The History Of SEO And What Its Future

HoldsSEO in 2021- is it worth it?

With the rise of paid media, ads and platforms like TikTok, there’s been a conversation around whether SEO is becoming outdated. However, irrelevant of how much websites now rely on alternative online advertising, being able to rank organically above your competitors, is an almost irreplaceable asset to your business. So, as long as people are still using Google – which they are, there are (40,000 google searches made every second)– then SEO will remain just as important as it is now, although it may come in different shapes and sizes as it has done over the years.

In the long history of Google influencing site rankings, there have been many changes to its algorithm. It has been important for SEO companies to keep up with all the various updates that have impacted how our pages rank. This got us thinking: can we look at what Google has done in the past, to gain insight into its future?


Where SEO all began…

Nowadays, we know how important Google is in the world of SEO with 3.5 billion Google searches being made each day. However, there was a time when SEO was independent of Google. We could say that the world of SEO began in 1991, when the first ever website was launched. But officially, the first use of the term ‘search engine optimisation’ was in 1997. This, however, was completely different to what it is now.


As soon as people started using search engines, website owners began thinking of ways to get their site to the top of the SERP (search engine result page). At the beginning, this was purely how much the content of your site matched what the user entered in the search bar. In other words, for a website to be highly ranked, it just had to be filled with the keywords. The more often the keywords were used, the higher the website would rank, and thus keyword stuffing was born


In 2000, Google partnered with Yahoo and began controlling their organic search. When anyone searched in Yahoo (the more known and influential search engine of the time), they were faced with ‘powered by Google’, turning Google into a household name. They soon began ranking on and off-page factors – a revolutionary SEO move. Google realised that if people were talking about a site, it would act as an indicator for the importance of that site and so it deserves to rank high.


A collection of Tweaks

Over the next few years, Google added more and more changes to its algorithm to improve the user experience. In 2004, they began to include local SEO and started to personalise the user experience by looking at the user’s individual history and interests.

In 2005, they created ‘nofollow’ to combat spam and 2006 saw the inclusion of ‘Map Plus Box’, so that the user could easily navigate from their search, to a map of what they wanted. They even made it easier for site owners to track their progress, with the creation of Google Analytics and Google Search Console. In 2007, Google added to Universal Search – its biggest change since the Florida Update that added news, videos, blogs and images to the user’s search.

Florida Update

In 2003, Google got smart and realised the ways that businesses were getting their sites to rank higher. This update had a huge impact, causing some retail companies to go out of business.

Now, sites with an unnatural amount of keywords, invisible links and hidden links dropped massively in their rank. This update was to remove clutter for the user and although it seemed detrimental at first, it actually forced businesses to make more of an effort to rank their sites, by improving the user’s experience and adding useful content.



The 2008 Vince update seemed to favour bigger brands as they moved up the search rankings with more ease in comparison to new or smaller brands. Google claimed that this was not because they just wanted to praise larger companies, but because larger brands were popular for a reason – they were trustworthy.

Social signals

With the rise of social media, Google now considered this when ranking sites. Now, social signals such as shares, likes and tweets all mattered.

Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird

In 2011 and 2012, Google released two new updates that still have a major impact on how we as SEO’s operate today. With Panda, Google aimed to eliminate the use of ‘content farms’ which are websites that produce thin or scraped content.

The Penguin update was even more accurate in eliminating keyword stuffing and linking patterns. The user now had clearer results, with no auto-generated, low-quality content to sieve through.

The 2013 Hummingbird update was introduced which allowed search engines to reward more natural language. This was due to the rise of mobiles and voices search. Yet again, Google making it easier for users to get exactly what they want.


2015 was the year that mobile searches overtook that of desktop which caused Google to launch its mobile friendly algorithm.


Also in 2015, Google introduced RankBrain which was equipped to understand what the specific user’s intent was. For example, it can recognise whether the user wants to buy or read information, or whether they want a short or long answer. By 2017, Google was declared the world’s first total AI company, with AI in everything. Google informs and assists rather than just showing you a list of information.


2019 saw the creation of BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), to better understand different languages. This improved the quality of international traffic. This update also focused on increasing the ranking of sites that had higher quality content, rather than its use of keywords. The 2020 updates introduced ‘E.A.T’ (expertise, authority, trustworthiness), which was used 186 times in their guidelines, showing their emphasis on providing good quality information for their users.


What will likely be the biggest change for 2021 is Google core web vitals update.

This is the introduction of page speed to Google’s existing page experience ranking factors (such as mobile friendly, HTTPS, safe browsing and no intrusive interstitials). Page speed is something webmasters and business owners should be focussing on anyway, as it has a direct impact on conversion and bounce rate. However, with this now becoming major ranking factor, businesses should begin to use the likes of Google Search Console, Pagespeed insights and lighthouse to prepare for the core web vitals update. Along side side this, we predict that mobile compatibility will be more important than ever as phone usage continues to overtake the use of desktops.

Just as we see an ever increasing usage of mobile search over desktop, we are seeing more and more use of voice search, which will no doubt transform the way SEO is undertaken over the coming years. To prepare for this, two methods which businesses should make sure that they are undertaking, is aiming for rich snippets which are short and to the point (FAQ’s are an effective method to address this), as well as being setup across Bing, Google and Safari, so they are available for Alexa, Siri and Googles Assistant.

Some other useful things to consider, is content depth – as long as the information is relevant, it matters less on the actual content depth which has dominated how google ranks content over the last couple of years. It is also suggested that sites should be niche, so make sure your content is specific to your site’s main objective.

What can we conclude?

Despite the many different updates that Google has done over the years, there has been one that seems to be consistent: to improve the experience of the user. The various tweaks to its algorithm have always been to ensure that when you search in Google, you are met with the most appropriate product, service or information out there. We know that keeping the user satisfied means that they will continue to use Google and therefore Google makes more money. Because of this, Google will always do what it can to put the user first and provide them with the best result possible.

Because of Google’s increasing intelligence, it is wise to leave the easy, cheat ways behind. Instead, focus on providing good quality information on a well-functioning site. Use language that the user would use, and check your sites on tablets, mobiles and desktops to ensure a smooth web experience. Although we cannot predict the exact changes google will roll out to the world of SEO, we can be sure that UX will be the most influential factor over the next couple of years.

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