Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Is a Forever-Changing Industry
Of all modern marketing strategies, few are as pliable, fast-paced, and prone to change as Search Engine Optimization. So unpredictable is this industry that internet marketing agencies are forever tracking the most relevant blogs to ensure they don’t miss out on the next game-changing development. Considering the nature of the business, then, it is easy to imagine the difference that a month, year, or decade can make to the process of “SEO.” So, if you’ll not mind humoring me, I’d like to take a trip down memory lane.
It’s the year 2000. Search Engine Optimization is in its fledgling stage, having sprung up as a method of online marketing at some point in the mid-1990s. At least, that’s when the process began being referred to as “SEO.” At this time, DMOZ was - and arguably still is - the leader in web directories and considered a much coveted opportunity for SEO back linking. Search engines commonly used a decade ago included Lycos, AltaVista, Excite, Snap, LookSmart, Go, and Hotbot—all of which are now at least redundant, if not long dead. There was one other that stood out: Google. The year 2000 was the time that Google began to assert itself as the top dog in the realm of search engines due, in large part, to its much faster and more efficient spidering process. Still though, none of the search engines, including Google, were able to index dynamic URLs effectively, if at all. Plug-ins were not – and still, to an extent, are not – available to help read and translate dynamic URLs, an issue that remains a point of frustration among SEO experts to this day. One thing that was born in 2000 and has remained a staple of SEO a decade later is the importance of link popularity; specifically, the need for a balance between the quality and quantity of back links.
Next up is 2002, a year in which some predicted the death of SEO. That was until Google launched AdWords and changed the face of internet marketing forever. Offering pay-per-click and site-targeted advertising for text, banner, and rich-media ads, AdWords is the feather in the cap of Google’s empire, and today contributes a large majority of the company’s multi-billion dollar advertising revenue. Google AdWords is a product of 2002 that is still very much alive today, unlike: Yahoo Directory Submissions, which hiked its price up to almost $300 a year, and is now a seldom-used resource; Paid Inclusion in Google, which was done away with in 2006; and search engine minnow AltaVista, which was basically doomed before 2002 even hit the calendar.
2003 saw the beginning of WordPress. This was bitter sweet for both SEO people and the search engines as it allowed for a flood of blogs to populate the internet, but also created an instant breeding ground for spammers. Spam became an epidemic for at least a year after. Google’s release of AdSense didn’t help either, as it led to the creation of millions of “made-for-AdSense” websites that would plague search engines for years to come.
In 2004, something incredible happened: SEO experts suddenly became internet marketers! A glut of spam generated in 2003 paved the way for the year of “professional SEO.” Internet marketing agencies were now responsible for much more than just the ranking of a client’s site, forcing them to expand their general marketing endeavors—essentially allowing for massive growth. Paid inclusion was still extremely popular, and 301-redirects – the process of permanently moving a site while retaining all search engine rankings – were becoming contemporary facets of SEO. 2004 was also the year that Google established its role as the ONLY search engine worthy of note. Simply put, Google became the undisputed source for all searches, making it the number one target for website rankings through SEO.
2005: The launch of Google Analytics. Search Engine Optimization would be forever changed by Google’s latest addition to its line of free services which allowed the user to generate detailed reports about the traffic that was visiting a given site. Analytics was designed to be used by marketers, rather than webmasters, and quickly took off. It is now the most widely used website statistics service in the world. Analytics is used in conjunction with Google’s 2002 addition, AdWords, allowing the marketer full access to data on sales, lead generation, page views, and conversions. In no uncertain terms, the process of measuring SEO success had been reshaped, and remains largely the same today. In ’05, Google also launched its “nofollow” link attribute that allowed people to differentiate between paid and non-paid links in a search engine. It basically served to combat blog comment spam, but SEO experts began attempting to use “nofollow” in their optimization of website architecture—with mixed, but mostly muted success.
2007 saw “targeted traffic” begin to take hold as more and more people involved with SEO started to recognize that it is far superior to random, non-specified traffic. Search engine optimization became more driven by targeted traffic and its specific benefits—that is to highlight the importance of targeting long tail keywords, promoting quality over quantity in terms of visits.
A forum for like-minded SEO experts was launched in the form of “Sphinn” which allowed people to share their theories on search engine optimization in a semi-competitive environment in which other users get to vote on their favorite articles. Sphinn is still going strong today, and has become a source of forward-thinking, industry-altering ideas, and has presented a very passable road to recognition for up-and-comers in the world of SEO. 2007 also saw paid links take another beating at the hands of Google. Toolbar page ranks were secured for non-paid links even further, roughly to the level they are today.
’07 was significant for one of the modern behemoths of internet search, Wikipedia. Wikipedia was able to hit two million articles of information, and was, by now, ranking for almost everything. As domain authority began to eclipse all other SEO factors, Wikipedia quickly became the go-to site for nearly any search. The importance of domain authority was clear, changing SEO tactics forever.
Social Media Playing Bigger Part in SEO
In 2008, social media – which had been gathering momentum since 2004, when Facebook joined MySpace and began the race to become kings of social networking – made its way to the fore. Facebook, of course, won that battle. However, another site joined the ranks in 2006 and quickly made social media relevant for SEO purposes, grabbing the attention of internet marketing agencies the world over. Twitter had arrived; this “microblogging” service rapidly transcended the reaches of established social media (which was mostly used by young people and restricted them primarily to interaction with friends) and gave a public forum for celebrities, professionals, and teens alike to share their thoughts with a diverse – and potentially infinite – network. Of course, any self-respecting internet marketing agency began using social media long before Twitter, but the emergence of such a social media phenomenon paved the way for a whole new sector within internet marketing. Now, anyone looking to market a website absolutely must use social media as one of their main resources. With around 130,000,000 Google results for the term “social media marketing,” it is clear that social media’s place within the world of search engine optimization strategy is very much solidified, and in truth, is only getting stronger.
2009 brought much of the same, with Twitter and Facebook continuing to lead the social media reinvention of modern SEO and internet marketing. Microsoft and Google both signed deals with Twitter allowing them search engine access to “tweets.” However, in SEO, another question quickly arose: “Are you optimizing for Bing?” Claiming to be a different kind of resource than the other search engines, “decision engine,” Bing, became the latest plaything of tech giants Microsoft, who were rumored to have splashed over $100 million on elaborate advertising for the new search engine. And in a sense it paid off. Bing is sleek and stylish and appeals to the younger generations. However, the marketing dollars are sure to fade soon, and questions will remain as to whether Bing can hold on to its users. One became even more abundantly clear though—Google will not be supplanted any time soon.
So, here we are, then, finally back to modern times. We are literally (yes, I understand the proper use of the word, but this is a blog post, not an editorial) standing at the cutting edge of SEO advancements. Until tomorrow, that is, when it could change all over again. In order to spare myself the indignity of missing the most important SEO news of this year, hence leaving my words suspended in a purgatory of half-finished works, perhaps I’ll wait until December to write 2010…