Prepared by: Andrew Gouty, Special Projects Manager, Raidious - August 2013
The past 20 years has seen a progressive series of changes in how a modern Search Engine deals with everything on the Internet. The good news is that after 20 years, the original mission of organizing the Web hasn’t changed. Search-goers want answers to their questions. They want them now, and they want them filtered of junk.
The tech behind Search has changed, mostly as a combatant for spam. Subsequently, tactics that online marketers have undertaken to be visible in organic search have shifted drastically within a short span of years. Google, at least, now has the technical and algorithmic goods to back up their instruction to digital marketers: “Produce Good Content.”
The successful way forward in Search, as in other online channels, is clear. Do just that.
Since the dawn of the modern crawler-based Search Engine, Search Engine Optimization — specifically for the purpose of ranking in Search Engine Result Pages — has held a changing supply of tactics. All effective in their time, and with varying degrees of transparency and appropriateness to Search Engine Terms of Service, the history of Search has been divided into major product and algorithmic changes:
The Meta Era (1994-2000)
With the onset of WebCrawler, a new industry was created. Search Engines were endowed with the ability for send-out crawler bots to collect, index and rank Web pages according to their content. On-page factors were highly weighted, as the now-commonplace link algorithms and now-famous PageRank calculations had yet to be formulated and introduced. During the growth of most major search engines, however, they relied on user submissions to grow their indexes. Thus, the notion of “Search Engine Submission” was baked into SEO nomenclature for the coming decade.
The PageRank Years (2000-2003)
Link schemes had their onset in 2000, when Google introduced its Toolbar and made Webmasters crazy to gain quantitative authority on its 1-10 scale. More complex link algorithms and trust factors had yet to take effect, so the early 2000s were marked by site owners still utilizing on-page search optimization as their go-to strategy. Some on-page spam tactics were caught by Google, and the now-giant began its long march to focus on content quality.
The Florida Era (2003 – 2009)
With most traditional black hat tactics on the way out, Google had dealt a serious blow to spammers and black hat practitioners, syphoning out sites that abused and gamed Google’s crawler bots to their advantage.
The mid-2000s saw the adaptation of Google’s link algorithm with the introduction of the no-follow link, as well as greater weighting of anchor text-specific links. Several Google products were developed during this time, furthering Google’s impact in Local Search, as well as varying multi-media products. Following their IPO in 2004, their gross expansion took its greatest hold in this period, with Google’s peak in market share arriving in 2004.
The Content Era (2010-Present)
With the introduction of Social Signals, Panda and Penguin updates, Google reaffirmed its stance for quality content. Since 2010, more traditional link architectures have become increasingly irrelevant, and an even more diverse, natural and organic set of promotional tactics is needed to satisfy the current algorithm.
With the introduction of Google+, as well as Facebook/Bing partnerships, major search engines have demonstrated their interest in utilizing social data for improved search results. The bar is also set higher for companies wishing to improve the authority of their link profiles, as many lower-quality blog and forum links, once moderately weighted, now have little-to-no impact.
The most important note of the modern search engine is its ability to intermix signals and spot outliers in data that would potentially indicate an engineered level of promotion or authority. Where SEOs once easily manufactured visibility for their clients, the need for more grassroots audience outreach has come online.