The Evolution of SEO – Search Engine Optimization

Google has recently confirmed the suspicions of many as to what the top ranking factors are, but first let’s consider where Google has come from and why they’ve concealed that information for as long as they have. Let’s take a quick look at the evolution of SEO.

It’s easy to take for granted the immediacy of a plethora of relevant results when we make a search in Google. Believe it or not, creating a machine to automatically pull up answers, references, videos, restaurants, books, and much more relevant results for a query across millions and millions of pages isn’t necessarily easy. Any attempt to make those millions of results more relevant to the few words entered into the search bar exponentially increases the difficulty of the systems. Performing a phrase match is one thing, but analyzing and assuming the intent of the actual searcher is another. Every degree of further relevancy is astounding.

Simply switch to a search engine other than Google for a month, and you’ll gain an appreciation for the extremely relevant results garnered by Google.

The intense process of crafting such a machine is evidenced by its continual evolution. Google continues to make major overhauls to its ranking algorithms and processes. These can often frustrate those attempting to perform search engine optimization (SEO) for a website, but it also and intentionally frustrates those trying to manipulate Google’s rankings signals by ‘black-hat’ means for sites that Google would often times prefer not to show case at the top of its results pages.

As Google’s ranking algorithm, Hummingbird, continues to evolve we also see the factors it uses to determine what sites to rank also evolve or change altogether.

Traditional SEO

In the days when Hummingbird was less sophisticated SEO was much more content dependant than it is today. People would focus on filling a page with specific phrases (keywords) that people often searched for. Google would also greatly consider the quality and relevancy of the content on a web page in relation to the query. Many of Google’s major ranking factors heavily focused on the content of the page. This led to the rise of the phrase ‘Content is King’.

The Most Important Ranking Factor

Many SEO specialists will continue to state the above phrase as gospel. It should also be stated that content and keywords within a page are still important factors considered by Google. Nevertheless, we are continually witnessing the rise of what many have deemed as the most important ranking factor, and it is not your content.

What Google Says about SEO

Google has continually stated that it utilizes over 200 factors and signals for ranking. Each of these signals may have 10,000 sub-signals or influencers. However, they indicated that their third most important ranking signal is what they have christened as ‘RankBrain’. A frull and detailed definition of RankBrain is not something you will find here, not merely because Google hasn’t revealed everthing there is to know about it, but also due to the fact that it would take a great deal of time. In its most rudimentary form, RankBrain is an artificially intelligent, machine-learning system that autonomously teaches itself and aids in the determination of what pages should rank for which keywords.

For a good deal of time Google refused to either confirm or deny what the first two and most important ranking factors are–until now that is. While it has been widely agreed upon that linking and content are either one and two or two and one, Google would neither confirm nor deny.

In a recent conversation a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google confirmed that the two leading factors for ranking are content and linking, but he would not confirm the order. However, it is becoming increasingly agreed upon that acquiring links from other website is the single most important ranking factor that Google uses to judge the rank-worthiness of a web page.

How to do SEO

What does this confirmation of the top ranking factors mean? In essence, it provides a very clear path for SEO. If backlinking (other websites linking back to your website) is more important than content, it needs to be recognized that no one will want to link to your website if you don’t have great content to link to. These two and interlocking elements of SEO need to be the left and right foot of your efforts online. Don’t entertain an agency that does not layout at the forefront of their plan the creation/optimization of great content along with the acquisition of quality links from other websites. Google narrows the field so the cream-of-the-crop floats to the top, but at the same time it clarifies the efforts of those trying to rank in Google.

Create great content, ensure that content is optimized, and leverage that content to gain links from other reputable websites out there.