Since the start of the century SEO has been rewarding to content-rich web developers and punishing for weak content writers trying to game the system with shortcuts. Through this evolution came new terms in webmaster lexicography such as “white hat” and “black hat.” White hat SEO has come to reflect techniques of content writers who follow search engine guidelines, which black hat SEO has been the kiss of death for pranksters and spammers trying to get high search engine rankings with minimal content and maximum trickery.
Google learned over time, as it grew to become the top platform for advertisers, how to start weeding out the websites that sprew out useless content. By 2012 the search engine has indeed reduced black hat sites from showing up for lucrative keywords, but still has work to do in reducing links to useless content for the vast terrain of general keywords of marginal value.
In 1998 Google introduced Page Rank, named after one of its founders Larry Page, which set the tone for search engine optimization. The original goal of Page Rank was to evaluate link popularity of websites. Over time Page realized that quantity is not really what most people are searching for. They actually are trying to find quality.
2000 – 2003
The period from 2000 to 2003 marked a period of SEO history in which Page Rank began to have monthly updates as many web owners were distracted with Page Rank instead of building quality content as the focus became spamming keywords. In 2003 Google tried to resolve this issue with the “Florida Update” of Google’s search which caused shockwaves as many top ranked sites dissolved in the rankings.
2004 – 2005
The “Brandy Update” made SEO history in February 2004 to downgrade sites that tried to use too many synonyms for keywords instead of focusing on real content. Google considered this practice another form of spam, particularly for sites that seemed to have no meaning except to exploit keyword variations. The “Bourbon Update” in May 2005 was even more brutal to spammers who thought they could fool Google. This update was designed to remove sites with duplicate content and low quality reciprocal linking with irrelevant sites.
SEO history took another game-changing turn in June 2005 when Google unleashed “Personalized Results,” which was a new search method based on Google account user history so that search was different for each user based on their favorite sites. “Big Daddy” in December 2005 further downgraded sites linking to low quality or sites that still tried to overuse keywords.
2006 – 2008
Less movement in 2006 and lots of false information across the web but they did admit some change to the supplemental index and how filtered pages were treated. In 2007 with had Buffy (not the vampire slayer) which Matt Cutts stated as lots of small intricate changes. A month before this in May Google had made a big decision that would change the way we see our top 10 rankings forever and integrated traditional search results with News, Video, Images, Local, and other verticals, dramatically changing the layout as we once knew it. Google made changes to logo and style in 2008 and introduced ‘Suggest’, displaying suggested searches in a dropdown below the search box as lucky visitors typed their queries. This for me has always been a tad annoying especially on slower machines. I cant recount the amount of times ive had to show people how to switch this off. This function would eventually go on to power Google Instant.
2009 – 2010
In 2009 Google began to focus on rewarding big companies such as news authorities and popular brands. The “Vince” update in February helped raise rankings of big name brands, by presuming these entities already had established reputations and deserved higher search rankings. “Real Time Search” was Google’s update in December 2009 to give priority to fresh authoritative content from news organizations. Google then shifted its attention to helping high quality long tail sites devoted to specific niches with the “Mayday” update of May 2010.
2011 – 2012
SEO history took an interesting turn in February 2011 with Google Panda, which was an algorithmic change in their search results designed to reduce rankings for “low quality websites.” Demand Media, owner of eHow.com, was one of the web companies adversely affected by this shift, which is ironic since the company was a leading provider of video content for YouTube, owned by Google. Several other sites that were called “content farms,” which paid writers to create SEO-oriented articles built on keywords, saw sudden drops in their search rankings, which affected revenue. Instead of relying on algorithms to rate content, Google used human testers to weed out low content quality.
In April 2012 Google issued its Penguin update to further improve quality for search results. Since 2009 Page Rank has lost importance in the Google measuring system as the goal continues to move toward quality instead of just quantity of links. Page titles with relevant keywords supported by relevant content and quality inbound links are seeing improved ranking. Lots of sites with spammy links are being penalised and knocked off their perch. Sites that have over optimised and stuffed keywords in pages are being slapped. SEO consultants and companies have questions to answer and many have gone out of business due to this update. This is one of the biggest updates in a while where Google in no small terms has said ‘Play By The Rules’.
The future for SEO
If SEO history is an indication of the direction SEO is going, Google will likely continue improving its search results with content-rich sites as the thin content sites move toward obscurity, even for keywords that only pay pennies. Sites that do not provide useful information will likely disappear from high rankings except possibly for extremely narrow niches where competition is limited. Webmasters who focus too much on SEO techniques and not enough on actual content will likely pay a huge price as Google continues to shift its algorithms to reduce unimportant sites that waste people’s time. If Google+ continues to take off this is likely to hold further weight as this platform evolves. The key for all webmasters will is to focus on useful content for viewers, don’t duplicate pages, stick to SEO guidelines and think of quality and not quantity in backlinks.
There may even be a new platform or technology that eventually makes SEO completely obsolete, but it will take a genius to outdo Google. The reason surfers use search engines in the first place is to quickly find what they are looking for. Maybe facebook will introduce a rival search engines that integrates their results? Surfers are slowed down by sites that don’t offer any relevant product or information. People these days want things faster and more accurate, we have’nt got the patience we used to have when we ‘asked Jeeves’. Unfortunately, Google is not so much an index of products (like Amazon) or information (like Wikipedia) as it is an index of words provided by website owners. What Google clearly wants to be, however, is an index of cyberspace, which is what surfers want as well. But it may take real human reviewers instead of just algorithms to reach that goal.
What are your thoughts on the future of SEO?