The Truth About SEO

PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.

My life as a link builder started in 2007. Link building is the difficult language that SEO’s learn to prosper and rank within the Google ecosystem.

Since 1996 Google has been relying on PageRank as the foundation of their search engine. Google also constantly updates, improves, tweaks and A/B tests it’s algorithm to try to stay ahead of the crowd that tries to manipulate those signals to appear more important than they really are.

Dr. Pete's 2012 MozCon slideIn his 2011 testimony before the United States Senate, Chairman Eric Schmidt disclosed that Google ran about 2,800 tests that year, of those 516 stuck and were rolled into the algorithm.

The SEO community was aware of basically 8 of those changes. That means the best and brightest in our industry saw 1.6% of the changes Google ultimately made.

Dr. Pete Meyer’s slide from MozCon 2012 exposes with that revelation.

Trying to Keep Up with Google

Google's Caffeine updateIn 2010 Google sped up its spiders to find more of the web faster with the Caffeine Update.

In 2011 Google realized that the previous update unearthed a lot of spammy and low-quality sites. To better deal with them they released what became known as the Panda update.

In 2012 the search giant took its most aggressive step with its Penguin update . This was the first time where Google actively punished the sites it felt were in direct violation of its webmaster guidelines.

In 2013 Google replaced the engine that powers their algorithm . The update, that Google called “Hummingbird”.

Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores.

Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

In 2014 Google removed the Authorship photos from the search engine result pages (SERPs). That move inspired many opinions as to why it happened.

Every few months additional Panda, Penguin and other past updates return for a minor update (sometimes not so minor).

If it hasn’t dawned on you yet, trying to stay up-to-date with Google is a full-time job. Google is a huge corporation that continues to move quickly, continually test and innovate.

Looking at the graphic that Google provided at their 15th year anniversary shows just how fast they’ve iterated since their founding.

Google Search Timeline 1997 - 2013

For most SEO’s, the race to outrun the algorithm has been lost. Blatant manipulation is no longer a viable option for any site that wants to last more than six months.

Prosperity in 2015 is within reach, but we have to work harder than ever before. We have to build our community the same way a local restaurant builds it’s base – by getting to know it’s regulars and rewarding it’s best customers. We need to be dedicated in the same way a promising athlete becomes a professional athlete – long hours and constant improvement.

The “steroid-era” of link building is coming to an end. We need to get back to basics. SEO isn’t a dirty word, it’s an essential part of the way forward, but it’s only part of the answer.

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