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The evolution of Google

The early search engines relied on webmasters to let them know what a web page was about. Early versions of search algorithms relied on information such as the keyword meta tag. Meta tags provided the search engine with a guide to each page’s content.

In the mid-1990’s webmasters and content providers saw the value in ranking well for search and began optimising their websites. The term search engine optimisation (SEO) was first used in 1997.

Because webmasters are responsible for creating meta data, a practise now known as ‘keyword stuffing’ emerged. Inaccurate, incomplete and irrelevant data in meta tags caused pages to rank for searches that were not relevant to the content contained within the website.

A different type of search

Two Stanford students Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a different type of search algorithm and launched Google in September 1998. PageRank ranked websites according to the quality and strength of their in-bound links. Google quickly became the world’s most popular search engine and remains so today. The advent of PageRank and its weighting of links in search results lead to a practice of link farming, the exchange, buying and selling of links. Thousands of different websites were created for the sole purpose of link farming.

When Google launched Places Pages for Google Maps in 2009 its aim was to have a Place Page for every place in the world from train stations to drycleaners. This levelled the playing field for small businesses when it came to local search. With Google Places and a local search engine optimisation strategy small, local businesses could now compete with their global counterparts at a local level.

The important factors affecting page rank

Google now uses over 200 different signals to assess a website’s PageRank, each is weighted according to it’s value. According to Google the most important factors affecting PageRank are a well constructed website that is easy to navigate, high-quality in-bound links and up-to-date, relevant content.

It is this last element that seems to be gaining momentum in the evolution of Google’s search algorithm. A fact that was highlighted beyond all doubt when Google released its Panda update to all English language searches in April of this year. Panda rewarded high-quality, original content and according to Google noticeably impacted 11.8% of all search queries. This represented a huge shift in how websites are ranked and Search Engine Optimisation strategies
had to respond quickly.

The advent of social media has also affected how websites are ranked and now that Google has entered the space in an aggressive way with the launch of Google + in June 2011, it remains to be seen how Google’s PageRank algorithm will develop to incorporate Google+ .

One change everyday

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently confirmed that on average Google makes at least one change to its search algorithm every day. It is clear that change in the way websites are ranked is here to stay. In the aftermath of Panda it is more important than ever to base your strategy on the fundamentals of SEO.

A well constructed website, with up-to-date, relevant and original content that generates high-quality in-bound links, should ensure that you stay ahead of the curve.

Geoff Kinsella, partner at EzSales