How SEO Has Evolved in Recent Years—And What You Should Know

Laura Ferruggia
April 10, 2023
12 min read

Since Google’s inception, marketers have been trying to unlock the mystery behind SEO and increase their website rankings.

As with many technologies, though, best practices shift as new data, capabilities, and strategies become available.

Understanding the evolution of SEO can help you better explain current processes and ensure that you’re following best practices.

In this article, I’ll dive into what SEO looked like ten years ago versus now and share how you can stay up-to-date with Google’s algorithm changes.

What Did SEO Look Like in 2013?

Picture this: It’s 2013, otherwise known as the year of the Super Bowl blackout and the year Frozen was released.

But entertainment news aside, there was also a significant SEO change in 2013: Google’s Hummingbird update.

The Hummingbird update placed a more human focus on user searches and results, establishing more distance from keyword-stuffing tactics of the past.

Keyword stuffing was largely employed in the early 2000s as companies used their target keywords repeatedly throughout their website content.

Some even hid these keywords in the code or changed the text color to get their pages to rank higher.

Although Google first penalized these tactics in 2003 with their Florida update, the Hummingbird update signified a marked shift towards human-like search queries.

What Did the Hummingbird Update Mean for Google Searches?

According to Google, the name of their Hummingbird update reflects the speed and specificity of search results.

Amit Singhal, Google’s search chief at the time, shared that the Hummingbird update was the first significant shift in Google’s algorithm since he joined the company in 2001.

Instead of focusing on singular words in search queries, the algorithm viewed the purpose of a search phrase as a whole.

Hummingbird allows Google to understand exactly what users search for based on the overall meaning of their query.

In the same way that a strong internal linking strategy helps Google understand the connection between your web pages, the Hummingbird update helped Google understand the connection between different words in your search query.

This ability to look at the bigger picture of a search query instead of zeroing in on one or two words makes search engine results more accurate and relevant to a user’s needs.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is one aspect of the Hummingbird update that allows Google to build these connections.

What Does Hummingbird Mean for Website Content Creation?

Since the Hummingbird update focused on humanizing the search process, it makes sense that it sparked a focus on user-friendly, readable content.

But what does user-friendly content look like?

No Keyword Stuffing

We already know that randomly inserting your keyword throughout your content is a thing of the past.

You can still include your keyword in your meta title, heading tags (H1-H6), and throughout your content as appropriate, but don’t overdo it—Google may penalize you.

Include Synonyms of Your Keywords and Target Topic

With LSI, Google understands related topics and words.

As a result, using synonyms and relevant adjacent keywords helps search engines understand the subject of your content and its connection to other ideas.

Focus on Aspects of Technical SEO

Resolving technical issues on your website can be helpful since tactics like keyword stuffing are irrelevant.

Ensure your website is easy to navigate, includes descriptive heading tags, and employs an optimized linking strategy.

Reader-Friendly Content

Creating reader-friendly content means writing with a human audience in mind as opposed to a search engine.

In 2019, Google released a Hummingbird update called BERT that focused on this exact idea.

Write content that sounds real and human rather than stuffy and robotic.

What Does SEO Look Like in 2023?

Since the Hummingbird update, many other Google updates have influenced how your website ranks in search results.

These updates include Mobilegeddon, RankBrain, and core updates, though none appear to be quite as significant as Hummingbird.

Still, it’s important to understand how searches have changed in recent years and how to best align your content with users’ queries.

How Has Mobile Search Changed SEO?

In 2015, Google released their Mobilegeddon update as people increasingly used mobile devices to search the internet.

When it comes to SEO, the mobile-friendliness of your website matters.

If your website is difficult to navigate, read, or browse on different devices, Google may not rank it high in search results.

This is significant because you could miss out on a large amount of website traffic; according to Statista, 60% of searches are carried out on mobile devices.

Accordingly, it’s best to design and develop with a mobile-first mindset.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you optimize your website for mobile users.

Ensure Your Website is Responsive

Responsive web design means that your website is viewable and adaptable on different devices.

It applies to your website layout so that certain elements are adjusted (scaled up, minimized, or hidden) depending on the user’s device.

For instance, if you’re viewing a website on a desktop, certain images or icons may be larger to mirror the wider screen size.

If you’re using a cell phone, though, having an image or icon take up a huge portion of the screen wouldn’t be helpful.

The goal is to create an excellent user experience, whether on a desktop, tablet, or cell phone.

Consider Hamburger Menus

These navigation menus are often used on mobile devices because they reduce clutter on website pages.

Hamburger menus consist of three lines in a block, like a hamburger (hence their name), and are often found in the top corner of a website.

They also make it easy for users to reach their desired destination because they can easily view your main website pages in one drop-down menu.

Map Functionality to Intuitive Elements

If you’re browsing a website on your phone, it can be overwhelming to see a huge block of text.

Especially with smaller screen sizes, it’s important to trust icons to communicate meaning rather than always depending on words.

Because there is such limited room available on mobile device screens, use your space wisely.

Hide or Reduce the Size of Images

Any user wants to find their information or answer quickly—especially mobile users.

If images are too large on smaller screen sizes, it may be more difficult for your audience to find what they need.

Unnecessary scrolling can cause frustration and could send your audience to another site.

Smaller image sizes can also keep your website performing optimally; f website files are too large, they can increase load speeds and potentially frustrate users.

Create a Clean, Accessible Design

We’ve already shared how having too many elements or poorly sized images can hinder your website’s view on mobile devices.

Accordingly, it’s important to have a clear, concise design that allows users to easily find what they need.

CTA buttons are of particular importance; if your “Call Now” button is too small, users may have difficulty tapping it (if they can even find it).

Be sure to test how your website appears on mobile so you can create a smooth browsing experience.

How Has Voice Search Changed SEO?

SEO has continued to change as voice searches have become more common.

Many people now use virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa to ask questions and complete searches.

As a result, there are accompanying strategies to consider to rank higher for voice searches.

Include Common Questions Throughout Your Content—And Answer Them

Think about the last time you completed a voice search.

You probably asked a question like “How far is it from here to New York?” instead of saying, “Calculate the distance between New Jersey and New York.”

The first question is much more similar to how humans speak. You would probably say this if you were stopping for directions at a gas station.

The second question sounds more robotic, almost like a math problem.

Google’s ability to understand meaning is key here.

Even though the first question didn’t ask how long it took to get to New York, Google will share the amount of time it takes in addition to the number of miles.

The search engine knows that as a human, you’re probably more interested in the amount of time it takes to get to New York than the number of miles.

Remember that question-based queries are often more conversational; users typically look for a specific answer.

Your content should reflect both of these ideas by retaining a conversational tone and anticipating and answering potential user questions.

Try sprinkling questions into your heading tags, blog titles, and throughout your content as relevant.

You can use question words like who, what, why, where, when, and how to inspire your thinking.

Another strategy is to incorporate FAQs into your content that answer common questions concisely.

Incorporate Long-Tail Keywords Into Your Strategy

We’ve already noted that Google doesn’t focus on individual keywords anymore but instead looks at a query’s meaning.

Since voice searches are typically longer than desktop or mobile searches, focusing on long-tail keywords is important.

Long-tail keywords are exactly as they sound; longer phrases that can help narrow your content’s focus and reach your target audience.

Typically, you’ll face less competition ranking for targeted long-tail keywords, especially if other websites haven’t written content that accurately answers the question or reflects the reader’s goal.

Ideally, you can use long-tail keywords as supporting keywords and try to capture a featured snippet on Google.

Featured snippets are displayed directly below the search bar on Google and clearly answer a user’s specific question.

Try using long-tail keywords in your heading tags to help readers and Google understand the meaning of your content piece.

If your long-tail keyword is a question, you can provide the answer directly after the heading tag to try and capture a featured snippet.

Optimize Your Content for Local SEO

Picture this.

You’re driving to a friend’s house but realize you’re suddenly out of gas. You have no idea where the nearest gas station is.

Rather than pull over, take out your phone, and type in a search, you may ask Google or Siri, “Where is the nearest gas station?” or “Gas stations near me.”

According to a SEMrush study, 58% of voice searchers have local intent, meaning they seek nearby businesses or results.

As a result, it’s crucial to boost your business’s visibility and focus with local SEO.

Some helpful local SEO strategies include:

  • Creating specific pages for each business location or area
  • Optimizing your Google My Business listing
  • Building citations for your business in local online directories
  • Boosting your number of Google Reviews to establish credibility and trust
  • Conducting local keyword research related to your area
  • Improving your link-building strategy

By making your business’s online presence more widely known and relevant to the areas you serve, you may increase your likelihood of showing up in local searches, including local voice searches.

Why is SEO Evolution Important?

Although it would be easier for marketers if SEO stayed the same over time, the reality is that it won’t—and it shouldn’t.

The end user’s experience is most important, and as their behavior changes, Google wants them to find the right content for their needs as fast as possible.

Think about how voice search impacted SEO—and this only became prevalent within the last ten years.

In our fast-paced, data-driven world, we want to find the right answers quickly instead of scrolling through dozens of search results.

Google’s updates are also important from a security standpoint.

Their spam updates (the most recent occurring in December 2022) block websites with spammy content, ads, or linking strategies.

These types of updates ensure user security and help provide search results that are real and trusted.


As new technologies develop and user behavior shifts, it’s only natural that SEO evolves accordingly.

With the advent of AI technologies, SEO will only continue to change.

Keeping your website and overall strategy updated is essential to ensure that your target audience can find your content, answer key questions, and solve their problems.


Meet Laura Ferruggia

Laura Ferruggia

Laura joined Miles IT in 2014, and in her current role of Marketing Strategy Director, she leads and supports our amazing and multi-talented team in providing high-quality consulting and services. With experience spanning from content writing to web development and paid advertising over 9+ years, Laura is equipped to take a holistic approach when discussing marketing and website solutions with businesses.

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