The importance of knowing your roots in SEO

This article is originaly posted on LinkedIn

“I can’t tell the stakeholders the truth of their on-page SEO but I will tell them the rules” is a sad truth I shared with my team recently during a presentation on on-page SEO audits best practices. They asked what I meant by it and I’m sharing my answer here as I believe this concerns all of us webmasters and SEOs.

As I see it, one problem today is that SEO has changed over time and so have the tasks we focus on. We have forgotten our roots. Without understanding the roots to what we do we will just learn to perform tasks the correct way (and more often the wrong way). If we forget our roots we will not be able to develop the most important part, a strong foundation.

What are these SEO roots I speak of? Since the very beginning of the World Wide Web, there has been a need of standardization. Hardware and software need to be able to communicate no matter where in the world the users are.  Web standards are a way of finding that common path so users can get the same experience no matter what browser they choose, for example. These web standards give guidelines on how to code the web site so users can visit the site from different browsers or mediums and have the same experience.

Google, for example, needed the sites to follow these standards to be able to understand the site, its content and thereby give the best result for search queries. With the search results came the “need” of ranking and the optimization for search engines. Since Google’s crawler based its understanding of web pages from the web standards, it was also relatively easy to influence Google’s perception of the page.

Two factors that have forced Google to develop its crawler: Tampering of the web sites’s code and content for ranking and the lack of knowledge in web standards when designing a web page has contributed to that the crawler has become better in understanding what a page is about and how it is structured.  When everyone suddenly could create a web page, it seems like web standards went straight out the window. Headers for example were used to format the size of text instead of to create structure. Google were, as mentioned earlier, forced to adapt to how the web code is used rather than how it was meant to be used. When Google became better at understanding pages that don’t follow web standards, SEO changed respectively. It seemed like anything goes when it came to coding or on-page optimization.

It is just that, the fact that Google has become better in understanding faulty code, the reason why I can’t tell the stakeholders the truth that Google understands the faulty code but I will tell them web standards they should follow.

SEO has changed and, as a result, so has the way we work. Remember your roots of SEO. By understanding the basics we have a strong foundation and can also more easily adapt or “freestyle” based on needs.

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