In the last installment in our SEO blog series, we learned just how search engines work. For this piece, we’ll cover SEO history: the trends and innovations that have shaped the internet and search engines into what we know today. Trust us when we say that with ecommerce, you can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been.
It’s novel to think what Archie (short for archive) set into motion back in 1990. As the world’s first search engine, it acted as the foundation for countless predecessors, algorithms, and companies to build upon and eventually develop into what the entire world recognizes as the internet.
SEO history begins in the 1990s with the rise of once-household names like Lycos, Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves, and Yahoo. These companies were some of the first to utilize the core elements we associate with modern search engines – the ability to crawl, index, and rank.
Today, these algorithm elements are ever-changing and top secret, but in these early “wild west” days of search engines, they were quite exploitable. This burgeoning but lax system was being heavily exploited by shady black hat techniques designed to manipulate rankings.
The following “cloaking” techniques of the time battled against the best intentions of search engines and made those early years of the internet a bit more disingenuous:
This is when sites try to trick bots by cramming keywords into text and meta tags in non-organic ways. During these days, a common trick was to lay white text over a white background and really pump up the term quantity.
Imagine you want to visit your favorite X-Files fan site, but you don’t remember the URL. So, you type “X-Files” into a search bar and click on the highest-ranking site. You quickly realize that this site has nothing to do with your beloved show and you have been instead directed to a scam site. This page gained its high rankings through keyword stuffing and false meta tagging for things facing search engine bots, but then redirects everyone to a different site, usually spam.
Black hats would join groups of sites dedicated to boosting their rankings through backlinks. Imagine a giant network of sites who are just patting themselves on the back for their “valuable” content and gaining the reputable cred for doing so.
The turn of the millennium marks a major turning point in SEO history. The internet had become a much more popular, predictable, and safe place for its users. By this time, businesses developed a firm grasp of what the internet could be and began to invest heavily. Now we begin to see the monetization of search and the birth of paid ads – the primary funding driver behind today’s internet.
Google wasn’t the first to implement paid-search listings, but they certainly did it the best. The following are a few things implemented by Google during this time that allowed them to rise above the competition:
The enforcement of guidelines
Google recognized how black hat SEO developers were gaming the system and watering down their vision of the internet. They created guidelines and actually punished webmasters who didn’t follow them. We won’t name names, but huge sites who didn’t play by Google’s rules were publicly dragged to the back of the SERPs until they complied.
The first of many of Google’s game-changing algorithms. This specific change ranks search results based on the “quality” of the content and is not reliant upon keywords. The quality is derived from backlinks from trustworthy and informative sites.
We take it for granted today but imagine looking up a pizza place on a search engine and being delivered results of restaurants hundreds of miles away. Beginning in 2004, Google began delivering results based upon geographic intent. This inclusion of relevant and usable individualized information helped connect users to the businesses near them – and helped Google sell more targeted advertising.
2010 to Present
At this point in SEO history, we need to recognize Google as the victor of the great search engine wars. With the launch of their Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird algorithms, former black hat efforts become obsolete, and Google has achieved its vision of a search engine dedicated to the user experience.
The successes and failures from Google and countless other companies in their pursuit of a better search engine have shaped the internet into what we see today.
Using our knowledge of past innovations and their lasting impact, SEO history foretells the following elements will be the driving forces shaping the internet of tomorrow:
The trend over the years has been to improve the algorithm behind search engine results pages (SERPs) to better predict and deliver the best answers for their users. While there are still many “legacy” elements on SERPs such as blue links, green URLs, and star links, the availability of these front-page slots is dwindling due to the expansion of the Knowledge Graph.
Content within the knowledge graph has expanded into videos, reviews, imagery, shopping links, music clips – the list goes on and on. With this dedication to sourcing the answers to user questions right on the SERP page, Google is essentially acting as a middleman and providing site content to users without the heavy burden of actually clicking a link. The algorithms behind this are so sophisticated that they can find relevant information within YouTube videos and play precisely where the video provides the answer.
All of these additions to the top SERPs can be seen as denying valuable real estate to quality sites in lieu of the valuable content within – essentially mining the gold without paying royalties to the landowners. However, another way to look at this is that Google is hunting to discover top content elements and reward its significance by driving impressions to it.
A dedication to mobile
In 2018, mobile searches accounted for 60% of all search, in many ways thanks to Google leading a push for mobile content for the last decade. Since 2015, Google has been boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly (responsive) sites and has also been factoring page speed in their ranking algorithm since early 2018.
The embodiment of this drive for mobile-optimized content is AMP. Characterized by their lightning icon, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) were dreamt up by Google and Twitter in 2015 to deliver a responsive, stripped-down HTML site to mobile users at unimpeded speeds. AMP sites are optimized for mobile, which means it loads faster. Faster loading sites are prioritized by algorithms and get higher rankings on SERPs. Pages ranked higher on SERPs gain more natural page views. What this boils down to is that if your site is not optimized for mobile viewing or speed, then you might already be dropping in page rank.
So far in this blog series, we have learned the details of How SEO Works and now the marketing behind SEO history and their prioritizations. For the next post, we’ll shift our focus to best practices of search engine optimization and what content ecommerce businesses should be creating.
About the Author: Newegg is the global marketplace for everything tech, with more than 38 million registered customers in over 80 countries. As a veteran in the ecommerce space, Newegg supports the growth of retailers and brands by providing leading fulfillment and marketing services that drive sales and create loyal customers. Visit Newegg.com/sellers for more information or to apply today.