Building a business online involves more than creating a website for your customers and clients. If you want to optimize your pages for search engines, you need to know how they work.
In Part One of our series on Google Search, we covered events from the 90s until 2005, when the company launched the Big Daddy update. Here is a look at what changes Google brought in the next five years and the implications of those updates on businesses.
In 2006, there weren’t any official updates from Google, only unconfirmed ones that allegedly caused changes in rankings or the supplemental index.
The first confirmed update since Big Daddy came about in May 2007, with Google Universal Search, aka Google 2.0. This update changed Google’s default SERP format from only having ten listings per page to one that integrates top results from News, Local, Images, and other verticals.
A search engine marketer who understands how search collates listings can help clients enter databases in different ways. Businesses can use web pages to garner organic traffic, but they can also attract people through images, video, news, and more.
Google’s introduction of universal search is vital because it opened marketers to using multimedia content. If the first generation of search focused on words, and the second generation was all about links, this third generation creates opportunities for SEO through verticals. All of these improve relevancy for users, which is Google’s primary goal.
In March 2008, Google introduced an unnamed update, which caused plenty of significant changes. For one, it caused older sites to disappear entirely from the top SERPs, and searches became less relevant overall. New sites were also loading very slowly, and cache data was not showing up even if the website seems to have proper indexing.
Dubbed the Dewey update, this change seemed temporary, and Google did not introduce much fanfare around it. Although it was short-lived, the effects lasted for a while, and SEOs needed to do plenty of rebuilding and redevelopment.
August of the same year brought the Google Suggest update, which lets the search engine display suggested phrases in a dropdown box that appears while visitors type queries. Google Suggest is the precursor to Google Instant, which the company will launch a few years later.
The changes that the Dewey update brought are familiar to any SEO. Every major update can cause pages to load slowly, lose their rankings, or even disappear. There is no way to prepare for updates except through relying on white-hat tactics and discovering new ways of building consumer trust in your brand.
Meanwhile, the Google Suggest update provides two benefits to brands. First, it is helpful in keyword research—when you type a phrase in Google, it can display queries you mightn’t have considered for your brand. Second, it makes searching faster and more intelligent. If you have a well-defined strategy, you can target these suggestions and get people to your pages faster.
Another joint announcement from Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft came out in February 2009. The canonical tag update allowed website developers to designate certain pages as canonical without affecting the browsing experience of users. Canonical tags tell search engines which version of a page is the “preferred” option.
February also brought the Vince update, causing Google to seemingly favor big brands in its SERPs. According to Google, the update was a “minor change,” but SEOs felt otherwise, seeing it as having profound effects on the industry.
Another unconfirmed update, a preview of an infrastructure update, came a few months after. Reports claimed it was for speeding up crawling as well as integrating indexation and ranking in real-time. The company wouldn’t confirm Real-time search until December of that year. This update entered Twitter feeds, Google News, and several other sources in SERPs through a constantly updating feed.
The most significant change in 2009 was the unconfirmed Vince update. For small brands, ranking above established domains would become an uphill battle from that point forward. However, this does not mean SMEs cannot go head-to-head with bigger companies. It is still possible to deliver organic traffic to smaller sites, especially over time, if businesses focus on local and on-page SEO.
The introduction of real-time search meant businesses needed to consider social media and how it affects the keywords they target. Meanwhile, canonical tags make it easier for e-commerce websites to conduct on-page SEO, especially if they have multiple pages offering products very similar to each other.
Google launched plenty of changes in 2010. First of all, Google Places, the rebranded version of the Local Business Center, rolled out entirely in 2010. It integrated business information with local search and provided more options for local advertising.
Meanwhile, May 2010 brought the May Day update, which caused drops in long-tail traffic, especially in websites with thin content. They followed this up with the rollout of the Caffeine update in the next month.
Caffeine is the infrastructure update the company has been testing since the previous year. This update boosted Google’s speed and integrated indexation and crawling, which led to a more up-to-date index. It is also in 2010 that Google started allowing multiple results for the same domain in one SERP. Domains used to get only up to two listings.
Google Instant, which the company unveiled in September of that year, would allow Google to display search results as a user types a query. That November, they also launched Instant Previews. This update builds on Google Instant and lets visitors quickly see what landing pages will look like from SERPs.
December brought two changes—social signals and a correction targeting sites that use negative reviews. Towards the end of 2010, Google and Bing confirmed that they use data from Twitter and Facebook for rankings. The 2010s saw an explosion of popularity for social media platforms, so it is understandable why Google went in this direction.
In 2010, the New York Times published a special report about Google. It detailed how e-commerce site DecorMyEyes used negative reviews to bolster their website’s rankings. Google adjusted its algorithm to deter websites from using similar tactics. They also published a blog post on how being bad to customers negatively affects website rankings.
2010 solidified several trends that still affect SEO and SEM. Google Places and social listening are vital for local SMEs building an audience today. Meanwhile, letting domains have multiple results on SERPs and penalizing negative interactions with customers affect SEO.
First, since businesses can appear in one SERP multiple times, companies can create different materials that incorporate one keyword. It provides users with a more well-rounded experience. Second, because Google penalizes bullying behavior from businesses, it incentivizes being “nice” to customers. This move from the search company shows that they want users to have access to relevant content and good customer service more than anything.
Google updates have both positive and negative consequences to businesses’ digital presence. If you want to build your business online, you have to use techniques aimed at serving customers genuinely.
In Part Three, we will look at Google updates from 2011 to 2015—stay tuned!
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