Digital Marketing & SEO has changed from what it used to be few years back. So in this video/blogpost I will try to explain how has SEO changed over the years.
Being into the SEO Industry for more than a decade, spending the best part of my life helping businesses grow using Search Engine Optimization techniques, I have seen how the world of SEO has evolved over the years.
What is SEO?
For everyone who has no idea about what Search Engine Optimization is, let me explain that to you in brief. Search Engine Optimization is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
How does Search Engine work?
Once the user inserts their query in the search box of a search engine, the crawlers (every search engines have their own crawlers) looks into its database for relevant content and shows in just a few seconds in the presentable format.
SEO professionals study the search engine algorithm doing constant trial and error, and then they apply these factors to a website so that it ranks higher for the targeted keywords.
The term ‘SEO’ was way too simple in the year 2007, when I started my career in SEO!
You research the keywords, stuff the keywords in your website, get a number of backlinks and boom…. You get the rankings! More you stuff the keywords and get backlinks, easily you get the rankings.
To understand how has SEO changed over the year, let’s start from the start!
Google introduced its Universal Search Page which was also known as Google 2.0. This new Google Search Page has News, Video, Images, Local listing, and other verticals, clubbed together in a single page. This was a dramatic change in Google’s Search Result Page. Before that Google had a simple search result page with only text listing and different tabs for other types of listings
There wasn’t much up-gradation from Google except for the introduction of ‘Google Suggest’ where Google started showing search suggestions as you type your query. Webmasters had to tweak their keywords according to the ones suggested by Google Suggest.
February was the time when Google, Microsoft and Yahoo jointly announced support for the Canonical Tag to resolve duplicate content. All webmasters had to do was, integrate Canonical URL tag in duplicate page mentioned original content source URL.
In the same month, Google also rolled out Vince update that everyone speculated of giving big brands a major push in the search results.
In August, Google released a preview of a massive infrastructure change, designed to speed crawling and index, and integrate indexation and ranking in nearly real-time.
At the End of year, the real-time search was introduced by Google where search result showed real-time feed in some Search Result Pages. Google integrated Twitter feeds, Google News, newly indexed content, and a number of other sources.
Google Place was officially introduced which was closely tied with local search results and added a number of features, including new local advertising options.
In the month of May Google rolled out MayDay Update, this is an algorithmic change in Google, looking for higher quality sites to surface for long tail queries.
In the latter part of 2010, there came a new big ranking factor – social signals. This was a great move by Google. Apart from On-page optimization and Backlinks, Google also added social signals as a ranking factor. This means, if you have a good number of mentions, likes and shares on social media websites then Google will believe that users love you.
And that will boost your rankings as well!
In early 2011 there arrived a Panda!
The big Panda update is also known as ‘Farmer update’. Google started pulling the strings on the website’s that had duplicate/thin content. The sole purpose here was to improve the ranking of the website that had good content. Many websites got the burn, with millions of were taken aback by this sudden change. This was an SEO game changer!
Here is one interesting fact about it. This update was named after Navneet Panda, an Indian who worked very hard at Google to make this algorithm.
In mid-2011, Panda 2.0 strikes again with additional factors related to duplicate content and then the series of Panda update kept on rolling.
Google dropped another bomb on SEO professionals around October, by encrypting keywords data in Analytics tools. Google completely stopped showing from which keywords webmasters got traffic. Webmasters were heavily dependent on keywords data for optimizing and analyzing. No one knew what keyword worked the best to bring conversions. Soon Google started showing rough data in Google Webmaster tool about Search Queries but the data wasn’t much reliable.
Even November didn’t spare any webmasters; Google added the freshness factor into the search algorithm that will now show fresh content higher in ranking for a specific set of keywords. Google Search uses a freshness algorithm, designed to give the most up-to-date results.
For example, If I search for India vs Pakistan cricket match, I want information about an on-going match, and not of 1900. This problem was solved with this algorithmic update.
The year 2011 was the most saddening year for all the SEO professionals.
At the start of 2012, Google made an algorithmic change where they penalised websites that were showing big advertisement above the fold. It was called “Top Heavy” update. The reason for this update was, lots of webmasters’ prime moto was to show ads to earn money and less on showing quality content. With this update, the situation started to change. Everyone started focusing on providing quality content.
In February, Venice update was introduced. This local update appeared to be more aggressively localize organic results and more tightly integrate local search data.
In April, Penguin made its debut. It was another major update was in the search industry to penalize over optimized websites. With this algorithm, Google penalized the websites who have been over-optimized by stuffing keywords, getting manipulated backlinks (through link exchange or buying backlinks), getting a lower quality of backlinks, etc.
Before Google launched this update, they had started sending Unnatural Link Warning via Google Webmaster Tool to many, not to most though. SEO’s who were proactive took necessary precautions, but who didn’t get the warning or took it light got kicked. Websites who were ranking on page 1 before were not even in the top 100 now. It was that big update!
In the middle of the year, Google also started penalizing websites that were making repeat copyright violations, probably via DMCA takedown requests.
In September, Google announced a change in the way it was handling exact-match domains (EMDs). This led to a large-scale devaluation of the keyword in domain name. Keyword in Domain Name was one of the important factors in the search algorithm. With this algorithm, they reduced the importance of keywords in the domain name as a ranking factor.
In December, Google also introduced ‘Knowledge Graph’. The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about and you get the information on the search result page itself. No need to click on the listing and find the information.
Another big year got completed!
In these 2 years – 2011 & 2012, a lot of websites got hit. Traditional SEO was out of the market and it’s the time for Strategic SEO. While many SEO companies or companies with SEO departments were closed down.
In 2013, compared to the previous 2 years, Small updates of Panda & Penguin kept on rolling with not many shakes.
In May, Penguin 2.0 was rolled out which targeted page level unlike Penguin 1.0 which was targeted at the domain level
In June, Google took on some niche industries, like Payday loan and porn. Which were highly searched as well as manipulated in the US!
July was a bit breathtaking as Google gave an opportunity to the websites that were wrongly hit in previous Panda updates. Many websites recovered their rankings.
In August, a new bird started flying – Hummingbird. This update was a combination of a infrastructure as well as an algorithm. It helped in sorting billions of web pages according to their relevance and had a capacity to understand the search query better and user intent. This helped users to get the most relevant results in seconds. Result pages were loading really very quickly.
In 2014, Panda 4.0 was rolled out in the middle of the year that had a major impact on rankings.
In July, Google shook the local SEO world with an update that dramatically altered local results.
In August, Google announced that they would be giving preference to secure sites and that adding encryption would provide a “lightweight” rankings boost. Also in the same month, Google removed Authorship from search results.
Penguin 3.0 was rolled out in October which wasn’t a traumatic experience.
In February, like a rare move, Google pre-announced an algorithm update, telling us that mobile rankings would differ for mobile-friendly sites starting on April 21st. As more people were using mobile devices to access the internet and search, Google started giving a push to mobile-friendly websites. And that’s the time mobile-friendliness became a ranking factor. On April 21st, Google introduced pre-announced Mobile Update that webmasters called “Mobilegeddon”.
And then finally in October, the announcements came from Google about another big update – RankBrain. Google confirmed that machine learning had been a part of their algorithm for months. Rank Brain being the most important factor still impacting search results.
It is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps in processing search results based on user’s searches and behaviour data.
Rank Brain is the 3rd most important factor in Google’s algorithm, following Backlinks & Content.
RankBrain is designed to help better interpret search queries and effectively translate them to find the best pages for the searcher.
Google also considers other signals while showing the results, like the exact or synonyms words on a page, the links pointing at a page, whether a page is on a secure server and so on. They can also be tied to a user, such as where a searcher is located or their search and browsing history.
In February, Google came up with AdWords Shake-up which removed right-column paid ads entirely from search pages and rolling out 4-ads top blocks on many commercial searches. This update brought the 1st organic ranking website to show at 5th position as first four were taken up by paid ads.
Possum that came in September did a major shake-up in local pack results, and not to the entire search page results. The physical location of the searcher is taken into high consideration. The business details that show on the right sidebar is also given by Possum.
In September, Penguin 4.0 was introduced- a remedy to Negative SEO that came into existence since the Penguin algorithm rolled out. As bad/low quality of backlinks was negatively impacting the rankings, many webmasters started building bad links for competitors. So their rankings get affected and that’s when they would be pushed up.
As a remedy, Google rolled out Penguin 4.0 which now devalues bad links instead of a negatively impacting website.
2017 was pretty silent. Nothing major came to our way!
In March, Google announced that the mobile-first index was finally “rolling out”. Google now gives primary importance to mobile version than the desktop version. I have made a video on this early but in case if you haven’t seen that, just have a look.
In July, Google rolled out the mobile page speed update, making page speed a ranking factor for mobile results. Google claimed that this will only affect the slowest mobile sites.
Alright! So that is how SEO has changed over the year.
I would like to showcase all the major ranking factors that I believe are of high importance in the Google Algorithm. This isn’t a comprehensive list, as there are hundreds of factors in Google’s algorithm.
- Keywords Integration (on the web page)
- Generate Quality of Backlinks
- Increasing Social Signals
- Write Quality Content
- Have Fresh Content on Website (on regular basis)
- Make your website Secure (with SSL)
- Have a Responsive Website (AMP)
- Focus on User Experience (So their behavioural data will help you)
- Decrease Loading Time of Web Page
Overall, in essence, Google is very clear; if their user loves your website they will push you high in rankings. But if the user doesn’t like your website then you will be kicked out.
If you want to rank high for the longer period of time then focus on user experience. If users are happy, you’ve won half the battle.