Posted on May 12, 2021

Is the evolution of search engines and SEO a numbers game or is it more human than we think?

Behind every online destination lies a route through a search engine, and search engines are constantly evolving within the world of an ever-changing internet.


The evolution involved in optimising these journeys, making them helpful for the user and profitable for businesses, can be a painstaking challenge to get right. Business leaders are under constant pressure to adapt to change and maintain a visible online presence.


Optimising is critical

It’s no secret that optimising your online marketing is critical, and those with the SEO knowhow and top-ranking positions reap the rewards and prestige that come with an ability to adapt their content and technology to the demands of mathematical algorithms.


To understand the role of search engines and the analytical process behind them, we first must appreciate where they came from in an attempt to understand where SEO is going.


Is the evolution of search engines and SEO a numbers game or is the element of human intelligence the predisposing factor when it comes to algorithmic changes?


The human evolution of search engines and SEO

The intelligence in SEO is enabling it to mirror the online behaviour and interaction of users with ever-increasing accuracy. The ranking assessments and profiling of modern-day search engines understand content and data in ways that are astonishingly similar to human perception.


It hasn’t always been this way and, traditionally, SEO was a numbers game. As primitive as it may seem to today’s tech giants, the objectives and the motivations were exactly the same: place keywords and descriptions in website copy in an attempt to build an online presence.


Backlinks remain a gateway to success, but the assessments of modern-day search engines are far more sophisticated. We can all remember cramming multiple keywords into layers of text in the late 90s and avoiding the favourable anti-spamming techniques we strictly adhere to today. Human intelligence was way ahead of the numbers back then, and we could readily manipulate the machines.


And if you want to know when it all changed and why, we will have to go back a few decades to discover how SEO evolved.


The chain of search engine and SEO change


The 1990s – on-page activities

  • Relevant content and enough text within it
  • Accurate HTML tags
  • Backlinks – internal and external


Well before the rise of social media, if you incorporated the above three steps, and constantly repeated keywords within your webpages and meta descriptions, you were on your way to ranking high on the pages of Yahoo!


searching on laptop


1996 – Backrub

Backrub was a new kind of search engine that ultimately became Google. This was the era when Backrub ranked websites based on relevant inbound links.


1997 – Questions and Answers

A year later, the little-known became a registered company. Ask Jeeves emerged and there was clearly a demand for online knowledge. By now, sites were not only providing tips on searching the internet but there was online advice about how companies could rank higher and gain better exposure.


The Late 90s

Prior to the Google revolution, sponsored links and paid ads had been launched to outrank organic traffic, and the term Search Engine Strategies was now being heard more frequently.


The 21st Century

Until Google launched its PageRank algorithm, on-page content, domain names, and a prominent directory-listing presence were still deciding factors for page ranking. PageRank was revolutionary in that it looked at all that was previously important, but it paid particular attention to quality. It took into consideration off-page factors and now emphasised the number of external links pointing to a website, expanding the limits of the human experience by creating a frenzy over link building.


Link building became an industry within itself. The tactic was so heavily abused that Google had to take steps to remedy the issue.


2005 – Google’s evolution of search engines and SEO

By mid-decade, Google search engines began using data to humanise search results. They were now improving search results from a more human perspective. Technology improved to deal with queries with location and interests, business, and local service providers, helping to bring people closer together.


SEO became more difficult by 2005 and Google had made several updates to its algorithm to dissuade the repetition of keywords and mass link building, acquired Blogger and introduced AdWords ads.


2007 – Video SEO

video search results page


Google’s acquisition of YouTube signalled how crucial video SEO would become to brands and individuals. We were at a point in history where we were informed that these changes and algorithm updates were aimed at improving the human experience, an acknowledgement that analytical thinking was adapting to human behaviourism.


SERPs – Search Engine Results Pages

SERPs are Google’s response to a user’s search query. They now include Featured Snippets, Google Ads results, video results, map and graphs, as well as organic search results. Basically, it’s what comes back at you when you communicate with Google.


For something that wasn’t introduced with the intent of rewarding brands, it had the opposite effect. Brands were now ranking better in the SERPs.


Social Media

Although social media only has a subtle effect on SEO, the evolution of search engines and SEO would not be complete without it. Social media increases awareness and helps shift traffic to a company website despite Google’s denial that social media is a ranking factor.


MySpace was the first social media site to reach a million active users, and this was just the beginning. In 2006, it temporarily surpassed Google as the most visited website in the US, but four years later Facebook was leading the way and had surpassed the 500-million-people usership mark.


2016 – Voice Search

Voice search continues to grow in popularity, but it is not considered to be an SEO priority. It makes perfect sense to optimise our devices to cater to the unique aspect of speech, especially as smartphones are nothing but an algorithm. As for now, it’s not on the agenda for the majority of marketers.


man using voice search


2020 – BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers)

Fast forward to 2020. Along the way we’ve experienced acquisitions, Florida, Caffeine, Vince, Schema, RankBrain (to assist with exposure in SERPs), daily broad core algorithm updates, the introduction of Google ADS, Google+, Featured Snippets, and now BERT.


BERT is the biggest Google algorithm update since RankBrain and it was built to understand human behaviour. It’s providing instructions for solving problems and completing tasks more accurately and efficiently than anything before its kind. It is powerful, complex, and intuitive, it is self-learning, self-programming, and invisibly augmenting human lives in incredible ways.


Default Settings

As the demands of consumers increase, businesses will be under added duress to supply, competing in an online SEO battle of ranking, where algorithms are applying the knowledge and the expertise for researchers to interpret. By using the data, we can streamline our efforts to accomplish our ambitions.  In many cases, the algorithm is already interpreting the numbers and providing automated platforms for us to use.


Hand-held systems are already in place in the world of e-commerce and PPC. Amazon, Google, and Facebook are hinting at a future of default settings whereby the seller provides the relatable words for a product and the technologies of Amazon and Facebook provide solutions to discover the buyer. With human intelligence slowly becoming an afterthought in the e-commerce process, it does make you wonder if the numbers are already taking control.


The Future of Search Engines. Where will SEO be in another 20 years?

search engine evolution


As technology improves, algorithms will work within their own means, to independently enable better and more efficient ways of working. In comparison, advancements in Artificial Intelligence will see it embrace human intelligence and nurture it as its own. Technology pioneers are constructing complex machines that possess the same characteristics as human intelligence, to think as we do.


We have seen how algorithms identify patterns to make predictions about all aspects of life. They can predict who pays their mortgage, they predict who is likely to watch the latest Netflix movie, buy peanut butter, live to see the 22nd Century, or gamble excessively. SEO is designed to build an online presence to interact with other people, with the intention to sell products and services and expand and improve the human experience. If the end result is human experience, and it is necessary to determine success as a result of human interactive searches, human intelligence is likely to take centre stage in a mathematical arena built by numbers.


Make sure you keep up with the constant changes in SEO

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