SEO has been around since the day a marketer spotted value in search results. Over the last decade search engines have evolved and so has SEO. The businesses which relied on search rankings had to run with it, run faster and evolve with the next big change. It has been the classic case of Darwin’s ‘Survival of the Fittest‘ This is what we set out to discuss at the 95th Social Media Breakfast. Looking back how the game kept changing, the rules kept changing but the goal remained the same. And looking ahead for clues on the next golden age.
The Early Years
It was wonderful to have Simar in the discussion, he brings a vast experience and insights into the developments and growth of web as we experience it today. The SEO era began with the domain name, keyword rich domain names were like magnets to search engines. Then came the directory structure pioneered by Yahoo. The Yahoo directory structure laid the foundation for the Search as we are familiar with today. With the rising numbers of searches and websites being added, the focus shifted to descriptions and HTML and Meta tags were born. In the initial years optimization was simple and straightforward. Have basic website hygiene (term coined by Kaushik Pal) in place, build your links and give titles, descriptions and keywords to your pages.
From The Peak Years to The Present
When Google landed up at the party, it brought with it new additions to the menu – filters and caching. Caching was by far the main reason which made Google spit out faster results and led to the birth of the Black Hat industry. It wasn’t WYSIWYG with the searches any more. What was stored in Google’s cache could be different from the actual version of web content on the site. Filters could be fooled, Algorithms could be tricked and created a mess with what was beginning to look like something in control. With time the algorithms kept getting better, killing all those dubious results from SERPs , also killing with it some good guys in the crossfire. That started the age of “Giving a sh*t about your content”, article submissions, stronger link building and focussing on the content became the flavour of the month.
Somewhere along the way Search started becoming more than just about text. Images,videos and just about everything else landed at the SERPs. As a search marketer your radar had to cover all those content types and optimize them for your brand or business. The focus of search marketers shifted from catering to the Search engines to catering to end users. If the end-user was getting true value out of the web page’s content, it would become relevant for search results. Google’s famous (infamous?) Panda update echoed that. Websites now had to be user-friendly to be search engine friendly. When all this was making sense and we were sure to have figured it out.. Bam! Social Hits Search! Whatever little control we had over how your site would rank gives way to personalized results. Recommendations from user’s social network. Search marketers overnight added ‘social’ to their business cards.
Think of Engine Overhaul at 100 miles/hour
To make sense of this evolving game, think of a car speeding at 100 miles an hour, and as it races forward it is acquiring new features, new tires and new parts, even the engine. (think bumblebee in transformers) Everything is happening with the vehicle accelerating. As the internet starting penetrating lives of people all around the world, so did search queries – sifting and presenting results gathered from billions of web pages. It’s quite a science fiction story I’ve painted here, but its fascinating how fast things moved in the last decade compared to the last 50 years.
Future – Is SEO Dying?
This is something being discussed about on the inter webs, if search becomes social and results are recommendations from a user’s friends and network, what do you optimize for? We would love to hear your comments on it, what do you think about the future of SEO? Here’s a thought – If social defines my search results, the bigger my network, more accurate would my search results be. So does Google want all of its users to work and expand their networks for accurate results? Something to think about. What are you thinking? Share in the comments below.