Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird – these are animals you might see in a zoo. They also are the names of just a few of the Google algorithm updates over the last decade. Each of these updates changes the rules of search engine optimization, so to help you understand how search algorithm changes affect inbound marketing, we wanted to present a brief history of search and Google algorithm changes.
The Beginning of Search Engine Optimization
In the beginning, search engine optimization was easy. All you had to do was stuff your website with keywords and inbound links. In the early days there were link farms that did nothing but create meaningless backlinks to promote search rankings, and it worked with early search engines.
In his book, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, author John Battelle gives a good, succinct history of search before Google. Before the World Wide Web, academics were using Archie, a search tool developed at McGill University, to find scholarly papers. With the web came WebCrawler, the first search engine to start indexing web documents. Then came AltaVista around 1996, which many consider the predecessor to Google since it had a better user interface, automatic language translation, audio and video search, and more. And there were other early search companies like Excite! and Yahoo! all with a common goal – to help people find information on the web.
Search Engine Purpose: Accessibility
When Google launched, its mission statement was "To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful." To support that mission Google created a PageRank algorithm, reasoning that the more links a site has, the more important it is, so it should rank higher in search results. This was the start of search engine optimization. As the web became more commercialized and web traffic more important, smart marketers and web developers started to game the system by stuffing backlinks into their websites.
So in 2003, Google started to update its algorithms to continue to organize the world’s information and make it useful, and to penalize web sites that were creating false page rankings with junk backlinks. The first Boston release, deployed in February 2003, rewarded only quality backlinks. Since then, Google has continued to tighten up its search algorithms by refining how it rewards links and scrutinizing the use of keywords more carefully to penalize keyword stuffing.
"Search Experience Optimization"
You will note that search engine optimization is not part of Google’s mission statement. There are many who believe that rather than search engine optimization, it should be called “search experience optimization,” because that is really closer to Google’s core mission. It’s up to the rest of us to understand what changes occur with each Google algorithm, so we can help our clients get the most from search engine optimization.
Search experts have been able to readily deal with each Google algorithm update, with two exceptions: Panda was rolled out in 2011 specifically to deal with content farms, and it affected 11.8 percent of search queries. Penguin was introduced in 2013 to punish those violating their Webmaster Guidelines for inbound links, and affected 3.1 percent of searches (mostly for gaming and porn sites).
So, in the ever-changing landscape of search, how do you deal with search engine optimization? Play the game by the rules. We believe that inbound marketers are better served by creating quality content for humans, not machines. By creating remarkable content that educates, gives, and entertains, you will build trust and credibility, and that will result in lead conversions. The best way to build your business is to stick with basic principles and serve your customers.
Please take a minute and check out the infographic below from the HuBSpot blog - A Visual History of Search Engine Optimization. It's interesting to how various aspects of the search experience has evolved over the past 11 years.