Head to Google and type, “Google in 1998,” and you will be presented with a snapshot of how Google worked and appeared during its first year of existence. Right away, most will notice a significant difference from today, other than the obvious — how the page is laid out. The search of the word, “Google,” at that time only delivered 234,000 results, which were displayed in 0.6 seconds. Today, that same search lasts a little more than half that time (0.34 seconds), while 10.5 billion results were provided. That’s about 45,000 times as many compared to 18 years ago!
Of course, the meteoric rise in the number of results since Google’s founding is not the only thing that has changed significantly for SERPs (search engine results pages) since 1998.
Search Process Is More Dynamic, Personalized
When search engines first started helping curious Internet users more easily find what they were searching for, the process was pretty straightforward, in that each person received the same results when entering the same word or phrase. Today, search results change based on who is doing the searching. These “personalized results” have evolved significantly over the years, especially as they relate to adjusting results based on users’ search histories. And shortly after search engines like Excite, Yahoo and Google started providing their services, some clever opportunists started manipulating search algorithms to push their websites near the top through doing things like spamming backlinks, excessive tagging and keyword stuffing.
Google was the first to recognize these manipulations in 2003, and began punishing website owners who broke its rules, aka webmaster guidelines. Around that time, the search giant started to use the computer users’ histories to personalize their searches. Search engine optimization also became more important, and new rules for SEO have been created ever since, as search engines such as Google continue to evolve and change how they provide lists for users.
Mobile Devices and Their Smaller Screens Change the Way We See Results
Researchers compared eye-tracking studies a decade ago and today to learn how changes in the way search results are displayed have affected where eyes are drawn when looking at a page of listings. In 2005, the eyes were drawn starting towards the left side of the top result but then moving significantly to the right, appearing to read more details about that top result. Then, the pattern was repeated as users glanced at the headlines of the next one or two results.
That pattern has changed significantly in just a few years. Users in 2016, most of whom are using mobile devices with smaller screens, tend to quickly scroll through the entire screen. That means results anywhere on the first page have a greater likelihood of being seen, with obvious advantages for listings at the very top of the page. Today, users’ eyes focus on the top couple of results, not veering to the right very far, before scanning the rest of the titles on the first page.
More Prominence and Usefulness of Paid Ads
According to that same study, paid advertising appears to be getting more bang for the buck, as people are spending a significant amount of “eye time” reading the paid ads at the top of the listings pages before going on to the organic results. Of course, placing more ads at the very top of the search results page has a significant role in that. And, as everybody knows, the higher you are on the page, the better it is for you.
Ads Don’t Look as Much Like Ads
Another thing that has changed over the years is how advertisements are presented on Google, something the company first offered in 2003. Eleven years later, a colored box that had been used to enclose the ads was removed, and the only obvious indicator that you are looking at are sponsored listings is the word, “Ad,” listed in green immediately to the left of the web address. However, the title listed above it as well as the text below it are presented using the same font size, color and type as the organic listing that are displayed below a very faint dividing line.
The Importance of Being at or Near the Top of Search Results
Although that study showed that the rest of the initial page was being viewed longer than had been the case a decade earlier, the first few organic results are still receiving significantly more eyeball time than the rest of the listings on that page, meaning that the importance of applying the constantly changing rules for SEO is as important as it has ever been.
SEO in 2016 is much more complicated than it ever has been, but that does not mean that you cannot get a handle on it and move your listings as high in Google and other search engines as possible. For example, using social media, something that did not even factor into search results a decade ago, has been gaining even greater significance, and search engines rely more and more heavily on social signals to improve search engine rankings.
Other SEO trends that need increased focus include: having a mobile-friendly website; offering apps; offering videos; and being prominent in your local area by letting Google know where you are located. Only of a few years ago, none of those trends would have impacted your search rankings! However, it is vitally important to continue to keep up with the latest trends in SEO as Google’s algorithm does change hundreds of times a year.
Need helping understanding how to improve your organic search rankings? Call us at 760-881-4736 or get in touch with one of our search specialists today!
Chronology of Google Serp Evolution From 1997 to 2016
- Page and Brin register google.com on September 15, 1997 and incorporate Google on September 4, 1998.
- By end of 2009 there were about 60M indexed pages
- Adwords is released on October 23, 2000 (blue boxes on the right are sponsored links)
- Motto was “don’t be evil”
- Directory structure /breadcrumbs are visible on top
- Categories were in use
- Image search introduced in 2001
- Tabs on top
- Spell checker (Did you mean…)
Google circa 2001
- Google maps and mobile search
2007 Google Universal Search
- Blended results were introduced to incorporate video, image, news, products along with ads
- Local businesses
- Google launches Google suggest in 2008 (autocomplete)
- Local 10 packs in maps
- Maps more prominent in serps
- 7 pack instead of 10
- Google launches Google Instant (a “search-before-you-type” feature)
- Review stars on the maps listings are now visible
- More rich snippets roll out
- Knowledge graph is launched
- No more sidebar
- Malware alert
- Authorship was (the end of June 2011) along with Google +
- Underlined links disappear
- Yellow box on ads at top also disappear and are replaced by small yellow square signs that read ‘ad’
- Authorship was killed by Google citing low value to searchers and low adoption rates by authors and webmasters
- Rise of news boxes
- More 7-serp results instead of 10 on the first page (a trend seen since 2012)
- These results always come with a result that shows sitelinks
- Right hand side ads are removed and are replaced by 4 ads on top and on the bottom
- More results show Google shopping on top and (exclusively) on the right
More rich snippets and what Dr. Pete of Search Marketing Expo calls the #0 position