What do we know for sure about search engine optimisation?


Search engine optimisation has been in the toolbox for decades.

However, the evolution of search engines and changing algorithms have ensured that search engine optimisation is done very differently today than it was, say, 10 or 20 years ago.

Today's SEOs face the challenges of rapidly changing technology, trends and user habits. Yet for many businesses, the first page of a Google search is still one of the most sought-after places to advertise.

Google is not a new phenomenon - it was launched back in September 1998 as BackRub. The aim was to improve search algorithms by finding the best way to evaluate information on the web. Google was the brainchild of two Stanford PhD students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Today, almost all Finns use Google search to find information and as a starting point in their shopping journey. And this does not seem to have changed. Search engines are an important part of our digital lives today.

Google is still by far the most popular search engine in Finland, with a market share of almost 95%. It is therefore natural that Google search is used, for example, at the early stages of the purchase path to compare prices or to find information on various topics.

But what can be said with certainty about search engine optimisation? What things have stayed the same and what things have changed? How should a company invest in its own organic search visibility?

History of search engine optimisation

The first search robots arrived back in 1993, when Wandex indexed FTP archives. Before that, the internet was a distributed entity rather than a centralised place for information. There was no question of measuring value yet, because according to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the WWW, the first website was only made to test how the WWW worked. 

That website can still be found at info.cern.ch. The engineers and physicists working at CERN in Switzerland were ahead of their time. The purpose of this first website was to provide a place where CERN scientists could read instructions and get help.

The evolution of the WWW has been quite rapid. Today, it is estimated that there are already more than 1.3 billion sites on the web. 

The first search engines came only a couple of years after Wandex. These include Aliweb and Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives), which index online textual information in a very rudimentary way.

The history of search engines is full of stories about the rise and fall of companies. In the end, Google managed to stand out from the crowd with its technological solutions and made a name for itself on quality of search - rather than on the mass of links, as was the case with its competitor AltaVista.

Google became a revolutionary search engine compared to other competitors of the time, such as Ask Jeeves or Altavista, mainly because Google knew how to give the user better search results. It managed to develop a better algorithm than the others and, as a result, improved the user experience.

Search engine principles and their changes

How do search engines work?

We can start from the basics. Search engines can be thought of as a library or a huge mass of information on the Internet. Like all libraries, search engines seek to serve their customers - in this case, us, the Internet users - as well as possible.

Google has a variety of services, but the core search service itself remains the most popular. That's why the main focus of this article is: what are the things a company should invest in to gain visibility on Google search.

Google's architecture doesn't just have one data centre, but several around the world in different locations - for example, in the Hamina Data Center in Finland. These data centres ensure the speed at which we can all access Google's services.

But Google is not the only search engine. There is also Bing (Microsoft), Baidu (China) and Yandex (Russia). However, Google has become such a strong player in the West that when people say "search for something online", they are often talking about Google - so our perception of how search engines work is largely built on Google.

Search algorithms

Search algorithms are the heart of search engines. They determine how search results are ranked and on what basis sites rise or fall in a search. Google has a number of different algorithms, the best known of which is PageRank. However, the algorithms are not disclosed in detail for reasons of corporate secrecy.

Over the past 20 years, Google has made huge advances in both technology and data retrieval. Its artificial intelligence (AI)-based RankBrain algorithm can infer user intent based on search better than any other algorithm before it.

For example, the term "SEO" will produce a wide variety of results on a search page - some referring to search engine optimisation in general and others to Google's own tools.

So technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last twenty years, and it is unlikely that it will not continue to advance even further in the next twenty years.

Although technology has advanced and changed the way search engine optimisation is done, some things have remained the same. For example, technology has made it possible for website load speed to have a greater impact on search than in the past.

However, as technology evolves, it's important to remember the basics that have been at the heart of search engine optimisation since the beginning - quality content and structure.

As noted, Google does not disclose exactly how the algorithms work. As a result, SEOs need to test different things and follow industry news and discussions to keep up to date with what is important in Google's current world of values.

When Google releases a major update (such as Penguin or Panda), it often takes a position on what the user interface should look like on the site.

Search algorithms are not the only thing we humans need to pay attention to when searching for information online or making purchases. Google's user interface has also changed significantly over the years.

For example, in the early 2000s, Google did not display images or videos in its results, but only links to different sites.

The history of search engine optimisation can therefore be viewed from a few different angles: the evolution of search engines, changes in algorithms, and how the way people search and buy online has changed with technology. All three of these cornerstones should be in place for a website to successfully improve its organic search engine performance on Google.

What we know for sure: keywords and content marketing

The importance of content in search

As I mentioned earlier, some things have remained the same through the decades - one of them is the quality of content and the structure of the site.

As technology advances, you'd think that our need to read long text-based articles would have diminished, now that you can watch videos or listen to podcasts, for example. 

Despite this, textual content is still very important in search engine optimisation, as it helps both us humans and Google's algorithms to understand what the site is talking about.

However, textual content does not always have to be based on long articles or blog posts - for example, product page descriptions play an important role in organic search in online shops. Instructional and informative pages are also often the kind of pages that people search for answers to on Google (e.g. "how, why, etc..").

Google's artificial intelligence-based RankBrain algorithm is able to deduce, based on user experience, what kind of content is most appealing to a searcher in a given situation. For this reason, more than the number of cookies, the focus should be on the quality of the named content.

Selection of search terms

To improve your visibility on Google, the first thing you need to understand is what potential customers type into the search box when searching online.

These can vary greatly depending on where and with which device you are using, at what stage of the purchase process you are searching and what kind of search phrase you are using.

When choosing keywords, it is therefore important to ensure that the company offers content to potential customers at all stages of the purchase path. 

Technical side, links and user experience

Technical implementation matters

While quality content is king in search engine optimisation, technical implementation cannot be ignored. The technical aspects of a website have a significant impact on how well it ranks in search engines. Loading speeds, mobile-friendliness and clear URL structures are just a few examples of the factors Google takes into account when evaluating a site.

With increased mobile usage, Google has started to put more emphasis on responsive websites. Mobile-first indexing means that Google indexes and evaluates mobile versions of a website first. This makes it critical to ensure that your website works seamlessly across all types of devices. In November 2023, Google moved to full mobile-first indexing.

Another technical aspect is the use of the HTTPS protocol, which increases the security of the site. Google's Chrome browser now marks all HTTP-enabled sites as insecure - warnings like this can have a negative impact on the user experience and trust in the site. In addition, it is important that links point to the https version.

Links show the importance of the site

Backlinks, or external links, are one of the oldest and strongest signals in Google's eyes. They show other sites on the web trust your content; how relevant and credible your domain is in a particular subject area compared to others.

Investing in a quality link building strategy will improve your organic visibility. However, simply collecting link counts without contextual relevance or qualitative standards can lead to penalties or even hinder SEO performance.

It is therefore essential to focus on the quality of the links and not just the quantity. By acquiring relevant , high quality backlinks you can build a strong digital "reputation" in the eyes of search engines .

No one can bear a bad user experience

User experience has emerged as one of the most important factors in search engine optimisation, as highlighted by Google's "helpful content update" for autumn 2023. Google's algorithms have evolved to identify and reward sites that provide a positive experience for their visitors. This means that website design and optimisation should focus not only on technical functionality, but also on intuitiveness, ease of use and visual appeal.

Google measures user experience in a number of ways, including page load times, bounce rate and browsing time. Sites where visitors spend time exploring content in depth and actively navigate to different sections are rated higher than those where visitors leave quickly.

Social signals - such as sharing on social media - can also be a sign of high user satisfaction and engagement with content. While social signals don't directly affect search engine rankings in the same way as traditional SEO techniques, they can help increase visibility and traffic to your website from outside organic channels.

Aiming for better visibility on Google

The impact of SEO on traffic and sales

It is clear that search engine optimisation can be a huge growth driver for a business. When a potential customer finds a company's products or services through a search at a time when the need is most acute, a conversion, i.e. a purchase or lead, is more likely. So a well-executed SEO strategy will not only bring more eyes to your online presence, but will also enable that traffic to turn into real money in your pocket.

SEO can also be used to build brand equity over the long term. Visibility on Google's first rankings gives credibility and builds trust.

Measuring visibility

How then to measure the effectiveness of the investment in the work done? The ROI (return on investment) of search engine optimisation can be calculated in a number of ways; for example, organic 

traffic growth, keyword rankings in search results and conversion rates. 

These metrics will help you understand how well your SEO efforts are paying off and where improvements may be needed.

Organic traffic tracking is the foundation of any SEO campaign. Tools like Google Analytics and Search Console provide in-depth insights into where visitors come from, which pages they are interested in and how long they stay on your site. It is also important to identify the keywords and phrases that drive the most relevant traffic to your website.

Tracking keyword rankings helps to understand changes in visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs). Improved rankings often mean greater visibility to potential customers and therefore increased organic revenue.

Conversion rate analysis is part of SEO measurement, as it tells you what percentage of visitors to your website will eventually convert into paying customers. Conversions can be anything from lead capture to ecommerce sales. This metric can be used to assess not only the effectiveness of search engine optimisation, but also a site's ability to persuade and guide users towards the desired action.

Read more about conversion optimisation.

Change is the only constant - how do you keep up?

The SEO landscape is constantly changing, which means that optimizers need to stay alert to new trends and algorithm updates. In order to maintain or improve its visibility on Google, a website needs to actively follow industry developments.

Following SEO trends can give you a competitive advantage

One way to keep up to date is to subscribe to blogs and newsletters from leading experts in the field, and attend webinars on topics such as. In addition, Google itself often publishes guides and "best practice" recommendations that give an indication of how their search engine evaluates content.

In addition, as technology evolves, new tools will emerge to help automate certain processes or provide more in-depth analytics. Examples include various SEO analysis and monitoring tools that can identify technical errors on a site or suggest improvements for content optimisation (such as Dashboa).

The world of search engine optimisation is dynamic and requires constant learning and adaptation. While certain basic principles, such as quality content and technical functionality, have remained unchanged over the years, search engine algorithms are constantly evolving. As a result, marketers need to be prepared to update their knowledge and skills on a regular basis.

SEO is not just about "Google visibility"; it is a strategy that leads to better brand awareness, higher user satisfaction and ultimately higher sales. 

Ranking on the first page of a Google search can be a sign that your company is doing many things right - but it should not be an end in itself.

In the future, search engine optimisation is likely to focus more on user experience, personalised search results and smarter AI-based algorithms. 

Companies must therefore focus on building long-term sustainable SEO strategies that take into account not only current best practices but also potential future trends.

Ultimately, the core idea of SEO remains the same: provide value to potential customers by meeting their needs. By actively monitoring industry trends and measuring your results, you can ensure that your investment in SEO is delivering the desired results now and in the future.

The SEO journey never ends; it is a continuous process towards better visibility on the web. By keeping your eyes open for new innovations, listening to customer feedback and optimising your website, you can create a strong foundation for your digital success. 

Remember that change is the only permanent thing - so be prepared to grow with it.