Without any shred of doubt, Search engine optimization (SEO) has dramatically changed over the past five years and will continue to evolve. A few years ago, all it took to get at the top of search engine results was to strike a deal with some paid link providers, manipulate some code in your site and ran a spam campaign. This has drastically changed over the years though as Search engines have come out strongly to provide searchers with a positive user experience. In today’s SEO arena, a business must invest in its brand so as to gain a standing with search engines.
Over the past five years, search engines in general and Google in particular have become more intelligent. Previously, Google used Search Engine Results Page (SERPs) to help with the ranking of pages. In simple terms, the more links a site had the higher it’s ranking. Even though this method was quite consistent, it was open to manipulation by seasoned SEO operatives. During this period, Google’s quality assurance mainly depended on what can now be referred to as brute strength; Google identified what was unwanted such as paid text links, directory links, reciprocal links, article repository etc and then write a program which would recognize and deal with such. In the past five years, Google has gotten better at easily identifying websites which abuse methods such as the use of link-farms, anchor text spam and the aforementioned.
It is also worth mentioning that during this period the SEO community managed to isolate the important ranking factors and used these factors to improve their ranking, contrary to what currently happens where Google informs searchers and users of updates and change in algorithms; bringing an end to the era of self discovery. This was especially true prior to what’s known as the Big Daddy infrastructure update.
Currently, SEO does seek and prefers content which contributes new thoughts, ideas and information to topics rather than content which is rewritten or regurgitated from content that’s already ranking. During this period, the more relevant and current your content is; the higher the ranking. For the current crop of SEO, Search engines such as Google are keen on building an audience that rewards you as a site owner with social media shares and links. The content must therefore drive conversations and activity before it drives links.
The launch of the caffeine indexing infrastructure in 2010 did greatly empower Google to get better at identifying what it likes and ignoring or marking what it doesn’t like. PageRank algorithm was a game changer in the SEO arena even though its use has been discontinued by its provider. Google has also gone ahead and retired keyword analytics and so stopped reporting keyword referrals. It also removed some important functionality from their AdWords keyword tool. On the other hand some very powerful tools such as Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird have been introduced.
For those who use the service, the addition of Google+ as a social media platform has also greatly affected SEO since its introduction. Because Google+ is owned by Google, it thus follows that any content that’s shared or produced through Google+ is by default judged as authentic by the Google search engine. As a matter of fact, it is possible for Google + users to set themselves up for Google Authorship which allows them to tie any content that’s produced from that specific Google account to the Google+ page. As a result of this, it can perform better on Google’s search rankings, this is especially so if that particular using is following your business on Google+. Even though it is an agreed fact that having quality content with appropriate keywords is still an important part of SEO, Google+ does provide content creators with another route to improve their rankings substantially.
In short, the current SEO demands that users develop quality websites while creating valuable and high quality content. This is bound to provide a good user experience to searchers while still fulfilling the end user intention behind the keywords being targeted. This is expected to provide social media mentions and earn some back-links in the process. When looking at How SEO Has Changed Over the Past 5 Years, it must be recognized that in the years to come Google as the main driver of search engine optimization will have completed its transition from what was previously a link-based or PageRank based search engine optimization to a search that’s based on and recognizes quality rather than authority. It has also encouraged the use of inbound marketing strategies and conversion optimization techniques to convert traffic towards a desired or specific business goal.
A Brief Look at How SEO Has Changed Over the Past 5 Years (GOOGLE)
Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times. While most of these changes are minor, Google occasionally rolls out a “major” algorithmic update (such as Google Panda and Google Penguin) that affects search results in significant ways.
For search marketers, knowing the dates of these Google updates can help explain changes in rankings and organic website traffic and ultimately improve search engine optimization. Below, I’ve listed the major algorithmic changes that have had the biggest impact on search.
Unnamed Update — February 4, 2015
Multiple SERP-trackers and many webmasters reported major flux in Google SERPs. Speculation ranged from an e-commerce focused update to a mobile usability update. Google did not officially confirm an update.
Pigeon Expands (UK, CA, AU) — December 22, 2014
Google’s major local algorithm update, dubbed “Pigeon”, expanded to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The original update hit the United States in July 2014. The update was confirmed on the 22nd but may have rolled out as early as the 19th.
Pirate 2.0 — October 21, 2014
More than two years after the original DMCA/”Pirate” update, Google launched another update to combat software and digital media piracy. This update was highly targeted, causing dramatic drops in ranking to a relatively small group of sites.
Penguin 3.0 — October 17, 2014
More than a year after the previous Penguin update (2.1), Google launched a Penguin refresh. This update appeared to be smaller than expected (<1% of US/English queries affected) and was probably data-only (not a new Penguin algorithm). The timing of the update was unclear, especially internationally, and Google claimed it was spread out over “weeks”.
Authorship Removed — August 28, 2014
Following up on the June 28th drop of authorship photos, Google announced that they would be completely removing authorship markup (and would no longer process it). By the next morning, authorship bylines had disappeared from all SERPs.
Pigeon — July 24, 2014
Google shook the local SEO world with an update that dramatically altered some local results and modified how they handle and interpret location cues. Google claimed that Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm(s).
Page Layout — February 6, 2014
Google “refreshed” their page layout algorithm, also known as “top heavy”. Originally launched in January 2012, the page layout algorithm penalizes sites with too many ads above the fold.
Authorship Shake-up — December 19, 2013
As predicted by Matt Cutts at Pubcon Las Vegas, authorship mark-up disappeared from roughly 15% of queries over a period of about a month. The fall bottomed out around December 19th, but the numbers remain volatile and have not recovered to earlier highs.
Hummingbird — August 20, 2013
Announced on September 26th, Google suggested that the “Hummingbird” update rolled out about a month earlier. Hummingbird has been compared to Caffeine, and seems to be a core algorithm update that may power changes to semantic search and the Knowledge Graph for months to come.
Panda Recovery — July 18, 2013
Google confirmed a Panda update, but it was unclear whether this was one of the 10-day rolling updates or something new. The implication was that this was algorithmic and may have “softened” some previous Panda penalties.
Multi-Week Update — June 27, 2013
Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted a reply suggesting a “multi-week” algorithm update between roughly June 12th and “the week after July 4th”. The nature of the update was unclear, but there was massive rankings volatility during that time period, peaking on June 27th (according to MozCast data). It appears that Google may have been testing some changes that were later rolled back.
Penguin 2.0 — May 22, 2013
After months of speculation bordering on hype, the 4th Penguin update (dubbed “2.0” by Google) arrived with only moderate impact. The exact nature of the changes were unclear, but some evidence suggested that Penguin 2.0 was more finely targeted to the page level.
Knowledge Graph Expansion — December 4, 2012
Google added Knowledge Graph functionality to non-English queries, including Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, and Italian. This update was “more than just translation” and added enhanced KG capabilities.
Page Layout — October 9, 2012
Google announced an update to its original page layout algorithm change back in January, which targeted pages with too many ads above the fold. It’s unclear whether this was an algorithm change or a Panda-style data refresh.
Panda 3.9.2 — September 18, 2012
Google rolled out another Panda refresh, which appears to have been data-only. Ranking flux was moderate but not on par with a large-scale algorithm update.
Link Warnings — July 19, 2012
In a repeat of March/April, Google sent out a large number of unnatural link warnings via Google Webmaster Tools. In a complete turn-around, they then announced that these new warnings may not actually represent a serious problem.
Search + Your World — January 10, 2012
Google announced a radical shift in personalization – aggressively pushing Google+ social data and user profiles into SERPs. Google also added a new, prominent toggle button to shut off personalization.
Google+ — June 28, 2011
After a number of social media failures, Google launched a serious attack on Facebook with Google+. Google+ revolved around circles for sharing content, and was tightly integrated into products like Gmail. Early adopters were quick to jump on board, and within 2 weeks Google+ reached 10M users.
Schema.org — June 2, 2011
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft jointly announced support for a consolidated approach to structured data. They also created a number of new “schemas“, in an apparent bid to move toward even richer search results.
The +1 Button — March 30, 2011
Responding to competition by major social sites, including Facebook and Twitter, Google launched the +1 button (directly next to results links). Clicking [+1] allowed users to influence search results within their social circle, across both organic and paid results.
Attribution Update — January 28, 2011
In response to high-profile spam cases, Google rolled out an update to help better sort out content attribution and stop scrapers. According to Matt Cutts, this affected about 2% of queries. It was a clear precursor to the Panda updates.
Social Signals — December 2010
Google and Bing confirmed that they use social signals in determining ranking, including data from Twitter and Facebook. Matt Cutts confirmed that this was a relatively new development for Google, although many SEOs had long suspected it would happen.
Instant Previews — November 2010
A magnifying glass icon appeared on Google search results, allowing search visitors to quickly view a preview of landing pages directly from SERPs. This signaled a renewed focus for Google on landing page quality, design, and usability.
Google Places — April 2010
Although “Places” pages were rolled out in September of 2009, they were originally only a part of Google Maps. The official launch of Google Places re-branded the Local Business Center, integrated Places pages more closely with local search results, and added a number of features, including new local advertising options.