The Evolution of Search Engine Optimization: Then vs Now

2 trillion.

Well, this sprawling figure is not just the economy of any particular country. It is the number of Google searches that are made every year with over 63k searches every second, 3.8 million+ per minute, 228 million+ per hour, and 5.6 billion+ per day.

Search engines and their optimization is nothing new under the digital world’s sun. Since the time search engines came live in the 1990s, they have been evolving with time to organize and index a barrage of online information as effectively as possible. For the uninitiated, SEO is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that it appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. It is never enough to just rank on the search engine but to rank higher as well!

Through a thorough study of billions of search results, it has been established that while the topmost result gets 33% of clicks and the first five organic results get 67.6% of clicks, the first page has in totality 75% of clicks, highlighting significantly the importance of SEO.

Okay, we got that, but why is SEO an ongoing effort or an ever-evolving mechanism and not just a ‘set it up and forget it’?—Well, Google is known to change its algorithm 500-600 times alongside a handful of major updates every year. As devices evolve too, so does the way people search.

Being a free-ish long-term solution, SEO helps increase relevant organic traffic to the site, increases conversion rates, leads to brand awareness and lead generation while aiding in e-commerce sales. To learn more about SEO and its nitty-gritty, visit these pieces from TTC before we together embark upon discovering the journey of ever-evolving SEO:

Content: Then vs Now

Content has been the king who stands no chance of being dethroned in the near Digi-future. In the past, all focus was on its quantity instead of quality. Thereby, content was crafted to only please the search engines and their criteria for ranking, not for the benefit of users. What was widely followed was the single/few keyword(s) approach, also called short tail approach which upon entering the search engine gave out a broader range of results. Example: ball, sneakers, straightener, etc. During that time, unlike today, it was also possible to have multiple pages optimized for the same keyword, which again speaks to the quantity.

While on the other hand, using long-tail keywords i.e., more words stacked together that still end up being a keyword, is the newly evolved mechanism. Examples: Best red sneakers for running, best 3 in 1 heat resistant straightener, a leather ball, etc. Such keywords might have less search volume but have a higher probability of people likely converting more. They help users find answers to particular queries and long-form content with relevant keywords solve them all. 

With initially just text content, websites now also inhabit content in the form of video, audio, images, etc. This keeps the user on the page and helps rank it better. Earlier, the sheer volume of keywords included by virtue of keyword stuffing and duplication of content, allowing one to rank well regardless of the low-quality content and its relevance was utterly rampant. 

Example of keyword stuffing:

Straighteners dot com is one of the best places to shop for a variety of heat-resistant straighteners. You can absolutely get your preferred 3 in 1 heat-resistant straightener at straighteners dot com.

Sounds hilarious, no?

Having switched from a quantity perspective to more of a quality standpoint, Google now only prioritizes well-written and informative content to ensure that users are directed to quality content on reputable sites that naturally incorporate relevant keywords and provide value to cybersurfers. This helps avoid what is called pogo sticking, which essentially means bouncing from a site and going back to the search results in an attempt to search again and satiate your need rather more adequately. A measurement in Google analytics for the same is called bounce rate.

Today, it’s virtually impossible to get away with gadgety tactics, such as favoring spammy content while forgoing quality and value.

Link building: Then vs Now

Link building is an off-page tactic. If you produce some noteworthy content, people would indelibly want to link back to you, and from Google’s standpoint, that’s how you build authority!

Kind of similar to content, link building was strictly a numbers game too. Since it was about quantity, it didn’t matter what type of links you received. Say you sell sneakers and got a backlink from a grocery store—back then it would get counted towards you. One could also get spammy links by purchasing them from link farms wherein thousands of links to one’s website could be backlinked. And again, the sheer number of links that one got was believed to be directly related to the quality of content inhabiting the site.

There used to be random directories too. So, if you received a backlink from something that didn’t make sense, it didn’t matter for it was just a quantity thing that worked then, unlike today when everything boils down to relevancy. Today, if you answer people’s questions correctly, Google will reward you in a way that your one piece of content could generate over a million links. Other organic ways include getting really involved in the community, meaning that instead of just banking on creating content, you build relationships and people link back to you for your noteworthy stuff. 

There’s another tactic called brand mentions wherein you’re mentioned on a website but not linked. There are various tools available that allow you to check such activities and thus, you can reach out to the concerned parties and say, “Hey, you wrote about us but didn’t link us. Could you just include our link so that it counts as a backlink?”.

Today, you can also disavow links, meaning if you got those spammy links like in the past or links from someone that has a low-quality website or something you’re not interested in, you can notify Google that you aren’t interested in them. Since disavow means not interested, you can unclaim them essentially. Thus, only quality backlinks help boost the authority of your website and help rank your site. Other unethical methods used can get Google to penalize your site.

Design/UX: Then vs Now

Design/User Experience fundamentally talks about how your website looks and functions. There were times when smartphones or tablets hadn’t still invaded our lives, but as they made their way into the digital world, there used to be separate sites for all three (desktop, mobile, tabs) such that nothing really synced up.

Even when we did get other devices out there, the desktop was still prioritized, meaning that Google considered only your desktop website to rank you according to content. Thereby, responsive design underwent changes as well. Now, there’s only one site for all devices and extreme attention is paid to ensuring clear and simple navigation too. Also, making changes to one site now syncs up automatically on others.

Back then, aesthetics and additional features outweighed performance. A website that had large attractive images on a slider but slowed down your site wasn’t really an issue. Today speed is a major ranking factor. If your site takes more than three seconds to load, it really doesn’t matter how nice it is. With a rolling attention span and decreasing levels of patience, people won’t wait for so long. 

In 2015, when mobile queries officially surpassed desktop queries in Google search, it followed a shift in focus from a desktop-first approach to mobile search traffic (mobile-first approach). With more people surfing the internet on their phones than ever before, Google now rewards sites that are mobile-friendly by indexing and ranking, making it even more crucial that your site is optimized for mobile devices. From a metrics standpoint, the average time spent on a page and how easily users find what they’re looking for contributes to your ranking too.

New Focus on Local SEO

Local SEO  used to be nothing in the past considering how relatively new it is in itself. Local listings were less integrated into results. So when you would search for ‘Pizza places near me’, it wouldn’t necessarily show up in the results, the way it does now, giving out nearby local places on mobile.

With time, local searches have become more common and also more specific, by virtue of which local companies have additional opportunities to reach their target audience. ‘Google My Business’ allows local companies to create a profile to rank in local searches. The rise in local searches has brought in additional opportunities for keyword optimization too. SEOs now optimize content in a manner that the site successfully ranks for location-specific keywords, thereby reaching their target market more easily. Thanks to mobile devices, local searches have become more common and location-specific over the last few years. 

SEO has indeed had a journey and surely more evolutionary changes are underway. For complete content solutions with an added element of SEO optimization, let us at The Thinking Cloud have the opportunity to serve you better than the rest!


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