SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has come a long way since people first began to realize how search impacted purchase decisions, decision-making processes and just simply information gathering. Let’s have a look at the history of SEO.
Search Engine optimization consists in the structuring of a web page (on page SEO) so that the algorithm can understand, and index it as a relevant source of information or solution to your problem, as well as getting others to link to the site, which tells the search engine your content / service / product has been recommended (off page SEO).
It’s the objective of any search engine is to gather all the data available on the web and structure it to make it accessible to you when you search for it. Some are specialized in niches or particular formats, some try to gather just every type of content available.
Need more explanations? Have short look at the explanation of SEO by Common Craft (Search Engine Land) in it’s excellent 3 minute video. But let’s have a look at how SEO evolved over the years.
The evolution of SEO
HubSpot is one of my favorite sources of information when it comes to online marketing. If you ask me, there is no other online marketing company which has better content to offer for their different buyer persona than the software company. I stumbled upon their slideshare presentation about the history of SEO, summing up everything which happened in the 20 years in the discipline of “getting found.”
1994: The first web crawler indexes web pages and ranks them, spitting out a list of 25 pages.
1998: Google launches the PageRank, which indicates the link structure of a given website i.e. link quality and quantity pointing towards this site. For a long time it was the ultimate SEO reference but by now it’s far from being an accurate quality metric.
By the year 2000, with the internet going more and more accessible, SEO starts becoming a really big deal. Search Engine Watch is one of the first organized forums of discussion for that field of expertise and marketers start to realize the influence of a good rank on certain keywords online.
2000: As a result, Google launches Adwords, a performance-based model for business to appear on top of the results page. This product made the Californians kings of the advertising business on the web, on which mostly intrusive ad banners had been in use until then.
2002: Where there’s a demand, there’s money to be made. People (SearchKing) began selling links to improve the PageRank of a website, recognizing the critical issue it represented for businesses. Of course, Google did not like it, because of the “unnatural process” and penalized SearchKing. Google still hunts links sellers today. Other methods to manipulate the algorithm like keyword stuffing are penalized too.
2005: Google implements the nofollow attribute for links to fight spam, mostly via blog comments. Indeed, people quickly realized that an efficient way to get more inbound links pointing towards a site was just simply to place the links in comments. If you’re a blogger you’re familiar with those annoying nonsense contributions to your articles… In 2008, Google announced that these nofollow links would no longer pass on link juice to the site it’s pointing to.
Also, Analytics is launched, allowing webmasters to access a whole lot of data, offering insights on how visitors arrived to your website, how much time they spent on it, how many pages they visited etc.
2010: Social shares becomes a major ranking factor. They consider that the more a link is shared, the more visitors enjoyed it and recommend it, meaning that it represents quality content.
2011-2013: In just 2 years, major updates changed the rules of the game. First, Panda aimed at preventing sites with low quality content to acquire good rankings. The quantity of links also became less important in the algorithm with Penguin. These two updates resurrected Content Marketing and publishing high quality content became key! The uncontested leader in search engines also allowed webmasters to disavow links, in order to let them clean up the link structure established over the years.
This recent evolution leads many people to state that SEO is merging with content marketing. I don’t want to debate whether that’s true or not in this post, but I’ll follow-up on this thought soon.
The rules may be changing but the game is the same: getting found by potential customers over search. Google has been improving the search algorithm for over a decade to be better with every single update – recently Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird. Inbound Marketing slowly establishes itself as the showcase online marketing strategy. Where is SEO headed in the future? Well, that’s a topic for another post