In this series of articles, I’ve described several scenarios of online marketing that drives me crazy. This is the last in the series, and I hope this has been useful.

No matter what you’re doing, everyone looks for an edge – that something that can get you just a bit ahead of the next guy. We all do, and it’s human nature.

The first search engine, Yahoo!, was started in January 2005 by a couple of Stanford grad students, Jerry Yang and David Filo. Back in those days, the search engines started popping up (do you remember Excite, AltaVista, Lycos, Magellan, InfoSeek, and others?). Google started in 1998 (here’s what they looked like in December 2008).

At the time, there was only one way to get listed high in the search engines. That was to make sure you had your Keywords META tag populated with whatever primary key words your website was about. People discovered that they could put all kinds of key words in the META tag and show up, even though they had nothing to do with those phrases. Thus begat the ability to “cheat” your way to the top. The savvy web masters knew the cheats that could get their website or their clients’ up higher, despite the competition.

As the search engines got more sophisticated at weeding out the sites with a lot of spammy words their Keywords META tag, people had to resort to other means to get listed. The search engines paid less attention to the Keywords tag and started using other data to try to determine which sites were most relevant to a specific search. (Now Google completely ignores the Keywords META tag.)

Google Panda and Penguin

Over the last few years, starting in February 2011, Google started an offensive to remove all the spam and cheater sites from the lists by releasing their “Panda” update (so-named after a Google mathematician whose last name is Panda). Later, they released their Penguin update which targeted sites with spammy links coming from thousands of content farm sites.

They have continued to hone the blade that chops out the bad cheater content and only present legitimate, quality content that people find useful. Panda and Penguin updates have continued to evolve and get better at remove the poor-quality content.

This is good for those of us who market online. It means we who are trying to do a good job of reaching our audiences without cheating have a better chance of building a following. It’s bad for those who try to cheat, because those techniques don’t work anymore. Worse, if you’ve done any of those techniques, your website can get slapped pretty hard by Google and dropped to the bottom of the list.

Make sure you’ve registered your website with Google Webmaster Tools, and look to see if they’ve flagged your website or incoming links. If they have, or if you’ve noticed a big drop-off in traffic all of a sudden, you probably got affected by one of the updates. You’ll need to clean up the mess and resubmit your site to Google for re-evaluation before you can build yourself back up.

What are your thoughts? Tell us below.