Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving a website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs) through organic, or non-paid, methods. Historical optimisation refers to analysing and learning from a website’s previous SEO efforts and performance to guide future strategies.
SEO is an ever-evolving field, with search engines like Google constantly updating their algorithms and ranking factors. What worked to gain high rankings a year ago may be outdated or even penalised today.
At the same time, older SEO efforts that were successful could still provide valuable insights into what resonates with search engines for a particular site.
By looking at historical metrics and past SEO approaches, you can identify effective tactics that should be continued or refined, as well as areas that need updating. Key reasons why studying SEO history is important include:
Identify Long-Term Ranking Factors: Analysing which pages, keywords and backlinks gained and maintained high rankings over time reveals core site strengths. These are ranking factors to harness going forward.
Learn From Past Failures: Reviewing previous SEO efforts that failed to generate results or even led to rankings declines can reveal misguided strategies to avoid repeating.
Track Algorithm Changes: Google algorithm updates constantly change how rankings are determined. Tracking changes to site performance around major updates helps identify new SEO priorities.
Set Realistic Goals: Having historical performance data allows setting evidence-based SEO goals, rather than unrealistic or overly optimistic targets.
Determine New Opportunities: Examining areas of the site that have not been optimised before, or where competitors are now outranking you, uncovers new SEO opportunities.
To conduct an effective SEO historical audit, there are key sets of data that should be examined:
Rankings & Traffic: Compare historical Google rankings and organic traffic patterns over time, both for the site as a whole and for important landing pages, categories and keywords. Traffic drops or fluctuations often correlate with Google updates or site issues.
Links: Review historical linking data, including new links gained, lost links and changes to important link metrics like domain authority and anchor text variety. A churn in links often impacts rankings.
On-Page Factors: Analyse how on-page elements like page speed, mobile optimisation, keyword usage and content length have evolved. Google algorithm updates frequently target on-page factors.
Competition: Track how competitors have gained or lost prominence in SERPs historically. Their performance shifts provide clues into algorithm changes.
Site Architecture: Major site migrations, domain changes or information architecture adjustments can all positively or negatively impact rankings. Review historical changes.
Penguin/Panda: Check Google Search Console for notifications of Penguin or Panda algorithm penalties, which require corrections to restore lost rankings.
Site Performance: Site uptime and crawl errors in the Search Console can point to technical problems that have caused issues.
The key benefit of a historical SEO analysis is applying its lessons to current and future efforts:
Expand on what worked: Double down on SEO tactics and strategies that have delivered positive historical results.
Audit and improve what failed: Critically examine why some past SEO approaches failed to generate rankings, and how they can be improved or avoided going forward.
Align with algorithm shifts: If an update such as BERT or Passage Indexing causes changes in site performance, optimise for the new algorithm’s priorities and requirements.
Address unoptimised areas: Target parts of the site, or keywords and content types that have not been historically optimised as opportunities.
Fix past penalties: If hit by a Penguin or Panda penalty in the past, take corrective actions to restore rankings, like disavowing poor links or improving content quality.
Enhance technical site health: Historical crawl errors, broken links or uptime problems indicate technical issues limiting performance to fix.
Set goals based on past performance: Use historical traffic and rankings data to set realistic SEO goals by keyword, page or site section.
An Ongoing Process
SEO is not a set-and-forget tactic but requires constant learning and optimising as search engines and sites evolve. Regularly revisiting past SEO efforts – what worked, what failed and what changed – is crucial to keep growing organic site traffic. Historical SEO audits should be built into any site’s optimisation strategy.
By leveraging the lessons of previous SEO, you can repeat successful approaches while avoiding past pitfalls and aligning with how search algorithms currently determine rankings. This evidence-based look back helps guide sites forward to their full potential.
SEO is an ongoing process that requires constant optimisation and adaptation as algorithms, websites, and searcher behaviour change over time. Regularly conducting historical audits of past SEO efforts and strategies provides invaluable insights that can guide future efforts.
By learning from prior ranking factors, successes, failures, and Google updates, sites can refine approaches to maintain what already works, improve upon or avoid past mistakes, and shift strategies to align with the modern search landscape.
Leveraging historical data and learnings in this way enables more informed, evidence-based SEO that ultimately helps websites continually improve their search presence. Conducting regular SEO historical audits should be a best practice for any website serious about driving long-term organic growth.