Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the many marketing terms thrown around regularly as a “need-to-have” for your website, but what is it really? Why is it so necessary? And where did it come from? To answer those questions we need to take a look at the big picture and go back almost 30 years.
As the internet grew, the need to organize the information and to be able to search content became apparent in the early 1990s. There were premature iterations in the 1980s with “user searches,” though the first attempt at a search engine, Archie (the full name, “Archive,” exceeded the character limit), looked nothing like those used today. Instead, Archie was an index of files and an extremely rudimentary way to filter material. In 1992 Gopher was launched and later in 1993, Excite and Wandex came to fruition as well. These tools changed the way we search content by using text and keywords. From the mid to late 90s, search engines we use today such as Yahoo and Google, were in production and soon released.
In the initial stages of Search Engine Optimization (early 2000s), marketers took full advantage of the basic capabilities of the engines themselves. Tactics such as using white text on a white background to “keyword-stuff” a website was a basic example of these questionable techniques. This way you could have keywords meant for any search imaginable put on a website designed for, say, dog grooming. Tags for any topic could be used on any site without limitations and because of this, it was often difficult for users to find the information they wanted in a search.
Google recognized this “Wild West” issue and began implementing rules and regulations to enforce more honorable practices. This started to build the basis for ranking websites and provide the more tailored web experiences we have today.
From the mid 2000s onward, Google has systematically improved, allowing users to easily find the content they need and want when using its search engine.
- Google Suggest was launched in 2004 to automatically fill search terms as users begin typing.
- Google Analytics was released in 2005, providing marketers with a way to review data and make optimizations.
- Google Knowledge Graph was announced in 2012 to provide quick answers at the top of search results.
The algorithm is a constant concern and headache for any marketer today. Google’s algorithm is a new form of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence that is constantly evolving with updates being made every few months. The current version uses over 200 ranking factors to calculate where websites should land in a search. The days of old where you could find quick fixes and “hacks” are long gone and instead you must build your site and content to match your brand voice and messaging across all platforms, including social media and paid ads, to provide the algorithm with an accurate look at the information, goods, and services you have to offer users.
Another key issue with SEO today, is keeping up with new devices. With the onset of voice-enabled search programs, such as Siri, Cortana, Amazon Echo, and Google Home, new SEO tactics will need to consider how people say things when they look for information as well as how they write them. Think of how you write a thank you note as opposed to how you would say thank you in person. It’s different, isn’t it? Slight changes like this could determine where you rank when someone asks Siri a question. This brings to the forefront how you write and share your content. Is it written formally or informally? Do you share short, to-the-point snippets that are designed for Twitter or lengthy articles geared towards a specific professional environment? Every piece of content on your site should be a conscious decision to connect to your audience.
It’s hard to predict the future, but SEO will soon be fully integrated in everything Google can access. This means brands must have a consistent presence and messaging across all platforms for Google to build a unique and accurate identity of their sites, so it can serve your information in the right searches to people you want to reach.
Personalization, privacy, and security are all going to be key factors in SEO moving forward as well. They are all combative forces, but currently personalization seems to be winning. Marketing tools are now available to track users across multiple devices and are able to predict buying decisions from insights drawn out of the data collected. This type of behavior modeling will change the landscape of the web and create individual experiences per user.
What does it all mean?
The internet and digital world is evolving at an alarming pace and it can seem overwhelming at times when you’re trying to keep up as a marketer or brand. Remember, the top search engines want people to use them, so any changes they make are with users’ (your customers) best interests at heart. That means, if your site is built for your particular audience, designed with ease of use, and rich content that is both visible on desktop and mobile, you will fare positively well with any updates that may come. SEO is ultimately the best way for your information to get to the people that need it most.
Do you have any SEO predictions or concerns? Tell us in the comments below or tweet us your ideas (@lotus823).