I have been involved in SEO since 2008- the days when there were no penguins, pandas or any other deceivingly inconspicuous animals and birds to scare away the SEO folks.
2008 was relatively calm until August when Google announced the “Suggest” update. Under which, Google started showing suggested searches under a query. Later on, this proved to be the tip of the iceberg and paved the way for NLG/AI powered searched algorithms. In 2009 the Rel Canonical tags were introduced and I was among the many SEOs who at that time “almost” worshipped Matt Cutts when it came to SEO & Google rankings.
August 2009- exactly a year after the Suggest update, Google announced Caffeine update followed by Real time search in December the same year.
2010 was more on the good side with updates such as Google Places being tied to Google maps, social signals being incorporated as a ranking factor, and an expansion of Google suggest into Google Instant. But that was the calm before the storm.
Come 2011, Google publically penalized two major websites Overstock.com and JCPenny- that was the last warning. And then it exploded.
Feb 23, 2011- Panda came rolling down the snow-capped peaks like an avalanche. The early casualties were websites with thin content, link farms and sites going overboard with advertising space. As per Google, 12% of searches worldwide were affected. Various Panda updates were rolled out throughout the year- all focusing heavily on low-quality sites, illicit link building practices and doorway pages/thin content websites. In fact, that was more of a carrot & stick policy but the anomaly was the stick being way more extensively used than the carrot. To sugarcoat was the +1 update and the Schema.org update.
The message was loud and clear: Google is now the policeman and the webmasters need to follow the law.
August has always been eventful for the SEO industry and 2011 was no exception. Google rolled out Panda 2.4 for both English and Non English queries- impacting 6-9% of searches worldwide. Just 04 days after that, the Sitelinks update was rolled out for branded content. To further streamline the linking practices, Rel Next and Rel Prev tags were rolled out in September the same year. By this time, Google was riding a rollercoaster of updates. Eric Schmidt told US Congress that Google made 516 updates in 2010 alone. That is a staggering 43 updates per month. In November 2011, Google announced the “freshness” update which heavily benefitted the sites that used to add fresh content. Indexing time was also reduced.
By 2012, the thin line between a “feature” and “algo update” was blurred to the point of extinction. Subsequently, a number of new updates were rolled out- the majority being the unannounced ones going all the way to May 2012. On May 16, 2012, Google unveiled the Knowledge Graph which was a giant leap towards semantic search.
And then came the “AUGUST” again- August 2012. Along with the many Panda updates(minor), Google changed the SERP page to 7 results for some queries. The impact was 18% of the total queries.
Other updates till Dec 2012 included expansion in the Knowledge Graph, EMD update and a minor Penguin update which was believed to be a precursor to a much bigger update.
2013 was mostly calm- the only major change being the Hummingbird- which was in ways, more than one, comparable to the Caffeine update. Humminbird was going to impact the knowledge graph and semantic search for a long time to come.
The most notable events in 2014 were the Pigeon update which rattled the Local SEO industry and the HTTPS/SSL update- ironically again in August. According to Google, it would give marginal benefit to sites operating an SSL certificate.
By December 2014, Pigeon was expanded to UK, EU, Canada & Australia.
2015: The most significant of the updates was the RankBrain, with Google stating that machine learning had been a part of the algorithm for months, contributing to the 3rd most influential ranking factor.
After almost 2 years of minor Penguin updates and the Panda updates in between, Google unveiled a major Penguin update- making it a core of its ranking factors. The update was further extended in September and October 2016.
By 2017, Mobile devices accounted for over 50% of the search queries performed via Google worldwide. The stage was set- and what has been done with desktop devices all way along started happening for mobile devices as well.
In January 2017, Intrusive Interstitial Penalty was rolled out to punish aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that might damage the mobile user experience. Google also provided a rare warning of this update five months in advance.
Google’s obsession with the HTTPS continued all along and by April 2017, 50% of the results on Page-1 of Google SERP were the HTTPS sites. The percentage increased to 75% by the end of 2017.
In June 2017, Google officially launched its Job portal, pulling away data from major job sites such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Career builder. The Job portal was built on the foundations of the knowledge graph.
By 2017, Google Chrome web browser usage rose to an astounding 72%- worldwide. In October 2017, Chrome 62 was launched and with it came a tiny feature that would warn visitors using unsecured forms- again living to its obsession with the HTTPS.
By this time, Google had developed enormous trust in its NLG/Semantic search and the Knowledge graph capabilities and based on the same, the Snippets length was increased. This led us to adopt a new Meta Description limit — up to 300 characters from the previous 155.
Towards the end of 2017, Google announced the Maccabees update. No specific updates were shared by Google but huge volatility was observed with the SERPs.
In March 2018, Google announced that the mobile-first index was finally “rolling out.” Since the index has been in testing for many months, and Google has suggested they are migrating sites gradually, it’s unclear how much impact this specific roll-out had on the overall index.
In May 2018, the snippet length was reversed to 150-160 characters and the same applied to the meta description tags.
In June 2018, a video carousel update was announced. Google moved videos from organic-like results with thumbnails into a dedicated video carousel, causing a shake-up in results that were previously tracked as organic. At the same time, the number of SERPs with videos increased by 60%.
On July 09, 2018, the Mobile Speed Update was announced, making page speed a ranking factor for mobile results. Google claimed that this only affected the slowest mobile sites. The same month, Google’s obsession with the HTTPS rose to new heights and with Chrome 68 rollout, all non HTTP sites were marked as “not secured”. HTTPS was no longer a choice now but a compulsion- especially for eCommerce websites.
From July 2018 to September 2019, a number of smaller algorithm updates and features were launched but they were more of a continuation of the same process that was started with Panda and Penguin updates.
From its infancy stages when stuffing keywords, tweaking code and building shady backlinks was the “ultimate SEO” to an Artificial Intelligence, NLG inspired domain- SEO has evolved, unlike any other industry. The only thing that has remained a constant is Google’s efforts to provide value in terms of content to the visitors. That value can be in terms of high-quality content, quick loading websites and a clean structure that ensures quick loading of the websites.
The BERT update introduced recently was the most significant one in the last 5 years. It mainly focuses on NLP & boosting Google’s AI abilities to comprehend queries in a way more conceivable to humans. Previous to that, and as was the fashion, the SEO was done keeping the search engines in mind. Google actually pointed the other way and gently advised the SEO experts to keep the customers in mind rather than the SEs.
Bottom line is- SEO would continue being an ever-changing and evolving domain. But things would only change for the better.
To follow this up, we would be shortly publishing the SEO story of Mobiritz.