Google Search Essentials
Google Search Essentials: 20 Years in the Making
Introduction: Google Search Essentials
How do I get my website ranked on Google? This is a question every business owner has asked at some point. It is not an easy question to answer. Companies that provide digital solutions for SEO, such as Semrush, Ahrefs and Moz, each have their own opinions, but these are biased since they are trying to market their own product as the best solution. Marketers don’t do enough to demystify SEO either, most of the time on purpose because they want to keep selling their expertise by presenting it as a mysterious art that only the initiated can practice. But Google never intended their website guidelines to be so mysterious; they were always intended for the site owner. Google Search Essentials demystify SEO for site owners.
A Brief History of SEO
The history of SEO stretches back to the mid 1990s when webmasters recognized the value of a high ranking on search engine results and began optimizing websites for search engines. Back in those days, they simply had to submit a URL to different search engines, which then sent a web crawler to crawl that page and extract links to other pages found on that particular page. The crawler downloaded that page and the connecting pages on the search engine’s own server. As competition kept rising, some marketers looked for ways to outsmart the search engine algorithms by developing black hat SEO techniques.
By 1997, search engine designers realized that some webmasters were trying to rank higher in search rankings by stuffing pages with keywords. Since the success of a search engine depended on its ability to provide relevant search results to users, search engine designers responded by adjusting their algorithms to prevent webmasters from manipulating rankings. This started a never ending battle between webmasters and search engines. Search engines kept making their algorithms more complex, while webmasters struggled to find ways around it. Websites that employed black hat SEO techniques were banned by search engines.
Search engines keep their algorithms a secret (although some information can be extracted from the patents a search engine registers), but that does not stop SEO experts from studying these search engines and coming up with their personal opinions about those algorithms.
A Retrospect of Google’s Website Guidelines
Information for Webmasters 2001
It all started in 2001, when Google launched a page with a set of guidelines for site owners that gave an overview of best practices when it came to building a website. They called this page “Information for Webmasters”. This information included Do’s and Don’ts. Webmasters were encouraged to exchange links with relevant sites and submit their URL to directories. Don’ts included black hat techniques such as cloaking, participating in link exchanges for the sole purpose of ranking, sending automated queries to Google and using programs to generate lots of generic doorway pages.
Google Webmaster Guidelines 2002
Google launched their ‘Webmaster Guidelines’ page in 2002. The goal was simple: help owners create quality websites for both users and Google. The main focus was on the user. The guidelines pointed out behavior that had to be avoided in order to keep the site in good standing with Google. They also outlined practices that would lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index.
The design and content guidelines were brief and simple. Webmasters were advised about site structure, internal linking and site maps. They were told to avoid using dynamic pages, as Google’s crawlers could not handle them very well back in those days. Textual information had to be useful and accurate.
The basic principles outlined in the quality guidelines set the tone for all the future versions of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Those basic principles were as follows:
- Focus on the user, not the search engine;
- Present the same content to the search engine that you display to the users;
- Avoid tricks to improve search engine rankings;
- Only include links to authentic websites on your webpages;
- Don’t send programmatic queries to Google to beef up traffic;
- Avoid hidden text or links;
- Don’t duplicate content;
- Only create pages with original and authentic content.
Google Webmasters Central 2006
In 2006, Google replaced Webmaster Guidelines with Webmaster Central that included a new Webmaster Central blog and an expanded Webmaster Help Google Group featuring helpful conversations with other webmasters and an FAQ section. Google Sitemaps was also renamed Google Webmaster Tools.
Two changes in focus can be observed here. Firstly, the exchange between Google and webmasters became two-way. Instead of just prescribing rules, Google started listening to webmasters as well. Google Webmasters Central was no longer an instruction manual, it was a portal where webmasters and Google search engine developers could engage in a conversation. Secondly, there was a gradual shift in focus from being user-centric to webmaster-centric. The site owner, instead of the user, became the customer for Google. This was partly due to the increasing revenue from paid ads as well as the increasing market share of Google search engine. In 1997, Google replaced earlier web search engines, such as Infoseek, Lycos, Yahoo, LookSmart, Altavista and Ask Jeeves, and quickly dominated the market. With decreasing competition, Google was probably less concerned with user experience and more so with generating revenue through paid ads.
Google Search Central 2020
In 2020, Google realized that the term ‘Webmaster’ was in sharp decline. Web professionals were calling themselves search engine optimizers, online marketers, bloggers, web developers or site owners instead of webmasters. So they decided to change the name of ‘Google Webmasters Central’ to ‘Google Search Central’. But the content remained more or less the same, with the same goal of helping people improve the visibility of their website on Google search.
Documentation related to how Google search worked was moved from the Search Console Help Center to a new site (https://developers.google.com). Moving forward, the Search Console Help Center only contained documentation related to using Search Console. It still housed the Webmasters Help Community, though its name was changed to Google Search Central Community.
Google Search Essentials 2022
With the web becoming more and more democratized, and the difference between a lay internet user and a web professional quickly disappearing, Google also felt that it was time to reiterate their nomenclature to reflect this democratization. In a blog posted on Google Search Central on October 13, 2022, Google’s search team explained the change of name as follows: “For the new name we wanted something generic, something that’s not focusing on just one slice of our visitors, but rather all creators on the internet who wish to see their content in Google Search. We also wanted the new name to highlight the importance of the points covered on these pages. That’s how we landed on the new name: Google Search Essentials.”
What’s New in Google Search Essentials?
The refresh came with a few changes in the structuring of information. As well as some additions to the points covered in the former Google Search Central. The section that received the most additions was ‘spam policies.’ The topics added or modified in ‘spam policies’ section are as follows:
- Misleading functionality;
- Online harassment, scam and fraud’
- Link spam;
- Thin content.