In his book, A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber lays out a fascinating case of how the world is continually evolving and how with every step along the way, everything gets more and more complex. This is most certainly the case with SEO.
In their posts Social Interaction & Advertising Are The Modern Day Search Engine Submission & Link Building and The Evolution of SEO Aaron Wall and William Flaiz, respectively, describe how search engines have evolved over the years in their strategies of how best to return results to a search. And, as the search engines have changed and improved, so has how to optimze for the search engines.
In this post I’d like to expand a bit on their thoughts. As they point out, there have been basically four steps in the evolution of SEO:
1. Submit Your Site
When the Internet first began, the way to get your site found was to make sure the the search engines knew you were there. They all had submission systems that allowed you to tell them where your site was and what it was about. This allowed them to put your site into a directory. Some sites even had people check out your site before being added to their database. SEO at this point simply meant that you had to fill out the right forms and that would get you traffic.
2. Page Optimization
Next came the SpiderBot: software that allowed the search engines to have a computer crawl around the web by following the links they encountered as they roamed. As the spiders crawled the web, they archived (indexed) all of the information so that it could be searched. At this point, SEO had to up its game a little; this development meant that the pages in your site had to be spider-friendly. If the spider couldn’t see and crawl through the links on your site, only a part of your site might end up in the search engines’ databases. You had to make sure the links on your site followed the rules that the spiders followed.
3. Link Building
Soon the search engines realized that simply collecting all this information wasn’t enough. They had to figure out how to determine which sites that had the words and or the phrase “best hot dog in Chicago” were the best to send to the searcher. Along came the idea of looking at how many other web sites linked to a site. The thinking was to count each in-bound link to a page (links on other pages pointing to a page) as a vote. However, each link/vote couldn’t have the same weight–not all links are equal. A link from the New York Times or CNN was certainly needed to be a bigger vote than a link from the same site linking to other parts of itself. Page rank was the answer–the more useful information a page had, the higher its rank and the stronger its vote. Google, of course, was the company that developed this idea and captured the lion’s share of the search business because of it.
From an SEO perspective, this meant everything had to change. To get the search engines to point to your page, you needed to make sure that other sites had links pointing to your page. And, you needed to make sure that those links were done correctly, with strong anchor text. And you had to make sure the content of your pages was strong. And, and, and, and…the rules began to multiply exponentially. Making sure the search engines liked you got more and more difficult.
4. Advertising, Branding, Viral Marketing, Public Relations, & Social Interaction
As the Internet grows, Google gets more and more information and gets smarter and smarter. Google basically wants to reward pages (by returning them high in search results) that are well connected and are all over the Internet. They want to see that bloggers are writing about you and linking to your site. They want to see that your ads are all over. They want to see that newspapers and magazines are linking to you. They want to see that people are talking about your page on sites/services like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other tens of thousands of social web sites. As Josh Hallett among many others point out, the more interesting your content, the more people talking about your page/site on the web, the more Google likes you.
Once again, this changes everything for SEO. To truly optimize a page or a site, SEO now how to help create a buzz on the Internet–get as many people writing about and linking to a site from as many different locations as is possible. Gone are the days of putting a single simple link on a high ranking page in order to increase the rank of your page. It’s far more complex than that now…you have to have buzz.
Is this the end? Not a chance…it’s just going to get more and more complicated. It’s going to get harder and harder to get over the hump and unseat the site that is now #1 for your key words. Roll up your sleeves and get busy!