In this article we will discuss about the past, present and probable future of search engine optimization (SEO). But we don’t want to spend too much time in the past because we all care about present and future. But sometimes you have to go back to past to understand and predict the future. Though 10 years period is a big time but to make this article short we will try to keep the past very brief.
Late 1990s to Early 2000s
Back in the late 1990s to early 2000s ranking a webpage was incredibly simple and easy because it was all about Meta Tags and contents. You could create doorway pages which were basically one page s that focused on the keyword that you wanted to target. All you had to do was stuff your keywords in the content (text body of the web page) and Meta Tags (Meta title, Meta description and Meta keywords) and you were ready to go.
From 2004 to 2007
From 2004 to 2007 search engine optimization became more about links especially back links (links pointing to your website/webpage). Links were important even early on 2000 but it really became important between 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and going forward. And early on it was not even about the quality of links it was just quantity. People would go to directory submission websites and submitted websites get one way link, people would do article directories like EzineArticles.com and write articles and then from author bio linked back to their websites with anchor text. They would do link exchanges or whatever way you could get links to your website and that would help you rank well. Of course As SEO moved alone on it became more about the relevancy of the links but early on it was just about creating a bunch of links.
From 2008 to 2010
Another metric that became very important in early 2000 was the keyword density metric which is basically the ratio of the keywords on your page you want to target to the number of words on the page. And people figured out like “hey if you want to rank number one in Google, all you need is 3% keyword density ratio for the keyword you want to target with few links back to your site and you can get number one.” And yes it was really that simple and that is why you can still find many of websites with keyword density checker tools. Now of course so we got into 2008, 2009 and 2010 some of these metrics become a little bit tricky. For example keyword density ratio became harder to figure out and it became more about the relevancy of the links that point to your site and like that.
Now let us discuss the present situation of SEO. Though 2011 and 2012 should be in the past of SEO but I personally consider these 3 years of SEO in present simply because in 2011, 2012 and even now 2013 all of the big changes have happened.
2011 was really a very big year for all websites and search engine optimization experts because for the first time we started to see websites that had never been impacted any of these updates get impacted. It was like bar or importance for quality have been raised tremendously. And in February, April and September of 2011 Google launched three really big Panda updates. That is what the “Algorithm” was called. The algorithm is the Google decides to change how the rank websites on their search results.
The Panda update targeted websites that did too much keyword stuffing in Meta keywords and contents, had too much duplicate content, websites that had outdated or very old content and people who just did not have enough quality signals pointing to their websites like social media signals and relevant links and that kind of stuff. If you did not meet Google’s criteria for a crowing quality website then you were impacted by one of these large updates in 2011. Though there were a lot more updates in 2011 but February, April and September updates were really big ones.
Personalized Search Results
The other thing that really became really big in 2011 was “personalized search results”. This means not everybody can see the same search engine results anymore. You may do a search for your own keyword and see that you rank number 6 but someone else may do the same search and see your site on page 2, number 12 result. That means everybody is seeing a different result and it is really hard to know exactly where your website rank. The only way to tell where your website rank is to login to your Google Webmaster Tools account and look at the traffic report and look at your average rank for various keywords. Because Google now ranks websites based on previous searches you have done, websites that you visited, your social networks (friends, like, follow etc) and several other unknown factors. It is really very hard to know where your website ranks unless you check your Google webmaster tools account.
Google the Devil
Other thing that started happening in 2011 is that for the first time people started to question Google’s motives. After all the updates in 2011, webmasters started to wonder if they were starving to try to force people to spend more money on advertisements or Google Adwards. And many people particularly website owners started calling Google – “The Devil”. Many people who had been running websites fulltime had to go back to their fulltime jobs because they had lost most or all of their visitors or customers in some of these Google updates. So the hate on Google spread very fast in 2011.
2012 was another very important year for SEO. Because there was another big update that happened in April 24th and that was the Google Penguin also known as Web Spam Update. In Penguin update, Google is basically saying – “Look do don’t like the links that pointing to your website, so we are going to either de-rank your site completely or lower your ranks significantly.” Because for so many years people had been buying links, they were using or buying services like BuildMyRank (it doesn’t even exist now), Auto Blog Networks etc to build up their link profile. Actually people were manipulating the search engine results to change or influence their ranks. And Google got tired of it and said – “Look just because you have bunch of links that doesn’t necessarily mean you deserve to be ranked. It means you just know how to get a bunch of links. So we are going to de-rank or lower the rank of many of these sites who have been using these linking schemes.”
Misconception of Penguin Update
A lot of people assumed that their decreased in rank was just about bad links. In some cases I think that was correct but the biggest think that people don’t understand about Penguin update is that it was devaluation in links as well. What happened is if you lost your rank it may not have been because of bad links what also happened is that Google said – “Look we are not going to count those links that used to count for your site and so because of that your rank is going to get lowered.” So it may look like a penalty but in reality it just means Google devalued those links. It means those links from those article sites or those directories you submitted to they just don’t count as much. So Google said – “We are going to rank you where you would have ranked if we have not counted those links in the first place.”
Little Transparency In Google
The other thing that happened in 2012 is that Google started to be a little bit more transparent and Google started sending out notifications to people in their Google webmaster tools account. And if Google saw links that they did like pointing to your website you would get this notification saying something like – “We noticed that there are links pointing to your site that are not within our quality guideline so you may an impact in your ranking” and after couple of days later your ranking may go down. Actually they would get you the opportunity to remove some of those bad quality links and once you do that you could submit a reconsideration request. And this reconsideration request may help you get your rankings back, if you were able to remove enough of your bad links.
Introduction of Disavow Tool
And because of this reconsideration opportunity webmasters liberality began hiring people to contact other webmasters on their behalf to get links removed and it was just a mess. For some people it worked and for others it didn’t. So for people who could not get those bad links removed Google introduced a “Disavow” tool in their webmaster tools section. And using this tool basically you can tell Google that – “Look, these links are not relevant to my site please ignore these links.” The tricky thing about this tool though was Matt Cutt warned everyone when this tool was announced late last year that not everybody needs to use this tool. The only reason anyone should use these tool as if they received one of those notifications with link warning. So unless you receive link waning notifications from Google do not use disavow tool.
And finally in late 2012 Google launched the “Exact Match Domain” update where they penalized websites that were only ranking because they choose the keywords in the domain that they wanted to rank for. There were not enough signals like social media signals or relevant quality back links pointing to sites. So Google demoted lot of sites that were ranking just because those websites had keywords in domain names. And after that updated choosing a good domain name became very important.
2013 is the continuation of 2012 and Google is making SEO lot more challenging & difficult. Google is defiantly targeting spammers, black hat spammers, people using linking scheme and things that against Google guide lines to rank their websites.
No More Panda Announcements
One of the big announcements that came out early this year is that Google mentioned that there will be no more Panda updates announced. Panda updates are now going to be the part of the 500 or 600 updates Google does a year. So there will be no more Matt going on Twitter and saying “Hey we just rolled out Panda 3.5.” Panda is going to be the part of the regular algorithms.
Penguin (2.0) Update
In the end of May Google rolled out another big update and it was Penguin 2.0. Basically they went after websites did aggressive link buildings but interestingly after that updated some websites that were hit by previous Penguin updates got some of their ranks and visitors back. But unfortunately many high quality sites were impacted by these big updates. After all the big updates there were always winners and losers. Some people saw huge increase in their rankings and changes in visitors and some people found their websites at the bottom of the search results.
Personalized search is continuing to get more and more personalized. We all are seeing different search results. So a rank of a number 7 is not as valuable in 2013 as it would have been in early 2011. Because you may rank 7 on your computer or browser but to someone else computer you may rank lot lower. So the average rank is more important and you can check that only in your Google webmaster tools account.
Social relationships are the new back links. Here is what I mean – let us say you began following people that have websites similar to yours. So you start talking to these people and building relationships with these people and they began sharing your website content from their social media networks like Twitter or Facebook. The more influential people (people with lot of followers or people have sites and followers related to what is your site about) share your content better your rank. Those shares are going to be much more influential on your search engine optimization then someone who shares your content that has no following at all. So the relationships that you build with people in your space/niche are so ineradicably important. But more importantly when the influential people share your content that also matters more.
Another thing that is having a huge impact and will continue to have more impact is your author rank. That is basically derives from your Google authorship. Google authorship is basically when you tag your content to your name. So, if you use wordpress they actually have authorship plugins. If you write an article and the article has your name on the page and it links back to your Google Plus profile, that’s how you tell Google – “Hey I own this content”. So the more articles you write and the more they get shared by influential people that is going to build up your author rank. So author rank is going to start playing a larger role in where your site ranks. Because Google is going to look at all the articles you have written, how much they have been shared, how many links you have pointing to your article. And all of that is going to be influencing your search engine ranking over time.
So I am sure as you guys know guest blogging has been huge. And after the Penguin updates last year it became even more popular because people were looking for ways to get quality links. But just like other back linking strategies guest blogging has gotten abused and Google started to devalue some of the links from guest blogging. But what I have been reading is that Google is going to look more at person’s author rank when it comes to guest blogging not so much to the websites they are blogging on. So it is not going to matter as much on how many guest blogging articles you have what really matters is – are people really sharing your content? And that is what is going to drive that author rank up. So that is the future of search engine optimization. It is less about the quantity more about the quality. So your author rank is your individual reputation based on the links, shares that the content you write receives. And that is going to play much more of a role in search engine optimization going forward.
Google is Unpredictable
We always have to remember that Google’s ranking is based on algorithms. And all Google updates were just algorithms. Though they targeted low quality site but personally I believe, Google will never be able to get algorithms 100% right. So when these updates happen unfortunately sometimes the quality sites get hit and that is why we cannot emphasize only on Google. We just cannot rely on Google anymore. We cannot develop a solid business model based on Google anymore, it is too dangers now.
I don’t agree with them who say – “SEO is Dead“. SEO is not dead and working very well but problem is Google has become very unpredictable and this is why we have to diversify our traffic and get away from Google. We cannot control what Google does, so you have to diversify your traffic. Drive traffic from eMail, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest or social networks. The future of online business is not Google rather Social Medias.