Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is imperative for corporates to gain greater visibility and searchability. Regardless of how large or small your business is, SEO is an essential tool for drawing visitors to your website.
Ranking high on organic search results will ultimately enhance user engagement and conversion. Moreover, high-quality SEO means an incredible user experience which is the key to building credibility and trust.
SEO has changed drastically ever since its inception in the mid-1990s. Google has established itself as an authority figure in the area of Search Engine Optimization.
Hence, the marketing efforts of companies are concentrated on how to rank on the first page of Google through SEO practices.
Let’s understand how SEO evolved since the early 90s to what it is today:
1. A Brief History of SEO
Search Engine Optimization has been a highly competitive landscape since the advent of the internet. On-page activities were standard SEO practices during initial days.
Marketers used crawler-based listings such as Yahoo, Lycos, Infoseek, Excite, Ask Jeeves, and AltaVista along with human-powered directories. They ensured that high-quality content had external links, internal links, and accurate HTML tags.
1994 – 2000: Where it Began
In that era, page ranking was directly proportional to the number of keywords. A plethora of companies began sprouting in the 90s.
For instance, Yahoo started as an internet bookmark list in 1994. Subsequently, Lycos, Excite, and AltaVista were launched.
The year 1996 witnessed the emergence of Backrub (later became Google) which ranked websites on the basis of popularity and link relevancy.
Google.com was registered the subsequent year. On the other hand, paid search and sponsored links appeared in the year 1998 with Goto.com.
The Year 2000 and Beyond: The Age of Google
Before Google became the most popular search engine, its biggest competitor was Yahoo. In the year 2000, Yahoo forged a deal with Google according to which their organic search results would be powered by the latter rather than Inktomi.
This deal proved to be a turning point in the history of Search Engine Optimization.
Google’s PageRank algorithms and web crawlers brought radical changes in SEO practices.
Now both off-page and on-page elements such as anchor text, quality, and quantity of external links determined the rank of a website.
Such an algorithm led to the birth of an entire subdomain called ‘link building’.
2. Black Hat SEO Practices: The Bygones
Because of how Google’s algorithms worked before, many SEO practitioners manipulated backlinks and employed devious link building techniques including purchasing backlinks and link directories.
The mid-2000s marked an infamous time period when spammy content flourished. Even though technically, it wasn’t wrong, such tactics discouraged meaningful quality content.
In fact, Google AdSense had a major role in monetizing stolen or poor content that specifically targeted Google AdWords. This was a mistake that Google had to rectify later.
Let’s take a look at how SEO evolved during the last decade:
2.1 Exploitation of Link Building Tactic
In the early 2000s, SEO practitioners raced against time to acquire links without caring about the authenticity of the website.
As a result, it led to unsolicited link exchange because of Google’s algorithms. Over the years, Google introduced several updates into its algorithms to discourage this technique as a sole way of ranking high on search results.
According to one such update in 2012, Google now de-lists, bans, and penalizes websites that engage in such dubious link building strategies. Such tactics are now listed under “black hat SEO practices”.
Today, the best way to acquire backlinks from authority websites is through guest post writing and natural link attraction.
Moreover, backlinks from high DA websites should be relevant, failing which your website can get de-indexed or banned.
2.2 Departure of Keyword Stuffing
Algorithms in the early 90s and 2000s allowed websites containing greater numbers of keywords to be indexed by the search engine. This led to another malpractice called ‘keyword stuffing’.
In those days, page rank was determined by the number of keywords inserted into the content, website’s code, as well as invisible text.
Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 essentially eliminated the practice of keyword stuffing. The semantic search algorithm marked the end of keyword optimization.
Instead of mapping out keywords, the latest algorithm deciphers the intent and context behind the query.
It is important to note that keyword research still holds significance but keyword-centric optimization will no longer work for you.
3. Content Above All
Search Engine Optimization has come full circle when it comes to the quality of content. When SEO first arrived, the most important criteria to rank on various search engines was to create high-quality content.
After a decade of misuse of Google’s algorithms, the quality of content has resurfaced as the benchmark of SEO.
This is why Google’s latest updates are all aimed at empowering content as much as possible. Technological advancements have transformed the internet into a much better space.
Google’s algorithms prefer quality over quantity which completely changed the game of SEO. Therefore, real winners are those who focus on polishing their craft.
Your content should be valuable, informative, unique, and useful for the target readers. This will increase the frequency of your website appearing in search results.
Apart from that, spelling errors, grammatical errors, and duplicate content can prove to be detrimental for your website’s ranking.
In order to land on the first page of Google, you should ensure that your website has no plagiarized content, has fewer ads, and contains in-depth articles.
4. Role of Mobile Optimization
The year 2010 marked the beginning of Google’s updates that were driven by enhanced user experience.
Mobile search queries officially exceeded the number of queries requested through desktops in 2015. The soaring popularity of smartphones is credited for this trend.
For this reason, Google insists on the significance of optimizing your website to fit the resolution of mobile devices.
For improving your website’s ranking, you can conduct a mobile-friendly test offered by Google Search Console. All you have to do is paste the link of your domain and determine the score.
5. The Speed Test Factor
The speed of websites became a crucial search ranking factor in 2010.
If you are wondering why your website is not appearing in top search results despite ticking off all the other factors on the checklist, page speed might be the issue.
Several factors such as image compression, page file size, and servers regulate the page speed.
If a page takes too long to load, the bounce rate is going to increase. This means that visitors will leave your website and won’t wait for the content to load since they have plenty of alternatives.
This is why Google’s algorithms check site speed. Slower page speed will harm your website’s indexation and thus your SEO efforts.
6. Google’s Knowledge Graph
SEO practitioners look beyond just Pay Per Click (PPC) and AdWords to leverage the full potential of Google.
The primary aim of Google is to produce quick and accurate results for users’ search queries which is why it has continuously refined its algorithms. In fact, Google’s mission statement stresses this fact.
Google’s knowledge graph puts together places, people, and facts in a systematic manner. The purpose is to offer relevant, accurate, and interconnected search results for users.
Knowledge graph analyzes the existing content, the intent behind keywords, and search frequency to present interrelated information.
Therefore, semantic-search information is aimed at fine-tuning search results for visitors. For instance, when you type “popular science fiction movies”, Google will display a picture carousel in its search results.
This has been made possible with the help of the knowledge graph. Therefore, leveraging the knowledge graph is important for SEO specialists.
The key is that users should be able to find your website easily and quickly! Hence, knowledge graph optimization, keyword intent, calls-to-action, positioning, buttons, layout, and color are crucial for enhancing user experience.
7. Future of SEO: Integration of AI
Google is anticipated to become more human-friendly in the future, thanks to the integration of artificial intelligence.
Voice search will become pivotal in Search Engine Optimization owing to the advent of smart home speakers like Alexa and voice search assistants like Cortana, Google Now, and Siri.
In addition, intuitive SEO will render black hat techniques obsolete. AI-powered search engines will employ stringent algorithms to analyze the quality and relevance of backlinks.
Therefore, high DA websites with mediocre content will not be able to outsmart artificial intelligence in the near future.
The internet is a constantly evolving landscape. Hence, the evolution of Search Engine Optimization will not end here. Judging by history, Google’s algorithms have been quite unpredictable.
However, all the updates and changes have been made in a positive direction which is expected to prevail going forward as well.
In future, best SEO practices will revolve around great user experience, quality content, and authentic links.
It will be about making the websites more user-personalized, knowledge-tending, and seamless across multiple platforms and devices.
For this reason, SEO professionals must continuously update themselves on the algorithm changes introduced by Google.