Google Search, What Happens Behind the Scenes

By Lukas Chudy
Lukas Chudy
Lukas Chudy
November 29, 2015 Updated: November 29, 2015

Search results from Google have changed over time but you probably haven’t noticed. Behind the scenes Google has been updating its search processes frequently since 2000.

The process of optimizing search functions to deliver to the user the most relevant information is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. 

The goal of SEO is to target potential customers on the Internet just in the moment they are making decisions or searching for information about products or services. The key is that you can deliver to the user the proper information in the most critical time.

According to MOZ, a leading website specializing in inbound marketing and SEO, the evolution of SEO has been a continuous battle between Google and websites trying to cheat their systems.

In the late 1990s SEO consultants mainly used underground tactics to gain traffic. Later, Google cracked down on these techniques forcing SEO specialists to focus on content marketing and user interaction.

The future of SEO will be focused much more on user experience, and on webpage content bringing additional value to the user. It’s moving from the technical perspective of websites, such as code optimization, to more of content marketing and satisfying the user. Thus search engines will improve in terms of understanding the context of the search query.

Looking Back at Google

Google officially launched using PageRank, one of the many methods Google used to determine a webpage’s relevance or importance. PageRank looked at the number of incoming links for a given site including the relevance and quality of the links to decide where the webpage should rank.

This was the time when SEO consultants commonly used or suggested underground techniques such as paid links and keyword stuffing. 

Through loopholes, companies would buy links pointing to their webpages, while keyword stuffing filled a webpage with keywords in the coding or content of the page. These techniques were used to gain traffic and rank in the quickest way possible.  

Google released a major update called the “Florida update” that changed the SEO industry. This update penalized popular underground tactics like the ones mentioned above and many sites lost their ranking.

Google released AdSense, an advertising service for website publishers who wanted to display ads by text, video, and images.

Many people took advantage of AdSense by creating Made for AdSense (MFA) sites that were essentially webpages created specifically around AdSense keywords. These sites were often low quality filled with ads and no original content.

At this stage spam was still an issue for Google with “spamdexing” techniques that consisted of two main groups—content spam and link spam. Content spam included tactics such as loading a webpage with keywords or numbers to manipulate a site’s ranking. Link spam tactics involved comment spamming where automated robots would spam the comment section of a site with web links. 

SEO firm Traffic Power, one of the largest in the country at the time, had their own site banned after Google found out they were using spamdexing techniques.

In January, Google released the Nofollow tag supported by both Microsoft and Yahoo to prevent blog comment spam.

Later in June, Google introduced personalized search, which looked through users’ search histories to automatically modify the search results Google showed them.

Google launched Google Analytics to give SEO consultants an easier way to analyse and track their campaign performances.  

Google revealed that BMW’s webpage was banned for using a tactic called cloaking, which showed users and search engines different content.

Google launched XML sitemaps, which helps tell Google about the organization of a website’s content. It was supported by all of the major search engines.

Google Suggest launched, a feature that guesses what a user is typing in the search query and offers suggestions in real time. This gave SEO experts another feature to assist with keyword research.

Google released its Vince update, which SEO consultants felt seemed to favor big brands in search results.

Google also launched the Caffeine update, including major infrastructure changes that enabled Google to index the web more often and provide more timely results. 

Google then launched Real-Time search, to included results from sources like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.

Google confirmed that Facebook and Twitter influence SEO, starting a shift in how SEO consultants do their jobs.

The New York Times posted an article about DecorEyes, an online shopping company that deliberately provided bad service just to attract lots of reviews—albeit negative ones—so they could rank highly. Google reacted sternly and removed the site permanently while the owner got arrested.

Google launched Panda, an algorithm update aimed at preventing low-quality websites from ranking highly. This update forced websites to put more focus on content quality.

Google launched their Penguin update, which punished websites for producing low quality links.

Google released the disavow tool—allowing users to tell Google not to count certain links that pointed to their site. This helped some websites recover from Google penalization.

Google added another type of news result called “in-depth” articles. It included links to three news articles. It made search results more relevant and enhanced the content of Google’s results.    

Google updated its page layout algorithms, penalizing sites with too many advertisements at the top of the page.

Google confirmed another major Panda update that included algorithm updates and data refreshes. Officially around 7.5 percent of English-language queries were affected.

Google released Payday loan updates, which targeted spam sites.

Google launched Pigeon update, which noticeably affected local results and changed how Google dealt with location cues.

Google released the Quality update, with changes to the core algorithm rankings and how it processes quality signals of webpages.

Google released the Panda 4.2 update with no major signs of any algorithm change.

Lukas Chudy