery. Every time Google closes one door, another one opens. For example, the new restrictions are now being used unscrupulously to target competitors’ websites by creating link penalties against them. If you can’t raise your own rankings, you can at least lower others.
But one thing the better SEO companies are talking about more than ever before is content. They’ve always paid lip-service to the idea that ‘Content is King’, and now they have little choice. And maybe that’s where the copywriters come in….