25 Years of Search Engine Optimization History

History of SEO

If one looks back in time, it is difficult to ascertain when SEO came into existence. However, it is evident that it has been around in different forms ever since the internet came into existence. SEO refers to Search Engine Optimization that is directly built for the search engines. Google as we know is now used as a synonym to search engine today, however, not many of you would be surprised to know that there have been several search engines before Google and there are many search engines that run today as well. Taking into consideration the exact usage of the term SEO, it is believed that it has completed over 25 years of existence. Let us take a look at the journey over the years and the evolution it has undergone for the past 25 years.

Pre Google search engines

25 Years of Search Engine Optimization HistoryYes it is true, Google was not the 1st in the race and the 1st search engine which was developed with the use of internet was in the year 1990. Initially a school project that was designed to offer a platform that indexed, archived and shared FTP files, the tool was named Archie. Although, it was not near to any of the present day forms of Search Engines, this tool had a complex back-end that worked on different algorithms that were designed to collect and organize the information that was indexed. The next in the race was Gopher that was based on hypertext paradigm and was developed in the year 1992. Consequently it was followed by the launch of Wandex, the 1st search engine that crawled the web and indexed online pages and offered a platform to search among the indexed pages. The modern names like Google, Yahoo, etc. came into existence after 1998.

SEO on the other hand was evolving with the level of development and evolution that these search engines were undergoing. The premise for this was to follow a strategy to prepare everything that was being indexed on the search engines in a manner that made it easier to rank and search for the key terms. The initial days saw some pioneers meeting up and learning from each other to compile their research and findings and shape up the world of SEO. For instance, it was in the year 1995 when John Audette launched his own company named Multi-Media Marketing Group (MMG) in Lage Oswego. The company launched Oregon that was an online book about marketing on the internet which sold over 4000 copies at the rate of $30 each.

The popularity encouraged him to recruit a few other SEO pioneers named Marshall Simmonds and Derrick Wheeler. Together they had planned to assist companies in several multi-media projects but seeking the potentials of the web over online marketing they ended up creating I-Search Internet Marketing newsletter that touched a subscriber base of 20,000 in its peak. John also had Danny Sullivan in his team who was responsible to teach the other members the tricks about search ranking trade. It was during this phase when John came up with the term of Search Engine Optimization. The early days here was spent by the pioneers in an attempt to discover the importance of Internet marketing of websites and the necessity of optimizing them accordingly. This was solely aimed to be done in a manner that aided websites and businesses to rank better on the search engine and end up getting more and more traffic. Eventually, today we tend to find no distinction between Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing.

Invention of Google Search Engine

While the above was taking shape and the pioneers were busy in framing the strategies, somewhere in California the legend of internet was starting off its journey. Google as we know today is an American Multinational Technology Company that specializes in virtually everything related to the internet, was found in the year 1998. Two Ph.D. students named Larry Page and Sergey Brin from the Stanford University gave birth to the company on September 4, 1998. However, the primary journey had started two years back in the year 1996 when both the students were working on a research project. During this time most of the conventional search engines were ranking pages and indexing information based on the number of times the search terms were appearing on any of the particular page.  However, Larry and Brin came up with a new technology that was known as PageRank which analysed the relationships among different websites.

As per this technology, the importance of these pages were taken into consideration and the relevance was determined by the number of pages and the importance the other pages had that were linking back to the original site. It was initially named as BackRub which was later renamed to Google based on a misspelled word Googol. The premise for Googol was number one being followed by hundred zeros signifying that search engine was intended to offer large amount of information. The initial days saw Google running as a subdomain of Stanford University’s website. It was only in the year 1997 when a dedicated domain was registered in its own name.

The Google search engine algorithm updates

In the initial days, Google as a search engine was not as powerful as it is today. We know it to be the most powerful forms to do everything on the internet and hardly question its accuracy. However, in the late 90s or the early 2000’s the scene was entirely different. In those days, ranking higher on the search engines was believed to be a 2-step process, namely:

  1. Stuffing keywords and phrases on a website as many times as possible
  2. Getting as many inbound links to your site as possible

Seeking the flaws, team at Google began the refinement and development process of something that we call the algorithm changes today. Each time the team came across a weakness, Google worked towards fixing it and converting them into delivery of relevant and high quality search results. For instance, you may recall algorithm changes like the most recent mobile friendly updates where the mobile friendliness of any website is an important factor to rank on the search engine. This update was termed as Mobilegeddon. There are a series of several changes that started in the year 2003.

The following table will look on the different years and the algorithm updates that came into existence year on year:

Year Changes/Fixes
2003 1.      Higher importance to the quality of backlinks
2.      Penalizing links from co-owned domains, hidden links and texts
3.      Improvements to the overall indexing infrastructure
4.      Penalizing sites that were primarily made with keyword stuffing and were promoted with other black hat SEO techniques
2004 1.      One of the two major updates this year saw penalizing of invisible texts, keyword stuffing and Meta tags.
2.      The other major update saw index expansion and launch of LSI (Latent Sematic Indexing).
2005 1.      Penalizing of suspicious links
2.      Channelizing the way in which duplicate links was treated along with the non-canonical URLs
3.      Personalized search came into existence where the search history of the users were taken into consideration.
4.      Penalizing of reciprocal links, link farms, and paid links.
5.      This year also saw updates related to URL canonization redirects.
2006 1.      Along with refinement of the above processes, the major update this year was the changes to the supplemental indexing and filtering of pages.
2007 1.      Among the major developments this year, integration of traditional results with Videos, News, Images, and local results took place.
2.      Popularly known as the buffy update, there was an update to single search results.
2008 1.      Dewey update saw unspecified changes to search indexing.
2009 1.      This was a big year in terms of evolvement of Search engine strategies. Google rolled out an update for real time search results. For example: Google News, Twitter Feeds, etc. integrated in real-time feed.
2010 1.      Google places update came to existence where LBC was rebranded to Places offering close local search results
2.      Penalizing of low-quality pages that were ranking for long-tail keyword searches
2011 1.      Google launched new web indexing system that offered 50% fresher indexing
2.      Rolling out of Panda Update that aimed at penalizing of Content farms, high content to ad ration websites, etc.
2012 1.      Google+ Profiles and data got included in search results
2.      The Penguin update was launched that aimed at penalizing the link schemes, stuffing of keywords, and other black hat techniques.
3.      Inclusion of relevant facts as well as images along with traditional results.
2013 1.      EMD or exact matched domains saw a crackdown over low quality sites that were merely ranking due to their exact match names with the keyword searches.
2.      More relevance on the type of results and stress on long form of contents
3.      Hummingbird update was also rolled out this year where Google recognized full question searches and emphasis was given on high-quality content.
2014 1.      Pigeon update was launched that looked into the manner in which Google managed the local search results along with the core algorithms.
2.      The HTTP/SSL Update was also launched this year wherein Google started giving preference to secured websites. It meant adding encryption to a website could boost search engine rankings.
3.      Another minor yet relevant change was seen in the disappearance of Authorship by-lines from the search result pages.
2015 1.      Besides minor tweaks to the previous released updates, this year saw Google laying more importance to Mobile Friendliness of a website while ranking. This meant that the sites that were mobile friendly had better chances of ranking over Google.

Recent Google Updates and the Future Outlook

If we take a look at the past as well as the recent updates, it is pretty clear that Google has been focussing on high quality content and intending to offer a better user experience. However, if we are to understand the aspects of recent updates and the future that may be driven through them we can summarize as below:

  1. Panda: One of the major updates launched way back in 2011, it has gone a number of follow up updates. The update is penalize sites that have low-quality content and prevent them from ranking over the search result pages. As per the last announcement, Google had added Panda to its core ranking algorithm. This means Panda updates would be run more frequently but not on a real time basis. For the SEO marketers this means that high quality information will have more relevance and low-quality content will be penalized.
  2. Penguin: This update was released in the year 2012 and is usually grouped along with Panda updates. The update is also aimed at improving the quality of content and their appearance over the search engine results. The update focusses on targeting of spammy links and Google will look at the backlinks as a signal for authority and reputation of a particular website. Here again, it will not be the number of backlinks a site has, but the quality of backlinks the site has. Having high quality but limited number of links will hold more value than having thousands of spammy links pointing to your website.
  3. Hummingbird: An update that was rolled out in the year 2013 was designed for improving the semantic search engine capabilities of Google. It was observed that people were using Google in a controversial manner to type their queries as if they were asking a friend. The algorithm tries to understand the intent and context of the searches. Hence, this meant SEO professionals had to shift slightly in coining a strategy by which they were creating the content. It does not mean that they will have to connect the keywords of a particular query with the keywords used within the content. It means that in future, content has to go beyond mere keywords and should be useful and demonstrate and understanding towards what the users are interested to read and learn. Keywords do have a relevance but it is the usage that matters the most.
  4. Mobile Update: The last among the major new updates was in the year 2015 when Google rolled out its Mobile Update. As per this, websites had to be mobile friendly to rank better over the search engines. This is seen as a recognition of the dominance of handheld gadgets and their usage for browsing the internet. The key to having a mobile friendly website involves having a responsive design, easy navigation for viewers on all possible screen sizes, proper placement of buttons and other options over a website.
  5. Quality update: Among the lessor known updates which did not make a lot of buzz was the Quality Update. The update focuses on offering leverage to sites that were user friendly and offered high quality content. Sites that feature a lot of ads were among the ones that were penalized. Moreover, the sites that featured a lot of user generated content such as HubPages were also penalized. The key thing to do to avoid this penalty is through avoidance of thin content and materials that did not put the need of the user as priority.
  6. Rank Brain: Another update rolled out in the year 2015 is also seen as a unique change within the Google Algorithm. This update made the search engine venture out to the world of artificial intelligence as well as machine learning. As per this system the search results are designed for learning and predicting the user behaviour. This in turn helps Google in interpreting as well as responding to millions of queries each and every day. This update is also expected to interpret content as well as intent in a common manner. There is very little information that is available for this update from Google, but it has already been stated that it is in-line to become the 3rd most critical ranking signal.

The White Hat SEP Technique

To conclude and state what SEO has been and what comprises of white Hat are SEP technique, we can summarize as below:

  1. Create high quality content that is unique and relevant to the readers
  2. Avoid overstuffing of keywords in your content
  3. Optimize the site as per the needs of the user. Make sure that each and every user has a positive experience and finds it easy to get information from the website.
  4. Factor page speed, design, and load time of your website.
  5. Deploy best practices for mobile search
  6. Get natural backlinks instead of buying them. High quality links and credible sources get natural backlinks on a regular basis.

Each year the search engine giant makes every effort to have far-reaching impact over different industries as brands are finding their content to rise and fall overnight. It is only the manner in which the content is aligned that matters the most. Google has explicitly stated that it gives more focus on quality content development instead of mere effort for ranking over the search engines. The marketers need to focus on adopting high quality content strategies and club them with digital strategies that reduces the risk of being penalized from any of the Google Updates.

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