Back in the “olden days”… like ten years ago, SEO was a much defined and almost mechanical process. You did your keyword research and picked your phrases.
In 2003, you would select a very narrow group of keywords. You used the keywords in the META tags, put them in the body text, and linked pages together with anchor text. Then you blasted the site (mostly your home page) with as many back links as possible using reciprocal linking. You would write articles and put up copies in as many article directories as you could find.
The scammers of that day put keywords on their site in white font on a white background or used micro type to hide the keywords on their site. This was the day of the 1 pixel image links.
Over 5 years ago reciprocal linking became black hat.
Google Declares War
Fast forward to today and the SEO world has changed. The newspaper headline would read Google declares war on SEO… if there were still newspapers. In 2011 the Google Panda update struck down the article directories and “duplicate content” became a dirty word. There were many versions of Panda aimed at penalizing low quality web content.
In 2012 the Google Penguin update hit many sites that used back linking services. These so called over optimization penalties where there was too much keyword anchor text became the new black hat SEO method. We saw BuildMyRank.com one of the largest blog networks shut their doors in a matter of days when Google de-indexed their entire network.
We saw back link removal campaigns and the Google disavow tool come into use.
Today what is acceptable to Google? There is no more gaming the system. You need to focus on true white hat methods. This means producing high quality original content. This means getting back to the basics of marketing and appealing to your consumer. You need to make your site crawlable and organized with a good site architecture that brings together related content. Building sites that load faster and that engage visitors.
What is black hat to Google? Black hat is anything that violates Google’s quality guidelines. This means any methods that seek first to grow traffic.
SEO is not dead, it has just been redefined. The focus has moved from traffic being the goal to marketing to the visitor with high quality content and then traffic will come. The shift has been to content growth through blogs.