SEO experts share memorable moments

How has it only been 25 years? Am I the only one who feels like there can’t have been a world without Google?! 

The search and technology behemoth has undoubtedly impacted most human experience across the globe in some form or another, but none more so than for the SEOs of the world. 

The SEO industry effectively shares its history with Google.

Once search engines like Google started to become the primary method through which people accessed information online, it became crucial for businesses to have a digital presence and be listed on search engine results pages (SERPs). 

Evolution of the algorithm: Changes in SEO focus 

Thanks to ever-evolving algorithms and expectations, search is a relentless journey of adaptation and resilience for SEOs. 

Each update feels like a new puzzle, urging the industry to delve deeper, understand better and refine strategies to ensure sites continue to shine organically.

It’s about trying to anticipate the subtleties of algorithm changes, predicting what will come next and constantly innovating to keep content relevant, user-friendly and, importantly, visible. 

Every change is a new opportunity to learn. Here are just some of the many algorithm changes that SEO has (mostly) survived, as told by industry veterans themselves. 

Penguin update

When we talk about Google shaking things up in the SEO world, the Penguin update of April 2012 is one for the books. 

It was the kind of wave that reshaped how we all thought about links and rankings and made us rethink our game plans.

Mark Williams-Cook, co-owner of search agency Candour, has some pretty vivid memories about this time. “The April 2012 Penguin v1 Update… it made such profound and lasting changes in the industry,” he said. 

Before Penguin rolled out, the more, the merrier was the mantra regarding links. It was all about piling on those links, and aggressive link building was the way to go. 

There were places where you could buy links, and services promising to boost your rankings actually worked! But then, Penguin happened. It was like a switch flipped overnight. 

Williams-Cook saw it all – big names in affiliate marketing saw their traffic go down the drain, agencies were getting the boot from clients whose rankings tanked, and suddenly, folks were charging money to remove links. Major web players like Expedia didn’t escape the penalties either.

He shares his own brush with Penguin quite candidly. “I personally had a few of my money websites tank (deservedly), and it was a great lesson in ‘it works until it doesn’t’.” 

It’s a reminder of how strategies that seem to work can suddenly backfire if they aren’t sustainable or authentic.

Medic update

Let’s hop back to August 2018, which is likely to be well remembered by many SEO enthusiasts with health-related sites – all thanks to the Medic update.

Brady Madden, founder at Evergreen Digital, had a CBD commerce website under his wing. He enjoyed the fruits of ranking well, with sales soaring over $100,000 monthly. 

Then Medic hit, and it was like the rug was pulled out from under him, leading to a loss of around $50,000 in sales in just a month.

“Since this ‘Medic’ update was so new, we didn’t know where or what to address,” Madden said 

He and his team took about six months to revamp their strategies, reassess their content, strengthen their link building campaigns and make several other crucial adjustments to bounce back.

“At the time, I had been around SEO and digital marketing for 5+ years… This whole event really got me going with SEO and has become my top marketing channel to do work for since then,” Madden shares as he reflected on the journey that this update had led him on.

Medic was termed a “broad, global, core update” by Google, with a peculiar focus on health, medical, and Your Money Your Life (YMYL) sites. 

Google’s advice was straightforward yet frustrating for many – there’s no “fix,” just continue building great content and improving user experience. 

The update was a learning curve and a revelation of SEO rankings’ dynamics and core algorithm updates’ impacts.

“I also learned that while they’re tedious to read, docs like Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines provide a wealth of knowledge for SEOs to use,” Madden said, highlighting the invaluable lessons to be learned from Google’s documentation. 

Diversity update

Olivian-Claudiu Stoica, senior SEO specialist at Wave Studio, has been in the SEO game since 2015. He fondly remembers this transformative update. 

“The Diversity update from 2019 was a nice touch from Google… This clearly helped smaller sites gain visibility,” Stoica said.

The Diversity update ensured a more equitable representation by limiting the presence of the same domain to no more than two listings per search query, striving to bring balance to search results. 

It was a shift toward a richer, more diverse search experience, offering users a wider array of perspectives and information sources.

Stoica also sheds light on the updates that profoundly impact businesses today. He highlights the Helpful Content, Spam, and Medic updates as pivotal changes defining the contemporary SEO landscape. 

“Holistic marketing, brand reputation, PR-led link building, well-researched content, customer experience, and proven expertise are now the norm to succeed in Google Search,” he said, outlining the multifaceted and often multi-disciplined approach required from modern SEOs.

Product reviews update, May 2022 core update and more

After Penguin, things didn’t get any smoother, and Ryan Jones, marketing manager at SEOTesting, has quite the tale about rolling with the punches of Google’s relentless period of updates.  

“The site hovered between 1,000 and 1,500 clicks per day between November 2021 and December 2021,” he shares.

But then, it was like a series of rapid-fire updates came crashing down: December 2021 Product Reviews Update, May 2022 Core Update, and more.

And the impact? It was like watching the rollercoaster take a steep dive. 

The traffic went from those nice highs to around 500 clicks per day.

“Between half and more than half of the traffic was gone,” Jones said.

But it wasn’t just about the numbers but about figuring out where the ship was leaking. Turns out, most of the traffic loss was from the blog. 

“Google was no longer loving the blog and was not ranking it,” Jones said. 

It was a wake-up call, leading to some tough decisions, like removing around 75 blog posts – a whopping 65% of the blog.

It wasn’t just about cutting the losses but about rebuilding and re-strategizing. Diving deep into content marketing, investing in quality writing, and focusing on truly competitive content became the new game plan.

“We also invested in ‘proper’ link building… which we believed helped also,” Jones added.

And the journey didn’t end there. The uncertainty and stress continued with the next series of updates, including the July 2022 Product Reviews Update and the October 2022 Spam Update. 

“It took a while, but we achieved a 100% recovery from this update,” Jones said.

Jonathan Boshoff, SEO manager at Digital Sisco, recounts the experience of turbulence when algorithms threw curveballs one after the other. 

“In my previous role, I ran SEO for one of Canada’s largest online payday loan companies. We got hit by three algorithm updates in a row (2022 link spam and helpful content, and one in Feb.) This was the comedown from all-time highs. The company was thrilled to be making lots of money with SEO, but the algorithm updates destroyed all our rankings. Essentially, the whole company was scrambling. Everyone became an SEO all of a sudden.”

Boshoff’s story is a snapshot of the collective experiences of the SEO community. 

The excitement of top rankings. The scramble when they plummet. And the continuous endeavor to decode and master the changing goalposts. 

“Ultimately, another algorithm update rolled out and fixed everything. Since then they have continued on to have even better results than ever before. It was a very hectic couple of months!” he shares, underscoring the resilience and adaptability that define the spirit of SEO professionals.

E-A-T (and later E-E-A-T)

When Google was still in its infancy, the core mission was clear and simple: Create the best search experience possible. 

In an era where links ruled the kingdom of page ranking, SEO enthusiasts explored every nook and cranny to master the game.

Enter E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness), a concept that’s been in Google’s quality rater guidelines since 2014. 

It has been a compass guiding the journey of search engine evolution, with the goal of delivering diverse, high-quality, and helpful search results to the users.

Helene Jelenc, SEO consultant at Flow SEO, who was then exploring the realms of SEO with her travel blog, shares her journey and reflections on the inception of E-A-T. 

“When EAT was added to the guidelines, that’s when things began to ‘click’ with SEO for me,” she said. 

Jelenc, like many content creators, was striving to offer unique and original content and insights. Her determination to produce well-researched blog posts finally earned recognition and reward from Google.

E-A-T isn’t just about the visible and tangible elements like backlinks and anchor text; it’s about building genuine high-level E-A-T, a journey that requires time, effort and authenticity. 

Google values quality, relevance and originality over quick fixes and instant gains. It’s about promoting the “very best” and ensuring that they get the spotlight they deserve.

It’s important to understand that E-A-T and the Quality Rater Guidelines are not technically part of Google’s algorithms. 

However, they represent the aspirations of where Google wants the search algorithm to go. 

They don’t reveal the intricacies of how the algorithm ranks results but illuminate its aims. 

By adhering to E-A-T principles, content creators have a better chance of ranking well, and users get the right advice. 

Jelenc’s insights and experiences mirror the broader evolution in the SEO world. In an era riddled with misinformation, especially in areas impacting Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) queries, the principles of E-A-T have become more important than ever. 

“Our humanness and the experiences we have inform our content and add layers that make it unique,” she reflects. 

Jelenc sees the advancements in E-A-T and the introduction of E-E-A-T (the added “E” being Experience) as steps toward acknowledging the value of human experiences in content creation. 

With this, she’s optimistic about Google’s future directions “[I]n light of AI-generated everything, Google dropped E-E-A-T, which, in my opinion, is the single most important update in years.”

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Legacy SEO strategies and tactics: It works until it doesn’t

Exact match domains

A pivotal moment in Google Search’s history was the devaluation of exact match domains (EMDs). This move reshaped domain strategies and brought a renewed focus on content relevance and quality.

Daniel Foley, SEO evangelist and director at Assertive Media, shared a memorable encounter that perfectly encapsulates the significance of this shift. 

“One of my most memorable moments in SEO was when Matt Cutts announced the devaluation of exact match domains,” he said. 

The timing of this announcement was awkward for Foley. He had just secured a number one ranking on Google for an EMD he had purchased, using “free for all” reciprocal links and a page filled with nothing but Lorem Ipsum content!

His sharing of this achievement with then-Googler Matt Cutts on Twitter didn’t earn applause but instead highlighted the loopholes the devaluation aimed to address.

“He wasn’t impressed,” Foley said, recounting how the interaction went “semi-viral at the time.”

This anecdote is more than just a glimpse into the cat-and-mouse game between SEO professionals and Google’s updates. It reflects the continual evolution of SEO strategies in response to Google’s quest for relevance and quality. 

The devaluation of EMDs was a clear message from Google – relevance and quality of content are paramount, and shortcuts to high rankings are fleeting.

SEO is a wild ride. Sometimes, you can’t help but look at some tactics and just – laugh. Preeti Gupta, founder at, has some thoughts on this, especially when it comes to old-school strategies like profile creation and social bookmarking. 

“While there are a bunch of outdated things SEOs do, the most fascinating one to me definitely has to be profile creation, social bookmarking, and things like that,” she said.

It’s a funny thing, really. Agencies and SEO folks put in so much time and effort to build these links, thinking it’s the golden ticket. 

“Agencies and SEOs waste a lot of their time and resources to build these links and I guess this clears the path for genuine sites,” Gupta said. “It’s both funny and sad at the same time.”

This became even more amusing when the December 2022 link spam update rolled out. It pretty much neutralized the impact of this type of link building. 

And the irony? The same folks offering these services were now offering to disavow them! 

Negative SEO

Let’s jump back to 2015 with Ruti Dadash, founder at Imperial Rank SEO, who was just dipping her toes into SEO at the time. 

“What does SEO stand for?” That was her, a complete newbie at a startup, a small fish in a pond teeming with gigantic, well-established competitors with bottomless marketing budgets. SEO became a secret weapon, helping her rank against the giants.

Dadash shares a vivid memory of waking up one day to find that rankings had skyrocketed. Detective work revealed a sneaky move from a rival, thousands of backlinks pointing straight to Dadash’s site. 

But this sudden gift was a Trojan horse as all these links were from sketchy gambling and adult sites, a disaster waiting to happen. 

“The scramble to put together a new disavow file, and the relief/disappointment as we lost that sudden surge…” You can imagine how this experience shaped her SEO career.

“It’s been a wild ride, from watching how Google has evolved to moving from in-house SEO to freelance, and then to founding my own agency,” Dadash said. 

This wild, unpredictable journey makes SEO such a fascinating field, a constant game of cat and mouse with Google’s ever-evolving algorithms.

Hidden text

There was a time when the “coolest” SEO trick in the book was like a magic act – now you see it, now you don’t. 

Brett Heyns, a freelance SEO, can’t help but reminisce about those days.

“All time best was white text on a white background, filling all the white space with keywords. Boggles the mind that there was a time that this used to work and was ‘standard practice’!” Heyns said.

Hidden text was the stealthy ninja of old-school SEO strategies. In the times when search engines were more like text-matching machines, SEOs could publish one content piece for site visitors and hide another for search engines. 

Yes, you heard it right! Web pages were stuffed with invisible keywords, creating long, invisible essays, all in the name of ranking.

Heyns’s memory of this practice takes us back to when consumers would see a conversion-optimized webpage, blissfully unaware of the keyword-stuffed content hidden behind the scenes. 

SEOs would ingeniously position white text on white backgrounds or even place images over the text, keeping it concealed from the human eye but visible to the search engine’s gaze.

Some even explored more sophisticated schemes, like cloaking, where scripts would identify whether a site visitor was a search engine or a human, serving different pages accordingly. It was like a clandestine operation, showing keyword-optimized pages to search engines while hiding them from users.

These techniques might sound like relics from the past. Still, they’re a reminder of the evolution of SEO strategies – from the overtly stealthy to the authentically user-centered approaches we value today. 

Content scraping and cloning

In the Wild West days of the early internet, SEO was more of an arcane art and less of a science, and it was fertile ground for some pretty wild tactics. 

Sandy Rowley, SEO professional and web designer, reminisces about a time when the rules were, well, there weren’t really any rules. 

“Back in the ’90s, an SEO expert could clone a high traffic website like CNN, and outrank every one of its pages in a week.” Yes, you heard that right – cloning entire high-traffic websites!

This practice, known as scraping, involved using automated scripts to copy all the content from a website, with intentions ranging from stealing content to completely replicating the victim’s site. 

It’s a prime example of black hat SEO tactics where the cloned sites would appear in search results instead of the original ones, exploiting Google’s ranking algorithms by sending fake organic traffic and modifying internal backlinks.

This advanced form of content theft wasn’t just about plagiarism.

It was about manipulating search engine results and siphoning off the web traffic and, by extension, the ad revenue and conversions from the original sites. 

It was a tactic that threw fairness and ethical considerations to the wind, leveraging the loopholes in search engine algorithms to gain a competitive advantage.

New features, plus ones we loved and lost

Seasoned SEOs will all remember (and shed a tear for) at least one tool or feature that has become no more than a relic. 

Equally, each will have a story about a new innovation or tactic that they’ve had to quickly comprehend. 

Let’s continue our journey through the anecdotes and rifle through Google’s figurative trash can while finding interesting tidbits about current search attributes.

Remember Orkut? 

Let’s take a nostalgic stroll down memory lane, back to the days of Orkut with Alpana Chand, a freelance SEO. 

Ah, Orkut. Remember it? It was one of the first of its kind, a social media platform even before the era of Facebook, named after its creator, Orkut Büyükkökten. 

Orkut was a hub of innovation and connection, especially popular in Brazil and India, offering unique features like customizing themes, having “crush lists,” and even rating your friends.

“I remember Orkut. I used it when I was in engineering college,” Chand said, recalling the days of shared weak Wi-Fi in dorm rooms and big, heavy IBM computers. 

Chand paints a picture of when being hooked to Orkut was the norm. “Addicted is understating our obsession,” she said. 

And let’s not forget those Yahoo forwards filled with quotable quotes shared on Orkut. Seeing your wall and the new feed popping on it was a different vibe.

“Today’s social media features change in the blink of an eye and Orkut’s slow stable feature – the wall, the scrapbook, the direct messages were etched on my mind,” Chand shares.

But, like all good things, Orkut had its sunset moment. As platforms like Facebook offered more simplicity, reliability, and innovative features like a self-updating News Feed, Orkut struggled to keep up with its increasing complexity and limited user range. 

Eventually, Google shifted its focus to newer ventures, like Google+, and in 2014, it was time to bid Orkut farewell.

“So many memories and an entire memorabilia was buried along with Orkut’s discontinuation,” she said, wishing for some saved screenshots of those times.

Who doesn’t love a quick answer? That’s what Google’s featured snippets aimed to do, and have done for years now. 

Featured snippets, those handy blocks of content directly answering our queries at the top of SERPS, made their grand entrance in January 2014, much to the dismay of SEOs that relied on traffic for even the shortest answers. 

They quickly became known as Google’s “answer boxes” or “quick answers,” pulling the most relevant information from web pages and placing it right at the top of our search results.

Megan Dominion, a freelance SEO, remembers the early days of Featured Snippets and the missteps that followed. 

“I remember when the below featured snippets were being spoken about in the SEO industry as well as outside of it,” she said, reminiscing about the time Google got it hilariously wrong.

Just imagine searching for “How many legs does a horse have?” and being told they have six!

How many legs does a horse have

“There’s a nice spike in search trends for when it happened to commemorate the occasion and the beginning of ‘Google is not always right’,” Dominion points out.

How many legs does a horse have - Google Trends

It was a reminder that even the ‘big dogs’ can have their off days. If you fancy a bit of a giggle, check out some more examples of Google’s featured snippets getting it wrong.

Featured snippets, with their prominence and direct answers, became a coveted spot for SEOs and website owners, sparking discussions, strategies, and a slew of articles on optimizing for them. 

They were officially named “featured snippets” in 2016, distinguishing them from short answers pulled from Google’s database.

Hreflang havoc

Hreflangs, introduced in 2011, are like signposts for Google’s bots, telling them what language and region a page is intended for. 

They help avoid duplicate content issues when creating content that’s essentially the same but for different markets. 

When they work, it’s smooth sailing, but when they decide to go off-script, the outcome can be hilarious. 

Nadia Mojahed, international SEO consultant at SEO Transformer, had a front-row seat to when hreflang attributes decided to have a bit of fun.

Mohajed recalls when a frantic call revealed an ecommerce site in chaos. This site, which had been doing great globally, was suddenly offering luxury handbags like gourmet dishes. 

It’s all thanks to some cheeky hreflang tags. “Imagine Italian pages talking about pasta and French ones describing sneakers as delicacies!” she laughs.

Google turned page titles and descriptions into hilarious misinterpretations. Think “Women’s Fashion” in Spanish being read as “Exotic World of Llamas and Ponchos,” and German “Men’s Accessories” transforming into “Bratwurst-Tasting Bow Ties.”

Getting hreflang attributes right can be a bit of a puzzle, especially for mega-sites with tons of pages. A 2023 study by fellow SEO Dan Taylor even found that 31% of international sites were getting tangled up in hreflang errors.

Mojahed quickly found and fixed the issues, turning the blunder into a learning moment about the quirky challenges of SEO tech.

Next, please! The rel=prev/next drama

Remember the collective gasp in the SEO community when Google dropped the bomb about rel=prev/next for pagination? Yeah, that was a moment. 

Lidia Infante, senior SEO manager at, paints the picture vividly. 

“The time Google announced that they hadn’t been using rel=prev/next for a while! There was a range of reactions. From freaking out over how to handle pagination now to mourning all the developer hours we sank into managing it through rel=prev/next.”

It turns out this signal had been deprecated for some time before the SEO world was in the know. 

Infante and many others soon learned that it had other purposes beyond indexing, and well, Google isn’t the only player in the game. 

Other search engines were still using it. It was a reminder moment for many, understanding that Google was not the only search engine they were optimizing for.

This revelation came just before a BrightonSEO edition, and the atmosphere was charged when John Mueller was asked about it on stage during the keynote. “It was a whole vibe,” Infante reminisces.

Realizing the mix-up, Google apologized for not proactively communicating this change. 

They assured they’d aim for better communication about such changes in the future, stating:

“As our systems improve over time, there may be instances where specific types of markup are not as critical as it once was, and we’re committed to providing guidance when changes are made.” 


Google+ or else?!

You’ll be hard-pushed to find an SEO who doesn’t remember Google+ unless they’re super green. 

Reflecting on its turbulent journey, Mersudin Forbes, portfolio SEO and agency advisor, shares, “Google+ was a flash-in-the-pan, social media platform pushed on us by Google. So much so that they appended the +1 functionality in search results to make us believe that upvoting the search results increased rankings.”

Google+ emerged with a promise, a beacon of new social media interaction backed by Google’s colossal influence. 

Forbes recalls how Google firmly asserted that this feature would be a new signal in determining page relevance and ranking. “This was the start of spammageddon of +1 farming and just as quick as it arrived, it was gone,” he remarks.

The bold venture seemed promising, with innovative features like Circles and Hangouts and rapid user acquisition, reaching 90 million by the end of the launch year. 

However, the spammy notifications and the platform’s failure to maintain active user engagement led to its eventual demise.

“I wonder if the same will happen to SGE, one can only hope,” Forbes said. 

Google+ now stands as a reminder of the transient nature of tech innovations, even those stamped with the Google seal.

UA who? The reluctant adoption of GA4

When Google Analytics 4 (GA4) debuted, it wasn’t exactly met with a standing ovation from marketers. 

It was more like a hesitant applause, with some even hosting metaphorical funerals for its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA). Yes, it was that dramatic!

Irina Serdyukovskaya, an SEO and analytical consultant, found a silver lining in the upheaval while grappling with the new intricacies of GA4. 

“The first months with this were tough,” she admits. But delving into the unknown of GA4 opened up new career paths and opportunities for her. 

“After solving GA4 tracking questions within the SEO field, I started offering this as a separate service and found myself enjoying learning new tools and understanding the data better.”

Serdyukovskaya’s journey resonates with many who initially struggled but eventually found potential growth in adapting to the new system. 

“Changes are hard, and we get used to the way things are, but this can also be an opportunity to grow professionally,” she reflects. 

The collective groan about another change in the digital world symbolizes both resistance to change and a concealed desire for novelty and learning.

Despite the reluctant adoption and the initial hiccups, the majority eventually boarded the GA4 train, with more than 90% of marketers making the transition, albeit with varying levels of readiness and acceptance. 

It wasn’t just a switch but a complete migration to a new platform built from scratch, requiring strategic planning and expert implementation.

GA4 wasn’t merely a new “version.” It was a paradigm shift in how data was collected, processed, and reported. 

And with Google sunsetting UA, the reluctant adaptation became necessary, pushing many to leave the comfort of the familiar and step into the unknown, just like Irina did.

Reflections and looking forward

That’s a wrap on 25 years – a trip down memory lane with the seasoned SEO pros who’ve been through the thick and thin of Google’s ever-evolving world. 

We’ve dived deep into the archives, laughed over the old wild days, and scratched our heads over the relentless changes and updates we’ve all seen and felt.

Huge thanks to all the SEO pros who chipped in with their tales, insights, and lessons for this article. Your shared experiences give us all a closer, more colorful look at the twists and turns that have made the world of SEO what it is today. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s awesome to hear about it from the folks who’ve lived it!

So, what about the next 25 years?

Will AI and Search Generative Experience (SGE) revolutionize how we search and measure SEO success? Will SEO undergo drastic transformations, or heaven forbid, will it finally die as has been foretold many times? Or, in a plot twist, will we all just surrender and switch allegiances to Bing?

It’s a fascinating future to contemplate – a future where the integration of AI could reshape our interaction with online spaces, making searches more intuitive, personalized, and responsive. 

SGE could redefine user engagement, creating more immersive and dynamic experiences.

Will we still be chasing algorithms, or will the advancements enable a more harmonious coexistence where the user experience is paramount? SEO is more about enhancing this experience than outsmarting the system.

Whatever the future holds, here’s to embracing the challenges, exploring new frontiers, and navigating another 25 years of dancing with Google.

Happy 25th, Google! Keep those surprises coming, and keep us guessing!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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