Back in the day, when Google was a campus company in Stanford and the web was in its infancy, people found information in different ways – Golden Pages, Encyclopedia Britannica. But increasingly information went online and that’s where people now go to find it. Here’s a brief overview of how this search has changed over the years.
Back in 1998, the number of pages on the web was in the order of 30 million. Google’s challenge was crawling (or ‘spidering’) these pages efficiently and indexing the contents. And it took them weeks. These days, the number of pages on the web is more like hundreds of billions and, for a regularly updated site like Small Business Can, a blog post could be indexed within minutes.
Those early adopters with websites soon realised the opportunities afforded by people searching on the web and the strategies they used to reach out to customers changed. Where owners had previously named their business to get alphabetical priority in the Golden Pages, like A1Plumbing, they were then influenced by keyword enriched domain names like www.dublin plumbing.com . Then the aim was to get a website higher up a search engines result page for specific terms or keywords. This was the beginning of search engine optimization.
The algorithm used by Google was fairly basic to begin with and the role of the search engine optimization consultant (or SEO) was to figure out the right keywords for the site and place these in the right places. At this stage, most sites had ‘Home’ in the browser title bar, indicating the Home page. Unless you were selling homes, this didn’t tell Google what the site was about. This was the stage of on-site optimization.
Later it got more complicated and the concept of PageRank became more complex. The perceived popularity of a site across the web went into the mix. For the SEO, this meant building links for clients to make it look like their client’s site was popular across the web. Directory sites proliferated and article marketing became a key part of many SEO’s job. This feature became part of off-site SEO.
Searcher User Experience
In 2010, the arrival of Google Instant brought changes to the way people searched with many people not entering search terms themselves but letting Google do it for them. Other changes included the load speed of sites, which is now a ranking factor. Many sites with splash pages and heavy on imagery and Flash had to take action to improve their site loading time. Users, and more importantly Google, were not prepared to hang around looking at 100% countdowns.
Over 200 factors influence the ranking of a site in Google. And they make in the region of 500 changes to the algorithm in any year and not all of these are announced. But the big one for 2011 was the Farmer Panda which put the panda amongst the pigeons, so to speak. This change aimed to decrease the rankings of low-quality sites including those that Google deemed to be ‘content farms’. This has reduced the efficacy of article marketing for the SEO.
Google don’t divulge how ranking works for the obvious reason that they don’t want people manipulating or ‘gaming’ the results. But they do give direction to SEOs. After all, their goal is to serve relevant results, so they want to have quality sites with content that they can index correctly.
Next up is social search. We’ve had personalised search for some time, but the game changer is Google’s launch of Google +1. Similar to the Facebook ‘Like’ button this is Google’s social media product recently launched for personal profiles (but business ones are on the way). Google can now build the rich personal data that Facebook has been building for years with access to the recommendations of a searchers social network.
Optimizing your business’s online just got more complex. And more interesting.