A Brief History of SEO (and Some Predictions for the Future)

SEO marketing has changed tremendously over the years since its birth, and it will continue to change in the future. In its humble beginnings, SEO marketing was less like a marketing strategy and more like a loophole or a cheat code. Over time, Google began building new algorithms that thoroughly analyzed keywords and how they’re used. SEO became a full-fledged strategy and a full-time career.

Pull up a comfortable seat, my friends. I’m going to tell you an age-old tale of the magical world of SEO and how robots will one day rule the earth. In a good way, though; not in the “laser beams for eyes annihilating everything in sight” sort of way.

Once Upon a Time, During the Dawn of the Internet...

Once Upon a Time, During the Dawn of the Internet…

SEO started way back when people first started using search engines to scour the internet for pertinent information. Of course, “pertinent” back then was mostly geocities pages and dancing hamsters. In those early days, Google’s first algorithms were straightforward and only ranked pages based on a small number of factors. It didn’t take long for digital marketing strategists to figure out what these factors were and how to trick search bots into ranking their websites.

Basically, marketers figured out that if you used a keyword enough times on a page, Google would recognize it and place it in the first page of search results. As you can imagine, this led to some pretty low-quality content, stuffed full of keywords used in bizarre ways. Content during these dark times can be likened to computer vomit. It made no sense and was completely useless.

It wasn’t until around 2003 that Google finally starting tightening its belt and regularly updating its algorithms. At this point, Google search bots had the intelligence to analyze pages based on complex factors and even penalize those that didn’t adhere to best practices. Marketers could still predict how Google would rank a certain page by using certain keywords and phrases, but the days of computer vomit were finally over.

Robots Grow Up and SEO Learns a Tough Lesson

Since those first updates in and around 2003, Google algorithms have steadily grown more intelligent and complex. In 2011 and 2012, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates further regulated the type of content Google search bots could analyze. The Panda update made sure content was relevant by penalizing sites that used filler, duplicate language, and keyword stuffing. To fend off sites built with fake back-link pages, the Penguin update learned how to analyze the legitimacy of links.

Websites that had natural inbound links were rewarded with a boost to their page rank, while sites with faulty links were penalized. Now Google’s algorithms are so smart they can tell the difference between what’s actually relevant to a consumer’s search term. That’s pretty impressive for a robot.

Do Robots and SEO Live Happily Ever After?

So, what does the future look like for SEO? Some people have thrown in their hats and emphatically declared “SEO is dead!” It’s understandable to think that way. Google’s ever-changing algorithms become more and more complex with each update. There’s no longer an easy way to “cheat” the system anymore, and SEO strategizing is basically a full-time career.

But that doesn’t mean SEO is dead. It just means strategists will have to keep up with the changes and update their websites. Google’s intentions are to make life on the internet easier for consumers. It’ll continue to enact best practices that make high-quality, relevant content the most rewarded.

The use of keywords won’t fizzle out altogether, but it won’t matter how many posts you publish or how many back links your page has. The bots will focus on finding content that answers a specific question quickly and honestly. To do that, algorithms will study:

  • Content quality. High quality content will always be heavily rewarded. Searchers are looking for thorough and engaging answers to their queries.
  • Content honesty. Businesses that present content in an unbiased and honest way will be favored by search bots. Algorithms will eventually learn to weed out overly sales-y content.
  • Mobile content. This is already a new ranking factor as of April, 2015. Websites that aren’t optimized for mobile are penalized by Google. Over time, this will become more stringent. Sites that aren’t optimized in every way (I’m looking at you, inappropriately-sized CTAs that won’t close out) will see their page ranks drop significantly.
  • Types of content. Images are one of the main ways to increase traffic and engagement. The importance of images will continue to grow. Sites that have a nice, balanced mix of media types will be smiled upon by the SEO robot-gods.
  • Performance of content. As always, the performance of your website and its content will be important to page rank. SEO bots analyze the time people spend on your site, bounce rates, and the freshness of your content. This will continue to grow in importance, and only optimized, up to date sites that work flawlessly will be rewarded.

SEO Predictions for the future

As technology continues to evolve so will the ways search bots collect and analyze content on the web. Eventually, these bots will become so intelligent that they’ll predict what searchers are looking for, returning highly relevant results instantly. They may one day know what we need before we even know ourselves, and that is how robots, SEO, and humans live happily ever after.

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Jessica Johnson

Jess has been writing (and sometimes illustrating) stories since childhood. She has a background in Creative Writing and Art History, and is always looking for new ways to learn and grow as a writer. She enjoys writing fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry.

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