Search engine optimisation has become a household name in the world of marketing, seen as a vital tool to help any online business succeed, and we couldn’t agree more (obviously!). However, the World Wide Web as we know it, is very young, and as a result, this is also true for SEO.
With the invention of the search engine and especially with the invention of Yahoo! in 1995 a method was needed to organise how all the sites on the internet could be easily organised, and retrieved. The answer at the time was a very simple one- list the sites in alphabetical order and had been previously put into action by creator of the web, Tim Berners-Lee with the WWW Virtual Library. This seemed a sensible option, similar to a phone book directory, but with the number of sites added to the internet each day, this would eventually become impractical, only lasting around a year.
Yahoo played a very big part in the creation of search engine optimisation. As we know, for a long time Yahoo was the go-to directory for relevant sites, long before Google showed up and proved its worth.
SEO as we know it today is quite complex, there are a number of key factors, which influence the page position of a site on a search engine. However, in the early days things were much simpler, which in turn gave rise to a large amount of spamming and underhand techniques to get sites to the top of the SEPR’s.
Here’s a quick example: If we, Lakestar McCann, wished to be at the top of the search results, we could simple put our website name as “AAAAALakestar McCann”- The more A’s, the further up the ranking we are- simple! As you can imagine, this didn’t last long, it was impractical and impossible to control, new rules were needed to stop this spamming…
During the 90s a veritable raft of competing sites offering search functionality appeared. 1994’s Webcrawler was one of the first to offer searching within web-pages (that was actually relatively intuitive to use); however due to crippling demand for usage, it buckled and often was unavailable for use. Lycos picked up the frustrated users with their extra allowance of servers, but the people still weren’t as happy as they could be.
Step forward Google, originally from a tiny garage, but onto much greener pastures. Why were Google different? Well, rather than simply looking at the number of times a keyword was mentioned on a page and assuming inherent relevance, Google looked at sites that were linking to the site in question… thus began PageRank and the need for off-site optimisation!
In 1996 we saw the introduction as such ideas as keyword density, and algorithm use within search engines. Although these new methods of ranking were coming in to play, it still was very much a stab in the dark for optimisers. In late 1996, detailed studies were carried out and reported on, regarding how databases retrieved data based on key word factors. Early SEO started to get excited, and the possibility of applying this to web search was explored in detail. SEO as we know it was becoming mainstream, as was the constant changes we still see today within the industry.
1997 was an eventful and interesting year. Algorithm crackers appeared, looking for ways to work out what metrics the search engines used to rank pages. This didn’t take them long and within a short time, all the top SEO’s had pages ranking at the all-important number one spot. This period also saw the rise of page-jacking, which sounds like something out of ‘Hackers’, but was in fact a process of SEO’s stealing each other’s code to get their pages to the number one spot. 1997 was most definitely a year of controversy.
1998-2000 was also a pivotal time for search engine optimisation. Backlinks and directories were accepted as a proven way of increasing your page rank. Algorithm cracking became more prominent, but also a lot more difficult, and in this time frame PPC would show its face, supplementing the work of SEO’s around the world.
With the turn of the millennium, came the game changer from Google, in the form of an Algorithm created years before by co-founders of Google, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin. Whilst studying for their PhD’s at Stanford, then came up with the infamous Google algorithm that we know and love today.
The creation of bots by Google meant that a whole web site could be crawled, and indexed, not just by site name, but by some of the ways we still use today, including key word density, and meta descriptions. During the early 2000’s link farms and footer links became the norm, and were seen as a sure fire way to get your page to the top of Google.
From 2003 onwards we saw steady positive progress within the SERP’s… spam was slowly irradiated, and replaced with quality original content (something which Google is still working on today). Granted, it was slow, but it was progress at least.
2003- Present also brought us some great names of Algorithm updates. We had everything from; the Brandy update, to the BigDaddy update via the Vince update (exactly why they chose these names is something I’ve not yet discovered – any clues?).
We have to remember, that as search algorithms progressed, it also powered the industry of search engine optimisation. Whilst Yahoo used Alphabetical ordering to list web pages, Google saw a new way to search, and started to crawl sites. Back links were then used as a metric, and despite immoral SEO’s spamming this tactic, Google has put its foot down, and the game is changing once again. This is an exciting industry, one in which we will never be bored or short of work. Let the cat and mouse game continue!
This whistle stop history of Search engine optimisation is by no means the ultimate guide (I’ll save that for a rainy day!), and it should be noted that there were a lot of little changes in between the big ones. However, here are some of the other pioneers of the SEO revolution worth a quick mention.
Danny Sullivan – A general SEO Guru, with a wealth of knowledge. Now working for Search Engine land, his experience is vast. Like many of us in the industry, Danny stumbled into SEO, moving from a career as a newspaper reporter.
Matt Cutts – Matt is the big celebrity name at Google (Poor Larry, he used to be just as popular too), currently Matt heads up the Web spam team at Google. He is also their SEO spokesperson, not that he likes to give too much insider knowledge away!
Rand Fishkin – Cool, calm and Mozzy, Fishkin is a legend at SEOMoz and always provides useful strategies for any SEO campaign.
And for a bit of fun, here’s a debate between Wall and Fishkin!