Search Engine Optimization has been around since the mid 1990s, and has gone through a lot of growing pains. Some were caused by the periodic shifts of priorities by the search engines, but most, I think, were our own fault, either individually or collectively.
Initially, the web was a virtual Dodge City… no law, no order, every man for himself. Looking back, for those of you that remember the Web-Ring days, it was all about links, and there were no “rules” to follow. Then, the Marshal came to town, in the form of the search engines. They couldn’t set actual rules, per se, but they could penalize those that didn’t follow their guidelines, by either degrading a site’s position in the results pages, or by eliminating it altogether. To some, it may have seemed like living in Langtree, Texas, during the reign of the famous “Law West of the Pecos”, Judge Roy Bean.
Jumping back from the late 19th century to the early 21st, however, it’s easy to realize that lawlessness and chaos aren’t conducive to growth. Some things, of course, will grow in spite of the chaos, such as was the case with the Old West, and has been the case with the internet. But eventually, those growing pains stop showing growth, and all that’s left is the pain.
The search engines need to serve up the best possible results in response to the users’ queries… that’s the cornerstone of their business plan. Fail in that, and ad sales decline quickly, users migrate to the competition to meet their needs, and even a behemoth corporation like Google can be brought to its knees in a remarkably short time.
The pseudo law that came in the wake of the rise of search engines was sorely needed, and the results have been nothing short of fantastic. The wealth of information now available at our fingertips makes the Industrial Revolution look like no more than a neighborhood block party.
Still, the initial efforts to aid in ranking sites, in order to improve the relevancy of results, brought with it a beast of many heads… the link. The search engines didn’t invent that – they just fed it, until it became unmanageable. Spamdexing crawled from beneath the bed, and became the boogeyman.
Having focused most of their developmental efforts on pagerank, which is driven only by backlink quality and quantity, the SEs were faced with the necessity of dedicating a HUGE amount of energy on containing that spam. Perhaps they would have been better advised to instead move away from links as a prime motivator for the SEO community. Easily said, but not so easily done, I imagine. A major shift like that would take time (and money, but then, they have plenty of that) to implement, to avoid drastic repercussions. A commodity – and don’t kid yourself, links have long since become a commodity – isn’t easily removed from an economy, without creating havoc.
Enter, 2010. By my guess, we’re at LEAST two years into a highly focused, and necessarily top-secret, plan, to make links all but obsolete. Remove the incentive, and spamdexing will largely evaporate. Sounds easy on paper, doesn’t it? Well, let’s look at a few recent and ongoing developments, and consider what they may mean to us.
- Caffeine came out, which dramatically increased the speed at which pages were indexed. A necessary precursor to what some have called “real-time search”.
- Mayday is simultaneously thrust upon us, supposedly having the most impact on long-tail keywords (there’s some subtlety here), but really, it’s still unknown what other intended effects were built into Mayday.
- Major new pushes toward the semantic web, a concept proposed by Tim Berners-Lee as early as 2001, such as microformats, RDFa and Ctags.
So what might be the effects of all these? Let’s take a look at the last one, first, since it’s key to the success of what I think is planned.
First, I think it’s obvious that microformats and RDFa technology will allow the search engines to deliver more relevant search results. In addition, they put more information on each individual result right on the SERP, allowing the user to get a better preview of what he might find on a site.
Second, implementation of Ctags will create a deadly loop for the folks that would try to spam the search engines, in an effort to create relevancy where none exists. Go ahead and spam! You’ll only be spamming yourself!
As for the effects of Mayday… I know a lot of SEOs that have been testing, trying to determine what was done with this update. But most seem to agree that it’s essentially impossible to say, with any certainty. And I think we can all agree that Caffeine was a logical step, even by itself. But given the additional information to be parsed, as we provide more information, the speed achieved through Caffeine will be an integral part of any success of Google, in the days to come.
Links won’t go away. They’ve been there as long as the ‘net has existed, and they’ll be there for some time to come. But I think they’ll soon be a very minor contributor to the ranking algorithm. That means that much of the potential for spamming will disappear. We have the opportunity, finally, to unite behind a common purpose… provide the user with the most relevant results possible. The user, the search engines, the SEO and the site owner can all win!
If you see holes in my logic, or have a different take on these developments, please feel free to share your thoughts. This is my opinion, but it’s not cast in stone.