The 2020 Renaissance of the SEO Industry

Explore the dynamic revolution over the last 5 years in SEO, from AI integration to pandemic-driven shifts in digital behavior, and learn all the important changes in the ever-changing SEO landscape.

TL;DR - Click to Read Article Summary

TL;DR: This article delves into the significant transformations within the SEO industry over the past five years, highlighting the integration of AI, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on digital consumption patterns, and the evolution of search engine algorithms. Key developments include the rise of AI-generated content and its implications for content authenticity and quality, the amplified importance of Local SEO due to changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic, and the full integration of Google's mobile-first indexing, marking a pivotal shift towards prioritizing mobile content. Additionally, it explores the growing emphasis on E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) and YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) content in response to Google's efforts to prioritize credible and high-quality content. The article underscores the dynamic nature of SEO and the necessity for professionals to adapt to these changes, leveraging new technologies and maintaining a focus on quality and relevance to achieve top rankings.

  • Integration of AI in SEO:
    • The rise of AI-generated content across the internet and its implications for SEO.
    • Challenges for search engines and SEO professionals in ensuring content quality and authenticity.
  • COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on SEO:
    • Shifts in consumer behavior leading to a greater emphasis on Local SEO.
    • The strategic importance of optimizing Google My Business profiles in response to increased "near me" searches.
    • Introduction of health and safety information features in business listings.
  • Google’s Mobile-First Indexing:
    • The official completion of Google’s mobile-first indexing, making mobile content the primary source for ranking.
    • Historical context of mobile-first changes, including key updates leading to this shift.
  • E-A-T and YMYL’s Role in SEO:
    • The critical importance of Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (E-A-T) for websites, especially those impacting a person’s life or finances (YMYL).
    • Google’s increased prioritization of high-quality, credible content in search results.
    • Strategies for SEO professionals to enhance E-A-T signals on their websites.
  • Adapting to the Evolving SEO Landscape:
    • The need for SEO professionals to stay informed and adaptable to technological advancements and changes in search engine algorithms.
    • The role of innovative technologies and strategies in maintaining effective SEO practices.
    • The anticipation of future trends and the continuous evolution of SEO practices to achieve and sustain top rankings.

Over the past hald-decade, technology has undergone major transformations, largely due to the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the sweeping changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This era has enriched and expanded the arsenal of tools for SEO experts, presenting a blend of new opportunities and challenges as the pandemic altered digital consumption patterns. In this article, we delve into the seismic shifts that have reshaped the SEO landscape over the past half-decade, going over some of the revolutionary shifts in our industry.

We aim to explore the nuances of these changes, shedding light on how they've influenced both the tactical approaches and the strategic thinking behind effective SEO. From algorithm updates that changed the game to the rise of new technologies and user behavior patterns, and unpack the pivotal changes that impacted our industry. As we look back at these transformative years, we also cast our gaze forward, contemplating the future trajectory of SEO and how professionals can navigate this ever-evolving space.

Artificial Intelligence 

Impact of AI on the SEO industry with concerns about content quality, search engine response, and best practices for SEO professionals.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

How the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Local SEO, the importance of optimizing GMB, the rise in "near me" searches, and enhanced health and safety information within business listings.

Mobile First Indexing Final Algo Update

Exploring Google's Mobile First Update, from the 2015 Mobilegeddon to its complete integration of mobile-first indexing in March 2021.

Expanding Focus on E-A-T & YMYL Sites

the rising importance of E-A-T and YMYL in SEO since 2021, shaping SEO strategies to prioritize credibility and expertise for better user trust and visibility.

1) The Rise of AI: Generative Chatbots and Large Language Models

The surge in detecting and optimizing AI-generated content, especially from 2022 forward, has highlighted a crucial shift in the SEO landscape. With AI’s ability to generate content that mimics human writing, the internet saw an influx of AI-generated articles, blogs, and other types of content across the internet. This raised concerns among search engines and SEO professionals regarding the quality, authenticity, and reliability of online content.

Click to See the Reliability of AI & LLMs

IMPORTANT NOTE: Quantifying the accuracy of LLM is extremely difficult, but recent studies have generally reported AI’s accuracy as follows:

Domains with High Accuracy (Potential for 90%+):

Basic Historical Facts: Well-documented events, dates, and widely accepted figures.

Fundamental Scientific Principles: Established laws of physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

Common Medical Knowledge: General information about well-understood diseases, treatments, and preventative health measures.

Important Caveats: Always be wary of outdated information, especially in medical fields where recommendations evolve.

Domains of Moderate Accuracy (Likely around 70-85%):

Current Events (up until 2023): Accuracy drops due to the sheer volume of information and potential for conflicting reports.

Widely Known Facts: Topics with general consensus but potential for nuances or differing interpretations.

Pop Culture: Information about popular figures, movies, music, etc., can be accurate but might also contain subjective opinions or less reliable sources.

Domains with Lower Accuracy (Potentially 50-70%)

Cutting-Edge Technology: Limited reliable sources, rapidly changing developments.

Extremely Recent Developments: News events within the last few days or weeks might lack adequate coverage or analysis.

Highly Specialized Fields: Complex academic research, niche industry knowledge where reliable information may not be widely indexed by search engines.

SEO Pro Tip: Take facts generated by ChatGPT and past them into Gemini using this prompt:

AI PROMPT: Fact check the provided text and include links to all sources: [paste facts here]

Search Engines’ Response

Google and other search engines have historically prioritized high-quality, valuable content in their ranking algorithms. The emergence of AI-generated content posed a challenge: distinguishing between content that genuinely provides value to users and content that, despite being well-written, might lack depth, accuracy, or original insight.

To maintain the integrity of their search results, search engines began refining their algorithms to better detect AI-generated content. The goal wasn’t necessarily to penalize all AI-generated content but to ensure that the content ranking highly in search engine results pages (SERPs) adheres to quality guidelines, offering real value to users. This is the next generation of black hat keyword stuffing and Google’s attempt to solve it.

SEO Industry's Adaptation to AI

For SEO professionals, the rise of AI-generated content bots has spurred a spectrum of opinions. Experts quickly realized this AI technology could significantly enhance content creation processes more efficiently and scalable. This last half decade has seen a notable increase in the integration of AI and machine learning technologies into SEO tools and platforms.

SEO experts now need to balance the efficiency and scalability of AI content creation with the imperative to maintain content quality and originality. This trend underscores the broader shift in the SEO industry towards more sophisticated content strategies that leverage technology while upholding the core principles of valuable and user-centric content.

Best Practices for AI-Generated Content in SEO

Quality Over Quantity: While AI can churn out content at an impressive rate, prioritize the quality and relevance of the content. Reported opinions about AI’s writing capabilities range between 7th-grade to college-level sophistication. Page-one caliber content is rarely the output of ChatGPT without additional human input. Content that truly resonates with your audience and fosters trust requires a sophistication not yet mastered by GPT, though future updates may well bridge this gap.

Avoid Misinformation: Ensure the accuracy of the information presented in AI-generated content. Misinformation can harm your audience and damage your brand’s reputation. Regularly review and fact-check AI-generated content. AI commonly makes mistakes and gets facts wrong.

Be Aware of Biases: AI models can inadvertently perpetuate biases present in their training data or integrated into their programming.

Compliance with Search Engine Guidelines: Stay aligned with the guidelines provided by search engines like Google, which have started to adapt their policies in response to AI-generated content. These guidelines often emphasize the importance of helpful, original, and high-quality content.

Click to See AI Integrated SEO Tools

1) Utilization of LLM AI

ChatGPT (by OpenAI): Used for generating article drafts, product descriptions, and creative content ideas.

Surfer SEO: Utilizes AI to analyze content against top-ranking pages and provides detailed recommendations for content optimization, including keyword usage, content structure, and more.

Clearscope: An AI-driven content optimization tool that helps improve content relevance and quality by providing keyword and topic suggestions based on current high-ranking content.

2. Search Intent and Query Understanding

SEMRush Topic Research Tool: Helps identify trending topics and questions users are asking, aiding in aligning content with user intent.

3. SEO Tasks Automation

Ahrefs: Offers automated site audits, keyword research, and competitor analysis, powered by AI to provide insights and recommendations.

Moz Pro: Uses AI for site audits, keyword research, and to suggest optimizations, helping identify technical SEO issues and opportunities.

4. Personalization and User Experience

HubSpot’s Marketing Hub: Uses AI and machine learning to personalize email marketing campaigns and content recommendations on websites, aiming to improve user engagement and conversion rates.

Optimizely: Offers AI-powered personalization for web content, helping to tailor user experiences based on behavior and preferences.

5. Predictive SEO

MarketMuse: An AI-powered content research and strategy tool that predicts content success and suggests topics with high potential, helping plan content that meets user interest and search demand.

BrightEdge: Uses AI to provide insights into market trends, demand changes, and competitive content strategies, allowing for predictive content planning.

2) How COVID Amplified the Importance of Local SEO

In response to the seismic shifts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a marked resurgence in the focus on Local SEO and the strategic optimization of Google My Business (GMB) profiles. This moment in history starkly illuminated the indispensable nature of local search optimization for businesses in every field. To understand this shift more deeply, let's delve into the nuances of how this trend emerged.

Changing Consumer Behaviors:

The pandemic led to a surge in online searches for local businesses, services, and products, as consumers shifted towards using local businesses and relied more on delivery and curbside pickup options. This change made it essential for businesses to optimize their local online presence to capture this increased demand.

Enhanced Features for Health and Safety Information:

Google introduced new features within GMB to allow businesses to communicate health and safety measures being implemented, such as mask requirements, temperature checks, and appointment-only services. This information helped reassure customers and influence their choice of who to visit or purchase from.

Overview of COVID’s Impact on Local SEO:

Increase in "Near Me" Searches: There was a notable rise in "near me" searches as consumers looked to find local businesses and services that were open and safe to visit during the pandemic. Businesses that optimized for local SEO saw increased visibility to these queries.

Shift Towards Online Presence: Many local businesses that previously relied on foot traffic had to enhance their online presence, including Google My Business listings, to communicate changes in operation hours, safety measures, and available services. This shift underscored the importance of accurate and updated local SEO information.

Importance of Reviews and Reputation Management: With increased online competition, customer reviews and reputation management became even more critical for local SEO. Businesses actively sought to manage their online reputation to attract and retain customers.

Content Adaptation: Businesses updated their content strategies to include COVID-19 related keywords and topics, such as safety measures, online services, and home delivery options, to meet the changing needs and concerns of their customers.

3) Google’s Mobile First Algorithm Update

Mobile-first best practices, though not exactly a novel concept, have finally been completely integrated into Google’s algorithm. The March 2021 announcement made by Google marked a significant milestone in the evolution of SEO, now fully incorporated and acknowledged as an essential ranking signal as stated by Google. This move was not sudden; it was the culmination over years of preparation and gradual shifts in Google’s algorithms.

Starting with Mobilegeddon in April 2015, which favored mobile-friendly sites in search rankings, Google began pushing for responsive design adoption. This period clearly stands out in my career, marking the moment I fully grasped Google's dominant influence over the SEO landscape.

The shift towards prioritizing mobile content for indexing and ranking was solidified with their next mobile-first indexing announcement in November 2016. The Mobile Page Speed Update in July 2018 made speed an announced ranking factor for mobile searches, urging speed optimizations for a better user experience. By July 2019, Google enforced mobile-first indexing for new sites, embedding mobile optimization as a standard.

This transitional era reached its finality in March 2021 with the complete rollout of mobile-first indexing for all sites, establishing mobile content as the primary source for search indexing and ranking. This underscores Google's impact on enhancing the global web infrastructure, promoting mobile compatibility across the entire digital landscape.

Key Highlights of the Mobile Evolution

Content Parity: Following Mobilegeddon, many sites used a mobile-specific subdomain, mirroring the desktop content and necessitating reciprocal tags (rel="alternate" and rel="canonical") to rank on mobile devices. This was the norm until responsive design became mainstream, arguably making mobile optimization much easier and streamlined for SEO Experts.

Shift in Optimization Practices: Web Developers and SEO Experts began to prioritize mobile site design, ensuring that the mobile versions of their websites were functional and user-friendly. This included optimizing site mobile speed, responsive design, and making navigation intuitive on smaller screens.

Mandatory for All Websites: By March 2021, all websites were required to follow mobile-first indexing principles. This meant that websites without a mobile-friendly version could see a negative impact on their search rankings.

Google's Mobile-First Indexing Timeline

1. Mobilegeddon (April 2015)

What it did: This was one of Google’s major algorithm updates that prioritized mobile-friendly websites in Google’s mobile search results. Websites optimized for mobile devices, featuring responsive design, fast loading times, and no mobile-specific errors, received a boost in rankings, while those that weren’t saw a decrease in their mobile search visibility.

Impact: Prompted a significant shift in how businesses and web developers approached website design, leading to widespread adoption of responsive web design practices.

2. Mobile-first Indexing Initial Announcement (November 2016)

What it did: Google announced its plans to begin mobile-first indexing, meaning the mobile version of websites would be indexed and used for ranking in both mobile and desktop search results. This was in response to the increasing use of mobile devices for web browsing.

Impact: Signaled a fundamental shift in how Google would index content, emphasizing the importance of mobile site optimization.

3. Mobile Page Speed Update (July 2018)

What it did: This update made page speed a ranking factor for mobile searches, aligning it with desktop search where speed had been a factor for some time. It aimed to ensure that mobile users could access fast-loading pages, improving the overall user experience.

Impact: Encouraged website owners to focus on improving mobile site speed through various optimization techniques, such as image compression, minimizing code, and leveraging browser caching.

4. Mobile-first Indexing Enabled by Default for New Websites (July 2019)

What it did: For all new websites, Google enabled mobile-first indexing by default, acknowledging that new sites were generally optimized for mobile from the start. Existing sites were still being evaluated and transitioned on a case-by-case basis.

Impact: Reinforced the importance of mobile optimization for new websites, making it a standard practice in web development.

5. Mobile-first Indexing Completion (March 2021)

What it did: Google announced that mobile-first indexing would be applied to all websites in its search index by March 2021. This meant that Google predominantly used the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking across all devices.

Impact: Marked the culmination of Google’s shift to a mobile-first approach, emphasizing that website owners should prioritize their mobile site’s user experience, content, and performance.

4) The Evolving Importance of E-A-T and YMYL

The emphasis on the E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) principle, especially for Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sites, has become a pivotal aspect of SEO strategies from 2021 and beyond. These algorithmic concepts are not entirely new but have seen renewed and intensified attention in response to Google’s ongoing efforts to prioritize high-quality, credible content in its search results with the emergence of AI.

E-A-T Explained: E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It is a framework used by Google to assess the quality of content on the web. This framework helps ensure that users are presented with information that is accurate, reliable, and comes from credible sources.

YMYL Sites Defined: YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life. It refers to content that could potentially impact a person’s health, happiness, safety, or financial stability. Due to the potential consequences of misleading information in these areas, Google holds YMYL sites to higher standards.

Expanded Importance of E-A-T with the Emergence of AI

Quality Updates from Google: Google’s search algorithm updates have increasingly focused on content quality, particularly for YMYL sites, especially with the recent emergence of the Large Language Models availability to the public. These updates aim to prioritize content that demonstrates high levels of E-A-T signals to ensure users receive information from sources that are not only relevant but also trustworthy and authoritative in their field.

Rise in Misinformation: The digital landscape has seen a proliferation of misinformation, especially in sensitive areas like health, finance, and news. This reality has necessitated a stronger emphasis on E-A-T to combat the spread of false or harmful information. This became extremely relevant after the COVID Pandemic and with the rise of political engagement in the digital landscape.

User Trust and Credibility: In an era where users are more skeptical of the information they find online, demonstrating high E-A-T is crucial for YMYL sites to build and maintain trust with their audience. Sites that fail to exhibit these qualities can suffer in terms of both search visibility and user engagement.

Read about Reputation Management Tactics for SEO Experts

SEO Strategies Focused on E-A-T

Expertise: Showcasing the credentials and experience of content creators or experts behind the site. This involves including author bios, citing reputable sources, and creating content that reflects a deep understanding of the subject matter.

Authoritativeness: Building a site’s reputation through quality backlinks, mentions from authoritative sites, and engagement within the site’s industry or community. Authoritativeness is established by being recognized by peers and other authorities as a go-to source for information on specific topics.

Trustworthiness: Ensuring that a site is secure (using HTTPS), transparent (providing clear contact information and privacy policies), and reliable (accurately representing products or services). User reviews, testimonials, and third-party certifications can also enhance a site’s perceived trustworthiness.

Importance of Your Money Your Life (YMYL)

For YMYL sites, SEO strategies must go beyond traditional keyword optimization and backlinking to include a strong focus on content quality and authority. Given the potential consequences of misleading information, Google scrutinizes these sites more rigorously to ensure they provide accurate, reliable, and helpful content. Here’s how this focus influences SEO for YMYL sites:

  • Healthcare: Sites offering medical advice, information on drugs, diseases, nutrition, or mental health.
  • Finance: Websites related to financial advice, investments, banking, insurance, and retirement planning.
  • Legal: Sites providing legal advice on issues like divorce, child custody, wills, or legal disputes.
  • Safety: Information on safety-related topics, such as childproofing a home, or car safety.

Explore Advanced Documentation on E-A-T & YMYL

Advanced technical SEO experts will find this resource indispensable, as it offers a comprehensive exploration of E-A-T and YMYL principles. With Google placing greater emphasis on these factors for improved rankings, this resource equips professionals with the knowledge needed to excel in SEO tactics to improve online visibility.

What does the future hold for the SEO

Navigating this ever-shifting landscape demands more than just reacting to change; it requires anticipating the future trajectory of SEO. With a vigilant gaze on emerging trends and a deft hand in leveraging innovative technologies, SEO experts can maintain their effectiveness amidst the evolving SEO terrain. There has been much excitement around the shift AI has brought to the SEO Industry, but things could also go in the opposite direction as well. If you're interested in knowing what some of the bad aspects could be for the future of SEO, be sure to click below.

Three Potential Situations That Could Disrupt SEO

1) The Hyper-Personalized SERP Scenario

The Change:

AI Enhanced Search results become so heavily tailored to individual users’ histories, preferences, and even social graphs, that results are not pages but a meta-aggregation of the top search results, while legacy search engines are de-emphasized.

Impact on SEO Experts:

Makes traditional SEO metrics harder to track consistently. Assumably requires a nuanced focus on understanding diverse search intent, and potentially even optimizing for platforms beyond traditional search engines.


Significantly reduces the scope of traditional SEO work. SEO focus may shift to internal platform optimization, requiring experts to diversify their skills into platform-specific marketing

2) Algorithm Transparency and Predictability

The Change:

AI-driven search engines start to operate with highly complex algorithms that are self-evolving, making it nearly impossible for SEO experts to understand or predict changes in ranking factors.

Impact on SEO Experts:

Makes it challenging to develop and maintain effective SEO strategies. The unpredictability requires continuous, real-time adjustment of SEO tactics.


Increases the complexity and uncertainty in SEO work, potentially leading to higher costs and reduced effectiveness of traditional optimization efforts.

3) AI-Generated Content Floods the Web

The Change:

Once AI writing tools become ubiquitous and are embraced by users worldwide, the internet will see a surge in mediocre AI-generated content flooding various platforms. Distinguishing between AI-generated and human-written material becomes increasingly challenging due to the sophistication of these tools and their widespread adoption.

Impact on SEO Experts:

Quality, creativity, and engagement becomes an even greater differentiator. Google potentially gets stricter about originality and E-A-T signals even tougher. SEO experts will need to focus even more intently on demonstrating value and authority.


Noise in search results increases dramatically, making it harder to stand out without substantial investment.

Overall Opinion:

Whether content is crafted by AI or typed by humans, if it’s engaging, accurate, and of high quality, catering to user needs, it will secure a good rank. I'm confident in Google's algorithms' ability to effectively spotlight content that stands out for its utility and relevance.

Algorithm Updates Over the Last Half Decade

Google’s algorithm updates are designed to improve the relevance, quality, and user experience of search results. While core updates are more general, affecting a wide range of websites, specific updates like the Product Reviews Update or Page Experience Update target particular aspects of content and web usability. Due to Google’s continuous efforts to refine its algorithms, staying informed about these updates is crucial for SEO professionals and website owners aiming to maintain or improve their search engine visibility.

Several major updates have been publicly announced by Google or detected by the SEO community during this period.

Here’s an annual summary of key updates:

2020 Algorithm Updates

January Core Update

Google’s first core update of the year, affecting a wide range of sites across different topics. This update had a notable impact, particularly in the "Your Money or Your Life" (YMYL) sectors, including health and finance niches, which saw substantial volatility in search rankings. The update caused considerable movement at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) for these niches, with significant increases in volatility observed across all niches when looking at the top 10 results. 

May Core Update

Another significant update that followed the January core update, with widespread effects across various sectors.

December Core Update

The final core update of the year, continuing the trend of broad impacts across the web.

2021 Algorithm Updates

June 2021: Core Update

Part of a two-part update, with the second part rolling out in July 2021. These updates were aimed at improving the relevance and quality of search results.

July 2021: Core Update 

The second part of the June update, continuing adjustments to search algorithms for better query matching.

November 2021: Core Update

Another significant update to Google’s algorithm, aimed at improving the overall quality of search results.

April 2021 & December 2021: Product Reviews Update 

Targeted at improving the quality of product review content, encouraging in-depth and original research.

2022 Algorithm Updates

May 2022: Core Update

A notable update aiming to enhance the search experience by prioritizing high-quality content.

December 2022: Core Update

Continued efforts to refine search results and reward well-crafted, informative content.

Product Reviews Update

Several updates throughout the year to further refine the quality of review-based content.

2023 Algorithm Updates

Specific updates for 2023 might include additional core updates and refinements to product review guidelines, among others, focusing on enhancing user experience, content quality, and combating spam.

Additional Algorithm Updates

Page Experience Update (2021)

Started rolling out in June 2021, this update emphasized the importance of user experience metrics, including Core Web Vitals, as ranking factors.

Passage Ranking Update (February 2021)

Introduced to better understand and rank specific passages from a web page, making it easier to find information on complex queries.

Spam Updates

Google periodically rolls out updates specifically targeting spammy content and practices to ensure a safer, more reliable search experience.

Final Thoughts on the Revolutionary Shifts in the SEO Landscape

The seismic shifts witnessed in the SEO landscape over the past five years underscore the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of search engine optimization. The integration of AI, the pandemic-induced changes in digital behavior, and the continuous updates to Google's algorithm represent just a fraction of the transformative forces at play. As we move forward, the role of SEO professionals will increasingly hinge on their ability to adapt to these changes, leveraging new technologies and strategies to stay ahead in the game.

The future of SEO is not just about adapting to the changes already upon us but also about anticipating the trends on the horizon. With AI becoming more sophisticated, local SEO gaining prominence, and the importance of E-A-T and YMYL content continuing to rise, the industry is set for further evolution. Staying informed, experimenting with new tools, and maintaining a focus on quality and relevance will be key to achieving and sustaining top rankings.

As we turn the page on the evolving saga of SEO, let's welcome the obstacles and prospects that await us. By keeping ahead of technological advancements on the horizon, we can adeptly traverse the intricacies of SEO with assurance, confidence, and prowess. The path to SEO mastery is perpetually marked by relentless exploration and adjustment, a path that renders our efforts indispensable, impactful, and capable of elevating anyone's digital presence. Here's to successful optimization and the continuous journey through the ever-expanding story of SEO!

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