Stockbridge "Stock" Truslow is an "old hand" in SEO. While maintaining, among others, a commercial movie web site in a time when search engines were hesitant to deep crawl dynamic sites, he moderated for years at the Cre8asite Forums. Here he discussed concepts like theming by search engines and page segmentation long before they became established SEO realities.
After an absence of the field Stock has recently returned to SEO. Here's what the "dynamic, hectic, ever changing field" of SEO looks like when you come back to it -- years later.
- In 4 years time, almost none of the essentials have really changed
- Email evolved into Guestbooks, which became Forums, which became Blogs, which paired up with Info Hubs, and has become Social Networking
- SEO's purpose remains to match content with queries and help establish that match through links
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
I made my first web site in 1994. It was a directory of celebrity e-mail addresses and contact information. Back then, the Internet was relatively new, and we didn't have Twitter and other more effective ways to keep up with fans, so many celebrities published their e-mail addresses for people to contact them and to send out regular mailings. I, too, was smitten by the notion that the internet could be used as a tool for someone who would normally be "untouchable" for the average person to be able to communicate and pass on information. It was a fun site, but being static HTML pages, it was a bear to update, and it wasn't searchable and - well, I needed to figure out a better way to do it!
Over the next few years, I learned how to take some of my general computer programming knowledge and apply it to learning how to make dynamic web sites. By the time I managed to figure it out, though, all the celebrities had found this new thing called a "Guest Book" that allowed the fans to post things, and the celebrity could answer back. This meant that my old site had outlived it's usefulness.
Guestbooks became the new e-mail
More ideas came and went, and I got much better at the whole dynamically-generated-site thing - and lots of other people were coming up with great applications - including something called a "forum" that worked like a guestbook, but it allowed the posts to be organized by topic, and threads, and to see what's new and all other sorts of fun things.
Forums became the new Guestbooks
The forum thing was cool - it allowed for bi-directional communication. For many people (including the Celebrities from my original site) the forum ended up being too much work. The threads were all over the place, anyone could start any topic, and there was just too much going on to keep up with. People needed a way to be able to say, "Hello - here is what I'm doing, here is what I'm thinking - now what do you think about that?"
It's no surprise, then, that Blogging hit the scene. It allowed for a bit of two-way communication through user comments. It also encouraged other people to link into what you are saying and take it to their own blog to have their own discussion about it without taking over your discussion. It was a way to get word out, hear what people are thinking and feeling about it, and then starting something new - all under your own control.
It was about this time, too, that RSS Feeds were coming into vogue - and blogs were one of the earliest applications to really embrace the technology. Not only could you say what you want to in your own space, but other people can get your thoughts delivered them through various different venues, applications, and web sites.
Blogs became the new Forums
As all of this was coming about, I was working on ways of reworking my own ideas into something new. My solution was to create a sort of mini internet movie database where I could have my "Cast Bio" pages link up to news feeds, official feeds, product listings from Amazon.com (that automatically picked relevant movies and mechandise), and so on. By the end I had over 3,000,000 pages on the web site with tens of thousands of movies, thousands of actors, and thousands of relevant product categories all building themselves and growing without so much as a click from me. (Out of the 3,000,000 pages on the site, I probably only ever saw a few tens of thousands of them - it was all automated).
The problem I had during all of this though, was that the search engines were only just beginning to even consider taking a look at a dynamically generated web site. In order to get spiders in there, you had to use a rewrite scheme and try to "trick" the search engines into thinking that it was a static site. (And, despite the fact that URL Rewrites aren't really necessary anymore... people are still doing that.) I didn't want to go with the rewriting option, though. I had chosen ASP as my development platform and Windows servers didn't really have a very good way to do that, at the time. (We'll talk about this a bit more in future postings, too. Afterall, this is "Search Engine People" so I'm going to have to bring this all around to actually talk about search engines eventually, dontcha think?)
Info Hubs became the new Blogs (Sort of)
I wasn't the only one working on a project to help bring together all of the communications from news sources, industry insiders, and merchandisers. Yahoo (on a grand scale), Search Engine Watch (on a targeted scale), and even Google were all trying to bring all this information together into one place where a person could go to one place and get all this juicy information that they were interested in.
The problem with all of this was that, for individuals, a blog is a lot of work. You need to put together a good article, proof it, post it, promote it, monitor it for spam, and do all sorts of things. Another problem was the disconnect between the content creators and the content distributers. Info Hubs weren't really the new Blog, they were just a front end distribution system for the blog concept.
It was also around this time that I had other opportunities arise for my career path. From late in 1994 through August of 2009, I got out of the Internet Industry almost completely. I did a few things here and there for friends, but I had no idea what the latest search engine technologies were. I hadn't kept up with the latest trends. A 4+ year absense from the industry is a long time, and when I returned I had expected it to take me six months to figure out what was new, what works, and what doesn't in respects to site building, marketing, and SEO.
As I started going through all of the new stuff, SEO tips, and figuring out all that I needed to know, I realized one thing very quickly...
Social Networking is the new InfoHub/Blog.
After four years, I had rather expected to discover something a bit more profound. I didn't, though. That was the primary evolutionary step we had taken during my absense. Sure, lots of other areas had taken some steps ahead, but for the most part... it's all the same.
Email (for wide communications) became Guestbooks, which became Forums, which became Blogs, which paired up with Info Hubs, and became Social Networking.
We might do things a little differently now, but really - we're doing the same thing. We are just better at it.
It's a tool we use to get from place to place more quickly. They both have motors, steering wheels, gas pedals, brakes, and so on. If you can drive a new Mustang, you can, after a bit of fidgeting around, also drive a Model-T. If Henry Ford were to wake up tomorrow morning and get into a brand new Mustang, he would be able to quickly figure it out and probably be able to be heading down I-95 at 70 miles an hour without much problem at all. I might even be so bold to suggest that he would have an easier time figuring out the new Mustang than you would have in trying to figure out the old Model-T.
Fundamental Concepts Are Fundamental Concepts
Cars have changed, but their purpose hasn't. They have evolved into something bigger - into trucks used for hauling, into things that can pull our boats to the lake. The fundamentals are the same, they are just better at it.
Social Networking via Facebook, Twitter, and all the others out there is new. But it is really nothing more than the evolution of our desire to be able to use the Internet to deliver what we want to say to people who want to hear it.
SEO has evolved since the beginning, too. In the end though, everything I learned about SEO in 1998 (at least in respects to the information I chose to believe and retain), is fundamentally the same as well. You need content and that content has to have the same words in it as the person doing the search has chosen to type in. You need links to your content in order for the search engines to be able to find the content and to help them make some decisions on what relevance that page is going to have under certain conditions.
It's all the same - it has simply evolved a little bit. I might never have realized this had I not been out of the industry for an extended period of time, and so this is why I wanted to take a step back and look at everything from a distance before we jump in and look at how this all ties into SEO specifically. There are plenty of things that are different - and we'll look at those, too.
For now, let me leave you with this thought to ponder until the next time we meet: The evolution of technology isn't driven by its function, it is driven by its purpose.