In 1962, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer released an American epic-Western film titled How the West Was Won, which provided an episodic retelling of the progress of westward migration and the development of America during 1839 and 1889.
The American frontier – commonly referred to as the “Wild West” – was a landscape dominated by hardship. Cowboys and desperadoes alike were on a constant pursuit of untold riches in a setting of immense transition and discovery unlike any before in American history.
This setting of immense transition and discovery serves as a perfect description of the landscape of SEO in the 1990s.
With the launch of Yahoo’s Web Directory in 1995, the need for search engine optimization was born. Due to the rapid pace at which the web was expanding, Internet users needed a way with which they could separate the wheat from the chaff. In response, search engine engineers constructed very basic algorithms to sort sites.
One such algorithm was hinged on alphabetically sorting sites and was formatted in the “yellow page” style, like phone books.
The next year, comprehension for things like keyword density and domain seasoning began to take hold, and by the end of 1996, a small number of determined individuals had begun deconstructing the methods used by algorithms to sort sites, ultimately exploiting those methods for profit.
In 1997, SEO hit the public consciousness and the number of people determined to deconstruct the site sorting algorithms used by sites like Yahoo for profit grew exponentially. From 1997 till the turn of the new millennium, the tactics used to rank a site relied heavily on the use of spam in some capacity. Two such tactics were keyword stuffing and comment spamming.
In short, the SEO landscape was rough. All it took to rank was brute force spamming, much like all it took to claim a stake in the Wild West in many instances was brute force violence. SEO was a wild and rowdy place populated by people who were the web equivalent of the seedier members of the American frontier. In many ways, it was a lawless place.
However, it wasn’t like that for long. With the new millennium came vast changes in the form of new algorithms and tactics, all of which flooded the horizon of the SEO world. Like the lawful businessmen and hard-working pioneers who craved a sense of stability, law and order, and peace in the Wild West, there were tech entrepreneurs who craved that same sense of stability, law and order, and peace on the Internet.
Enter Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Google. Despite having launched in 1998, Google didn’t make any waves until the years of 2000 and 2001 when it launched its PageRank system and a new set of ranking algorithms. With the introduction of these two things, much of the spam tactics that had been extremely successful in prior submission sites like Yahoo, Infoseek, and Lycos were eliminated.
Ultimately, this set of new ranking algorithms forced SEOs to approach ranking sites in a way wholly separate from what they had grown accustomed to, thereby forcing search engine optimization in a direction it had never been before.
Today, Google exists primarily to improve its visitors’ experience in navigating the World Wide Web. Every year, Google makes in excess of 500 search algorithm changes. All of them seek to enforce the law and order that was missing in the 90s.
Despite this fact, many business owners opt to elect fly-by-night SEO agencies stuck in the 90s strategically to execute their SEO campaigns. These agencies generate the majority of their business by preying on people unfamiliar with what constitutes an effective SEO strategy today. The world is promised and is billed at pennies which makes these agencies look all the more enticing.
But, remember this age-old saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
With that, I’ll conclude Part 1 of How the West Was Won in the World of SEO. In Part 2, I’ll discuss two of the most recent and important Google algorithm updates, as long as rundown a list of the top 5 warning signs of a bad SEO agency.