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It’s unlikely that you haven’t heard about the upcoming release of 50 Shades of Grey, the film adaptation of the hugely successful pop-erotica book of the same name. It’s much more likely that you haven’t heard of 50 Shades Of Google. That’s because I made it up.
In this post I have looked at a history of Google SEO through the years, focusing on what I feel have been the 50 biggest updates, most interesting facts and most notable news in the history of Google search to date.
I’ve separated my pretty sizeable list into the following sections:
20 years ago, in 1995, Larry Page (22) and Sergey Brin (21) met at Stanford University, California. Larry and Sergey begin collaborating on a search engine called BackRub which operates for more than a year before outgrowing the Stanford bandwidth. They later secure google.com in 1997. 
The brand name was chosen as a play on the word “googol” – the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. This is said to reflect “Larry and Sergey’s mission to organise a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web.” 
In February 1999, the Google team outgrew their garage office and move into a new premises but still only employee a staff of 8. Just five years later in 2004 this number grows to over 800 employees, a trend which continues over the following 10 years as the company grows exponentially. At the time of writing, Google employs over 50,000 members of staff. 
Google has made over 170 acquisitions and mergers over the last 14 years, making an impressive 35 acquisitions in 2014 alone.
Some of the most notable acquisitions include Blogger in 2003, YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion and Motorola Mobility in August 2011 for a phenomenal $12.5 billion.
The Google logo has evolved gradually since launch but has remained largely the same, with the trademark use of multi-coloured typeface still the foundation of the modern Google logo:
One of the most well-known Google faces in the SEO industry, Matt Cutts, joined Google in January 2000 as a software engineer. He later went on to become the Head of Webspam and the closest thing to a bridge between SEOs and Google.
Through its many advertising platforms, Google rules the online advertising world. After launching AdWords in 2000 and AdSense in 2003, along with numerous other platforms including video ads through YouTube, Google is the undisputed market leader in online advertising.
Google’s presence in online advertising is always growing, and platforms such as AdWords are being developed and enhanced frequently to ensure that users get the best service, further enhancing their hold on the market.
One iconic feature of Google search which has become particularly popular in recent years is the Google Doodle; the varied logos used on the Google Home page to celebrate holidays and notable events. There have been over 2,000 Google doodles to date, including animated Doodles and games.
The first ever Google Doodle was made by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in August 1998 when the Google team were going to Burning Man in the Nevada desert:
There have also been a number of controversial Doodles which have drawn much debate and discussion in recent years. One such Doodle was the support of LGBT rights during the Sochi Winter Olympics, showing that Google isn’t afraid to have a voice when it comes to political and social debate:
You can view the full Archive of Google Doodles here.
The Google Driverless car named the ‘Stanley’ won the DARPA Grand challenge and the $2 million in prize money from the US Department of Defence in 2005.
In May 2007, Google introduced its revolutionary Street View in five US cities.
Google has photographed more than five million miles of road for its Street View maps which is now available in more than 50 countries.
2013 saw the launch of one of the most talked about new Google products of all time; Google Glass. The innovative wearable tech displays information to the wearer in a smartphone-like hands-free format.
The product isn’t without its issues though, with a number of legal and ethical issues already flooding in. The most notable issue is in its ability to take photos, videos and voice recordings without the implied consent of the subject matter, given that it is not by any means obvious that the filming is taking place.
Still, the power of Google Glass is undeniable and while there are definitely issues in need of ironing out, many believe that the product is a sign of what the future of consumer technology could be.
The latest statistics indicate that Google holds a massive 67.6% share of the search engine market share.
Bing trails behind in second place, with just 18.7% of the market, and coming in third is Yahoo with only 10.1%.
All the other search engines on the net combined only secure themselves around 3.6% combined!
So you knew it would be high, but $382 billion is somewhat phenomenal.
Google still doesn’t match up to Apple’s worth though, which is currently valued at over $483 billion.
Here I’ve collated some interesting facts about Google:
Back in 1996, the Google storage was just 40GB (still a great deal in those days) and was constructed out of Lego. 
In contrast, the Google data centres of today are… slightly bigger. Each of the eight data centres hosts thousands of square meters packed with servers and storage:
Google considers over 200 factors when processing any search query and delivers the results in a fraction of a second. 
Google owns a huge number of domain names, including Google misspellings, international TLDs and even 466453.com:
Although not controlled by or affiliated with Google, elgoog.im (“Google” backwards) is a functioning mirror image of the search engine.
Google handles over 7 billion searches an hour worldwide; more than 2 million searches per second. 
A study by Tom Chavez of “Rapt” suggests that this feature costs Google $110 million a year, as 1% of all searches used the feature and therefore bypassed the SERPs advertising. 
Over the years, Google has featured many humorous and fun Easter eggs, including some cracking April Fools pranks.
Some of the best search Easter eggs, presented by searching a certain word or phrase, include “tilt”, “Atari Breakout”, “do a barrel roll” and “zerg rush”. Enjoy.
Plus, here’s one of my favourite Google April Fools pranks for your enjoyment:
Check it out here. This became all the more ironic when they released an actual Google Pigeon update in 2014.
More than $50.5 billion of Google’s revenue in 2013 came from advertising, going someway to proving why the company continues to invest heavily in its advertising platforms such as AdWords.
100 million gigabytes is the equivalent of 100,000 one-terabyte hard drives. 
Google claims its index includes over 30 trillion pages. 30 trillion pages is equal to 30 million-million-million. That’s a lot of pages.
The Googleplex in Mountain View is home to a gigantic T-Rex skeleton nicknamed “Stan” after real dinosaur remains found nearby:
YouTube has over 1 billion active users each month, with over six billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube: almost an hour for every person on Earth 
Google’s Code of Conduct highlights that it is a “dog company”:
They like cats too though.
It’s strange but true: Google rents goats from a company called California Grazing.
The herd of 200 goats, along with a herder and a border collie, are used to cut down on weeds and brush at the Google HQ. Google rightly highlights that they are “a lot cuter to watch than lawn mowers”.
Google’s first ever tweet, posted on 26th February 2009, was in binary code and translates “I’m feeling lucky”:
Here I have collated some of the most notable or impactful Google algorithm updates and alternations to ranking factors.
For a more detailed look at Google algorithm updates through the years, check out the Moz Google Algorithm Change History.
September 2002 – The first noted shuffle in the SERPs that appeared to be something other than PageRank fluctuations.
February 2003 – Google Boston, the first named update, was announced at SES Boston and included a combination of changes.
November 2003 – The Florida update was the first big update to have a significant notable impact on sites using spammy or manipulative techniques including invisible text and Meta tag stuffing.
Over the next few years, named updates are rolled out periodically, sometimes as often as every month. Each update or series of updates aimed to further improve the quality of their search results.
April 2010 – Google increased its focus on user experience by confirming that site speed is used as a ranking factor. It provided advice and tools for webmasters to check and optimise site speed.
June 2010 – Google rolled out the new algorithm known as Caffeine in June 2010, so named due to its aim to increase the speed of crawling, indexing and ranking sites in real-time.
February 2011 – Far from being the first Google update, the Panda update is thought by many to be the first major update to really shake up the world of SEO. The first Google Panda update targeted a number of on-page content elements including content quantity, quality and uniqueness as well as spammy keyword techniques such as keyword stuffing and hidden text.
Of course, there have been many updates to the Panda algorithm before it became built into the main algorithm in 2014.
April 2012 – The next major update after Panda was of course Penguin a little over a year later. The Penguin update was created to target link spam, including spammy links, overuse of keyword anchor text and other “over-optimisation” techniques.
The first Penguin update was thought to affect around 3.1% of search queries, although the numerous updates have impacted thousands of sites over the last 3 years.
September 2012 – Google changed the way it handled Exact-Match Domains with the Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update. The update greatly decreased the previous ranking value of spammy domain names stuffed with keywords.
June 2013 – Notoriously spammy niches in search, including payday loans, porn and gambling, were targeted with the Payday Loan Update, which rolled out over a 1-2 month period.
August 2013 – Google Hummingbird was announced on September 26th 2013 but was thought to have been rolled out in August. Unlike the algorithm updates of recent years, Google Hummingbird was the first core algorithmic update since Caffeine. The new algorithm was designed to power changes to semantic search and features such as the Knowledge Graph.
Find out more about the Hummingbird algorithm with Search Engine Land’s Hummingbird FAQ.
August 2013 – Around the same time as Hummingbird launched, In-Depth Articles were introduced as a new type of news result. Appearing on around 3% of search results, In-Depth Articles were designed to provide evergreen, long-form content for users looking for a more comprehensive resource.
July 2014 – First rolled out in the US in July last year, Google Pigeon was released to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results by improving the way that the search engine processes local search signals.
Pigeon was introduced to the UK, Canada and Australia in December, with many local businesses noticing more exposure for relevant local searches.
August 2014 – Google posted a blog post to confirm that they are using HTTPS as a ranking signal, meaning that sites using SSL inscription to protect their users’ data could see higher positions in the Google SERPs. The “HTTPS everywhere” idea has been taken up by a number of sites following Google’s announcement, but so far there hasn’t been a hugely notable impact on sites using or failing to use HTTPS encryption.
August 2014 – After more than three years of Google Authorship seeming to become an increasingly valuable metric for search engines to see the people behind the posts, Google announced the end of Authorship. In his post, John Mueller explained that the information wasn’t as helpful to its users as it had hoped and retired the feature for good.
Lastly, here are some speculations on what the future might hold for Google and SEO.
While there is every sign that Google’s online dominance will only continue to grow, the company is not without its issues.
A number of countries have recently been putting pressure on Google to release information about its algorithm, and governments have expressed concerns that the company controls an online monopoly, despite there being a number of clear competitors including Yahoo and Bing.
Will the company be allowed to continue to grow, buying out business and entering mergers to increase its prominence? Or is it more likely that the legal pressure tries to ensure their dominance doesn’t lead to a complete monopoly?
It’s been the flavour of SEO and good web design for quite some time but with Google striving to deliver the best possible search results for its users, the focus on delivering a good experience for visitors must follow suite.
Google’s aim is to improve its algorithm to better understand what sites users enjoy and which ones don’t deliver the experience they’re looking for. So by improving the user journey through quality content, clear navigation and a site that users want to return to, webmasters can keep their focus in line with that of Google and ensure maximum exposure for sites.
It feels as though it’s been “The Year of The Mobile” for the last two or three years running, but it could very well be The Era of The Mobile over the next few years. Google has made no secret of the fact that it is paying increasingly close attention to mobile users and websites that deliver a positive mobile experience.
Smart money would be on this growing over the next few years, with the possibility that sites which do not provide users with a mobile-friendly site dropping down the rankings. As the number of searchers who use a mobile device grows, businesses which aren’t on board with a mobile site and strong mobile SEO could very easily get left behind in the next few years.
Technical SEO groundwork has always been important, however with Google’s increased focus on user journey, navigation and experience, getting a website technically sound is a basic essential for all websites.
Some of the biggest areas to focus on when considering technical SEO include site speed, crawlability, broken links, navigation and many more.
For more information on performing a full technical audit, request our technical whitepaper.
Content Marketing has become an essential element of any digital strategy over the last few years, particularly as low quality links have been increasingly penalised and sites have needed to work harder to earn quality links and citations.
This need and practice can only grow, with the need for higher quality content increasing as more brands produce more content. Successful content marketing will have to include quality content offering that stands out from the noisy crowd online.
Where spammy press releases were penalised and low quality guest posting soon followed, the future of content marketing will undoubtedly mean brands need to invest more in higher quality content to reap the rewards.
Social signals are already an important factor for any business online, but there’s every reason to forecast that their importance will only continue to grow.
Businesses doing well on social might expect to see strong search engine exposure gained or maintained as Google finds new ways to interpret social signals. Google is already building social signals into the knowledge graph for big brands, a feature which is expected to roll out to more sites in the coming months, which only proves that the search engine is still focusing the spotlight firmly on social elements of online marketing.
It’s been talked about as a possible future for a long time but the simple fact is that SEO can and will never die. That is because the need for businesses to maintain strong organic exposure on search engines will only ever grow as more and more websites emerge and compete.
Sure, PPC is a viable supporting option for websites but without organic search results alongside paid results, users would not continue to flock to Google and would instead move to competitors offering natural results.
So the long and short of it is, not only will SEO not die, it can only grow as an industry.
That’s not to say that it will remain the same! SEO will continue to change and evolve just as search engines do. But the need to help websites do well in organic search; that never changes.
We do! Let me know what you think of the ever-changing nature of Google. Do you have anything you’d like to add – something from Google’s past, present or future? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Images by Bigstockphoto.com
Samantha Noble is well known within in the search industry, she even won the UK Search Personality 2016 at the UK Search Awards in November. This year, she continues to make an impact on the industry by judging not only one, but three, prestigious industry awards.