I believe in this statement 100%. Search marketing enables companies to compete (in theory, at least) in a budget and scale-neutral environment, whereby websites that provide the most value can derive the greatest natural search gains.
The growth of Google (ok Google is not the internet, but it clearly monopolises it) and the internet has correlated strongly with the growth of SEO & search marketing. I don’t want to discuss ‘chicken and egg’ scenarios, but we can agree at least in principal that each without the other is a shadow of its full potential.
The internet and search marketing in the year 2000
I’m starting at 2000 as, really, before that the internet was such a different entity that comparisons would be tenuous to say the least. In 2000 the internet had a mere 361 million users globally (source: Internet World Stats).
At this time the first SEO companies (and the phrase SEO) were starting to appear. There were companies present pre-2000 that worked in what we have since coined ‘SEO’, but I’m happy with 2000 being the starting point for comparables. You can debate this happened ‘x’ months prior, but hey, 2000 is close enough for the purpose of this post.
In search marketing at this time (I will keep flicking between SEO and search marketing but my real intention is non paid, natural, organic search), websites were predominantly static by nature. You could pay for inclusion into search types like Yahoo directory listings and the focus was on ranking through specific keyword content (links were also making an early appearance).
By 2000 Altavista had re-launched with major algorithm updates, causing impact aka Google manual link penalties that we have today; coining the phrase ‘Black Monday’.
Biggies of note also include the paid adverts roll out in Google, PageRank toolbar (a gift to SEOs and link builders) and more.
In 2000, Google used April fools to convince people it could ‘read your mind’. Google.com was released in 15 language versions, it became Yahoo’s default search provider and the likes of AdWords and Google Toolbar reached the masses.
SEO after 12-24 months
Within as little as twelve months, both SEO and search engines had evolved. With increasing growth of search traffic there was a requirement of search engines to get much better at crawling websites and indexing the results in a more refined manner.
Any initial gains appeared to be based on early entry into the online market and the quantity of contextual signals that you can send the search engines to help them do their job.
Title tags and meta data (including the now redundant meta keywords tag) were in their prime, so arguably the most impactful part of a websites code was in the first 15 lines; page title, URL, header tags, meta description, meta keywords tag and first few lines of on-page content.
After 24 months (2002), links were dominating the internet with Google being hit by link bombers and the power of links enabling irrelevant content to rank highly, based on the value of links alone.
Is this the first real sign of spammers striking an impactful blow against Google and the start of the spam war?
Not surprisingly, the rise of spam brought about mumblings of ‘The death of SEO’. God this ‘death of SEO’ is boring now, but I’m sure every year we will see it rise again in some of the technology pages as it still drives heated debate.
By this time Google had named Eric Schmidt as the Chairman of the Board of Directors, launched image search, increased index size to 3 billion and announced a partnership with AOL.
Search marketing in the mid-noughties
By the mid-noughties, redirects (and notably 301s) were prolific. SEO companies had become established and the science of search marketing was beginning to bloom.
The profession of search marketing and the acknowledgement of its professionals had real weight to it, meaning this drive for understanding (although many would say at this time, manipulating) search results were driving forward new peaks.
We (SEO professionals) were introduced to the ‘nofollow’ attribute and search marketing started to be seen as a broader specialism.
Gone were the days of simply getting particular keywords to rank in particular positions in particular search engines (although for many companies this focus on rankings continued for many years and in some instances is still alive and kicking – although it shouldn’t be).
Links were still a source of almost predictable results and the variation of content types swamped the web. Blogs, e-books, the first few online PR sites (and selling of linking opportunities/link matches and paid reciprocal linking) as well as podcasts, video and image – to name but a few – started to correlate to online marketing wins.
During the noughties, Google gave us Google Analytics (what an amazing present, hey?), image search and continued to smash new milestones (1.1 billion images indexed in 2005 – data from Google). In addition, Google Maps came to Europe, Gmail was released, acquisitions hit new levels, Google Maps got iPhone prime retail space and OpenSocial was announced.
The internet, Google and SEO, late noughties – present
At this time, the user became increasingly important. Usability has some longer roots than the mid to late 2000s, but for many the real focus on users took considerably longer to come to fruition.
Search engine technology continued to evolve and the quantity of search results moved into the thousands per second.
Search marketing started to open its doors (or have its doors wedged open) by social media. Search engine users became much savvier and started using more varied and long tail search queries for the most relevant results.
The purpose of links has changed many, many times, with Google encouraging moves away from link building at every opportunity (although reinforcing that links do help search engines define quality sites and that, without links, search results will be less relevant).
Social signals drove correlation between speed of pages being indexed and positions at which pages are displayed across core search terms. This has led to the realisation that reach, engagement and syndication metrics add value to search.
Content has remained a consistent thread throughout. The calls of ‘content is king’ have shifted message a few times but the importance of content has stayed steady.
Context has perhaps now become king. Spoken search, user intent, thematic association and single search content mapping offer the user what is believed to be the true meaning of what they were looking for. In many instances the user saves a click by obtaining information within the search engines results pages rather than a requirement to be diverted to an external website.
The internet has become the problem solver for the masses.
If we look back at internet users from the early noughties to the turn of the 21st Century, we can see the following (source: Internet World Stats):
- China has expanded its internet use the most – from 22.5m in 2000 to 420m in 2010
- Internet uptake in the USA has increased more than twofold (95.1m to 239.2m)
- The UK has grown further still, with more than threefold uptake (from 15.4m to 51.4m)
Looking at statistics from the top ten internet using countries on earth, we can see:
- The USA has gone from top to 2nd (being trumped by China)
- The UK has dropped from 6th to 8th (with Russia and Brazil overtaking)
- Nigeria has entered the top 10
Search manipulation has turned into marketing (not for all SEO-ers, but it needs to be).
Google has, over the past 5 years, given us Chrome, introduced animals into search (Penguin, Panda) and done the same with people (manual link penalties). Google Earth has gone through a number of iterations, Google doodles generate real engagement and Google refines its trends (which started back in 2006). I should also mention Google Glass – there, I mentioned it.