A Primer on the History of SEO


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has come to stay. Today, if you want to succeed as a business online, you must implement this strategy.

However, most people don’t know how this terminology came about. Just like the handshake, we’re mostly concerned about using the SEO without tracing its origin or how it’s evolved over the years.

In this post, I’ll be taking you through what you need to know about the history of SEO, how it’s evolved over the years, and what the future portends for it.

But before then…

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

According to Moz, Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.

What this means is that, there are three things that go into SEO.

First, the quality of traffic. As such with SEO, you’ll be able to get quality traffic to your website.

Secondly, the quantity of traffic. If you practise SEO well, you’ll attract more people to your website.

Finally, the use of organic search results. This is the icing in the cake. You don’t need to pay a dime to buy traffic when implementing SEO.

This shows that SEO is an important concept that one must leverage to succeed as a business online.

How SEO Came to Be

It was somewhere around August 1991, when Tim Berners-Lee created the first website in the world.

The website which is available and can be visited till date was founded to explain what the World Wide Web means to novices.

The information on the first line of the website reads: “The World Wide Web (W3) is a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.”

Eventually, more websites were created until

The Dawn Of SEO: How It Evolved

The Search Engine Land in this report highlighted that the last decade of the 1900s, witnessed a dramatic surge in the search engine landscape, as it became more competitive.

This is because there are a lot of search engines that one needs to contend with such as the likes of AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo.

To rank well then, what one needs to do is stuff a lot of keywords on your webpages and meta tags.

This is because it was only through on-page activities that you can perform any kind of SEO then.

Take for instance, if there’s a web-page that uses a keyword 50 times, if you can use the same keyword 100 times, you’ll definitely outrank them.

Below are some specific highlights that show how SEO evolved over the years:

1994: Yahoo which was originally for bookmarking and directory was created by Stanford University students Jerry Wang and David Filo in a campus trailer.

To be indexed on Yahoo, you have to manually submit your page to the Yahoo directory as a Webmaster.

In the same year, Alta Vista, Excite, and Lycos were also launched.

1996: Backrub, which will eventually become Google, was built by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who were PhD students at Stanford University. The search engine ranked sites based on inbound link relevancy and popularity.

HotBot, powered by Inktomi, was also launched in the same year.

1997: Danny Sullivan launched the Search Engine Watch, which was primarily to provide news about the search industry, tips on searching the web, and what needs to be done to rank websites better.

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Ask Jeeves also debuted in the same year, and Google.com was registered.

1998: This year witnessed the launch of Goto.com.

Primarily powered with sponsored links and paid search, advertisers bid on Goto.com to rank above organic search results. In the long run, it was acquired by Yahoo.

Similarly, the MSN search debuted in the same year.

The Google Revolution and SEO

There is no way you’ll talk about SEO without mentioning Google. In fact, it is the most popular search engine in the world today.

But prior to 2000, Google was a little-known search engine, but became a household name in a dramatic way.

What it did was to partner with Yahoo to power their organic results instead of Inktomi.

And that means that for every Yahoo search result, Google was been introduced by their largest competitor to the world with the inscription “Powered by Google”.

Prior to Google’s dominance, search engines mainly ranked sites based on the on-page content, domain names, getting listed in some directories, and basic site structure (breadcrumbing)

With this entry into the search engine world, Google revolutionized SEO for information retrieval.

It began to use the Google web crawler and PageRank algorithm which examines both on-page and off-page factors for ranking.

What the Google algorithm was about is that, if you’re important, other people must talk about you.

Other notable SEO updates by Google include Google Panda, Google Penguin, and Google local.

The Future of SEO

Although SEO has evolved over the years, it’s set to witness more changes in years to come.

This research by Hubspot predicts that some of the things to watch out for in the SEO game include:

  1. The evolution of mobile:

Mobile usage predictably is on the rise, and SEO will move towards that direction.

That’s already apparent since Google favors websites with a mobile-friendly user experience in their search results.

Similarly, there’ll be an increase in voice search too.

  1. SEO localization:

Optimizing a website’s result to be regionally relevant will be more prominent moving forward.

This is sure to help local businesses, as it ensures that their listings are more comprehensive and accurate.

  1. The rise of Social media SEO

Social media is now a must-have strategy if one really wants to succeed with SEO. This will become more prominent in the future.

Since Google began indexing tweets in 2011, it depicts the kind of SEO future one could expect.

On a Final Note:

Search Engine Optimization has come a long way since its inception in the 90s.

Its history has been filled with a lot of happenings such as the sprout of new search engines, the death of old ones, the revolution of Google, a change of SEO tactics, and so many more.

Truth is, SEO will continue to play a crucial role in the sprout of businesses online. And no matter what, it’ll continue to evolve with time.

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