Last week we celebrated our 10th anniversary here at Erudite. We took the opportunity to explore what we had learned over those 10 years and came to the conclusion that we needed to ask some of our closest friends, allies and supporters for their insights. We asked 12 experts with experience in the industry how things have changed in the past decade:
Sam Noble – Founder at Biddable Moments
Firstly, Happy 10th Birthday Erudite! What an incredible and exciting milestone. We have all certainly seen a lot of change in the past 10 years, across all the different digital marketing channels and I am sure the next 10 years are going to be just as changeable.
Looking back to 2010 and knowing what I know now, I would tell myself and those around me working in Paid Media that they should never underestimate the performance of a channel. The different advertising platforms can change and do change the playing field on a very regular basis and we have to stay vigilant and pay close attention to these changes. Sometimes it’s the smaller (or so they seem) changes/updates that have a huge impact on performance. Take one of the most recent and controversial updates from Google Ads; the removal of ‘some’ of the Search Query Data in our reports. This is not a change that is benefiting a single advertiser; the only company benefiting from this is Google. If advertisers don’t stay on top of these updates; they can find that performance drops and they are not aware of what’s actually caused it.
One of the biggest changes I have witnessed over the past 10 years in Paid Media is the shift from keyword targeting to audience targeting. Everything we do has the audience at the forefront of the strategy and keywords have actually taken a back step. They still play a big part in PPC campaign targeting but a huge amount of audience data gets fed into making campaigns a success and I think this is going to become more and more prominent as the next 10 years pass. Will we get to a day where keywords are no longer required? Probably. That’s my guess anyway.
Julie Joyce – Owner at Link Fish Media
Our industry has changed a LOT over the past decade. I think the basics have stayed the same but the number of people in the industry, as well as the amount of information being put out there, have become a bit overwhelming. In 2015 Google released their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines and ever since then we’ve seen loads of people talking about EAT and YMYL.
There have been so many algorithm updates too. In 2010 we’d yet to see Panda and Penguin, for example. I like to keep up with what’s going on and continually find new voices so I do like that it’s not just the same group of SEOs that are speaking and writing as it was ten years ago. In terms of my job, which is building links, almost nothing has changed. I’m still doing things the same way I always did and it’s still working for me so I’ll keep on.
If I could go back and speak to myself at a younger age I’d say that SEO would still be around and be a viable way to make a living, because there were always doubts that somehow it would magically disappear. I used to worry that links would lessen in importance and my client base would dry up but the opposite has happened. Links are still going strong no matter what anyone says.
Suganthan Mohandasan – Founder and Tech SEO Lead at Snippet Digital
The search industry has changed a lot in the last decade. It mainly comes down to advancement in technologies such as machine learning and AI. The older, more rudimentary algorithms are replaced by sophisticated artificial intelligence, and it’s getting harder and harder to optimise for AI-based algorithms. So to adapt to the change, I have invested my time in learning more about these technologies and inner workings. So at least I have an idea of how they work. You can think of it as a step beyond the usual link building and content creation.
Natalie Arney – SEO Consultant
So much has changed in SEO since I first started working in the industry 8 years ago, and even moreso in the 10 years since Erudite was founded.
I started out literally weeks after the first Penguin update, and since then I’ve found that over the years SEOs have been more focused on creating helpful content that sits on fast, technically sound sites, with good backlink profiles, rather than reacting to and chasing algorithms.
I’ve also found that the community has changed – and continues to change. Women in Technical SEO and other diversity-first movements like B Digital and the LGBTQ marketers Slack channel are showing current and potential SEOs that it’s not just cis, straight white men working in SEO!
I’m excited to see further changes in SEO – and no, I don’t think that “SEO is dead” will happen any time soon!
Craig Campbell – SEO Trainer and Consultant
If I was able to give a couple of quick tips to a younger me, I would say I wish I sorted out my process documents for staff a lot quicker than I did, they really do help you scale and grow, without wasting too much time repeating the same thing over and over again.
I also kick myself for not valuing my self enough back then, I wasn’t valuing my skills or time well, I did a lot of work, had a lot of stress but didn’t make a lot of money. And last but not least, I wish I attended conferences, networked more and got involved in the SEO community a lot quicker than I did. I’ve learnt so much from my peers, alongside making good friends but it keeps me at the top of my game. Surround yourself with good positive people in your own industry, it really does help.
Judith Lewis – Founder at Deccabit
Ten years ago, Google released the Caffeine update which heralded the rapid speed of changes which would come and challenge a lot of (lazy) SEO practices. Ten years seems like a lifetime ago – a lifetime since changes were made to the way Google works and a lifetime since SEO changed from being easy but results being frustrating for the searcher at times, to Google focusing so much on the user and their experience that user experience elements have become a part of how webpages are being ranked.
Ten years is a long time, but when considering that I’ve been doing SEO for almost 25 years, 10 years is less than half of my time in the Search industry. In those 10 years though the UK search Awards were launched and I was one of the original panel of judges and have done every UK search Awards since (as well as the global ones). We have seen Venice (localising search before mobile-specific localisation), payday loans update, Pirate (DMCA), Pigeon, Mobilegeddon (which was anything but), and more. It’s been a turbulent 10 years.
We lost some amazing SEOs and gained a slew more. We are seeing more formalised training and MMU is seemingly really pushing forwards in this area even hiring people like Dawn Anderson to teach. SEO is maturing and changing, becoming a more nuanced and structured discipline. We’ve got conferences that have sprung up all over Europe, training camps, think tanks, masterminds, and more. In the last 10 years more and more SEOs have shared what they learned and worked hard – often at their own expense – to help advance the training and education of the next generation.
We might only be looking back at the past decade but we are in to a new generation of SEO. It has been 25 years since websites linked to each other and rudimentary engines tried to help people find things of relevance, and 25 years is a generation. As we move to this new generation of SEO which brings with it new ML and AI advancements from Google, and a focus on the user as well as the result, it’s interesting to look back and see how far we’ve come. And we’ve come a long way baby!
Joost De Valk – Founder at Yoast
Yoast turned 10 this year too. 10 years ago I was in our attic, coding on this little hobby project that would become Yoast SEO. I would tell 10 years younger Joost to think bigger and bolder. But he probably wouldn’t believe me as he was young, arrogant and stubborn 🙂
So much has changed, and yet so little. So much of the SEO advice we’d give for sites ten years ago would still be valid today. At the same time, we’ve seen all these new technical changes. The most important technical change to me was the introduction and ever-increasing adaptation of Schema.org. We also saw and see an ever-increasing expectation with both users and search engines of good UX and fast websites.
I think it’s easier than 10 years ago to build a well-optimised site. It’s a lot harder (but certainly still possible) to find a niche that isn’t already dominated by big players. It’s still a very rewarding business to be in. 10 years ago I was helping individual site owners, now we try to help them a couple of million at once with Yoast SEO. But in the end, that’s just a tool, and that tool needs to be used. So there’s still plenty of room for good consultants like yourselves to do the very rewarding work of helping people optimise their sites for both users and search engines.
Andi Jarvis – Strategy Director at Eximo Marketing
I’ll let you into a secret – I turned 40 this year.
Few things in life make you reflect as much as a birthday ending in a zero. I wrote a blog post, the 80/20 rule of marketing, to highlight 40 key things I thought the world should know about marketing.
I’d like to draw your attention to points 11 and 12 on that list. If you’re too lazy to click, they refer to what matters in the boardroom and talking to your customers.
The big change I’ve seen in SEO over the last decade has been the move to understanding the business importance of the craft.
SEOs do less and less screaming into a void about rankings and clicks (that’s left to the sales team and clients now) and more and more about proving their value to the organisation.
This is a good thing.
Make sure your reports always start with metrics that have a currency sign next to them and you won’t go too far wrong.
The other point is about talking to people. I think this change is a bit earlier in the curve. SEOs are still obsessed with quant research; it’s all hard data, numbers, 1s and 0s.
We need to remember that behind those spreadsheets, we’re trying to reach people. Those big, ugly, irrational creatures, who spend the cash that keeps us employed.
Hopefully over the next 10 years this change will speed up, and ethnography, or at least more social science, will become an accepted part of the discipline.
And finally, can I draw your attention to point 40 on that list 😉
Dom Hodgson – Founder at Little Warden
The last 10 years? Where to start? First of all, can everyone stop getting younger, these days, I go to a search conference these days and everyone is just so young… At a conference last year Dixon Jones introduced me as one of the ‘old guard’ and that stopped me in my tracks, we are getting close to a time where we are going to have Head of SEO’s who don’t know who Matt Cutts is or who think that a Google Dance is a tictoc thing.
But in all seriousness, SEO has grown up, there are now legitimate disciplines that we have specialists in, from Local SEO, Technical SEO, Link Building to things like Youtube SEO and App Store Optimisation, not to mention everyone wants to learn Python these days!
The tools available have become incredible with tools like Little Warden and Kerboo *cough*.. and other tools like Ahrefs, Majestic, Sitebulb, BigMetrics, AlsoAsked and new tools launching all the time with inLinks recently joining the fold, it’s so much easier now for SEOs to get the answers they need.
It’s not just tooling, it’s also technology and data, We’ve got access to machine learning, Data Studio, databases and storage as so cheap now that storing raw crawl and analysis data means that we can give more specific and accurate recommendations.
I’ve personally not found a community more giving than the search community, whether it be starting a new conference or software product or raising money for charity doing stupid things for charity, I’m grateful to have been a part of the community and look forward to seeing it grow over the next 10 years.
Orit Mutznik – Head of SEO at Silkfred
Getting into SEO in the beginning of the decade (and still doing it today) does not make you a better SEO than others, but seeing how what you thought was SEO best practice crumbling down almost on a daily basis definitely teaches you a great lesson in resilience & agility.
Coming into SEO from a content-writing perspective, meeting meticulous SEO requirements of keyword prominence and density I remember asking myself “why?” many times.
Admittedly I lost a bit of faith in humanity when my writing skills were used to turn me into a “human article spinner”. Me thinking “there’s gotta be more to this SEO thing than this” is what got me to leave my content writing days behind me and venture into it. When Panda, Panda 2.0 and it’s subsequent version updates hit in 2011 I watched my manager fall into despair as my article-spinning efforts turned into dust, but for me, it was a big sigh of relief and validation of my pre-SEO instincts. Between 2011-2012 I was settling into my first SEO executive position, content was getting a boost of quality and I turned my attention to the one thing I can trust – links! As a good Pokemon trainer, you had to catch them all, the more the merrier, no matter where from, all coming beautifully from an exact match anchor text. Life was good. Until April 2012 that is. Around that time I left my first SEO exec position to become a part of a bigger team (as opposed to being an inexperienced sole SEO in the business) and have learned that my link building actions have sunk those sites with the arrival of The Penguin Update (sorry!). In my new role, we all had to adapt ourselves to a post-Penguin reality, not only in my team, but there was a feeling of “we’re all in this together” in the SEO community which was reassuring. We started working on optimising both our on-page (Hummingbird) and off-page strategies for quality first.
In 2013 this seemed to be going well and I remember thinking “we were on to something”, but being used to the early-decade shake-ups this felt suspicious. My gut was right once again, and there I was spending 2014-2015 (“the years of disavow”) on reconsideration requests, removing those manual actions resulting from years of exact match anchor links and unnatural links. I think that’s when I finally got the point about “making great websites” that Google was trying to make all along and I left those rollercoasters behind me, adapting much more naturally to all the subsequent updates, but if I could go back in time to watch myself react to my SEO world come crumbling down every time, I’d tell myself to sit back and enjoy the ride because at the end of this journey you’ll be exactly where you want to be and this experience is going to make you a much stronger and resilient SEO. And I’d also reassure my young self that I’ve made the right decision jumping into this crazy out-of-control rollercoaster in the first place.
Gerry White – SEO Director at Rise at Seven
In the last 10 years, digital marketing hasn’t changed as much as the 10 years before it – Google has remained dominant, and other platforms have risen and dropped. Digital marketing has however evolved to try and be more user-focused, SEO folks who are obsessing over keywords rather than how and why a user is typing in a phrase have been disappearing. Google is no longer the ten blue links it was, it is now so dynamic and ever-changing that the only way to keep up is to not try but focus on providing the product or service you want in a way that users on Google can find it, Link building has evolved from being buying from old school networks to build high-quality PR driven links using content and creative that aligns with the brand.
The one thing that I think has kept me up to date has been to focus on the data, knowledge of tools from analytics to Data Studio through to learning about internal data sources has meant that in companies like Just Eat, the BBC and our bigger clients we can build out not reporting, but insight into what is happening. If I could go back 10 years, this is definitely what I would recommend – focus on insight, test and continuously learn.
Izzi Smith – Technical SEO Analyst at Ryte
One particular beneficial change I have witnessed over the last years has been the way the SEO community has evolved into one that is incredibly welcoming, helpful, and supportive for any expertise level. When I started in SEO, there seemed to be many “requirements” or knowledge prerequisites that would simply shun or make fun of less-experienced folk trying to share their knowledge.
This can be really daunting and off-putting for newer members to get involved and share their expertise in publications or on conference stages.
Of course there is still plenty of work to do, but there have been many positive shifts in the right direction towards greater inclusion in the industry. This encourages even more voices with smart assumptions, theories, explanations, and new takes on SEO principles and practices. It’s really exciting, and I really hope that this continues!
Not only this, but we’re standing up more for one another. I had a few negative experiences in my SEO past that involved toxic opinions and gatekeeping, but these days it’s common for community members to get involved and help eradicate this. Let’s keep it up!
Kevin Gibbons – Founder of Re:Signal
In the last 10 years especially, SEO has got a lot more specialised. I think you could get away with being a generalist search marketer, often focusing on both SEO and PPC. Now you really need deep expertise. SEO is often too broad as a topic in itself, especially when you think about the knowledge required in the aspects of technical SEO, you need to be able to create engaging content, and attract/earn authority links.
The biggest thing I’ve changed / prioritised is the importance of thinking strategically and combining with experience to get senior level buy-in with key stakeholders. It’s a good challenge to have, as it shows SEO is maturing and has more influence on the board agenda, although there’s still work we have left to do that I’d like to think will continue to improve in future.
The digital marketing industry has seen many changes over the past 10 years. As results of our work are more widely known and searching is now an established part of daily life, this is only likely to increase the importance of our roles in future.
As part of our 10th Anniversary celebrations Nichola (our Founder) took a look back at the past 10 years and what she has learned from starting and running Erudite. She shared the biggest lessons learned from that time and also looks forward to the next 10 years.