Stage 1: Wild West (to 2003)

Back in 2000, it was basically a bit of a free for all, a land grab – the Wild West even! In order to achieve a good position in search engines, what was required was a bit of know-how in terms of setting up websites.

Search engines, like Google and Yahoo, did not have such sophisticated search algorithms as they do today. As a consequence, it was easier to ‘game’ the results by ‘stuffing’ Keywords all over a website  basically including the Keywords that people would search on, within the code and text of the site.

Although the business of search engines is to provide good quality search results, if the search results reward sites that display these characteristics, rather than those who genuinely reflect what people are searching for, then the overall user experience is not satisfactory.

Stage 2: Linking Strategies (2003-2008)

To address the issue of ‘Keyword stuffing’ and all the other ‘On-Page’ tricks, search engines started to include an element of recommendation in their algorithms by placing more of an emphasis on ‘Off-Page Factors’ and, in particular, the number of links from external websites to a website.

‘Off-Page Factors’: external votes for winning websites

The term ‘Off-Page Factors’ just means those factors over which a website owner has less control. For example, we have control over the content of our websites, but we have less control over wheter other websites, but we have less control over whether other websites wish to link to our website or not.

In effect, search engines introduces an element of peer-review into their algorithms, so that the top-ranked websites were the ones that had received most approval from external websites. The reason that this was preferable was because ‘Off-Page Factors’ were more difficult to influence, and therefore, there was a greater degree of integrity in the search results.

To make it easy to understand, think o the links to your website being like a vote in an election. The winner will be the one with the most votes, i.e. links.

Link building, link wheels and article marketing.

However, as with any system, if the rules of the game change, then the players need to adapt – and adapt they did! Instead of concentrating on ‘On-Page Factors’, the emphasis moved to link building. As well as obvious tricks, like link farms (which were crude ways to get lots of links back to a site) a whole link-building industry sprang up to support people’s efforts to get to the top.

A whole new range of strategies appeared, such as link wheels, paid links and article marketing, to cater for the needs of this rapidly growing market. To counter this, search engines introduced measures to reduce the effect of fake linking strategies, with the use of ‘no-follow’ links.

The Dawn of a new Era: Social Media and Blogs

It was during this period that new Social Media sites, such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter started to appear, and ‘Blogging’ entered the language of the Internet. While many might not have thought so at the time, this was actually the next big bend in the road, and this is where we find ourselves today.

Stage 3: Social Media (2008 – )

Very few people (least of all the founders) could have imagined that a university community website, launched in 2004, could have mushroomed to create a network of hundreds of millions of active users across the globe, in less than a decade.

Quite simply, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the other popular Social Media websites, have been nothing short of a game-changing phenomena. But why is this? More importantly, what does this mean for you as a business owner?

Whereas the early years of the Internet were dominated by ‘players’, people who knew how to play the Internet game; today, the Social Media game is harder to fake. it is also open to new entrants, who just a few years ago, would not have been able to dream of the levels of success they now enjoy.

Social Recommendation and Approval

At its heart, it relies upon the consumer being much more willing to investigate their needs, and to look for alternatives than before. A key part of this process, which had previously remained offline, was now brought online, namely social recommendation and approval.

We are more than capable of blocking out unwanted messages from corporations competing for our attention, but that does not mean that we are going to stop consuming or buying. All that has changed is that we do it at a time of our choosing, and with organisations that we have researched. And increasingly, we are doing our research in one area above all others – Social Media.

Get Social and Prosper!

So far, the Internet had been a disparate range of systems and approaches. Some worked, whilst others withered on the vine. But Social Media is where many of these systems merge, and it is no exaggeration to say, that in the near future, the companies that ‘get’ Social Media will prosper at the expense of those that do not.

Source: The Lazy Website Syndrome, by Tony Messer & Pilar Torres Wahlberg, published by Compass Publishing.