The Evolution of Search Engine
Optimisation (SEO)

"The ultimate search engine…would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.”

Larry Page

If a tree falls in the woods, but nobody's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Probably not. A strange analogy maybe, but if your website doesn't rank well for relevant search terms on the likes of Bing and Google, no one will know you, or your business exists. In today’s world, SEO is more important than ever. In fact, according to a recent study, marketers see SEO as becoming more effective, with 82% reporting effectiveness is on the rise and 42% of the same group stating effectiveness is increasing significantly.

Since first rearing its head, the notion of search engine optimisation (SEO) has evolved massively, changing the way brands and businesses inspire, campaign and connect with their target audience.

But before we delve any deeper, you might be asking yourself...

What is SEO?

SEO covers an incredibly broad spectrum, but essentially, search engine optimisation is the name given to any activity that exists to improve search engine rankings for search engines like Google. For instance, Google ranks or references pages it considers to be relevant and authoritative. Authority is measured by analysing the number and quality of links from other web pages, quality of content, and overall relevance to a search term. In a nutshell, your web pages have the potential to rank in Google providing your content is rich, your site is well structured, and you maintain a healthy link profile.

Your web pages have the potential to rank in Google if

Your content is rich

Your content is well structured

You maintain a healthy link profile

The art of SEO can seem mysterious but in today’s world, it's about building high quality content and developing a user experience that’s as human friendly as possible. Google has evolved its algorithm over the years to eliminate nasty ‘blackhat’ (playing dirty and cheating) tactics that compromise a user’s search experience. But it hasn’t always been that way.

As we mentioned, SEO has come on leaps and bounds over the years. Let’s take a brief look at the history of search engine optimisation…

SEO History Timeline

Not many people know this, but the notion of SEO dates right the way back to 1945, well sort of. In July 1945, Dr. Vannevar Bush, the (back then) director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, published an article in The Atlantic proposing the compilation of a 'collection of data and observations, the extraction of parallel material from the existing record, and the final insertion of new material into the general body of the common record'. In essence, an analogue version of Google. Although there’s no concrete evidence that Dr. Bush’s article went onto spawn the search engine, it could well have been a seed planted in the minds of the tech heads of the early 90s...

1991: Tim Berners-Lee launched the world's first ever website.

1994: SEO wasn't quite a thing, as it were, by this time; however, Eric Ward publicised the notion of looking for people you want to link to based on relevancy and connection. A big part of Google's ranking factor, even today.

1998: Google launched in September of this year and changed the face of the web forever.

2003: Talking again of blackhat SEO tactics: over the years online marketers learned that 'stuffing' their web pages full of relevant keywords to rank well on Google, so the search engine fought back with its first major Google algorithm. Bestowed with the name FLORIDA, this development prevented the adoption of blackhat tactics and enhanced the user experience ten-fold.

2005: Search engines, chiefly Google, continued to evolve, and this year, the search engine launched its “rel=nofollow” attribute, a page level meta tag that stops page rank and authority from being passed on. This helped webmasters to clean up poor quality links that had been put in place to manipulate search engine rankings. Later in the same year, the Jagger and Big Daddy algorithms were launched to tackle link farming and other black hat SEO tactics.

2008: Google released something known as the Suggestion Box. This service gave SEOs the power to gain further insights into how users surf the web and interact with certain pages, shifting the focus onto the consumer.

2011: Google algorithm Panda 1.0 was released to the digital world affecting over 12% of search engine rankings. The search engine started to focus a lot more effort on site content, and sites with weak, poor quality or irrelevant content took a real hit.

2012: The Google Penguin update was released targeting websites that violated Google's Webmaster Guidelines. In particularly websites that were buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings.

2013: Google evolved to reward websites that placed their efforts into engaging users by answering their questions with rich, information and original content. Inbound marketing became the order of the day, resulting in a stronger focus on blog posts and social media marketing, among other disciplines.

2015: Google introduced a sophisticated machine called RankBrain in a bid to deliver even smarter, more targeting search results. Did you know? As a machine learning technology, RankBrain learns like a human does. In fact, an experiment conducted by Google, in which Google's search engineers went head-to-head with RankBrain in a test, showed that RankBrain scored 80%, beating its human counterparts by 10%. Mind Blowing stuff, to say the least.

2016: Google's Head of Search, Andrey Lipattsev, confirmed that the search engine's three most vital ranking factors are: links, content, and RankBrain.

2017: You are sitting here reading this article. What have you searched for today and how was your experience?

As you can see, SEO has come a long way in a short time, improving the way it delivers results to its users and interacts with the ever-evolving digital landscape.

How has SEO changed?

By looking at the timeline alone, you can get a real sense of how SEO has changed over the years. Take Google. What was once a revolutionary yet basic website ranking directory is now an experience that is trusted by digital consumers across the globe - it's an internet giant and a digital tour de force. In fact, Google processes around 40,000 search queries per second, which comes in at around 3.5 billion searches a day. Wow. The bottom line is, search engines like Google once displayed search results based on basic criteria, allowing people to manipulate search platforms by using cheap tactics.

Today, Google thinks like a human, scans like a human, and displays search results fit for human consumption. Today's consumer is smarter, savvier and more empowered than ever and for a business to thrive and indeed survive, in this digital world, reaching your target audience on a personal level is a must.

SEO is about providing answers to questions, turning heads, sparking conversations and encouraging people to share your content. It's about building trust and authority in a creative, educational and organic way.

Duplicate content is a big no-no, as is keyword stuffing, buying cheap links, and any other lazy kind of search activity. Today's search engines won't tolerate such behaviour, so SEO has to focus on the user - no shortcuts.

A huge driver of this change comes down to Google's algorithms. Let's take a quick look at the algorithms that haven't yet been mentioned, but served to change SEO in a big way…

Google
Hummingbird

The search engine's 2014
SEO update

Google
Pigeon Update

A development that focused on images, video, data, and local marketing

Google
Pirate Update

An initiative that focused on penalising site's constantly accused of copyright infringement

Google
Mobile-Friendly Update

Recent update that focuses on awarding sites that are optimised for mobile devices. And considering that there are more mobile devices on the planet than there are humans, it's little wonder why.

You've also got your Google EMD update, Google Payday update, and many other developments (we could be here all day). But, the take-home message is that Google, Bing, Yahoo and other popular search engines work tirelessly to enhance their service and if you want to enjoy long-lasting SEO success, you must keep your finger on the pulse at all times.

SEO Resources for The Small Business Owner

As the first internet search engine of the world, Google is the most important site to focus on when it comes to enhancing your SEO profile and benefiting from healthy rankings for search terms relevant to your niche. But the others matter too.

There’s a lot to learn with SEO, but to help you on your way, here are a few resources that will help…

Find out what people are searching for and what's hot in your niche across the world with Google Trends.

Neil Patel’s simple guide to Bing SEO.

A guide to getting started with Google Adwords.

Yahoo's quick guide to local SEO.

Follow SEO expert John Mueller on Twitter and stay up to date with the latest changes and developments in the search engine world.

SEO is a broad and occasionally bewildering pursuit, but without a doubt, it holds the key to success in today's hyper-connected digital world.

Today search engine optimisation is about offering your audience value; taking the time to understand their wants their needs and delivering high-quality content by harnessing all of the platforms and technology available. Do that well, and consistently, and you’ll see your rankings soar quicker than you might think.

In the modern world, good SEO is about good practice and when it comes to ranking well, time, effort, strategy and skill are the elements that will get you where you need to be - on the first page of Google.