This article was updated on 16 May 2020. Added paragraphs about 2019 and 2020 Google Algorithm Updates.
The early beginning before SEO became a thing
Before SEO there was the beginning of world wide web. In on March 6th, 1991 the first ever website – info.cern.ch – was launched by Tim Berners-Lee.
The Google SEO revolution
Google makes its first attempt to fight back linking exploitation and launches its “rel=nofollow” attribute preventing the authority of websites to be passed on. Following this update, Google launches the Jagger and Big Daddy algorithms just before the end of 2015 to prevent link farming and other suspicious SEO tactics.
YouTube gets acquired by Google for the whopping amount of $1.65 billion. Eventually, it would become the second most used search engine in the world. In the same year, Google also launches Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools giving developers profoundly deep insight on how Google sees their websites.
Suggestion Box is finally launched after four years of development and testing. Continuing its path of improving the user experience, Google focuses on understanding better how we surf the web and interact with content. It may seem like the most obvious Google feature these days, but back then showing related searches to automatically appear below, after you start typing in the search box, was a major hit.
Bing goes online or rather Microsoft gives a new name to its Live Search tool. By then Google has nearly 70% of the search engine market in the USA.
The release of “Pidgeon” is all about better local search results. Google improves location and distance ranking parameters to provide relevant results to users based on proximity. Local businesses with strong organic presence showed higher in traditional search within the area of the searching person’s location. The “Local SEO” finally gets its own genre, now distinct from the general SEO.
AI & Machine Learning algorithms
2015 Some would say a breakthrough year in which Google reported more mobile searches in comparison to desktop search. “RankBrain” – a self-learning AI search architecture is introduced as part of the Hummingbird algorithm. It determines the most relevant results to search engine queries. At first, it runs only on 15% of searches that the system had never encountered before, but eventually, it applies to all of them.
Google confirms that the search engine’s top three ranking factors are: links, content, and RankBrain.
A year of Webmaster Tools modernisation. Google Search Console, Google My Business and, most notably for SEO, Google’s PageSpeed Insights tools receive their updates. There are of course multiple changes to Google’s ranking algorithm done almost every day, but there were three Broad Core Algorithm Updates that were actually announced. PageSpeed update becomes a significant player in ranking and slow sites with low optimisation score on mobiles are affected. Google announces nine factors that influence Optimisation Score.
The 2019 is the year of many Broad Core updates. After small Valentine’s Update released in February that impacted rankings in mostly positive ways the March release was one of the most significant Google updates in years. It was a kind of rollback that caused previously penalised websites retrieving their traffic and positions in search results. In June core update seems to have boosted sites focusing on their content quality and September release affected links. The latter was most likely related to Google’s changes in nofollow links policy. However, the biggest change came with BERT Broad algorithm update introduced in October and rolled out worldwide in December, which was designed to understand search queries better.
Although 2020 is still in progress, we thought to share some insight right away instead of waiting for the end of the year summary as we’ve noticed significant changes analysing our client’s websites traffic. The year started with Google announcing that URLs in featured snippets will not show on the first page of organic search results any more. However, early May release, which turned out to be the second-highest Core Update after August 2018, and the first one since COVID-19, was much more significant. Although it is still early to say the full scope of its impact, as these updates take 1-2 weeks to roll out fully, we noticed relatively high volatility around 4-6 May. The industries that were impacted the most are health, travel, real estate, animals, people and society. Marcus Tober from Search Metrics advised,
“(…)it seems that Google was working again on content factors combined with brand factors (…)”.
We will update this article further once we analyse some more data in the upcoming weeks.
And so, the story continues. What will the rest of the year 2020 bring? A lot has changed since the first Google SEO revolution. An easily abused system based on keywords evolved into sophisticated learning machine that thinks like a human. Content became a king, and mobile device accessibility will further shape the ranking.