A View From An SEO Old Timer

“Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.” Pete Seeger

Can I start this article by saying I’m not that old – but in SEO terms, I’m ancient.

I’ve been working in the seo trenches professionally since 2002 and prior to that from 1999 as an amateur working from my parents garage (I fitted it out with carpet, a desk and a 56k dial up modem!). Back then, I was working across many search engines including Yahoo!, Excite, Alta Vista and yes Google, albeit not quite in the form it is today.

In the early days, my main seo ‘weapon’ was keyword spam. In titles, descriptions, keywords, alt tags and more. I learned where to insert keywords and considered myself an SEO. I never went to the spammy lengths that some did, but nevertheless we all knew the game back then. Spam the search engines, and you’ll rank.

The Apprenticeship

I re-entered the industry ‘professionally’ in 2002/3 and went on what I now call my SEO apprenticeship. This was often a very hard slog through technical concepts I was unfamiliar with such as ‘dynamic linking’, ‘architecture’, ‘*pagination’ and ‘table-less design’.

By this time, Page Rank was the no 1 signal for SEO’s to worry about and authors such as Ken McGaffin had started to write about the importance of link building. There was no seo course, no Seo Moz and I had no mentor. To be honest it wasn’t really recognised as an industry back then either. Learning was done by doing rather than reading.

All the time, Google was changing the rule book (spam wasn’t working so well anymore) and beginning to dominate the industry – but businesses were only just beginning to take note of search engines, let alone spend advertising money with them. It was clear – beans on toast was going to be my staple diet for the foreseeable.

My apprenticeship was roughly 3 years. I worked from small client retainers and spent a lot of time modelling page rank distribution, working on site architecture & content and of course building links. It was pretty dull and frustrating at times and I earned very little to boot. So it was easy to keep asking myself – what am I doing here?
I decided to stick with it and that proved a good move – and I’ll always be grateful for those clients who stuck with me back then. We had some good times and got some great rankings – some of which are still around today.

I also began to work with professionals from other digital sectors – mainly web designers. Luckily, I’ve always worked with some very talented people, back then already adopting some of the best practices in coding standards at the time. Modelling their work with my seo tools proved to me that I had to adopt these types of techniques. They improved me and I became a better seo as a result.

At some point, and I am talking years here, I ‘got it’. It started to come naturally and I could begin to advise clients on what they needed to do to improve results.

My apprenticeship was complete.

SEO In 2012

Fast forward about 5 years to 2012. Things that have changed:

a) I’m a few years older, I have a family and got married. b) we have a tonne of algorithmic changes to worry about in the office. c) I don’t need to eat beans on toast every day anymore. d) All the new stuff gets the press.

On that last point – it’s way more exciting to talk about page speed, over optimisation and/or panda penalties than it is to talk about crusty old site structure and planning.

It’s something that doesn’t feature much on the **young guns radar I’ve noticed either. It’s not ‘sexy’ and clients don’t want to talk about it either.

Getting To The Point…

The point is this. ‘Old Skool’ SEO – It still matters and experienced seo’s have an advantage in the industry as a result.

If you want your product pages to rank well, it still matters. If you are looking for more than trophy rankings, it still matters. The veteran SEO’s know it, some of the young colts, maybe not. (see above).

So as I recline in my SEO dotage, I find myself chuckling at the current trend for huge nav menus, tutting when internal category’s get no page rank (at all) and shaking my head when webmasters are happy to dump pagination into every part of their site or leave people on really poor 404 pages. It’s been said I need to get a life but I imagine that other old timers are out there doing exactly the same as me.

No it’s not sexy, but if you want to professionally optimise your web site, you need some old fashioned, boring SEO in there too.

Cheers Jon

*There are some words that simply don’t belong in seo – ‘pagination’ is one of them. ** To be fair, I don’t blame them!

This article was written by Jon Colegate, Director Of Search – Ignition Search.