I still remember when just putting a website up in a certain category practically guaranteed Page 1 results on Google (and other search engines when they still mattered). As time went on, I registered my “brick and mortar” and other local service clients on Local Google and Local Yahoo. Again, practically guaranteeing first page display – especially in and around our medium-sized city.
In the beginning, most search engines were obsessed with “key words” and we did whatever it took to get key words into our websites – some of these tactics were later classified as “black hat,” but back then, most of them just seemed clever.
More Websites = the Ascendance of SEO
As time went on, and more businesses added websites, getting to Page 1 got harder.
Google became the premier browser. I started paying attention to Google Webmaster Guidelines and reading about the latest algorithm changes that were announced. I also started to read the blogs and articles by other webmasters to hear about their successes (and failures). Google was happy to give us general ideas, but specifics were harder to come by. And Google was getting more sophisticated, able to weed out websites that it considered guilty of “black hat” tactics. Even things that were once considered fair – like linking to and from random directories, adding a lot of key words to the text, using keyword stuffed “alt” tags and even overusing the keyword Meta tag – became targets of Google’s wrath. Around this time, a group of people started calling themselves SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts, and a new industry was spawned.
New algorithms with names like Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird changed the way we optimized websites and each new tweak made some websites, even those whose owners paid a lot of money to SEO companies, disappear from view.
Is Google putting SEO companies out of business?
Google says it still wants to see websites that open quickly, use up-to-date code, and correctly use key words; they definitely “punish” websites that ignore their on-page and technical rules. For now, traditional SEO remains important, but seems to be best practiced when a website is being developed.
Google has “shifted gears”
The sheer number of websites (over one trillion), along with the advent of Social Media and the proliferation of mobile devices have changed the online marketing landscape. Google has refined its search criteria, favoring a constant stream of fresh and valuable content (including blogs). They want “social signals” showing that viewers are deriving value from what a company is saying. They want to see “responsive” or mobile-friendly websites. In fact, they have announced that they may not even display websites that are not mobile friendly in their search results.
Google has also expanded what it is indexing. It may not be a website that shows up at the top of Google’s search engine results page. Someone looking for information on specific products and/or services may find a blog post, Facebook post, Tweet or link from Google Plus. If the information is what they are looking for, and they want to know more, their next stop may be the Company website – even if it is not optimized for search engines.
Will SEO (and Google) Become Irrelevant?
The way people are using the Internet is changing. Today, more people are using mobile devices as their primary “screens.” In fact, mobile internet searches have surpassed searches done on computers. Social Sites and apps are handling a lot of search traffic. (Apple reports that there are 1.4 million apps available and that app downloads number over 1 billion.) This means that as time goes on, Internet searches may bypass Google and other search engines altogether.
These and other changes will shift the dynamic, making it necessary for businesses that want to stay competitive to rethink online strategies that go far beyond simple SEO.
Fact Check: I just realized that I said there were 1 trillion websites. According to Worldwidewebsize.com there are 4.75 billion web pages, Google estimates there are 177 million active websites.