Understanding what happened in the past (and why it did) in addition to following current trends can offer a more complete picture of a phenomenon, a picture with deeper context and practical use. This post takes a look at the history of local SEO through our infographic and asks 24 SEO experts to consider their favorite eras of Google. Some of the answers may surprise you!
Which era of Google is your favorite and why?
This is my favorite time in Google’s history, we as SEOs should always be in the present. This is why we are in the space, right? It changes all the time, keep us on our toes and never gets boring. I am also most excited about NOW because, now we get to have impact across divisions, we get to be positioned as someone who does more than gets “20 PR 3+ links”, we are getting looked at more and more as consultants – we have to level up, so we can become respected as such, I feel that the “SEO skillset” is exactly what marketing organizations need, constant monitoring of metrics, competition, understanding funnels, customer decision journies, the content they want on their journey, PPC, CRO, it’s all part of things we have probably dabbled in at some point.
I’m sure you’re going to get a similar response from other SEOs but my favourite Google era is right now! Google’s algorithms aren’t perfect but they’re much better than they have been over the past eight years that I’ve been in this industry. There are still loopholes that allow people to jam sites up in the rankings with spammy blackhat tactics but I’m not seeing the SERPs dominated by blatant spam like we used to see.
In the perfect world, Google would be able to tell which content was actually the most relevant for someone’s search without us having to worry about link building and link earning strategies. Unfortunately, we’re still a long way off from a Google algorithm that’s advanced enough to not rely on backlinks as a major ranking factor. Check out this video from Matt Cutts for more info on that.
A combination of high quality, informative on-site content, high quality backlinks from industry relevant sites and good social signals is a winning formula with the current Google algo. I welcome each new Google update because it makes SEO easier for those of us who are using legitimate, long term strategies.
My favourite era of Google is right now: 2014. As a local-search geek, of course I’m thinking of Google in the context of Google+ Local/Places/Maps. I miss certain things about the bad old days in local search (’09-’11) – like the lower levels of local competition, and the fact that a GLBC/Places page was just a page and not a part of an effort to force Google+ on everyone.
Although I’m not a glass-half-full kind of guy, overall I’m excited about Google’s direction. I think they are very slowly getting problems sorted out. 2 steps forward, 1.7 steps back. Over the past year+ we’ve seen the “new” Google Places dashboard roll out, decent phone-support, and all kinds of attention given to Google Plus reviews
I think to the extent there are problems – and there are many, like “Maps spam” – the reason is that Google is a giant lazy corporation, not that it’s incapable of fixing things. That’s not much comfort to some honest business owners, who are getting the short end of the stick for the moment. But Google’s getting more sophisticated and faster than spammers are getting cleverer. When Google eventually does conclude that it can ultimately make more money by better policing the local results, we’ll see fast progress (that is way too long in the making).
I’ve been in the industry going on 5 years now so, while not new, I wasn’t around when the Google Dance started. That said, I’m tempted to tout the 2009-2010 era as my favorite really for 2 main reasons. The first being that it was still super easy to rank a site back then, and let’s be honest, that’s why most of us got in the business.
The other reason, and only knowing this in retrospect, is because this was the time immediately following Google’s launch of the Chrome browser and the first real indication that they were getting serious about search. If Joshua Giardino’s article is any indication there’s a compelling argument for Chrome as the ‘new’ Googlebot, and so the implication really is that Google started becoming far more focused on the user experience and not just linking metrics.
This was also when Local search started to blossom and really when small business owners that didn’t have an SEO vendor or know about SEO themselves could start to compete with bigger brands or spammers.
In my opinion this was probably the most exciting age in Google’s timeline, although now with natural language recognition, author rank and social metrics, search is becoming more personalized and far more emotionally rewarding. We’re starting to do this a lot more now with our clients, optimizing for persona cohorts and not keywords. Ultimately, this means that we get to study and understand our client’s customers across a myriad of niches and build content that is relevant to them. It’s an amazing thing building highly targeted content that doesn’t necessarily go viral but still drives more leads for a client than any of their other online initiatives.
My favorite era is: now! Finally, Google is smacking around crappy SEOs. As Mr. Darwin said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” Google and internet marketing has always been a bit of a moving target, but only those who are stellar marketers and who do “real company shit” will survive. I love how Google is cracking down because we are breeding a better and stronger group of SEO’s. I know I am a better marketer today then I was 4 years ago and it’s because the Google algorithms have gotten better.
Google constantly try to improve their search algorithms. Sometimes they miss, but in the majority of the cases it is trial and fail until a solution that is good for all (or at least for as many as possible) is found. In this sense, I would say that my favorite era in Google search is the current one, or rather – the one that started with Panda, and proceeded with Penguin. Every week Google busts link networks, and I hope this process proceeds. It will take time, but it is a mess that I would say in big part was caused by Google themselves. Unfortunately, there are some downsides of the current era, too. The most major of them is the large amount of data lost due to Google not passing search referral information.
My favourite era of Google is 2007, as Google launched their now very powerful and unique Android operating system for mobiles. This was a unique turning point in the mobile phone market with a major competitor to Apple being released. I also am a big fan of 2013, as Google released powerful updates in their search algorithm, this allowed for better sites to get to the first page of Google without manipulation of content or backlinks. It meant the results are a “truer” version of the results and allowed sites to be relevant to their search queries regardless of how many backlinks they had built and so on.
This is a hell of a question and took a bit of time for me to figure out the best answer and I am still not 100% sure I know how to answer it now. To best frame my answer I figure I need to give a little bit of background and then explain just why I like Google now more than at any point in it’s history.
Going Way Back
I have always been a geek. I got a computer science degree in the tail end of the 90’s and I had a 28k Modem when the web was just getting going (and really kind of sucked for all but the hardcore). I then upgraded to a 56k modem and marvelled at the speed my interlaced images now downloaded. I spent many an hour trawling the web with Hot Bot, Alta Vista and eventually a new and seemingly better search engine called Google.
I had my first websites tail end of the 90’s and they were mostly fun projects where me and a few pals would write. I also had a website for my gaming clan when we played Quake, Quake 2 and Half Life online (and probably spent more time tweaking our modems to reduce the dreaded and all too common lag). I eventually ended up spending more money than I was earning from my endeavours on a dual ISDN line to give me silky smooth browsing and online gaming. Ultimately, it’s safe to say I dug the internet and search pretty much from the get go.
Point I guess I am making is this was all too easy back around 1999, 2000, 2001 – like way too easy in many niches so it would be all too easy to see back then as the glory days. It was about this time that I got my first real job and really got stuck into search. We were pre any nasty anti spam updates at this point but when I got a job helping a company sell mobile phone data cables and those crazy 8 bit style ringtones it was apparent we had to tread carefully. This was a business, we had customers, we had staff, we had a user focus and we wanted to play the long game yet search was the Wild West and there were lots of SEO Outlaws to compete with.
I stumbled across sites like ‘I Help You’ hosted by Doug Heil. Doug was a real white hat proponent before folks really knew otherwise. Another site was the forums of Jill Whalen who again proposed doing things properly rather than trying to play the system. This was all good advice at this formative time and as this was a business we dug in, played the long, clean game and ultimately prospered but it could be frustrating. I knew that if I set up a little mini network of sites like what I had to play with of my own I could do better faster but… it was against the Google Webmaster Guidelines. When I reviewed what the other competition were doing many were not playing as clean a game and certainly, that was frustrating.
Then, in 2003 we had the first of the big updates that hit back at attempts to trick the system that was known as Florida. Fortunately, watching from the sidelines with my small personal network sites, a side business of my own and the several sites I managed at work I saw lots of people affected. I also watched this with some interest (and countless hours) the many threads in Webmaster World and around the web showed many people who had fallen foul of the update.
So, time went on. I had different jobs, different sites, different projects but the game of SEO cops and robbers between algorithm chasing SEO outlaws and Google remained constant. New tricks would arrive (page rank sculpting anyone?) and Google would shut it down. From the sidelines I watched the masses complaining of losing their free traffic time and time again over the years. I also had a few experiences with clients that would hint at the kind of penalties we would see with Penguin and Panda long before they had such fancy names.
The most interesting thing here was watching people making the same mistakes, the same indignation and the same inability to collectively learn a lesson from the past. Only to dive back in and make the same mistakes again and again and again and again.
Penguin, Panda and the War on Spam
The cat and mouse game continued despite the history until Penguin and Panda came along and really notched up the aggression. Now, smaller people were affected, bigger adsense content houses were affected. Everyone got hurt but the ones flying straight arrows and even some of the light grey folks got hit. At the end of the day, this is business and in some businesses playing the system earned a lot of people a lot of money so… like I say, it’s the wild west, people are going to pan for gold.
Watching from the sidelines I saw a lot of small businesses hurt by this. I also saw a lot of agencies hurt by this which I care about a little less. There are too many £100 SEO packages and it seems everyone is an SEO. It is so easy to white label some SEO service that seemed to work until the client got a slap and their rankings tanked.
I figure Google had to do something and had to make an example of some folks but certainly, there was a lot of collateral damage in the smaller markets but hey, we are business people, adapt and survive, Google does not owe you a living and you likely profited at someone elses expense for a while so.. take the rough with the smooth right?
The time is now
So, favourite era of Google and why? Now – absolutely no doubt. At heart I am still that geek who loves to experiment. I am more of a marketer now with a T shaped set of skills with search at the core but we now have local, shopping, conversion, analytics, paid search, remarketing, email marketing and just so many other tools to flesh this out.
Also, as an SEO search has never been more complicated or rewarding to work in. The millions of companies offering bolt-on SEO package are falling away and this industry is growing up and people are starting to specialise. The consultants and companies that remain are the folks that have been in the trenches and that ‘get it’. We now must be more than SEO’s and be marketers working in search. We are the ones that can help our customers make sense of the bewildering array of options and advise on what will work, won’t work and what is just plain stupid.
Google and search has never been better. Sure, there are still problems but you can bet the big brains at Google HQ are beavering away trying to fix them and I can’t personally think of any other area to work in that offers so many changes and challenges – ask me the question again in a years time and I will likely still say now (meaning then).
It’s a bit hard to give a straightforward answer, because each era (if we’re talking about the time-period between any 2 major updates) has had its pros and cons. But if I were to pick a time frame when Google’s search results have been most impressive AND it was pretty clear what Google wanted in terms of search engine optimization, I’d probably say the gap between Panda and Penguin.
I believe Panda was mostly beneficial for the Web, while Penguin has led to mixed results. Too many legitimate sites have suffered; too many small businesses were affected; and too many had to start from scratch, only because the loopholes that existed in the algorithm prior to Penguin were making everybody live by the “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” philosophy.
In my dreams, I’d combine Google’s semantic search achievements of today with the linking rules that existed before Penguin – that’d be Google at its finest to me. Because there has to be a better way of dealing with link spam.
Perhaps it is a bit of a cop out, but right now is without a doubt my favorite era. Being that my focus lies in local search there has never been a more exciting time (other than perhaps Venice). Hummingbird has made incredible changes to local search, both good (reintroduced emphasis on regional sites) and bad (reintroduced ways to spam the local pack results), continuing to provide confidence that local is the way search is moving. Semantic search is influenced to a great degree by local, and with more voice conducted search tools being introduced I am personally very excited to see how things progress in the near future.
My favourite era of Google is the current period, despite all the algorithm updates making the job of an SEO seem “harder” it has allowed me to continue to adopt the best practices I have had since starting in the space 7 years ago. This current era of Google is in line with my “kaizen” approach to SEO, cutting corners with SEO is simply not an option for anyone and this era has set the standard of who is good at SEO and who is not.
My favorite era of Google was pre-penguin. Although all algorithm updates, including Penguin, aim to deliver a better search experience, Penguin put SEO professionals into a whole new bag of worms. Specifically, before Penguin bad links didn’t mean anything, and good links were great. Now bad links count against you, introducing the current state of “link paranoia” which many SEOs have, or at least seem like they have through the content they write and the link removal services and software they provide. This was a particularly ironic update because it created a situation where SEO consultants were being paid to remove links which only years before, they might have been paid to create. Now we live in a world of link disavowals, negative SEO, etc. I guess I enjoyed pre-penguin days because it was all about forward-facing strategies, and today we have to watch our backs for things nefarious competitors might do or “ghosts of SEOs past” creeping up to haunt us.
My favorite era of Google was back in the area of 2008-2011; prior to Panda and Penguin. I like to think of those years as the golden era of “Easy SEO” because it was so easy to get amazing rankings for just about any keyword by using anchor text spam techniques. SEO was easy, and best of all, scalable. Clients were happier because results could be achieved so quickly, and ROI was better then as well.
I even built a network of micro-sites that were making me nearly $2,000/month in passive income. It was awesome. I miss those days, but I understand why the game has changed so much. It’s a different game now, and the tactics that worked back then don’t work anymore. SEO is still fun, but it’s much more of a strategy game now than a tactics game, as it was back then.
My favorite era of search is today. I’m glad that Google is finally getting serious about going after spammers – they have every right and think they really should have done this years ago. Spammers took the risk and now are paying the price. I hope that we get better search result quality as a result!
My favorite era in SEO was late 2013/early 2014 (basically before the My Blog Guest fiasco). I felt that — at least in most niches — the sites that published and promoted the best stuff tended to accumulate links and rank. And even though there were penalties (like Penguin), Google wasn’t singling out sites just to send a message like they’ve been doing lately.
Oddly, right now. I say oddly because I know the good old days were simpler and we didn’t have to deal with Panda and Penguin but I would still pick today. I like the advancements in natural language processing and I’m glad Google is looking at the intent behind a query now. It leads to a better user experience and I think it also opens doors for site owners and gives them more opportunity for exposure. I also like the social signals that are factored in. I think these are exciting times for business owners that are serious about marketing online in a way that factors in conversions and user experience and not just keywords on a page.
The time frame between the Brandy update in 2004 up to the Vince update in 2008 was a really great time for SEO in my opinion. The current period certainly is reminiscent of that but does not come without further challenges. The post-Brandy pre-Vince era was great because it was simple [in a way that is likely to never be seen again.]
Back in 2004 and 2005, the average webmaster could create a website and follow a few simple rules to achieve respectable results. While that is still the case today (the principles remain the same), many people find themselves caught up on the technical aspects of marketing or with a narrow marketing vision, which leads them to be part of a collection of websites caught in the crossfire of an algorithm change. The basics of SEO remain the same (and for good reason) but the planning behind it has become more challenging.
My favorite era of search is the pre-Panda era (before February 2011). Back then it was a lot easier to get sites to rank for pretty much any keyword– you just had to get an exact match domain, throw some keyword optimized content on there, and toss in a few links. Getting results with SEO was super easy back then, and I wish I’d taken advantage of the situation more. A lot of companies didn’t know about SEO back then either, so it was possible start a small site and compete against big brands just on the strength of your SEO. These days, that’s just not possible for most niches.
That being said, I’m excited with possibilities of SEO in the post-Hummingbird era. Entity search, Google+, and Google Authorship are all exciting new areas that have the potential to impact search which SEOs can help companies gain an advantage in.
I do not have a particular era than is my favorite. Each “era” as you call them has its unique working technique, but overall the same principle applies since the inception of Google. That is if you want to rank in Google for a long period of time you should grow your brand organically.
I really enjoyed the beginnings of my career in SEO, that was around the year 1999. There was a lot of research that I did back then and a lot of testing on how Google was ranking sites. I tested lots and lots of techniques and saw how they started to “die” while Google was improving its algorithms. It was interesting to view how thinks advance and how sites are dropping down and others are popping up.
After Google became more and more popular, more and more people started to abuse its rankings and Google was forced to improve itself. It became hard and harder to rank in Google with the same techniques that were applied back then and nowadays practically if you have a long term business and you aim for the top in Google its all about brand building and strategic optimization on the long run.
My favorite era of Google was right around 2010. Despite being someone who specializes in online marketing, I’m picking this as my answer from a user perspective. That is, I believe the results at the end of the decade, combined with Google’s general utility, were at their peak. Today, I feel like the results have actually gotten worse for users, and now we have to deal with Google scraping content, Google ranking awful sites with powerful domains (why is About.com always in the top 5?), and Google ruining certain searches (anything related to ‘books’) with Google listings. These days, Google does everything it can to push organic results lower and lower, which is why I yearn for a few years back when I felt the user experience was a bit better.
That one’s easy. My favourite time is definitely right now. Google is finally rewarding high quality content. The old on-page hijinks and linkbuilding shenanigans that used to get results even as recently as a couple of years ago just don’t work anymore. And worse, they have a detrimental impact on a site’s ranking. Gone are the days of low quality micro-sites and worthless content sitting at the top of the search results.
Google also recognizes the value of content that converts. They want to see what gets clicked on, how long people spend on a page, what people are sharing – basically Google rewards content that people want to read and enjoy reading and sharing. Being a copywriter, I’m very happy to see this trend. In order to rank well, websites need good quality SEO copy but, more than that, they need to tell a compelling story.
The era of Google that will be my favorite is the one where Google.com desktop and mobile doesn’t own the market of search anymore and 80% of all search related activity is done on new devices and technologies.
I do not trust Google with the power they currently have. When high profile company members like Matt Cutts can say things like “But you can always do whatever you like on your website, in the same way that Google is able to decide not to return a website in our search results if we believe it should rank lower or shouldn’t be returned.” When the truth is that many companies can not survive on the available alternatives. I don’t recall a time in history where a for profit company could have serious devastating effects on millions upon millions of companies the way that they currently do.
Nothing will be better than spreading that between many new areas. So the era that’s my favorite as not happened yet. It might not happen. I just hope is does for the world’s sake.
I would say that the current time with Google is actually my favorite, for a variety of reasons. Google’s getting smarter, they’re identifying what it is that the user really wants as the end outcome and are taking steps to achieve that as best as possible. There’s a slight tainting of the result now that they’re a listed company, and obviously they’re there to make profit, but Google are still close to providing that end experience.
After the update of Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, it’s great because it’s also making people less reliant on Google. Businesses were previously relying, living, and dying based on their Google results. With some of these updates, they’re actually looking to other avenues now (be it social or video for example) in order to supplement the traffic gained through Google.
Because of this evolving and changing game and where we’re at right now, we’re having to watch SEOs step up their game as well. Many SEOs have actually moved away (those that can’t keep up with the change) thus creates new opportunities, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I like the space right now.
You have to be at the top of your game to really make it work, stay on top of the latest trends, and make sure you understand what’s currently working. One thing that’s working incredibly well with search engines in the current era is web video. We’ve been big fans of video for a very long time, and we really feel like 2014 really is the year of the video. There are lots of opportunities for companies that can embrace video in the coming years.
In a lot of ways, I think the current era of SEO is my favourite – as SEO’s are outputting much better content to generate coverage and the industry as a whole is a lot more disciplined and structred, which is good. I also think the actual results are much better than they’ve ever been in the past, due to the usage of brand signals and the way that Google has started aggressively targeting unnatural activity.
I did prefer the industry when I first got into SEO (7 years ago) as it was a far more positive place. At the moment there are a lot of SEOs who want to get out of the industry and diversify into CRO, social, content marketing and other broader marketing principles – which makes it less fun and sociable than it’s been in the past.
I’d say that from a quality perspective, today is the best I’ve seen in terms of output – but from an enjoyment perspective, SEO was a much better place to work 5-7 years ago when it was just starting to become a mainstream marketing technique. Having said that I do think the way that Google’s taken things has forced us as SEOs to broaden our skillset, which is a positive thing.
My favorite era of Google was around 2002-2004 when cloaking and keyword stuffing worked really, really well. You could do very little and rank your pants off and the whole online world wasn’t terrified of being penalized. Sure, it was a crappy thing to do but my god it was fun.
Generally speaking, the current era of Google has received high praises from the SEO world. However, it’s not perfected as demonstrated by many of the responses. What do you think? Let us know what your favorite era of Google is (and why!) in the comments below.