Almost 30 years has passed since the beginning of the internet and search engines, and by-golly, it has come a long way. 

No longer do we need to sit at our desktop and type words that exactly match a website to be able to find it. No longer are our search results plagued by spam. Today the internet is easy to navigate thanks to machine learning and the ability to understand human speech! In this blog we give a brief recap into the evolution of search but most importantly how it has changed most recently for you to achieve the best results. 

Wondering how search engines work?

Search engines started with Archie, which today was like a primitive directory listing, but we have come a long way since the 1990s. Today, when a user enters a query into a search engine it prompts the engine to return results that are ranked hierarchically using trust, authority and relevance scores. For the fastest form of search “crawlers” browse the web in an automated and methodical manner to gather the information that then indexes pages. Pages are indexed by headings, titles and other specific fields. 

The goal for most websites is to appear in the first results page on Google for the most relevant and popular keywords associated with their business. A keyword ranking for a website is vital for success. The higher the site ranks in a SERP (search engine results page) the more exposure it will have.

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What is SEO?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is an evolving practice which uses various techniques to increase the likelihood of gaining a first page rank. The techniques involve content optimisation, meta titles and descriptions, keyword research and link building.

How has Google changed?

Search engine optimisers need to keep up with Google, which has become more and more sophisticated in prioritising results based on a large variety of factors. These factors have developed and grown over the years with many algorithms enforcing new rules.

Some algorithms that have caused the greatest impact on how you rank for keywords include: 

  • Panda – 2011 – The duplicate content and plagiarism destroyer.

  • Penguin – 2012 – Quality links only, no fakers or spammy links allowed.

  • Hummingbird – 2013 – Looking behind the search, hummingbird looks for concepts over keywords.

  • Pigeon – 2014 – Likes to keep it local and enjoys finding you on a map.

  • Mobilegeddon – 2015 – Search results to be responsive and mobile friendly.

  • RankBrain – 2015 – Artificial intelligence that learns the difference between good and bad content.

  • Possum – 2016 – Location based search, the closest business wins.

8 SEO Practices to use:

Looking to the present we can identify 8 main areas of change to focus your SEO efforts in to ensure you rank well in SERPs.

1) Local:
With the search engine algorithm Possum taking in account a user’s location, and Pigeon prioritising clearly located business, the focus on local rankings has increased. Today, local search relies on relevance, page content and positive reviews. Google My Business plays a huge role is setting up your website for local success.

2) Mobile:
Mobile devices have increased in popularity for people to consume content online. With the rise of smart phones, social media, and on-the-go lifestyles, SEO has kept up. Google favours sites that are optimised for mobile, tablet and desktop views - especially ones that load within 2 seconds. While desktop is still relevant, mobile usage will continue to grow. Interestingly, in 2015 mobile officially surpassed Google searches on desktops in the US. 

3) Social:
Your Search Engine Optimisers cannot afford to miss out on the universal presence of social media. It is a tool not only taking up a large portion of our time spent online but an overall part of our days. Before the influence of Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, online sharing was saved for email, a place that fell outside of the scope of most SEO campaigns. Today however, Social and SEO work best hand-in-hand as they connect businesses with their audience, increase exposure and help to drive engagement. By promoting content on social sites, Search Engine Optimisers can earn shares and links for maximum exposure, especially when paired with an influencer strategy. 

4) Messaging apps:
We live in the world of immediacy and so has risen the popularity of messaging apps. The on-the-spot, mobile and quick response features of Facebook Messenger, on-site Chatbots and automation are solving the users need for immediate answers and customer service without waiting on hold for 20 minutes. This means that brands have an opportunity to optimise their content and copy to respond to queries that address quick forms of communication with customers. Messaging apps also further emphasise the importance of using natural language. Marketers have the opportunity to build conversational bots that actually provide the answer a user is looking for.  

5) Links:
Today, its quality over quantity for links (despite this being the opposite in the old days). Links from authoritative sites such as education bodies, governments, non-for-profits and truly relevant connections are what assists your rank. Avoid the spammy website links. 

6) Keyword Optimisation:
Today, the advances in semantic search and machine learning have enabled a page to rank for a lot of related keywords, not just the limited keywords you used to optimize the page. This has improved the search experience by having content that fulfils the needs of what users are looking for, ultimately allowing website owners to create content for the user, not the search engine.

7) Voice activated:
With the rise in voice search options such as Siri and Alexa search terms have evolved into conversational keyword phrases. For example, if I wanted to find a restaurant in South Yarra I could ask “where should I eat tonight?”. Due to the semantic search algorithm update Hummingbird, search engines have been able to better understand searcher intent. This is good news for websites that already use current SEO best practice, but for those who aren’t, it’s time to start catching up. Considering user intent when structuring content is a way to optimise your site for search. For example, you could pre-emptively answer questions around your audience’s pain and gain points. For more tips check out this infographic by SEO Tribunal

8) Topic Clusters:
Many content focused websites are leveraging this new SEO practice. Search engines like Google have changed their algorithm to keep up with consumers behavioural changes and have begun favouring topic-based content. Introducing the topic cluster model, where a single pillar page acts as the core hub for content of a theme or topic, with content pages related to the topic link back to the pillar page and to each other. This ultimately gives the pillar page the authority from the singular content pages and allowing the entire topic to rank higher. Here is an example of HubSpot’s site architecture before and after the focus on topic clusters:  

For example, if I was a mortgage broker trying to increase the content on my website around “home loans” I could use the SEMRush keyword magic tool, enter my keyword and come up with the following topics all to support the overarching topic of “home loans”:

  • Rates
  • Calculator
  • Bank
  • Interest
  • Comparison
  • Investment 

What you can do today?

SEO has changed dramatically in the recent years and will continue to evolve. This means we need to adapt with it and ensure our websites do not drown in the sea of SERPs. Start by looking at your own website and consider which areas could be topic clusters and how you could create content to support a “pillar page.”


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