Marketing and Outreach

SEO for Apps: Lessons from the Early Days of the Internet

SEO for Apps: Lessons from the Early Days of the Internet
Written by Alex Rohdes

The world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for apps, while relatively new, draws many parallels with the early days of internet SEO. This journey back in time reveals invaluable lessons and strategies that remain relevant in today’s app-centric world. In this deep dive, we’ll explore how the foundational tactics of web SEO have influenced app SEO, unearthing tales, strategies, and cautionary anecdotes that shaped the digital landscape.

Part 1: The Genesis of SEO (Late 1990s)

The late 1990s witnessed the birth of SEO with the advent of early search engines like AltaVista and Yahoo!. During this era, the primary focus was on keywords, often leading to practices like keyword stuffing. Websites were filled with repeated keywords, sometimes even hidden in the background, to rank higher in search results.

A fascinating anecdote from this period involves a popular website that managed to rank at the top for almost every relevant search by stuffing pages with excessive keywords. However, this short-lived success was curtailed as search engines evolved to penalize such tactics.

The key lesson for modern app SEO is the importance of relevant and valuable content. Just like early web SEO, app store optimization (ASO) initially saw similar keyword-focused strategies. However, the evolution towards prioritizing relevance and quality is a shared path in both web SEO and ASO.

Part 2: Google’s Game-Changing Algorithms (Early 2000s)

With the entry of Google and its innovative PageRank algorithm in the early 2000s, the landscape of SEO experienced a significant shift. Google aimed to rank pages based on their relevance and quality of content, not just keywords. This change was a direct response to rampant black-hat SEO tactics and set a new standard for search engine algorithms.

There’s a well-known story within the SEO community about Google’s battle against black-hat tactics, particularly with its Panda update, which penalized websites with poor-quality content. This shift forced many websites to overhaul their content strategies to focus more on user experience and value.

Similarly, in app SEO, there’s an increasing focus on the overall quality and user experience of the app, moving away from mere keyword optimization to a more holistic approach that aligns with Google’s philosophy.

Part 3: The Rise of Content is King Philosophy (Mid-2000s)

By the mid-2000s, the “Content is King” philosophy began to take center stage in SEO. This was further reinforced by Google’s algorithm updates like Panda, which emphasized the importance of high-quality, valuable content. Websites that had been playing the system with low-quality content suffered, while those providing genuine value soared in rankings.

A case study from this era highlights a website that rose to prominence thanks to high-quality content but later fell in rankings post-Panda due to its reliance on outdated SEO tactics. This case study became a cautionary tale about the need for continual adaptation and the focus on quality content.

This shift towards content quality is equally relevant in app SEO. The success of an app in app stores increasingly depends on the value it offers to users, signifying a parallel with the evolution witnessed in web SEO.

Part 4: The Mobile Revolution (Late 2000s to Early 2010s)

The advent of smartphones in the late 2000s brought about a significant change in SEO strategies. The focus shifted towards optimizing websites for mobile devices, a trend that became even more prominent with Google’s mobile-first indexing. Websites not optimized for mobile started seeing a decline in their search rankings.

An anecdote from this period involves the first major updates by Google to favor mobile-friendly websites. Many popular websites that were slow to adapt to mobile responsiveness experienced a notable drop in their search rankings, emphasizing the importance of mobile optimization.

In the context of app SEO, this period underscores the importance of optimizing apps for mobile-first indexing. Just as websites had to adapt to the mobile revolution, apps also need to be designed and optimized with a mobile-first approach to rank well in app stores and search engines.

Part 5: Social Media Integration (Early 2010s)

As social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter grew in popularity in the early 2010s, they began to influence SEO significantly. Social signals, such as likes, shares, and comments, started to impact search engine rankings indirectly. This era saw businesses integrating social media into their SEO strategies, aiming to boost their online visibility and engage with a broader audience.

A compelling story from this time involves a brand that cleverly used its social media presence to enhance its SEO efforts. By creating shareable and engaging content, the brand not only increased its social media following but also improved its search engine rankings, demonstrating the growing interconnectedness of social media and SEO.

This trend has significant implications for app SEO. Leveraging social platforms for promoting apps, generating user reviews, and encouraging shares has become an essential aspect of app marketing, mirroring the strategies used in the early days of social media integration in web SEO.

Part 6: Voice Search and AI (Mid-2010s)

The mid-2010s marked the emergence of voice search and artificial intelligence (AI) in the realm of SEO. With the rise of voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, optimizing for voice search became increasingly important. This shift required a new approach to SEO, focusing on natural language processing and conversational queries.

An example of this shift is seen in the rise of voice-activated assistants and their impact on search queries. Websites and apps began optimizing their content for voice search, anticipating the growing trend of users performing searches through spoken commands rather than typed queries.

For app SEO, adapting to voice search and AI algorithms is crucial. This means optimizing app descriptions and content to cater to voice search queries, ensuring apps remain visible and relevant in this evolving search landscape.

Part 7: Local SEO and its Importance (Late 2010s)

The late 2010s saw the rising importance of local SEO, with businesses focusing on optimizing their online presence for local search queries. This trend was particularly crucial for businesses targeting local customers, as appearing in local search results could significantly impact their visibility and customer acquisition.

A case study highlighting this trend involved a local business that successfully leveraged local SEO strategies to boost its online presence. By focusing on local keywords, managing online reviews, and ensuring accurate business listings, the business saw a notable increase in local traffic and sales.

In the context of app SEO, the importance of localized content and strategies cannot be understated. For apps targeting specific geographic markets or demographics, incorporating local SEO tactics is essential for reaching the intended audience effectively.

Part 8: The Future of SEO: Predictions and Trends (2020s and Beyond)

Looking ahead, the future of SEO is poised to be shaped by several emerging trends. Predictions suggest a continued emphasis on AI and machine learning, further integration of voice search, and potentially new technologies that are yet to emerge.

An interview with an SEO expert revealed insights into upcoming trends, including the potential impact of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) on SEO. These technologies could introduce new dimensions to how users search and interact with content online.

For app SEO, these future trends imply a need for continuous adaptation and innovation. Staying abreast of technological advancements and understanding how they influence user behavior will be crucial for app developers and marketers looking to maintain and improve their app’s visibility in an increasingly competitive digital landscape.


The evolution of SEO, from the early days of the internet to its current state, offers a treasure trove of lessons for app developers and marketers. As the digital landscape continues to shift, the core principles of providing value, focusing on user experience, and adapting to technological advancements remain constant. By looking back at the history of SEO, app professionals can gain insights and strategies to navigate the ever-changing world of app optimization and stay ahead in the competitive app marketplace.