The origins of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

I’ve been working with websites since before search engine optimisation (SEO) was a ‘thing’. I originally taught myself HTML as a young teenager using a book I found lying about by Carol Vordernman and the rest, as they say, for me at least, is history. I’ve been providing SEO in Sheffield & further afield now for many years. The first of the more sophisticated search engines to start ‘crawling’ the web and using ‘back-links’ to help evaluate a website was BackRub (later Google) back in 1996. It ranked pages using citation notation, meaning any mention of a website on another site would count it as a kind of vote toward the site it pointed to. In other words, basic things like how many links and the quality of those links to a site would improve its ranking and thus the search engine optimisation industry was born.

Sheffield SEO (Search Engine optimisation)

Sheffield SEO (Search Engine optimisation)

It was very easy to manipulate search engines in the early days

Back in those early halcyon days, the world wide web was not widely understood and search engines were very easy to manipulate. As businesses began to see the potential of the internet, ‘experts’ appeared who promised to get them ‘up the rankings’. It was actually very easy to do using techniques such as keyword stuffing (for example, a hundred instances of a phrase, right at the bottom of a website, in white writing and on a white background or hiding keywords in the source code) and it actually worked! This, in conjunction with very little search engine competition, created a very profitable business for many SEOs. However, this situation meant that a poor quality site could often easily rank better than a good quality sites – and Google certainly didn’t like being manipulated. Google therefore developed & improved their search algorithm to spot ‘keyword stuffed’ sites and the big change came when they released the infamous Penguin update in 2012 – overnight, many poor quality and keyword stuffed websites dropped out of the search results.

The new Penguin rules were:

  • Show all of your content.
  • Never stuff keywords in your text or in your images’ ‘alt text’.
  • Don’t use lists of keywords to promote your content.

If you’re interested in a bit the internet history, you click here to read the official Google Webmaster Blog post entitled ‘Another step to reward high-quality sites’ from 24th April 2012

SEO in 2020

Roll on to 2020, and although SEO or search engine optimisation is still a thing, it’s actually almost unrecognisable compared to what it was in those early days. Nowadays we need to focus on providing value to the audience. This, in theory anyway, means that the audience will engage with it and the ‘signals’ (such as social shares, time spent on a site, inbound links) will naturally happen. These signals are what Google use to decide where your site should rank.

Here is a list of good SEO practice from Google’s perspective in 2020:

  • Help Google find your content
  • Tell Google which pages shouldn’t be crawled
  • Help Google (and users) understand your content
  • Manage your appearance in Google Search results
  • Organise your site hierarchy
  • Optimise your content
  • Optimise your images
  • Make your site mobile-friendly
  • ‘Promote your website’
  • Analyse your search performance and user behaviour

I’m not going to go into detail here about exactly what these ‘guidelines’ mean as each one warrants its own 1000 word article, however, the rules basically mean that you (as a site owner) and Google (as a search engine) need to meet in the middle. Google does as much as it can to ‘understand’ your site and you need to do as much as you can to help Google ‘understood’ your site.

However, it all becomes a lot easier to understand when you consider the following facts:

  • Google is first and foremost an advertising agency
  • In order to remain as profitable as possible, Google need to provide the best value to it’s customers (the advertisers) by providing the biggest and most relevant audience (allowing more targeted ads which improves the ROI)
  • Google’s value therefore is in the audience it provides for its advertisers
  • The audience will naturally gravitate to the best search engine experience which includes:
    • High quality
    • Relevant
    • Fast
    • Trustworthy
    • Choice

Therefore, the better your experience, the more likely you are to use their services.

The only company who would be potentially able to do this better that Google is Facebook. However, the reason Facebook currently can’t compete is:

  • We don’t trust them anymore. The Cambridge Analytica scandal had a lot to do with this. Their app is also far too intrusive. For example, if you have a recent Android phone, have you tried removing or even disabling the Facebook app that comes pre-installed?
  • Their results aren’t always relevant or high-quality. The content is user-generated or created by advertisers so there often simply isn’t enough choice, quality or relevance

More importantly than that, though, is that many of us can live quite happily without Facebook but how many of us can cope without a search engine?

Improve your search engine rankings

Google is a fact of life but your website languishing on page 4 isn’t. You’ve seen that good search engine optimsation is no longer ‘smoke and mirrors’, rather it’s a combination of providing quality to your audience and communicating effectively with Google. Time-consuming maybe but certainly not rocket-science (or should that be ‘rocket-surgery’?) If you’d like to know where your site can be improved, give us a call on 0114 383 0711