The History and Future of Search Engine Optimization

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I’ve been in the Internet Marketing business for ten years this year, and the funny thing is, I remember the dot com boom, but I was just a teenager using America Online then, and I didn’t know what Search Engine Optimization was. If I had, I would be a wealthy man today. I was a programmer, and in those days, developing search engine optimization was essentially programming. If you could take a local business without a Web presence, sell them a website and search engine optimization services, and do basic Web development with a few keywords listed on the site, you were a search engine optimization guru, and their website would outrank anything on the Internet for very broad terms.

Times have changed a lot, but in fact, the change has been gradual. The overall shift we’ve seen has been clear. Every time Google releases an update to its algorithm, it makes it harder for an individual to force a site to rank in the search engine. Google is focusing on users, and their ultimate goal is to make an unoptimizable search engine – a search engine that no one can manipulate.

The gradual change is really just a limitation on technology – how good are the algorithms, and what ranking factors can Google track? Ten years ago, Google built their index around the idea that sites were high-quality if other high-quality sites linked to them. Even though this was revolutionary, this is a very simple algorithm to develop. The same algorithm is used to rate the quality of academic journal articles – articles that are cited more widely are more important to the field. Unfortunately for Google, this algorithm is easily manipulated in two ways. First, search engine optimization experts can collude to link between sites that already have high PageRanks, meaning the sites that got promoted were sites that were purposefully linked to. Second, the algorithm used summation, rather than averages, so having 1,000 or 10,000 links from sites like EzineArticles would create a massive increase in search engine rankings. This is also easy for search engine marketers to manipulate!

The goal of promoting sites with a better user experience meant Google needed to find other metrics to judge the quality of a site, rather than its content or who links to it, metrics like social signals from Facebook and Twitter, how many unique users are commenting on your articles, whether you’re considered an authority in the field, the length of your articles, and how likely users are to back out of your site after landing on it and look for another result. Any of these things provide a more real indication of your site’s quality than how many links point to it from article marketing sites.

As time goes on, especially in 2013, these signals are going to be more important, and signals like backlinks are going to continue to lose their value. It won’t be gradual – one day, Google will release a new algorithm update, and if you’re relying on backlinks from article marketing sites to promote your content, your organic traffic will drop by 20% or more. On the next update, you’ll lose another 20%.

Our next scheduled article will talk about the changes you need to make to your article marketing strategy to avoid these penalties. Stay tuned.

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