By looking back at the history of search engine optimization (SEO), we can better understand emerging trends that will define the future.

SEO has come a long way since its humble beginnings 25 years ago. It has evolved much as life on earth evolved, originally looking like an amoeba and eventually developing into a connective tissue that binds people together with any information they might want to access.

Let’s look at each of the developmental stages of SEO.

Stage I – the beginningS OF SEO (1991-2002)

The very first websites appeared in 1991. At that time, as you can imagine, search engines were completely unnecessary. The need for a way to organize the web and be able to find relevant content quickly emerged, though, as more and more sites launched.

Three of the first search engines were Excite (1993), Yahoo (1994), and Google (1997).

“In this primitive stage of SEO, anything goes,” explains Thomas Stern of Search Engine Land. “Marketers would leverage keyword stuffing, excessive tagging, and (often spammy) backlinks to generate high rankings in search.”

Anyone who was annoyed by black-hat SEO practices gravitated toward Google and similar systems that were geared toward finding the best content and establishing regulations so that irritating trends would be gradually superseded.

Stage II – Personalization & localization (2003-2005)

During this stretch, Google led the way in rooting out the unethical tactics in which website owners were gaming the system by stuffing pages with keywords and using unhelpful linking techniques. Again, the idea was to better connect users to valuable content through common-sense rules and regulations that controlled spamdexing (black-hat SEO).

The concept of personalization was first introduced so that users could find what was most relevant to their situation more quickly. Local search also first appeared.

Stage III – Universal Search & Analytics (2006-2009)

In this era, as social media was growing rapidly and more video was being accessed, the natural adaptation was to create a more reactive search engine.

Universal Search by Google started giving access in the search pages to news, images, Twitter feeds, and video content.

“This user-focused approach to SEO helped lay the foundation for a more captivating and personalized web,” says Stern. “Marketers … focused on user intent and expanded usability as the need for instant gratification became more apparent.”

Stage IV – Quality as king (2010-2012)

In this era, search engine optimization was revolutionized. Websites learned that they would only be ranked highly if they were producing content on their sites that was truly user-focused.

Broad, sweeping updates to the Google algorithm strictly regulated how indexing would occur. Companies that failed to follow the rules were harshly penalized.

One example is JCPenney.

In the 2011 piece “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search,” The New York Times revealed that the retailer had hundreds of sites linking to it, allowing it to get the number one ranking for thousands of different search queries. The problem was that many of those sites only contained links. Obviously someone was guilty of black-hat SEO. Google took immediate action, and JCPenney took a nosedive.

Stage V – The glory days of expertise (2013-the present)

Today requires an increasingly complex understanding of how to target users. Google uses history, location, and device information to create better personalization. However, that data is often concealed from marketing teams. Analysis becomes more complex, and marketers focus on high-quality engagement by creating the best possible content.

Sites that have not adapted with responsive design, geared toward mobile users, are also disappearing from search results.

Your creative team for the future OF SEO

One thing has remained true throughout the history of search engine optimization: the SEO practices carried out by brands have always been geared toward results.

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