The Evolution of Google SEO


People often assume that search engine optimization, or SEO, is a fairly recent development. In the history of the world, it certainly is. In the history of the Internet, however, it’s hardly new to the scene. In fact, people have been engaging in SEO of one form or another since the earliest days of the Internet. After all, sites that can be found easily on the major search engines enjoy the most success. SEO is all about understanding how search engines rank websites and using that knowledge to increase a site’s ranking. It may sound easy, but it’s definitely not.

The Early Days of SEO

Although SEO is most closely associated with Google, it’s been around since before the search engine giant made its debut. Most people agree that Yahoo was the first successful search engine. In those days, Yahoo’s goal was fairly straightforward: organize the steadily growing number of websites to make the Internet more accessible. To make that happen, Yahoo adopted a system that was reminiscent of a business directory. Instead of using bots to crawl the Internet, Yahoo relied on user submissions. The earliest SEO techniques involved spamming Yahoo with site submissions in order to get a site listed near the top of its respective category.

Google Changes the Game

For its time, Yahoo was a revelation. It opened up the Internet and helped people find what they needed. Without it, the Internet may have fizzled out before it really got started. However, it couldn’t last. The sheer volume of new sites quickly rendered Yahoo’s system obsolete. Google’s use of complex algorithms changed the game, but it was the company’s introduction of the PageRank toolbar feature that truly ushered in the modern era of search engine optimization. At a glance, fledgling SEOs could see how their sites ranked, and they could see how various changes affected those rankings.

Google: All About Updates

One thing’s for sure: Google has never been a company that rests on its laurels. After witnessing the spectacular crash and burn of Yahoo as a search engine authority, Google recognized that ongoing updates were essential. Without constantly updating its algorithms, there would be no way for the search engine giant to deliver effective, consistent results to users. The search engine’s first update occurred in September 2002, but Boston, the first named update, was unveiled in February 2003. Initially, Google planned to make monthly updates. That plan quickly became untenable, however, and the company instead opted to roll out updates as needed. This change quickly put SEOs on their toes.

Google SEO Updates Make a Splash in 2003

2003 was the first year in which Google issued named updates. Several of them were rolled out throughout the year, and they had many different effects. Some of the updates dealt with link quality issues while others produced more incremental changes. The first major update to make a huge splash was the Florida update, which launched in November. Seemingly overnight, thousands of sites lost their rankings. SEOs who thought they knew what to do quickly found themselves in unfamiliar territory. The update primarily targeted black-hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing. It was a sign of things to come.

Search Engine Updates Affect SEO

Between 2004 and 2005, Google made several key updates that didn’t necessarily target SEO practices but still had a major impact on how sites would be optimized in the future. In 2004, the Austin update zeroed in on meta stuffing and invisible text, which were black-hat techniques that continued to draw Google’s ire. In 2005, Google started allowing website owners to submit XML sitemaps, which put more control in their hands. October 2005 saw the debut of Google Maps, which was also known as Google Local.

2006 was a relatively quiet year for Google SEO. The big news in 2007 was the launch of Universal Search, which included categories for video, images, news and much more. SEOs had more to work with than ever, but the game was becoming more complicated by the day. Google Suggest launched in August 2008, and real-time search debuted in December 2009. Both updates had long-reaching ramifications for SEO. In particular, they forced SEOs to take fresh, unique content more seriously. The days of copying and pasting regurgitated content were rapidly fading.

2010: Setting the Stage for Panda

SEOs started to feel that strange things were underfoot for Google SEO in 2010. A series of updates seemed to be leading up to something, but what could it be? No one was certain. The May Day update, which happened in May, had a drastic effect on long-tail searches. Sites that were stuffed with long-tail keywords were seriously impacted. The Caffeine update, which went down in June, rapidly increased the speed at which Google indexed the Internet. The debut of Instant Previews in November made it more important than ever to create attractive, appealing landing pages. In December, Google confirmed that it was now incorporating social signals from social media websites in its algorithms. SEOs quickly shifted gears to start putting more emphasis on social media marketing.

Panda Crushes Weak Content

Without a doubt, one of the most earth-shattering updates that was ever laid down by Google happened on February 23, 2011, which was the day that the Panda update initially debuted. Several subsequent incarnations of the update would continue over the next year, but the first one got the most attention. Panda’s primary goal was to crush the so-called content farms that were inundating the Internet with poorly written, low-quality content. Now more than ever, a site’s content had to be up to date and high in quality in order to have a prominent ranking. SEOs shifted gears yet again and started hiring writers to create compelling, relevant, well-written content.

Penguin Follows Panda

By the end of 2011, several Panda updates had rolled out and wreaked havoc on the Internet. It is believed that up to 12 percent of all sites were impacted. The Freshness Update, which happened on November 3, put an even stronger emphasis on fresh, unique content. Several batches of updates started rolling out in 2012, and they were often released as large packs. On April 24, 2012, however, another massive update upended the world of SEO. The Penguin update sought to penalize sites that were overly optimized. It was also known as the webspam update because it zeroed in on link farming, keyword stuffing and other shady practices. If Panda was all about on-site optimization, Penguin primarily dealt with off-site optimization and levied huge penalties against sites that engaged in sketchy backlinking activities and other practices.

Most Recent Google SEO Updates

The dust hasn’t exactly settled when it comes to Google SEO updates. In fact, it never really will. If Google’s history is any indication, the company will continue to unleash all sorts of mayhem on hard-working SEOs. At the end of September 2012, for instance, the Exact-Match Domain update took a toll on sites that ranked well for having exact-match domain names. As far as predicting what Google’s next move will be, the only way to get a feel for that is by staying on top of emerging SEO news. Google’s official blog is a good place to start, but what will happen next is anyone’s guess.

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