Thursday, 18 August, 2022

A brief history of search engine optimization


A brief history of search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an integral part of digital marketing. It involves various strategies whose aim is to improve a website’s performance in the search results. High search rankings drive more traffic and business, which is the ultimate goal of every business website. SEO is an inexpensive yet effective way to strengthen the brand voice and boost ROI (return on investment), which is why digital marketing professionals have been studying it for decades. Yes, for decades – SEO has been around for a long time. And the history of search engine optimization is quite eventful. So, how did it all begin?

Search Engine Optimization History Timeline


Industry experts generally agree that the year SEO was born is 1991, when British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the first browser, World Wide Web, a.k.a. the “Web.” In August 1991, the first website was launched.


The year 1994 is the year Stanford University students Jerry Wang and David Filo created Yahoo. Yahoo started as an Internet bookmark list and website directory. Pages had to be manually submitted to Yahoo’s directory for indexing in order for Yahoo to find them when someone performed a search.

Excite, AltaVista, and Lycos were also launched in 1994.

The same year, Eric Ward pioneered link building, a significant factor in website marketing to date. Link building is now one of the most important Google ranking factors.


The search engine market was very competitive in the 90s. Because of their limited range and speed, search engines varied in quality. At the end of 1994, Netscape, the first commercially successful browser, made its debut. In August 1995, Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer. These two web browsers had graphical user interfaces (GUI). They could integrate both text and graphic images into a single web page. The web’s growth and popularity had a lot to do with this innovation.


Some experts say that the history of search engine optimization officially begins around ’97. Allegedly, a web marketing agency used the term SEO for the first time in February 1997 when offering “search engine optimization” as one of its services. Another version of the story is that the term was coined when a music manager complained about his band’s official site’s ranking on the first SERP. Others claim that John Audette, the founder of Multi-Media Marketing Group, used the term SEO for the first time while persuading Danny Sullivan to join his company.


In September 1998, Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched Google. This is also the year Google Search was born. One of the world’s largest and most successful tech companies started as an academic exercise on web pages’ importance.

Until 2000, many outdated SEO methods that belong in the past were used to rank websites. In the early days of SEO, simply repeating your keywords enough times throughout your pages and meta tags would guarantee you a high ranking. In 2020, we call this spamming.

When marketers figured out how Google ranked sites, they started manipulating the search engine results to improve their rankings. As Google cared about the quality and relevance of websites, this rule-breaking practice had to be stopped. The company introduced guidelines for building a good website, called the Webmaster Guidelines, better known as “white hat” SEO tactics. The guide contained instructions on how to follow the rules and avoid penalties.



Google’s first major algorithm update, “Florida”, happened in 2003. Tactics that are not following Google’s guidelines are known as “black hat SEO.” These forbidden SEO tactics include creating duplicate content, stuffing pages with keywords, and hiding text and links. To make sure everyone plays by the rules, Google introduced its first big algorithm update and punished the websites that were practicing black hat SEO.


In the following years, Google continued to update its algorithm to improve user experience. 2011 saw the launch of Google’s Panda 1.0 algorithm update. By 2011, Google search results were full of low-quality content, and the guidelines were barely followed. In 2011, Google took a big step to fight this negative trend. Panda penalized low-quality pages while rewarding pages with unique, high-quality content, thus crushing the sites that relied on large volumes of auto-generated and poor-quality content.


2012 was the year of the Penguin update, a more sophisticated, selective attack on poor-quality web pages. This new update penalized many SEOs for pushing thin content forward with many links pointing back to it. Penguin focused on the value of links. The aim was to uncover suspicious linking patterns and give advantage to links coming from highly authoritative and relevant sites.


The next significant algorithm change in Google Search was The Hummingbird update. The Hummingbird was much broader in scope than Panda and Penguin, reaching across the entire algorithm. It emphasized the importance of understanding the true intent behind web users’ searches. It looked at entire queries for context to help users find what they are looking for. It helped to show better search results by translating semantic search, which is how most search queries are read today. It also helped sites rank for local results.


Nowadays, Google’s algorithm is extremely complex, and the search engine is continuously updated. 2015 was the year of RankBrain, a machine learning (AI) algorithm used to sort Google’s search results. It updates Google’s algorithm on its own and measures how web users interact with search results. This is Google’s first algorithm update using artificial intelligence. The focus is on understanding new queries as they come up and determining the intent behind web users’ searches.

Final thoughts

A lot has happened since SEO first came into existence. Search engine optimization is a constantly evolving field, and its techniques have changed so much over the years. If you’ve ever wondered what the history of search engine optimization was like, we hope you now have a clearer picture of how SEO became what it is today. With 9/10 queries going through its algorithm and billions of searches per day, Google is now the world’s most popular search engine. The history of search engine optimization teaches us that tricks don’t work forever. Producing high-quality, unique, fresh, and relevant content is a recipe that still works!

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