SEO is an ever-changing wheel, which makes it just about impossible to figure out. With the decade coming to a close, I decided to take a look back at the biggest SEO changes of the past 10 years.
At the beginning of the decade, we were still using blackhat tactics. Let’s admit it, keyword stuffing just about everything. We were using link schemes and adding pages that really didn’t belong on the website just so we could target certain keywords. And it was working, for the most part. Over the course of the next 10 years, Google released a host of algorithm changes. The combination of these changes put an end to blackhat SEO as we knew it.
Panda (2011) & Penguin (2012)
Panda and Penguin were two of the most disruptive Google algorithm changes. Together, they essentially put an end to keyword stuffing. As I said, we were all keyword stuffing, because it was working. Panda and Penguin didn’t just affect little blogs. They affected everyone, including major brands who had built up their SEO presence.
Shortly after killing off keyword stuffing, Google decided to pretty much kill off keywords altogether with their Hummingbird update. Hummingbird marked the end of SEO keywords as we knew them. Hummingbird is the name of the update that introduced semantic search, Google’s way of deciphering user intent rather than mapping out individual keywords and phrases. This began the rise of topics over keywords and stressed the importance of comprehensive coverage.
Mobile-First a.k.a Mobilegeddon (2015)
2015 was the Year of Mobile. It was the year that mobile search overtook desktop searches on Google. It was probably also a good year for mobile developers because just about every company was running around in a panic trying to make sure their website is mobile-friendly.
Knowledge Graph (2012) Featured Snippet & other SERP Features
The Knowledge Graph, things not strings, was the first major SERP feature to roll out but it was followed by a host of others. Rich Snippets were officially announced in 2009 but we didn’t see much of an impact on SERP. Now we have Featured Snippets at the top of SERP, position zero, and ‘enriched search results’ for jobs, recipes, events, books, maps, and more.
In 2014, Google announced that it would consider security an SEO ranking factor and recommended that every website be HTTPS secure. This didn’t take effect immediately but rather rolled out slowing and was more heavily weighted by 2018.
Here’s how Google described it at launch:
For these reasons, over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We’ve seen positive results, so we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it’s only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.
Voice searches are inevitably going to change SEO as we know it forever. With the rise of Siri, Alexa, Google Home, Cortana and others along with overall enhanced voice recognition software, voice searches have increased ten-fold in the past five years. One thing that’s unclear is how to take advantage of this and drive traffic back to your website? For the most part, Google reads the answer that is in the Featured Snippet or a result that is ranking first in SERP. But they don’t credit the website that provided the answer and they certainly don’t drive traffic to that website. So now we have to figure out how to take advantage of voice searches and drive traffic back to website owners.
Other Notable SEO Changes
Along the way, Google also improved its local search, which helped local companies and gave the rise to local SEO. They killed off Google Authorship in 2014. They just recently killed on Google+ in 2019, which ended any SEO boosts you may have gotten from Google+. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) was introduced in 2016 but hasn’t made a big splash yet. Artificial Intelligence has played a larger role in the past few years and continues to change the way Google determines what to rank.