Search engines have changed many aspects of our lives, such as how we find information, shop, connect with others and entertain ourselves. In the late 1900s, there were a number of different search engines and it was not until 2000 that a little-known search engine called Google was selected by Yahoo to power its organic results and started taking over.

Google’s web crawler and algorithm did not only look at on-page factors when ranking websites. It looked at off-page factors, too, such as the external links pointing to a page and the anchor text.

Over the next two decades, SEO was to become far more complex than just repeating keywords over and over. SEO still rules online marketing today, although many of the methods and practices have changed considerably over time.

The Google Revolution

Link building: Links were only one component of SEO but SEO practitioners latched onto the significance of link building. There was some abuse of link building which Google had to address, but the practice of link building is still very significant today.

Marketing companies exist in every industry and niche to help companies manage their SEO and build links. Reibar Marketing, for instance, helps real estate investors to generate seller leads through managing their SEO and link-building services.

Google AdSense: In 2003, Google acquired Blogger.com and launched AdSense with contextual ads served on publisher sites. This led to a surge in monetized online publishing. Unfortunately, it also led to a surge in sites made for AdSense filled with poor, thin or stolen content just to rank well, get clicks and make money.

Local SEO and personalization: In about 2004, Google started to improve results for local queries. Local SEO is still one of the best customer acquisition strategies for locally-focused businesses, like doctors, plumbers, restaurants etc. Google also started making more use of user data, such as search history and interests, to personalize search results.

YouTube, Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools: In 2006, Google acquired YouTube and video SEO became a hot topic. In the same year, Google launched two important tools that are still very significant today – Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, now known as Search Console.

Significant updates

Since about 2007, Google has introduced many updates aimed at improving search results for users. Two major algorithm updates, Panda and Penguin, were introduced in 2011 and 2012 with the intention of rewarding high-quality sites and eliminating low-quality content. The impact of these updates is still being felt today.

In 2013 Hummingbird was designed to address conversational search and natural language queries. The update was driven by the rise of mobile and voice search and was one of the major changes to Google’s search algorithm since 2001. In 2015 mobile search took over from desktop search for the first time.

The 2019 BERT update means that websites publishing content that best matches what users are searching for are given higher priority in search. Google is now able to use the words surrounding keywords to help its spiders to digest content.

Today featured snippet content provides a great opportunity to improve organic visibility. These are the short text, bullet points etc. seen at the top of Google’s search that answers a searcher’s query directly without the need to click through to a website.

SEO has come a long way since the 1990s and continues to evolve. As long as there are search engines, the higher a site ranks and the more visibility a business can gain, the more traffic and sales it is likely to generate.

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