The use of search engines has revolutionized the way people find information and interact with brands online. From the earliest days of AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, and Dogpile, to the current Google-dominated landscape, it's become increasingly the case that if your business doesn't rank highly on a search engine results page, it basically doesn't exist.
As a result, a new business emerged in the early 1990s: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. SEO is the process of optimizing your business's website to appear at or as near to the top of search results as possible. In the beginning, companies could try to perform SEO themselves, but as the Internet has become larger and search engines become smarter, it's now more necessary to hire a dedicated SEO agency to handle your company's online presence.
As the Internet continues to mature, SEO best practices are evolving. What worked to catapult brands to the top of Google search results just a few years ago will barely get them on page two today - and a lot of the changes have had to do with the quality of the user's experience.
At Click Here Digital, we've been rolling with the changes brought by Google and other search giants since the earliest days of the Internet. In this article, we'll cover some of the biggest changes we've seen in the SEO space in the past ten years or so.
In the mid-2000s, SEO mostly consisted of throwing as much content as possible, with as many keywords as possible, online in order to be noticed by Google's crawlers and indexed. As a result, many of the top sites on search engine results were spammy, badly written, stuffed with poor keywords, and sometimes pure copy-and-paste of other content.
This fire hose of bad content led Google to develop a new way of ranking web pages, leading to the release of Google Panda in 2011. Panda is designed to punish sites with low-quality, duplicate content stuffed with keywords, and since its roll-out well-written, informative content has become the norm on search engine results. Consumers are able to find the information they're looking for much more quickly, and brands enjoy higher-quality leads.
We've mentioned keyword stuffing a few times above, so what does that mean?
Early in the history of search, engines would rank content based on key words in the user's search. The idea was that the more a website mentions, say, beach vacation, the more likely that someone searching for a beach vacation would find that content useful.
However, firms quickly realized that they could game the system and rank highly simply by repeating popular search keywords for their product or service over and over. This practice, known as keyword stuffing, led to long, nigh-incomprehensible pages with very little utility to actual people.
As a result, search engines changed their algorithms to down-rank these pages, which has led to a great reduction in the practice.
By 2015, a long-growing trend came to a head: mobile searches outnumbered desktop searches for the first time. The shift to mobile search marked a sea change in the SEO industry, and Google changed its algorithm again to reward sites that perform well on mobile networks and whose designs are optimized for mobile.
As more and more people are using the internet through their phones, optimizing the user experience for mobile users is only becoming more important.
Another effect of mobile computing has been the rise of local search. While in the mid-2000s, local businesses largely didn't have a reason to worry over much about their online performance, nowadays not focusing on local SEO can have a massive impact on your bottom line.
Because consumers started searching for more local businesses on their phones, Google began using more user data - search history, location, interest, and others - to personalize search. They also introduced Google My Business to allow local businesses to rank higher locally thanks to a profile.
Overall, local-first search allows consumers to find what they're searching for nearby, and businesses can focus on their local online presence through Google Business Profile, Apple Business Connect, Facebook, and more.
While much about the future is uncertain, there's one thing we can count on: searching online is bound to change, and with it the algorithms search engines use to match and rank content for users. Failing to change along with these will result in lowered revenues, fewer leads, and less brand engagement.
For this reason, it's in every business's interest to invest in search engine optimization, if they haven't already. SEO is a vital part of staying relevant on the modern internet.