The Evolution Of The Modern SEO

Riddle me this… If I asked you to imagine a picture of a stereotypical SEO what would they look like…? Glasses, buck teeth, bald, badly dressed… with suspenders holding up their pants…? Perhaps not quite. But the words ‘search’ and ‘geek’ have become somewhat synonymous over the past 10 years.

The search geek stereotype grew out of the tasks associated with old school SEO (ie. before Google). In the dark ages SEO’s were little more than page tweakers. Site optimisation typically consisted of meta tag stuffing, keyword stuffing & heading/title stuffing. And in the days before content management systems were widely accessible, who had the skills to edit web pages? Uber geeks. Thus the search geek stereotype was born.

Yet as the years slowly passed, the Internet and SEO evolved. And so too did the personality and skill set suited to the job. Off page factors gradually became more and more important. Google were the first to change the game in a big way. The advent of PageRank meant it was no longer enough to be a page tweaker. All of a sudden inbound links were vitally important. And ever since, the range of skills required to be an effective SEO has moved further and further away from page and code tweaking.

Indeed, the all encompassing role of SEO today includes a range of tasks that would downright scare most of your old school SEO geeks! Let’s take a look at some of the new skills the evolution of SEO has brought into the profession:


Let’s face it… most geeks are socially awkward. They’d rather spend time with their computer than with real people. Yet socialising is now a critical part of the job. Social media has had a profound impact on the industry, emerging as a viable secondary source of traffic. Savvy SEO’s have been quick to recognise the potential to reduce their reliance upon Google for traffic. Digg, StumbleUpon, Sphinn & Twitter are now among many SEO’s favourite haunts.

Yet playing in social media requires a user etiquette to be observed. Regular participation is necessary to maintain visibility, credibility and establish authority. Which is why daily submissions, voting & commenting are now part of the daily SEO grind.

And while ‘socialising’ from behind a computer screen may not seem particularly daunting, it is the additional ramifications of social media participation that takes many search geeks out of their comfort zone – communicating, creativity & networking.


Speak to your average programmer and you’ll understand that the language they’re most fluent in is PHP or Javascript… And that’s what many search geeks were – programmers. Yet a mastery of the English language is now a necessity for the modern SEO. Indeed, maintaining a blog is a now staple SEO requirement for a number of reasons:

  • The production of regular content allows knowledge and expertise to be promoted (aka PR).
  • Personal rankings establish a clear demonstration of skills and ability. Blogs are the ultimate search engine friendly platform to generate personal rankings.
  • In order to leverage social media traffic, new content must be produced regularly. Blogs provide the most simple content management system to achieve this goal.

Thus, the art of copywriting was added to the ever expanding list of necessary SEO skills. And while competent writing skills are a good start, it’s going to take some real creativity to generate great results…


Linkbait is the new black. If it wasn’t already, Lyndon sealed the deal with his infamous piece. Linkbait refers to the practice of creating content with the purpose of generating inbound links. If successful, the tactic translates into increased traffic and superior organic rankings via inbound links. While unique & high quality articles can work as linkbait, sensational and controversial pieces are more common. Alternatively, humorous posts are also popular.

Regardless of the angle of the piece, the fact remains that real creativity is required for linkbait success. Writing something truly unique, sensational, controversial or humorous takes a lot of skill. Which means our typical ‘left brain’ search geek who digs facts, logic & maths now has to activate his creative juices. Yikes!


Networking is probably the area that strikes the most fear into the heart of your stereotypical search geek. But success in the blogging and social media worlds is dependent on the development of a strong social network.

Quite simply. modern day SEO demands regular interaction with real people. And despite the fact that the networking predominantly takes place behind a computer screen, the principles of real life friendship apply:

  • Regular contact is required to maintain the relationship
  • Mutual respect is essential
  • Self centred people retain few valuable relationships
  • Real friends support each other (think social media submissions, votes, links etc)

So unlike the old days, the modern SEO actually needs to have a clue when it comes to social skills and etiquette. The introverted ways of the old school search geek are a severe disadvantage on the social web of today.

The complete evolution…

Do the hardcore search geeks of the world still exist? Of course they do. But just like the Neanderthals, they’re getting left behind. They may be surviving, but they’re certainly not thriving. The new wave of SEOs are moving beyond the search engines to embrace new skills within social media, video and other alternate mediums gaining mass consumer popularity. And clients will follow them. In the meantime, old school SEOs will continue tweaking their code with a diminishing effect.

It’s not clear at this point how long the complete evolution of the SEO professional will take. Extinction can take thousands of years for some species. But one thing is for sure… with people like Rand Fishkin & Danny Sullivan blazing the trail for the modern day SEO rockstar, the days of the search geek are numbered.

James Duthie is an Australian digital marketing expert. He writes on all things social media, blogging, SEO & digital marketing at his blog – Online Marketing Banter. Subscribe to hear more of his ramblings here


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  1. Thanks for the post James.

    I agree that SEO is moving in the direction of being social and networking with both customers and industry insiders.

    I do think coding still plays an important part in SEO, though it’s certain evolved from making page tweaks. I think SEO coding has evolved into higher level site development.

    Info architecture in the form of theming or siloing and search friendly code are an important part of SEO and there’s also things like .htaccess and robots.txt files.

    But overall I agree that SEO is moving to the social and creative side of things, both of which should lead to better sites in general.

  2. Thanks for the input Steven. I was going attempt to cover the advancements on the technical side of SEO in this post, but it’s really not my game. So I’m glad you were able to do it for me :)

  3. Thanx for the post.

    The information given by you in this post is right
    I do agree with this that the SEO is moving towards the socialization and networking. And I do agree with this that it is becoming more interacting and today’s first skill required in this field is good communication.

  4. I disagree, to a certain extent.

    1.) SEOs are still geeks. There just more of them so they feel less geeky.

    2.) I don’t think SEO has moved away from coding and tweaking at all. It has just added social media. Designing an SEO friendly site is still a valuable skill that every SEO needs to hone.

    3.) Networking is what geeks are all about. In fact, they loved it so much that they invented a little something called ‘the internet’ to better facilitate their ability to do so.

    4.) The real evolution of SEO is that SEO has become an extension of guerrilla marketing, is giving PR firms a way to measure ROI, and is making countless search geeks feel like they’ve discovered something new, when they’re just applying old methods of PR to a new medium.

    Good post though. I enjoyed your perspective.

  5. @ seo experts, seo talk & Joy – Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed the post and are getting social via the comments.

    @ Mike – It’s funny you mention SEO’s are still geeks because I copped criticism in Sphinn for even suggesting they ever were. Interesting… Each to their own.

    Of course, coding & tweaking is always likely to be a part of SEO. But the point I’m trying to make is that the skill set is evolving, and perhaps even diminishing the importance of traditional SEO as we know it.

    Interesting post you wrote in response re the evolution of SEO. A couple of points I have to add to your discussion:

    1. Many online marketers are from a traditional marketing background. In fact, direct marketers have switched over in spades given the similarity in principles between direct marketing and online marketing.

    2. Trust me when I say social media users have embraced the principles of offline PR. Power users network like crazy to win influence and favour with fellow users. It’s happening every day.

    I did enjoy your article though and have subscribed to your blog because I like your style.

    • Dropped you some inspiration credit at my post

      1.) I agree. I’ve seen this as well.
      2.) I think the best social media users have. I don’t think PR agencies all quite get it yet(though they’re coming around quickly). The vast majority of ‘social media users’ are still searching for that flash in the pan, I’d say.

      What’s your twitter?

      • Nice post Mike. I sphunn it and also subscribed.

        I agree with you that too many social media users are looking for the flash in the pan. People see a story of Digg sending tons of traffic to one post and they refuse to see beyond that.

        They miss the point of social media if all they see is the quick fix.

        I’ve been noticing more and more that mainstream magazines are at least mentioning SEO. There’s still a tendency to talk about it in terms of meta tags or keyword density, but I take it as a good sign that it’s getting more mainstream coverage.

    • James it’s funny how you got criticized for calling SEOs geeks. I guess some people don’t want to hear that. Let’s face it anyone who spends as much time online as the typical SEO has plenty of geeky qualities.

      How many people do you know can’t sleep and immediately run to Twitter or Plurk to see what’s going on there?

  6. I think that as a community our definition of SEO may be too large.

    I think that the role of an SEO is to code and organize a site in such a way that it has the greatest potential to appear in the search engines.

    To me, coding and acquiring optimized links is where SEO ends.

    Social Media and linkbait are applications of Internet PR that have positive ramifications on SEO.

    • You make a great point about the definition of SEO. I think so many of the disagreements in the community happen mostly due to different definitions of SEO.

      I tend to give SEO the wider and more liberal definition, though I admit the way you’re defining it is really closer to the true meaning.

      I think the issue is more that SEOs see themselves as marketers rather than optimizers and so we pull the definition of marketing into the definition of SEO.

      I guess I see SEO as understanding how search engines work so I can more effectively make marketing and site decisions so they have a more positive impact in search results.

      I tend to think of SEO with the big picture in mind. That big picture may not technically fall under the umbrella of SEO, but I still call it all SEO.

  7. Nice post, it contains a valuable information about the evolution process of SEO, and very much important for every one interested in an onine marketing.

  8. @ James – This is one of the only articles out of thousands I have read about SEO where I found the actual article a great read and the responses actualy follow it through, almost like creating an adictive article :)

    @ Mike & Steve – I wholly agree with ur comments on the definition of SEO being too large, the overall communitys perception of an SEO’s activities could easily be broken into many other areas that clearly are different yet related and have positive ramifications on SEO.

    • James did write a good article didn’t he?

      I think the lack of a solid definition for what SEO is causes problems for the industry. I think somewhere along the way SEOs realized success was about more than just search traffic and naturally started working on those other things.

      The problem though is where does SEO end and something like conversions begin. Should one firm be expected to do both and if so are they really both considered part of SEO.

      I actually posted again a couple of weeks ago asking the question how do you define seo? and am looking to do a follow up post this week with my answer.

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