The Internet is a place for an endless number of things and is perpetually in a state of evolution. Such is the case for search engines and the search engine optimization field. SEO has come a long way since its early beginnings in the 1990’s and it is of paramount importance to understand its history and how the rules of the SEO game have changed over time. Adhering to the rules can help you reap the rewards through strategy and research. Failing to comply with the rules can send you down a dangerous path of penalties and black hats. In order to stay ahead of the game, it is important to take a look at the past, present and future of SEO.
SEO History – Search Engines in the 1990’s:
Yahoo (Founded in 1994): Yahoo (acronym for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle) made it a point of differentiation to use humans to catalog the “World Wide Web”. It was a major directory and had categories that users could browse through and read up on the latest news articles.
Excite (Launched in 1995): Excite was created by Stanford students and were pioneers of sorts, attempting to bring relevant listings to the users’ search queries by crawling the web.
Altavista (Launched in 1995): Altavista was one of the most popular search engines of the 90’s. What separated itself from the competition was its advanced hardware and capabilities to crawl a greater number of websites.
Google (Founded in 1998): Founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the duo developed “PageRank”, an algorithm used to determine the quantity and quality of links to a page. Google would go on to revolutionize the way search engines function. Today it currently dominates nearly 68% of the search engine market shares in the United States as of 2014.
In order to understand how these search engines work, it is important to know what an algorithm is. By definition, an algorithm is: “a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.” In layman’s terms, an algorithm is a list or order of steps to reach completion. For example, the steps to tying a bowtie would be an algorithm, or the recipe to make meatloaf is another example.
Google’s search engine algorithm has seen quite a few permutations over the years and is constantly evolving.
How Websites Used to Rank:
Before algorithms reached their current level of sophistication, SEOs and website owners were able to “cheat the system” by using what are now considered “black hat” SEO techniques to reach the top of the search results.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of excessively using the same keywords throughout the content and in the meta tags behind a website page. For SEO, it is encouraged to place relevant keywords appropriately. The content should make sense to the viewer. However, there are many who abuse the use of keyword placement by inputting too many keywords, or “stuffing” irrelevant keywords into the meta tags of the HTML without being visible to the user. The ensuing result eventually led to some search engines disregarding meta tags entirely.
Cloaking is when the content presented to the search engine spiders is different from what is actually being displayed to viewers. Example scenario: Imagine performing a search for “dogs” and receiving results for “furniture”. Not only is that search experience frustrating to the user but it also lowers the credibility of the search engine.
Maxing Out the Keyword Density:
Increasing keyword density is not a black hat SEO technique but in the early days of search engines, the amount of times a keyword appeared on a page played an important role in determining how high it would rank.
The Evolution of the Google Algorithm:
Ready Artwork sees Google as analogous to a big filing cabinet. Imagine a well-maintained SEO’d website having all items neatly filed with tabs, organized in alphabetical and or numerical order and fitted logically into its place within the filing cabinet.
To better illustrate the point, actors were used:
In order to combat against the black hat techniques and to yield relevant search results, Google began rolling out updates to its algorithm on a regular basis and assigned names to these updates.
Here are a few of the major changes made throughout the years.
Florida (2004): The Florida update was a major step in the fight against websites using some of the aforementioned black hat SEO techniques. A large number of websites saw significant drops in their rankings as a result of the update. The days of keyword stuffing and hidden text essentially came to an end.
Nofollow (2005): Google introduced the “nofollow” attribute in an attempt to clean up spam and link quality. Simply put, assigning nofollow to links would inform search engines to not consider the links as part of the website’s ranking.
For example, spammers would be able to place a link on the comments of a blog and would receive considerations from search engines based on the authority of the site with the blog comment. Placing the nofollow on these links helped to maintain a website’s integrity.
XML Sitemaps Submission (2005): First off, XML stands for Extensible Markup Language and is a computer language similar to HTML.
Submitting an XML sitemap helps Google understand the list of pages on the website. It also helps Google identify pages it might not have found otherwise.
Jagger (October 2005): Jagger targeted lower quality links as well as link farms forcing SEOs to make a movement towards higher quality links.
Google Instant (Fast-forward to September 2010): Users were able to see auto-completed search results as they typed. It allowed users to select items from the search before typing out the entire query.
The Present – Panda (February 2011 – ?): The primary goal and purpose of the Panda update and all of its proceeding updates were to focus on removing low quality websites from ranking highly and for the most part, rendering nearly all of the black hat SEO techniques useless and actually detrimental.
A Brief Case Study – Rap Genius (Now known as Genius):
The evolution of the search algorithm improved the overall quality of the search experience on the internet but also opened the door to a number of punishments presented to websites who used unethical SEO techniques.
About Rap Genius:
Rap Genius is a website for users to submit interpretations or explanations to rap lyrics in songs. It was founded in 2009 and in late 2013, began using questionable backlinking strategies.
As a way for them to expedite the process to reach the top of search engine results, they employed a technique of asking bloggers with high page ranks to include HTML at the end of their posts with links to Rap Genius in exchange for tweets and Facebook posts.
On the surface, this transaction appeared to be mutually beneficially for both parties involved. Rap Genius would be able to have their most powerful links reside on pages with high page ranks and bloggers would be able to get their content out to a much wider audience.
The penalty was handed down from Google in December of 2013. Rap Genius was nowhere to be found on the top rankings with the exception of their Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia pages. However, there was no shortage of articles covering the penalty.
Rap Genius issued an apology and vowed to clean up their link building and SEO schemes. Ten days later, they returned to their spot atop the search engines at least for their name “Rap Genius”.
Currently, Rap Genius has undergone a rebranding and now goes by the name “Genius” and has recovered, if not fared better following the penalty after numerous websites began linking to them following the fiasco and subsequent events.
Questions to Keep in Mind:
While websites like Rap Genius have the ability to recovery from penalties, others may not be so lucky. Eschewing from black hat techniques is definitely one way but also keeping in mind some questions when performing SEO. Google released guidelines in May of 2011 for webmasters and SEOs alike to help guide others to build high-quality websites. Some of the questions on the guideline are:
* Would you trust the information presented in this article?
* Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
* Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
* Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
* Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
* Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
What Does This Imply?
In the beginning, SEOs optimized for search engines. Now, the focus is solely on optimizing for the human eyes. Blog posts or content that looks even remotely spammy should be avoided.
Also, articles littered with advertisements are almost certainly going to be seen as lower-quality sites. From a human point of view, ads are seen as distractive and can even be obtrusive.
Most importantly, websites and content should be trustworthy and relevant.
The Future of SEO:
After taking SEO’s past and present into consideration and using it as a barometer to predict its future, we can come up with one major assumption –
Content Will Remain As King:
The phrase has become trite in the SEO world and Ready Artwork has preached this numerous times but a site without great content isn’t much of a site at all.
Websites with blogs have 434% more indexed pages than their counterparts who lack them. Blogs are a great way to show search engines that your website or business is continually creating new content.
Good and relevant content will occupy the throne beyond the foreseeable future, so in many ways, the future is now.
Ranking Factors & the Social Media Impact:
Top search marketers were polled to find out which factors they feel are most important when it comes to search rankings.
Sitting near the top of the list is the number of Google +1’s. Since Google+ is a Google product, it makes sense that the number of +1’s would have a substantial influence on search engine rankings.
Perhaps the most salient effects Google+ has on search engine rankings is its personalization features. Articles that have been +1’d are more likely to be seen by followers and amongst their social circles as well, creating a ripple effect of influence.
Quantity of Facebook shares appear slightly farther down the list, illustrating the importance of the social media aspect of SEO. Assertions that Facebook shares directly affect SEO are just conjecture at best since there is no definitive proof. However, there is inherent value in its indirect impact in sending viewers to a website.
One study shows that pairing search with social media increases user brand awareness and improves click-through rates by an astounding 94%.
The Growing Importance of SEO:
The Search Engine Journal compiled a list of 24 surprising SEO statistics. A few of the most noteworthy were:
Considering that email and search are the two most common activities on the internet speaks to the importance of SEO.
These facts also affirm that organic SEO is worth its weight in gold and should not be ignored. Performing keyword research and making efforts to get those keywords ranked as high as possible should take precedence in your marketing campaign.
The Growing Mobile Sphere:
The number of mobile shoppers is expected to increase by 50% over the next 2 years. As mobile devices become more sophisticated, it’s important to realize that once reticent consumers are now rapidly becoming mobile consumers.
Optimizing for the mobile experience should also be an indispensable part of the SEO process. Ensuring that load speeds are optimal and all critical mobile functions are in working order should create a positive experience for the user who should be viewed as a potential lead or customer.
Don’t Delay, Get Started Today:
Now that the SEO rules have been firmly placed and the history of SEO has been fully understood, it’s time to put the wheels into motion. There is an endless galaxy of opportunity when it comes to SEO and it may be tempting to have an overly ambitious goal of wanting to get to the top of every page for every relevant search result.
The SEO process is ongoing and while the basic rules are likely to remain the same, it takes continuous research and diligence in the planning process to become successful.
The competitors out there are likely performing SEO for their website. Construct a sound search engine optimization strategy and beat them ethically and not with an unethical Machiavellian-esque approach.
If you would like to learn more about how SEO can help your business, Ready Artwork is awaiting your call and ready to help construct an SEO plan tailored specifically for your business. Contact us today by calling (626) 400-4511 or click below!