The Evolution of SEO – Then and Now

How has Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) changed over the years? Where might things go from here? What more could there be to know about SEO as long as you have your keywords in place, a few good links and a mobile optimised website? Let’s dig deeper into the complexities of SEO and what you can really achieve when it’s done right. 

SEO is scientific and looks at the psychology of consumers. It requires creativity, design and imagination to achieve the desired results. Some people who know about SEO today may not realise how far-reaching it actually is. The only way to appreciate the full scope of SEO is to understand how far this field has come and why search has developed in the way it has. This is why we have decided to share our look-back over the evolution of SEO.

A Look at the Past ?

SEO has certainly evolved over time thanks to Google cracking down on spam techniques, changes in SERPS, the rise of mobile technology and many other factors. SEO dates back to the mid-1990s when only virtual libraries like Archie, VLib, Veronica and Jughead existed. These virtual libraries were indices of web servers with little to no ability to search content. In 1994, things began to change when Yahoo was launched as the first popular web directory. Yahoo provided students with valuable links. Webmasters had to submit pages for indexing manually and WebCrawler was the first crawler to index pages. 

In 1995 DaveN entered the internet industry. DaveN was a Dave Naylor’s forum handle on WebmasterWorld, where he conversed with other pioneers of the digital world. Search engines operated using what webmasters called an OPIC (On-Page Importance Criteria) score. The OPIC score involved using several keywords, the type of practice we would call spam today. DaveN’s black hat SEO discoveries happened around this time. At this stage, SEO was not an official term. DaveN revealed that Alta Vista (the biggest search engine) played a crucial role in the simple Title Tag. You were guaranteed the first position in their rankings if you added a secondary title tag with repeated keywords. This is how the era of SEO began. 

A Look at the Past​

Pre-Google era

Google’s predecessor, Backrub, was launched by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in the 1990s. This invention relied on inbound link relevancy and popularity. Webmasters began going over the top with spammy backlinks and keyword stuffing. Search engines tried to create algorithms to overcome these problems. However, new practices that sought loopholes were moving too fast for them to fix. 

Establishment of SEO

The term SEO crawled into existence in 1997. Another significant thing that set the stage that same year was the registration of Google.com as a domain. In 1998, Google officially launched and stirred the biggest revolution seen in the digital world. Google offered better search results thanks to PageRank, and webmaster began to rely on Google before other search engines. PageRank allowed Google to rank results based on quality instead of OPIC factors. 

Establishment of SEO

The Google Dance

In the early days of SEO, the Google Dance was an important topic. During this time, Google’s results would go into flux for around five days before Google reorganised its rankings based on what had happened in the Last Dance. If Google ranked your website number one, it would remain there until the next Dance around a month later. The tricky part was predicting when the next Dance would be and what would affect it. However, Inktomi became a way to beat Google Dance. Inktomi was a search technology that had quick updates when using PPC. This allowed you to see which tactics were working. Inktomi’s on-page algorithm almost cloned Google’s, meaning that you could quickly identify the necessary actions to take in order to rank highly on Google. At this time, the content was becoming less user friendly and those with the best spamming techniques were muddying search results. Google realised that they had to change something. 

The First Big Update – Florida

In 2003, Google introduced the first catastrophic update, targeting highly commercial sites. Google named the update Florida and the exact algorithm for it is still unknown. However, experts called it an SEO filter that picked up keywords likely to be spammed and put those websites through the filter. Florida resulted in high shake-ups in the search results. 

The First Big Update – Florida

The Attempt to Fight Comment Spam – Nofollow

Another problem in this era was the comment spam and in 2005, Google established the rel=“nofollow” attribute to tackle the issue. Nofollow allowed Google to identify the links to discount for abusing public areas online. In the same year, Google also introduced personalised search. Although the personalised search was an excellent update, it did not affect businesses in the search rankings. However, it changed the landscape of search engine usability. You could receive different results from the person next to you based on your search history. In 2008, Google took personalised search a step further by introducing Google suggest. This drew on user’s previous queries to offer you popular search queries in a dropdown. 

The Caffeine Update in 2010

The caffeine update allowed Google to offer users far fresher results than ever before. Caffeine involved a new indexing system that looked at a website’s new category. If you recently updated your content, the new content was indexed more quickly. This rewarded websites with new stories, but it had a minor direct impact on rankings. 

From 2010, Google began rolling out a new major algorithm each year and the ability to rank websites started becoming more sophisticated. The complexity of ranking websites drew a distinct line between Google and other search engines that came before. The landscape of SEO moved away from multiple search engines and focused on Google. Optimisation came alive in the early 2010s. However, the gap narrowed between what Goggle’s algorithm considered high-quality and content that users saw as high-quality. Localisation also got a boost, and we began to see zero-click searches. 

Panda and Penguin

In 2011 and 2012, Google rolled out two powerful algorithms; Panda and Penguin. These updates had a significant impact on SEO that is felt to this day. In 2011, Google discovered that its search results were facing scrutiny due to websites that produced high volumes of low-quality content. Google’s SERPs were also full of websites with auto-generated or unoriginal content. These websites made tons of advertising revenue. However, these websites saw all that traffic vanish after Google rolled out Panda in 2011. In the coming years Google continued to update Panda to eliminate low-quality content and then rolled out Penguin in 2012, which targeted link schemes and keyword stuffing. 

Panda and Penguin

Mobile era

Although mobiles became ‘a thing’ in 2005, it was not until 2015 when mobile searches overtook desktop searches. This was also the year that Google launched the mobile-friendly algorithm update, which gave users the most relevant and timely results, regardless of whether it was on mobile-friendly web pages or in a mobile app. Google then introduced the Accelerated Mobile Pages in 2016 to speed up pages. In 2017, Google announced that page speed would be a ranking factor for mobile searches and would devalue pages with intrusive pop-ups. Mobile-first indexing was enabled for all new websites in 2019. 

Machine Learning and Intelligent Search

In 2017, Goggle CEO Sundar Pichai declared Google a machine learning-first company. Currently, Google search is designed to inform and assist instead of giving users a list of links. This is why you may notice that Google has built machine learning into all its products, including Gmail, Ads and Google Assistant. We have already started seeing the impact of machine learning with Google RankBrain. This update began as a tool to interpret searches that Google has never seen before, but Google has updated it to run on every search. Machine learning has a promising future because we can see voice searches increasing, visual search becoming better, and users increasingly adopting chatbots and utilising personal assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. 

Machine Learning and Intelligent Search

SEO now

SEO today is about maximising the effectiveness of organic content to drive traffic and demand. However, its work has expanded and so has the workload. SEO today is more about the evolution of search, especially since it can understand consumer intent. The work of SEO is a significant undertaking, considering that search marketers use at least four different tools to execute their SEO strategy. This work has not gone unrewarded however, as SEO has reactivated business functions and businesses can now sell across the globe with ease. With our SEO strategies, our team at Marketing Sweet can help you optimise content to draw more traffic and potential clients to your website and displace competitors pre-emptively. 

The Full Scope

Google makes updates to its algorithm regularly. These updates aim to create a better search experience for users with more relevant and trustworthy search results. The updates also focus on improving how Google tracks content. 

Search engines and SEO have come a long way since the 1990s. SEO’s history is full of exciting discoveries, including regular tests and updates, the birth of new search engines, and the emergence of SEO tools and experts. With search engines and SEO evolving every day, one thing is clear; SEO will remain crucial.

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