After living through the Bronze Age, the the Iron Age, and even an Ice Age or two, humanity has reached what may very well be known to future historians as “The Google Age,” an age where even the most obscure information was just an internet search away.
Today, Google is much more than just a search engine. Using revenue gained from selling advertising, Google has given birth to a huge range of ventures including Calico (research and development biotech company), GV and Google Capital (both venture capital investment firms), X (a semi-secret research and development facility), Google Fiber and Nest Labs home automation. Google’s non-search ventures have become so successful, in fact, that Alphabet Inc. was created as a parent company to help wrangle all their disparate interests.
Beyond providing instant answers and a bit of interactive fun via its trademark Doodles, Google is a driving force of industry innovation and a source of inspiration for website owners everywhere, to the tune of billions.
Crawling and sorting and analyzing the 60 trillion pages that make up the modern Internet takes a fair degree of high-tech wizardry, and Google is constantly updating its search and indexing technology. Every year, Google makes about 500-600 changes to its search algorithms (that’s more than once a day on average). These changes range from minor updates to results formatting and display, to the rarer major algorithmic changes that shake up the entire web.
And even minor updates can have a big impact on search results — and, by extension, the success of websites that show up in results. Given that landing on the first page means a bite at 95% of all search traffic, understanding the ins and out of Google magic is a key part of online success, not to mention many careers. The ability to understand how to rank at the top of search engine results is a valuable skill, and demand for SEO specialists is rising. Afterall, it’s a full-time job just keeping up with all of Google’s algorithm changes.
Beginning with Panda in 2011, updates to Google’s algorithm have attempted to improve search results by removing spam and dropping “low quality” sites from the top results. Panda affected the rankings of one in every 10 websites on the web. Google ranks a site’s quality based on a number of factors, including the depth and accuracy of the information presented, whether the site signals trustworthiness to its visitors, sources, and quality control, etc.
With Penguin and subsequent updates, Google levied heavy search penalties against sites with a “link profile” that contained links to low-quality sites, paid links, or links to pages with “over-optimized” anchor text. Besides Panda, changes in results formatting, authorship/attribution, and localization, along with other customizations make finding the right search results easier, but they also make creating high-quality content more important than ever. Website owners can’t count on ranking high just by mass producing low quality, keyword stuffed content that regurgitates other sources. Instead, content that is original and valuable to readers is increasingly rewarded as Google’s algorithms grow in sophistication.
Subsequent changes include advanced predictive searching (based on results other users have found useful with searches similar to yours), reformatted, context-dependent Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), and more. With every update, walking the line between content that’s Google-friendly and content that gets kicked to virtual curb becomes less of a process and more of an art form. Instead of writing content for search engines, content must be written for readers in order to be rewarded by Google’s new algorithms.
And while mastering that art form can certainly be worth the time and effort, the companies taking the time and money to do so are major cash cows for Google. Over 95% of Google’s billions of dollars in revenue comes from selling ads. In fact, companies seeking the top advertising spots paid almost $38 billion in advertising fees to Google in 2011 alone. Advertising on Google is a solid strategy that pays off for many industries since that’s where the company’s customers can be found.
As Google continues to create an Internet experience that’s both more intuitive and more customized than ever before, site owners, Web designers, and search engine optimization (SEO) specialists will no doubt continue their struggle to the top of the search by playing by Google’s rules — and lining their pockets.