How SEO evolved throughout the years?

by | Jan 16, 2019 | SEO

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 – – was launched by Tim Berners-Lee.


Stanford University students Jerry Wang and David Filo start Yahoo, the first Search Engine to be used by masses followed by AltaVista, Excite, and Lycos.


Backrub search engine is created that ranks sites based on inbound link relevancy and popularity. Backrub would ultimately become Google.


The King is born. Google launches in September, and so the story of SEO really begins. Before it, search engines positioned results based on on-page content, domain names, directories and breadcrumbs. Google introduced PageRank algorithm that also took into account the quantity and quality of links pointing to a website and anchor text.

The Google SEO revolution


First Google algorithm update named Florida takes down a lot of websites in their ranking, especially those that would stuff keywords. Repeating keywords would be hidden at the bottom of a page in a font colour that matches the background. That way reader would not see them, but the bots would feed off them and rank websites position higher. Actions like that became to be known as Blackhat SEO tactics. Around this time a new tactic of link building is born. A race to build as many backlinks as possible begins as the savvy marketers quickly learn how to abuse the system.


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.


Google announces that site speed is a ranking factor following “Caffeine” update, dubbed a next-generation search architecture that is faster, more precise and provides more relevant results. All that thanks to fast “spider-bots” that can quickly crawl website and cover larger parts of the internet.


“Panda” update causes a notable impact on SEO which resulted in affecting optimisation field to this day. In an attempt to clean up search results, 12% of them were impacted. Websites with low quality and irrelevant content (better known as “content farms”) drop down in the rankings. A similar thing happens to websites with unoriginal, static and auto-generated content.


The following “Penguin” update doubles-down on eliminating aggressive, black-hat SEO spam tactics. Gone are the sites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines such us buying links, keyword stuffing and keyword matching anchor text to the dot. Eventually, Penguin and previously mentioned Panda release become part of Google’s real-time search architecture.


Hummingbird” release centres around the growing market of mobile users. It is the biggest update to Google’s algorithm since 2001 and deals better with natural language questions, conversational search, and it lays the foundations of Voice Search. Original content becomes a major factor in ranking along with blogs. Google starts to reward websites that provide useful, unique and lengthy answers to visitor’s queries. “Long-tail keywords” or, in other words, detailed and specific search queries become a thing.


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.


Google “Fred” update hits mostly websites with poor content. In general, Google tries to deal with aggressive monetisation, misleading and deceptive ads, poor mobile compatibility and poor content. Fred is not a stand-alone algorithm update, rather a catchall name for every quality tweak to Google system intended to improve it and get rid of the content that violates the Webmaster Guidelines. It’s been a known fact for a while that Google does quality updates on a regular basis and most go unnoticed and are unannounced.


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.

And so, the story continues. What will 2019 bring? Most likely further updates toward mobile-friendly AMP enabled websites that load fast on slow 3G networks. 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.

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