The Evolution and Future of SEO – Search Engine Optimization
Tim VanDerKamp is Co-Founder of Stay Wild Digital Marketing, A Digital Marketing Agency that Focuses on Pay-Per-Click Advertising and Search Engine Optimization.
Back in 2004 I became interested in figuring out why one company was listed on top of search engines, and others weren’t. I had no desire or intention behind it. I wasn’t trying to learn or develop a new marketable skill. I was simply fascinated by a search bar you could ask questions, and the thing spit out results that were easy, and generally pretty good.
At that time, the term Search Engine Optimization wasn’t really a big thing. In fact, learning “how to” search for things using search engines was still considered a skill. You couldn’t just type “whatever” into the search bar and expect to find the best answer. You had to know how to search, and be willing to dig through the results. There weren’t a lot of people specializing in SEO or digital marketing (at least not compared to todays standards). There wasn’t a “digital marketing degree” available at business schools. There were websites obviously. People were making fun of Amazon.com for trying to sell books online. The dot.com boom had boomed and gone, and lots of marketers were questioning the validity of selling products and services online.
But I was simply nerding out on Google. I would sit there on my Dell laptop with my external internet card plugged in, and my college’s free wi-fi humming along at full blast. I would search for things, see what came up first, and write it down. I would try different keyword strings and see what popped up. I tried different search engines (people still Yahoo’d and Altavista’d back then).
I knew that whatever was being shown to me for search results were being coordinated by a machine. I also knew that no matter how complex that machine was, it didn’t’ matter because there were humans on the other end typing words into the search bar, and humans who have lots of limits – especially with regard to vocabulary range. So I knew there could only be a certain “range” of possibilities the machine was using to display one result over another. Or more specifically, one company versus another. I started to look for “patterns” and there were plenty.
I went searching for a few people who had websites, and asked them if I could try an experiment and see if I could get their websites to show up on top of the search results. They didn’t care. Nobody cared at all about their website’s “search position” then. People said to me all the time, “Tim, everyone knows my company name. They don’t have to search for me on the stupid google thingy.” To them I said, “That’s true for the people who already know you. But what about the people who are searching only for some product you sell? Wouldn’t you like them to find you?” “No,” they said. “Those people are shoppers. I don’t want shoppers. That’s why I don’t have a yellow pages ad any more. Shoppers suck.”
But they let me mess with their website anyway – since they didn’t care. I started plugging words and keyword strings into their web pages, and into the back of their html code. When I found a company on top of search, I reverse engineered what they did, and did it on the website I was working on. And guess what – it worked. When I loaded the web pages with tons of keywords, even without any sentence structure ….or just listed in bullet points – they showed up in front of all of their competitors. Online ads weren’t even an option then. All I was doing was entertaining myself by getting people on top. At one point, the way I made money was by betting people five bucks I could do it. They always lost.
The bad news was, there were other people taking notice of this “web thing” at that time too. As Gary Vee says, “marketers ruin EVERYTHING!” And unfortunately, a lot of those people were people who weren’t afraid to cheat as long as they made money. They would buy up THOUSANDS of domains with keyword combinations in them (the auto industry was particularly guilty of this) because at that time, having keywords in your domain mattered in organic search. So they bought every possible keyword domain they could think of, and put up thousands of one page websites that all linked to one single website where they could try to sell them cars, auto financing, porn, insurance…. you name it. And that became THE WAY to do things back then. But as you can imagine, that really gunked up the internet. It was like having a never ending string of fish nets strung across every major river – catching ALL of the fish. I was in Tampa at the time, and wouldn’t you know it, the Google Update that ended all of that on Google was actually named The Florida Update – aimed specifically at all the cheaters in Florida who were all backlinking to each other, and having endless websites that all pointed to one place.
The good news is, this era didn’t last long. As less popular search engines started falling off and losing traction to Google, Google started to figure out just how much people can suck, and the myriad of ways people were cheating. The age of the many feared and dreaded “Google Updates” began. They would change their search engine ranking system, and overnight, whole businesses would go bankrupt because they had been cheating, and their shady methods got shut down. It was wonderful to behold! All of the sudden, keywords in a domain didn’t matter as much. And those people who owned thousands of one page websites – disappeared – as did the business they had been driving from it.
And then somehow the machine got smart enough to see if you were using keywords in a sentence, and even if the sentence made sense so you couldn’t keyword lace anymore. Now people actually had to write words in paragraphs! Earth Shattering! And people raged against it. They felt that was SO UNFAIR!
But it got better – Google’s Artificial Intelligence became smart enough to figure out if your site was using PAID backlinks instead of EARNED backlinks. Believe it or not, there are still many people to this day who buy paid backlinks to try and rank higher on Google.
Things actually stabilized for a little while after some of these mid-2000’s updates. It seemed that Google was primarily focused on punishing the cheaters, and they were getting good at it (and there were lots of them out there). But for the rest of us, writing in complete sentences, meta-descriptions, and keywords in the website could still help you show up pretty well in Organic Search Results. Which is still pretty lazy as far as overall effort versus reward if you think about it. You really couldn’t cheat easily any more – but you could still be lazy as hell and be successful at Search Engine Optimization.
There were many updates to Google’s search engine between 2003 and 2013. Google changes their Search Engine every day. But September of 2013 marked the biggest shift in Google Search up to that point – the Hummingbird Update was set to impact 90% of all searches on the internet. And it did. This began the age of SEO I refer to as the PHD Phase – PHD: Pile it Higher and Deeper.
And in truth, this is still very much this way to this very day. If you want to rank well on Google, you have to be willing to Pile it Higher and Deeper. What does that mean? It means that whatever it is you do – if you want to be on top of organic search, you need to be willing to write, and write, and write, and shoot videos, and write articles, and publish blogs, and post links to social media, and do podcasts, and get featured by influencers, and anything else you can do to get as much information about your product/service as you can, out on the web.
But for a long time – even up until present day even, what you wrote didn’t even have to be very good – you just needed to pile it high and deep (PH/D). And internet marketers did. They wrote article after article after article. Most of them very shallow “puff pieces” of questionable value. Very few words. Very low quality. Not very helpful. Not useable. Not actionable. Just three or four paragraphs of crap piled on top of thousands of other articles just like it – crap….piled high and deep.
And just like the days of one page websites that all pointed to the same place, the internet became LITTERED with millions of crap articles on Seven Ways To Suck As A Writer And Stay On Top Of Google. Ten Ways write useless garbage and get paid to do it. Five Tips For Proving You Write Content Like A Fourth Grader. And on and on and on. The Hummingbird Update began the age of the worthless article, as you have no doubt seen. Click bait with no substance became the primary way people appeased the Google god. And it worked. People were often top of the internet – with articles that are so vague, and short, that they are in my opinion, just slightly above useless. The good news is, the google Artificial Intelligence kept getting smarter, and continues to get smarter every moment of every day.
The year 2020 might seem like a strange time to do it, but after my many years of experimenting and providing SEO to just a few select clients and friends, this was the year I decided to dive into the Digital Marketing World professionally. But 2020 seemed like the perfect time to me. There is a new age dawning. The Google Artificial Intelligence has actually become intelligent. It can tell the difference between garbage puff pieces, and good writing. It can somehow tell the difference between someone who is simply Piling it Higher and Deeper and someone who is writing high quality articles that are useful, actionable, and helpful. Today – if you are going to be on top of Organic Search, you are going to have to provide useful information (or at least be extremely entertaining), that is timely, well written, actionable, and credible.
This, in my opinion is going to have the wonderful effect of pushing the fakes and phonies out of the game. They aren’t going to be able to write junk articles any longer, litter the internet with them, and then sell you their best package at the end of a well orchestrated sales funnel. That isn’t going to work for much longer. They aren’t going to be able to hire a hundred ghost writers at one penny per word to write five hundred word articles that are a complete waste of time for the reader. If you want to be on top now, you are actually going to have to have something to say that is worth hearing, and say it in a way that people say, “Yes, this adds value to my life” – and reward you with a backlink. Companies who want to stay on top nationally are really in trouble. They are going to need to find full time journalists who are truly talented to come into their businesses, learn about their boring old crap, and find a way to make it actionable and entertaining and FREE. Otherwise they are going to disappear forever beneath the weight of the people who ARE willing to do this, and have the talent to do so.
Look at the people on top today. In my industry (Digital Marketing) it is Neil Patel. That guy cranks out MASSIVE amounts of content that is high quality, useful, actionable, entertaining, and free. And he has been doing it now for years. He writes blogs and does videos, and if you are new to the digital marketing game, you can absolutely follow what he teaches, and put it to work and make a darned good living doing it. This is what it is going to take in the future if you want to rank well on Google. That is where Google is headed, and has always been headed.
What Google wants is to deliver the BEST answer, from the BEST sources to YOU, the person typing some words into the Google Search Bar. This is what they have always said. It is only now that their computer is becoming intelligent enough to FIND and MATCH up the best information from the best sources.
So what is the future going to be like – actually, the future is going to be like it used to be way back when….you are going to have to know how to learn, research, and write well. You are going to have to know how to write about things in a way that is captivating, useful, and if you can, entertaining. So if you want to be here for the long haul, I suggest you skip reading another article about what is happening with Google’s latest updates, instead pick up a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style – or Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples – or The Copywriters Handbook.
Personally, I am looking forward to this upcoming age, and being part of it. SEO is no longer going to be a game for Pioneers and Outlaws. It is going to become the domain of the professional writer/researcher who is willing to write engaging articles that people value enough to tell others about it, and if you are very lucky, link to it from their website.
And what if you don’t want to do that? Well, there is always Google Ads – You can purchase your way to the top if you can afford it. But even then, if your writing is terrible – chances are you also won’t know how to write a compelling headline that converts, and you will end up wasting a lot of money paying for “clicks” rather than getting “sales.”
I hope you have enjoyed my little monologue. I have been meaning to write it for some time, but other engagements have kept me. I have enjoyed very much my own little personal history as I have dabbled in SEO, sometimes for entertainment, and sometimes for winning wagers – and now, taking it more seriously, I am making my living helping businesses find their way to the top, and try to stay there by properly bowing to the Google gods.
By – Tim VanDerKamp
Co-Owner of Stay Wild Digital Marketing – Copyright 2020 – All Rights Reserved
Webmasters Note – Please feel free if you have enjoyed this article to link to it, or to quote portions of it, provided you cite your source properly.