Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of making your web presence as appealing as possible to search engine algorithms. It’s an art and a science that is nearly as old as search engines themselves, which is why it pays to take a look at the history of SEO (and of search engines) to learn a bit about what matters, why, and where we might be going next.
The dawn of the search engines & the rise of Google
The internet was revolutionary when it first hit the mainstream in the 1990s. When mainstream America got access to the internet, the new technology promised to change everything — including the world of business.
There were a lot of websites out there trying to get the attention of users, but users wanted something else. They wanted to be able to find information without having to memorize a bunch of web addresses. Early search engines were created to solve this problem. Enter text into a search engine, and the search engine would return a list of websites that might help you.
Of the early search engines, Google — founded in 1998 — was the most successful. It began to change the way people browsed the net, which made companies take notice. SEO was born.
Early search engines relied heavily on links. Links helped search engine “robots” get from page to page. Links also told search engines on all kinds of things. The more links there were, a search engine algorithm reasoned, the more popular (and, perhaps, reputable) the site must be. The text in the links could suggest the topic of the site. Using this information, search engines ranked results on their search engine results pages (SERPs).
In the early days, improving SEO was (almost) as simple as link-trading, but things got more complicated fast.
Of course, links were not the only thing that Google and other search engines used to determine a site’s worth. There were also keywords — if the phrase being searched for was found often (but not too often) on a site, that site would rank better. Google looked at metadata, too, including site descriptions and the alternate text that would appear over images when users hovered a mouse cursor.
How much did each factor matter? That was a trade secret, and it still is. Google’s ever-changing algorithm is secret, and so are the algorithms at other major search engines. The more time that goes by, the more Google has tweaked its algorithm, and the more complex things get. That’s why SEO experts work so hard to try to crack the code, reverse engineering and experimenting as they develop up-to-date best practices for SEO.
Changes the algorithms used by major search engines have always been important, but one change was particularly dramatic — that change was the local search.
Back in the old days, everyone got more or less the same search results. If you searched for “pets,” you got Pets.com and other big-time sites. But local search allowed Google to serve up local results — suddenly, “pets” could help you find your local pet store.
Combined with the dramatic rise of smartphones and mobile search (searches made from smartphones and tablets, which are often served with hyper-local results), these changes forced local businesses to start paying much more attention to the way that search engines treated them — and vice versa.
Modern techniques and the future of SEO
We’ve seen a lot of changes in SEO over the future, but the search engine experts at Search Atlas say that a few things remain true.
For one thing, SEO remains vitally important — and is only getting more important as time goes on. The rise of local search and mobile search has made SEO more vital to local businesses that might once have been able to ignore search engines. We live our lives online, and we use search engines to direct ourselves.
Another thing that remains true is that links are important. The algorithms used by Google and Bing are very different in some ways from the early Google and Yahoo ones, but they still use links to determine how important sites are, what they’re talking about, and how much they know about the subject. Link equity remains a major part of the SEO equation and is likely to retain its status for a long, long time.
But things will change, which is why there are pros out there who study SEO all of the time. If you run a business, your best bet for competing in our fast-paced world is to invest in outsourced SEO services.