A few years back, search engine optimization was shrouded in mystery, using technical ploys of questionable nature such as web rings, meta data ploys, and keyword stuffing to promote one’s page rank amongst search engines. Now however, SEO optimization is an accepted marketing tool that benefits clients, the agencies doing the SEO optimization for them, as well as the end users who benefit from more relevant search results from search engines. SEO has become very popular as a free traffic strategy.
Originally, search engines did not employ web crawlers to cache data from websites on the Internet. Instead, websites had to be submitted to these search engines, if their creators wanted them to be indexed. This also meant that the number of search results yielded by these search engines was also limited to the submissions they had received.
The history of SEO can be traced back to history of browsers and search engines themselves, starting with the launch of Netscape Navigator in 1993, which quickly became the most popular browser of its time. The Internet as a maze of websites, linking to one another, was born. April 1994 saw the launch of Yahoo, and its directory came to be the dominant directory serving search results. Very soon, there were several more entrants in the search engine market, such as Excite, Lycos and Infoseek.Infoseek also heralded the practice of search engines partnering with browsers, by becoming the default search engine for Netscape Navigator. The era also so the first shot being fired in what would come to be known as the ‘browser wars’ when Microsoft started bundling its new browser, Internet Explorer with its Windows operating system. Other players such as Hotbot and LookSmart also entered the market, powered by the Inktomi search engine.
Very soon, search engines began their transition from the website submission model, to employing spiders and web crawlers that indexed the whole web. Yahoo entered a partnership with OpenText to create their first crawler-based search engine while Altavista launched its own crawler engine that soon became the most popular search engine in the market. This marked the end of the submission or search directory based engines.
The following year, 1996, was a period of consolidation in the search market. Yahoo acquired Altavista and re-launched their search service powered by this new engine. This year also marked the first forays into SEO, with attempts, many successful, at cracking of the algorithm used by the search engines to rank results. Once the algorithm was discovered, SEO agents could tinker with their sites to make them rank high in the results. They also used a technique called cloaking that involves providing the search engine spider with information different from what they presented the user with. This let them generate higher page ranks despite serving lower quality content to the users themselves.
In the same year, more companies entered the search market. Ask Jeeves, a search engine still popular today, was launched. The year also saw the idea of using link citations as the way to rank pages higher, being mentioned in academic papers. A new search engine, GoTo became the first paid search platform, serving up results based on paid placement of results. Two years later, in 1998, Google was born and MSN made its debut a couple of years later in 2000. The first ever SEO conference was held in the November of 1999. By June of 2000, the number of Google’s searches overtook that of AltaVista. Another search engine named Teoma, which was tried to semantically analyze the topics of the webpages, was launched in October 2000. Google also launched the Google AdWords tool along with the Google Toolbar.
In 2002, Google re-launched Google Adwords using a new ‘Cost-per-Click’ model, and soon became the premier paid search platform on the Internet. Google also acquired WordPress and another blogging service named WordPress was launched. What these two blogging platforms did was introduce the world to the concept of blogging for free, but soon search engines started getting overwhelmed by the quantum of spam generated on these free blogs. The launch of Text Links Ads made it simpler for people to buy links. Over the next few years, Google launched several updates to its search algorithm, code named ‘Florida’, ‘Jagger’ and ‘Big Daddy’, in an effort to cut the influence of web spam on search results and better process the context of links between websites.