Google's Growing Up - What It Means for SEO

By Samuel Frost
Google's Growing Up - What It Means for SEO


Happy birthday to Google! According to most sources, Google's birthday is generally celebrated on September 27th, and this year marks Google's 15th year. I fondly remember first using Google in 2001, doing my primary school homework on the first computer my family had ever purchased (just thinking about this is making me nostalgic).

I can still remember the fantastic feeling of typing a few words in the Google search box, hitting the search button, and then waiting forever for the 56k modem to return a page of results. Since then I've used Google to drive traffic to websites, find deals on things I want to buy and access resources for school and college assignments. The development of Google Drive, Gmail and other services has transformed how I work, and has probably done the same for you too.

And just for a birthday laugh, here's a fantastic SEO meme that one of my colleagues sent me today:

funny seo meme

Now it's time to get down to business!

In this blog post we are going to look back on some of Google's most famous algorithm changes, updates and service tweaks and what they meant for affiliate marketing at the time. We are also going to look at how Google's "coming of age" is likely to affect your business in the future, and what you can do to ensure that you get to celebrate many more of Google's birthdays with a healthy slice of search traffic and profit!

Google Algorithm & Update Timeline

If you thought that the Panda update was the first "surprise party" Google ever threw for affiliate marketers, then you need a bit of a history lesson. Let's take a quick look at the history of the most important Google algorithm changes & policy updates, and how they affected affiliate marketing and SEO. If you want a comprehensive history of all Google changes, then check out this great Moz article.

Early Days

In the beginning, Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google. Now there were relatively few websites, but the number grew every day, and the spirit PageRank was used to rank websites for a given phrase. Some clever people soon discovered that a website could be manipulated into appearing higher up in the search ranking for a desired phrase by:

  • Repeatedly using the desired keyword in a page, aka "keyword stuffing" (this often involved cloaking text to make it the same color as the page background)
  • Using meta tags to tell Google what a website was all about
  • Having links from other websites point to your site to boost its PageRank

In these early days, SEO practitioners and early affiliate marketers had a huge amount of power to manipulate Google rankings as they needed, until ...

Google's First Named Algorithm Update – Boston

Announced late in 2002 and released in February 2003, "Boston" started the tradition of Google Dances (major index refreshes and algorithm changes). At this stage Google Dances occurred roughly every month and would result in major changes to search rankings. The scene was set for future Google updates!

Florida Causes Fallout

In my humble opinion, Google's Florida update in November 2003 is the first easily identifiable instance of the kind of Google update we still see to this day. By this I mean an update that specifically targets something Google doesn't like webmasters doing to rank for keywords. Basically, Google used the Florida update to crack down on websites that were being ranked through "unethical" means (sound familiar anyone?!). This article from all the way back in 2004 explains the full fallout caused by Florida, but what I think is most telling is where the author states that "Google's search engine results pages (SERPs) are now displaying high spam sites near the top of the list for many competitive keywords."

Something I have noticed over the years is that every time Google releases an update designed to combat webspam, there is an inevitable tidal wave of people who complain that spam results in SERPS have actually worsened. Anyone who doesn't believe that history repeats itself needs to take a look at Google algorithm changes, obviously!

The Florida update started the tradition of certain SEO methods/tactics being penalized by Google. In particular, this update targeted SEO techniques that had been effective in the late '90s, such as keyword stuffing.

Big Daddy Makes Little Kids out of Link Buyers

These days most white-hat affiliates and webmasters understand that buying and selling links that carry PageRank (i.e. dofollow links) is a big no-no. In 2005 that wasn't the case, and the Internet was rife with people doing all kinds of dodgy link deals. Mass link exchanges were also commonplace. People used these methods because they worked very effectively; one of the problems with Google algorithm changes is that they tend to cause a lot of collateral damage to people who are simply trying to do what works for their website and business, and they often don't understand why Google might not like what they do.

Big Daddy, which lasted from 2005–2006, put paid to the effectiveness of link exchanging schemes. Unlike Adam Sandler's movie, this Big Daddy wasn't very funny at all.

Unleash the Kraken (I Mean Panda)

By the time Google Panda rolled around in 2011, I was personally generating a lot of my traffic from websites like EzineArticles, HubPages and Buzzle. My affiliate marketing career was formed in the crucible of "bum marketing," because at the time I was too young to have a credit card to buy my own hosting and domains with. When Google Panda came along early in 2011 most of my business was wiped out overnight, and I can distinctly remember trawling the Warrior Forum and other SEO hangouts to find thousands of others in exactly the same situation.

Just to relive the pain, here's how much carnage Panda unleashed on some popular content farms that most affiliates were using for traffic, links and revenue:

Google Panda Effects

Google's Panda update taught us that you can't rely on low-quality sites that are only designed to squeeze as much dosh out of visitors as possible. Whether that site is your own or a massive property like EzineArticles, the phrase "content is king" never had more meaning.

Penguin Arrives, No Happy Feet Are Seen

To celebrate Google's 15th birthday, let's cap off the history of Google algorithm changes with one more painful reminder of what Google can do to webmasters who fall out of its favor.

Released in April 2012, Google Penguin didn't target poor-quality content like Panda did, but instead went after perceived black-hat SEO tactics. In particular, its attack on the use of heavily optimized anchor text and junk backlinks meant that many webmasters and affiliates saw their rankings plummet.

Making Sure You're Always on Google's Guest List

As you can see, Google has had a tendency to strike webmasters and affiliates off its guest list (i.e. search results) for years now. The type of debate you see about Google hating on SEO, webmasters and affiliates is nothing new at all!

So what can you do to make sure that you're always on Google's guest list? Here are some important strategies you should incorporate to make sure you can keep enjoying your place high up in the SERP party for years to come:

  • Add fresh content to your website on a regular basis. Content is increasingly becoming the lifeblood of high search rankings as Google becomes more adept at sorting the good from the bad. 
  • Encourage your site visitors to share your content on their preferred social networks for optimal rankings and traffic.
  • Start using Google Plus to build author rank and prominence in your niche—if you haven't set up authorship for your website, then do so immediately.
  • Focus on the development of natural, high-quality links (the more links other people willingly build to your site, the better).
  • Build a brand—read my blog post on Google-proofing your website for more about doing this.
  • Tweak your website to reduce your bounce rate and increase average time on page and internal click throughs.

Use AffiloTools to Keep You on the Right Track

Keeping on top of SEO can be a nightmare. Luckily for you, the team here at Affilorama has developed the cutting-edge AffiloTools suite to make managing and improving your SEO a breeze. AffiloTools will help keep you ahead of Google updates by helping you deliver a quality, white-hat experience to your visitors. Here's what AffiloTools will let you do:

  • See the precise rankings of the keywords you target, and track your site's performance over time
  • Check the health of your website, especially on-page SEO optimization
  • Discover which keywords are giving you the most traffic
  • Track your ClickBank earnings, Facebook and Twitter stats, traffic and more
  • Legally "spy" on your competitors' backlinks and then hijack them for your own website
    Discover thousands of QUALITY link opportunities with the exclusive Link Finder tool
  • Use AffiloTools on your PC, phone or smart device
  • See the full list of AffiloTools benefits here


Share Your Most Memorable Google Experience

One final thing: I want you to join in Google's 15th birthday bash by sharing your most memorable Google experience. Maybe you found a funny picture of yourself in Google image search, or all your websites were wiped out by the Google Panda update (memories can be bad too!). Just leave a comment below and get the discussion started.

Peter Clutton 8 years ago
For SEO to be of any value, it needs to secure your site a top Google ranking and gain a first page listing. How can all the many thousands of sites, selling exactly the same products and services, attain the promised top-ranking/front page result that is promised when the front page accounts for may be 10 listings?
Nicky Helmkamp 8 years ago
Hey Samuel! We featured you in our resource round up!

8 years ago
Backlink" is a term that refers to links that point to a website or webpage from another website. This type of link also might be called an inlink or incoming link. Backlinks on other sites can increase a website's traffic.
Janelle @SEO Company 8 years ago
SEO is the simple activity of ensuring a website can be found in search engines for words and phrases relevant to what the site is offering. SEO is a topic that I find fascinating, and I’ve been educating myself on it out of necessity. It is very important for people to know what seo is all about.
Julius Densing 8 years ago
SEO is not just about conducting keyword research, optimizing the content on your website and building links. Search engine optimization also has a very important technical aspect to it. If you want to become an accomplished SEO practitioner, you should also obtain technical SEO knowledge.