It’s now been decades since the first brave businesses decided to establish digital beachheads on the Internet, and today we live in the world where an incredible variety — possibly a majority — of commerce is conducted online. Online marketing has become a crucial tool for businesses in every sector, and search engine optimization, or SEO, has been a vital part of the process since its inception.
To give SEO its broadest possible definition, it encompasses any and all steps taken to make a given website (and the pages on that website) appear closer to the top of the search engine results page when users search for a given keyword. A company is selling women’s knit blouses, for instance might use SEO tactics to move their site up from the tenth search result for the term “knit blouses” to the third search result.
The real economic value of SEO has proven itself over and over again. Better positioning on the results pages translates directly into more incoming traffic, and this, in turn, translates into more sales. The scope of online marketing has expanded greatly over the years, and today SEO is just one of many tools a SEO Agency use to increase a business’s online presence.
Early Days: Fooling Spiders
When enterprising business owners first decided to make a conscious effort to improve their search engine rankings, the process was relatively simple. Search engine results were ranked according to fairly simple algorithms, and it was not hard to deconstruct these logic systems and figure out how to manipulate them.
The earliest programs used to index web pages for search engines were called, “spiders.” These simple programs could be fooled into vastly over-estimating a page’s relevance to a given search query through some unscrupulous tactics. Relevant keywords could be crammed into pages over and over, often hidden in a page’s HTML code where they would never be seen by human visitors.
Sorting White Hats From Black Hats
It didn’t take long for Google and other search engines to uncover these manipulative practices and disapprove of them. A search engine is only valuable to its users if it delivers helpful results, and pages engaging in these early, crude SEO tactics were rarely useful to searchers. The search engines took both defensive (refining their algorithms) and offensive (blacklisting offending sites) measures to eliminate the worst of the manipulators.
This saw the division of optimization into “white hat” and “black hat” SEO, after the color-coded headgear common in Western movies. White hat SEO involves legitimate practices that search engines favor. The goal is to improve a page’s ranking by making it more genuinely useful to visitors. In contrast, black hat SEO involves maximizing rankings and incoming traffic through any viable means, regardless of the effect (usually negative) it might have on visitor experience.
Today the continued refinement of search engine technology has all but pushed black hat SEO off the web. Manipulative optimization techniques rarely make a strong impact, and their impact is never a lasting one. Meanwhile, white hat SEO has evolved towards “content marketing,” a rational method of website promotion that operates according to a simple line of thought: If the search engines are trying to deliver the most relevant and useful results to their users, the best way to rank highly is to be useful and relevant.
This brief overview gives only the most general outline of how SEO has grown and evolved over the years. It’s always been a fast-paced industry, and individual strategies have been invented, perfected, and then discarded in the space of just a few months. Hopefully, though, the general trend in optimization — away from manipulation and towards relevance — is clear here.