When you think SEO, you probably think Google. The two are intricately linked. Over 90% of online searches going through Google. The first result on the Google search engine results page (SERP) accounts for 27.6% of all clicks for a given search. The top 3 results get 54.4% of clicks. The numbers speak for themself. Your business must rank on Google to have any online visibility.
That's where Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the optimization of your website to improve your SERP rankings, plays a crucial role. It helps you align the terms and topics on your website with the terms searchers use to find businesses like yours. If done right, it enhances the relevance and appeal of your website to search engines, boosting organic (non-paid) traffic to your site. Which, in turn, improves your marketing ROI.
Because it is so essential, here we break down the evolution of SEO and its impact on business.
Why SEO had to change
While SEO has remained crucial to business growth for nearly two decades, it has evolved significantly with time. Search engines weren’t always as effective and multi-faceted as they are today.
In the early days of SEO, when ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ ruled TV (the late 90s and early 2000s), search engines were not as sophisticated as they are today. Their algorithms emphasized the presence and frequency of keywords to determine a webpage’s relevance. The more keywords, the better.
Website owners and practitioners of SEO soon realized that this was the key to unlocking success with SEO. And, they acted fast: publishing more web pages covering a gamut of keywords that aligned with their business, really fast.
While the approach worked really well for businesses, it didn’t create the best experience for the people conducting the search. Why? Let’s explore the how SEO worked during this time with the example below.
Let’s say you’re a real estate agent in Ottawa, and you have properties for sale in the west-end neighborhood of Kanata. To rank, you needed to focus on target keywords in a way that search engines would emphasize them. Therefore, you had to aim for houses for sale Kanata Ottawa and real estate services. That would mean your copy had to look something like this to begin with: “Considering houses for sale in Kanata Ottawa? We have the real estate services you need.” And, that you would have to repeat the same keyword multiple times in the web page. For your business, it was a simple and perfect process.
Now let’s look at this example from users point of view. Yes, they are looking for houses on sale, but from their perspective they I want to buy a house in Kanata. And, unless they’re talking to someone from out of the province/state and country, there would be no reason to mention Ottawa.
Do you see the disconnect between what search engines and businesses were focusing on and what the users leaned towards in language? Invariably, what the user input as a search request and the results they got from search engines didn’t align. And users began to question the credibility of search engines, negatively impacting engagement.
Search engines knew that things had to change. If they wanted to regain their users trust, they had to put their needs first. This realization brought on the very first among the many core algorithm updates Google announced: Panda.
How Panda made SEO “bear”-able
To combat the negative effects of focusing on keyword volume alone, search engines began to focus on the webpage holistically. They wanted to ensure that not only were the keywords present, but the page also provided the information their users where looking for: That became their priority.
To make their priority more applicable in the real world, they started to consider the practice of only using keywords without relavent information keyword stuffing.
Going back to the previous example, as a real estate business, you would still focus on ranking for houses for sale Kanata Ottawa and real estate services. But you also had to provide additional information about the houses that were on sale like the location, price, square footage and more. If your web page didn’t meet these expectations, search engines considered it keyword stuffing.
Google’s algorithm update, Panda, in February 2011 was a significant milestone towards penalizing keyword stuffing. This update prioritized websites with valuable content and genuine user engagement.
With its introduction, Google began placing greater importance on factors such as content quality, uniqueness, relevance, and user engagement. Panda targeted websites with thin or duplicate content, excessive advertising, poor user experience, and other low-quality signals. As a result, many websites that didn’t meet their standards saw significant drops in their search rankings.
The Panda algorithm update signalled a shift in SEO practices towards a more user-centric and content-focused approach, which has remained a key factor in SEO strategies today.
The changes benefited businesses that put their customers’ first by providing a quality web experience. The update had five key benefits:
- Improved search result quality: Businesses that focused on providing high-quality content and adhering to SEO best practices saw increased visibility in search results.
- Rewarding content quality: Businesses that invested in creating informative and user-centric content were recognized and rewarded with higher rankings. This change created opportunities for businesses to showcase their expertise, build trust with their audience, and establish themselves as industry leaders.
- Reduced competition from low-quality websites: With the introduction of the Panda algorithm, low-quality websites were penalized, resulting in reduced competition for higher ranking on SERP.
- Long-term stability: The new algorithm provided a more stable and sustainable ranking system. Businesses that focused on delivering valuable content and adhering to best practices were less likely to be affected by sudden algorithm updates or penalties. This predictability provided a more stable and reliable foundation for businesses to build their online presence and attract organic traffic.
- Enhanced user experience: The Panda algorithm emphasized user experience as a ranking factor. Businesses that prioritized user-friendly website designs, fast loading times, easy navigation, and high-quality content saw improved rankings. This shift resulted in a better overall user experience, leading to increased engagement, longer site visits, and higher conversion rates.
Panda created an environment that rewarded businesses for prioritizing content quality and user experience. It shifted the focus to delivering valuable and relevant content, benefiting businesses committed to providing a positive experience for their audience. And, it was only the beginning.
Google search updates and their impact over the years
Panda was a game-changer. However, each subsequent algorithm update aimed to improve search result quality, relevance, and user experience even further. They encouraged better SEO practices, rewarded high-quality content, reduced spammy tactics, and ensured search results aligned with user intent.
The benefits of these updates included more trustworthy rankings, better local search results, prioritized mobile-friendly websites, and enhanced understanding of user queries, all leading to a more satisfying search experience for users and increased opportunities for businesses that focused on delivering valuable and user-centric content.
Here are the critical updates and how they benefited users:
|Update Name||Year||Benefit||User Experience|
|Penguin||2012||Targeted websites with unnatural or spammy backlink profiles.||Encouraged better link-building practices and improved the quality of backlinks, leading to more reliable search results.|
|Hummingbird||2013||Improved semantic search and understanding of user intent.||Enhanced the ability to deliver more relevant search results by understanding the context and meaning behind search queries.|
|Pigeon||2014||Improved local search results.||Provided more accurate and relevant local search results, benefiting businesses with a physical presence and helping users find local services more efficiently.|
|Mobile-Friendly Update||2015||Prioritized mobile-friendly websites in mobile search results.||It improved the user experience for mobile users by promoting websites that were optimized for mobile devices, leading to better rankings for mobile-friendly websites.|
|RankBrain||2015||Enhanced search query understanding and relevance.||Utilized machine learning to understand complex search queries better and deliver more relevant search results, improving the overall search experience.|
|Fred||2017||Targeted low-quality content and ad-heavy websites.||Penalized websites with thin, low-value content and excessive ads. This led to better search results and improved user experience.|
|Mobile-First Indexing||2018||Prioritized mobile versions of websites for indexing and ranking.||Adapted to the increasing mobile usage by considering the mobile version of websites as the primary source for indexing and ranking, ensuring a better experience for mobile users.|
|BERT||2019||Improved understanding of natural language and context.||Leveraged natural language processing to better understand the context and meaning behind search queries, resulting in more accurate and relevant search results.|
What does Google value in its rankings?
If anyone tells you they have a crystal ball and know exactly how Google functions, do yourself a favour and google snake-oil salesperson. The truth is the specific details of Google’s search algorithm are proprietary and not publicly disclosed.
Google’s search algorithm is highly complex and constantly evolving, incorporating hundreds of factors and signals to determine the relevance and ranking of web pages in search results.
With all of that in mind, there are some best practices backed up by experimentation and empirical data that can help better position your company in Google search rankings. Google has provided insights into the general principles and factors influencing its search results. Here are some aspects Google values within website content and experience:
- Relevance: Google aims to provide search results that are highly relevant to the user’s query. Pages that address the user’s search intent, and provide the most accurate and helpful information are given preference.
- Content quality: High-quality content is essential to Google. It values well-written, informative, and original content that meets users’ needs. Pages that offer unique insights, in-depth analysis, and expert knowledge will likely rank well.
- User experience: Google prioritizes websites that offer a positive user experience. Factors like page loading speed, mobile-friendliness, ease of navigation, and accessibility contribute to a better user experience and can positively impact search rankings.
- Authority and trustworthiness: Google values websites that are considered authoritative and trustworthy in their respective fields. This includes having credible and reliable sources, earning quality backlinks from reputable websites, and displaying expertise and authoritativeness (E-A-T) in the content.
- User engagement: User engagement signals, such as click-through rates (CTR), time spent on a page, and low bounce rates, are considered by Google. Pages that engage users and provide valuable information are more likely to be rewarded with higher rankings.
- Website and page authority: Google considers a website’s overall authority and individual pages’ specific authority. Factors such as the number and quality of incoming links, social signals, and mentions from other authoritative sources contribute to a website’s authority.
- Freshness: For certain types of queries, Google values up-to-date information. Timely content that reflects the latest trends, news, and developments in a given field can receive a ranking boost.
- Reputable user feedback: Google pays attention to user feedback and reviews, particularly for local businesses. Positive reviews and ratings can enhance a business’s visibility in local search results.
It’s important to note that Google’s search algorithm is highly complex and considers numerous additional factors. The weighting and significance of these factors may vary depending on the nature of the search query, user context, and other variables.
The common thread among these SEO updates is serving the most valuable and relevant result for every user search. Ensuring your website provides value is the key to maintaining and improving your ranking, and we can help with that.
Let us take care of the technical aspects while you focus on what you do best – running your business: Get in touch with us today.