SEO 101: Where It’s Been, Where It Is, and Where It’s Headed Next

SEO 101: Where It’s Been, Where It Is, and Where It’s Headed Next

Coworkers Looking to the Future

Every great marketer knows the value of search engine optimization. It drives virtually every aspect of content creation and digital marketing, from the shortest product descriptions to the longest e-books. Using techniques like the incorporation of keywords and key phrases, backlinking, and strategic meta titles and descriptions, it’s possible to drive traffic to a site to gain leverage over the competition. The more optimized a site is, the better it will rank and the more receptive visitors will be, adding great value to what a business can offer online.

However, to truly make the most of SEO, it’s important to understand the background. The early days of the internet were highly influential in making content marketing what it is today — and can inform where it’s going tomorrow. This is what you need to know about the history of SEO and what you can expect in the days and years to come.

The Early Days of SEO

SEO dates back to the early days of the internet and the launch of what influenced modern search engines — and why wouldn’t it? Search engines, even in their earliest and most rudimentary forms, sorted results somehow, using data collected by web crawlers to categorize and index millions of sites around the web. From the moment the internet began its journey, website owners wanted their sites to get attention, and that eventually translated into what we now know as SEO.

Marketing experts believe that the birth of SEO in its earliest form debuted in 1991, with the start of the first websites available on what was then commonly called the World Wide Web. Search engines followed soon after, introducing the first bricks in the foundation of the challenging world of optimization. Original search engines were closer to a standard index, much like an old school phone book, but by the early to mid-90s, that started to change. With Excite in 1993 and Alta Vista and Yahoo! in 1994, the landscape of search began to evolve rapidly as the decade progressed. And nothing made a mark on the formation of the current state of the web like the launch of BackRub in 1996, which transformed into Google the following year. The undisputed leader of the web, Google’s presence has done more to influence SEO than any of its competitors combined — and then some.

The Wild West of Search

In the early days of search engines, there were few rules in place. Algorithms to generate results were very limited in scope and pulled primarily based on the content of a site itself so marketers began to see the value in keyword stuffing, or in using the same keywords over and over simply to improve the likelihood of showing up in rankings. This did work quite well for a time, but led to web users finding themselves on spammy pages that existed solely for the ad revenue rather than sites that added value and provided legitimate information. Quality (not SEO focused) content was often overshadowed and outranked, causing the real ‘meaty’ and informative webpages to be lost under mountains of keyword-stuffed refuse. Eventually, Google picked up on this decided to take action.

The Evolving State of Algorithms

In response to this trend, Google started to change its approach, creating algorithms with the intention of providing quality, relevant sites rather than generating results solely based on keyword frequency. This kicked off Google’s history of continually changing algorithms to deliver the best possible sites to web users. Some switches have been more notable than others, however; the infamous Panda update, which rolled out in 2011, changed SEO forever. Low quality and redundant content, SEO optimized content that is, was severely penalized in SERP rankings.Virtually overnight, millions of sites  plunged in the rankings, essentially ruining revenue streams for the countless companies that still relied on antiquated techniques. Considered one of the largest changes in search engine history, Google’s dramatic actions with Panda serve to demonstrate how serious the brand remains regarding preserving quality over quantity.

Numerous additional algorithm changes have followed, fine-tuning the results Google can provide to users. Penguin launched in 2012, taking Panda a step further by penalizing sites with inappropriate approaches to backlinking and ongoing use of keyword stuffing. In 2013, Hummingbird improved how Google processes search queries, while Pigeon in 2014 cracked down on an improper use of local SEO. Mobilegeddon, as 2015’s algorithm update was affectionately nicknamed, took issue with mobile search engine use, penalizing sites that aren’t responsive or do not exist in a mobile-friendly version. Possum in 2016 took local SEO a step further to improve results based on location services and geographical proximity to storefronts, while 2017’s Fred cracked down on sites that violate Google’s webmaster rules. Every year brings numerous new changes, both named and unnamed, further refining how businesses rank and what web users receive.

SEO Today

Today, SEO is absolutely critical. Utilizing best-practices is extremely important to businesses that wish to maintain any market share whatsoever. Failing to do so can be a true disadvantage, guaranteeing a loss in visibility and a lack of customers.

SEO is far more comprehensive than ever before, touching on a litany of areas, from social media posts to local strategies. Marketers are forced to adopt a multi-pronged approach, utilizing as many strategies as possible to build a strong website, hitting on the points Google has emphasized to maintain a competitive edge. These tactics include:

  • Strategic use of keywords and phrases
  • Effective, honest backlinking
  • Following guidelines for Meta titles, tags, and descriptions
  • Responsive web design or separate mobile and desktop-friendly sites
  • Proper social media protocol, including sharing text and visual content
  • High quality and unique content
  • Sites that offer a positive user experience
  • A focus on long-form content
  • Fast loading times
  • Local SEO when appropriate, including Google My Business

SEO Tomorrow

As Google has demonstrated with years of algorithm updates, SEO isn’t static. It’s an ever-moving target with new requirements and updates influencing how marketing teams approach the science behind search. With such a rich history of regular evolution, it’s highly unlikely that Google’s tactics will change.

There’s no way to know exactly what will happen tomorrow, next month, next year, or even next decade, and no one using the internet in 1991 could ever dream of how integral web use is to daily life today. However, experts have some guesses about what may be coming down the road. The use of artificial intelligence is only expected to grow, particularly as technology continues to improve. How spoken word affects content will likely continue to be a factor as well. As an increasing number of people speak to devices like Google Home, Alexa, and iPhone personal assistants, asking questions directly rather than entering keywords into a search engine, marketers need to be able to balance the difference between written content and the spoken word. Visual content has also seen a surge in popularity over the last several years, and this trend will likely also continue.

In spite of the mysteries on the horizon, no matter where the internet goes in the future, high-quality content will always be a factor. Writing clear, clean, cohesive, and creative content that adds value, captures reader attention, and provides the material necessary to properly rank is always going to be important. This has long been essential for success in SEO, and will almost certainly continue to apply in the future. Regardless of where things go down the road, staying up to date is important. Continuing to evaluate new trends, algorithm changes, and expert tips and tricks is essential to success in any field, and SEO is no exception. When you don’t stay up to date, you’ll surely fall behind. If you want to make sure you’re making the most of your SEO, the right partner can be integral to success. With help from RivalMind, you can rest easy knowing all of your efforts will always hit the mark. Contact us today to learn more about what we have to offer.

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