Over the past 25 years, the way we live and work has been utterly transformed by the creation and evolution of the web. As the volume of online content has soared, search engines have become central to a vast number of our online experiences.

In our latest infographic, we look back over the last 25 years to explore how SEO has changed and developed over time – and what those changes might tell us about the future.

25-years-SEO-infographic

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The evolution of search engines

It was way back in 1991 when the first website went live. With a growing number of websites, there was an increasingly pressing need to organise and catalogue them. Early attempts to do this included Archie (1990) and Gopher (1991) – these were pretty primitive, but they’re widely regarded as the first search engines.

Various search engines were created throughout the 1990s – Excite (1993), Yahoo, WebCrawler, Lycos and Infoseek (1994), AltaVista (1995) Inktomi (1996) Ask Jeeves and Google (1997), MSN (1998) and alltheweb (1999) were all born during this period.

As more search engines were created (and they began to be used more widely by internet users) we saw an embryonic SEO community begin to emerge, with people and businesses sharing ideas about what really works in SEO. In 1997, Search Engine watch was launched by Danny Sullivan, providing tips and information about search.

Sullivan and his team at Search Engine Watch launched the Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference in 1999. This event is still going strong today, with events all over the world frequently attended by thought leaders and industry experts.

In 2003, Search Engine Journal was launched by Loren Baker. In the same year, Aaron Wall launched SEOBook.

The following year, SEOMOZ was born, the brainchild of Rand Fishkin, still one of the dominant thought leaders in the industry. Today, it’s simply known as ‘Moz.’ Moz’s influence on the industry has been phenomenal and, in 2010, they held a new SEO event called ‘MozCon.’

Another event took its place in the SEO calendar in 2011 when online marketing agency Distilled held the first ‘Searchlove’ conference.

The Google Revolution

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about the history of search without touching on the enormous influence of Google. Google launched in 1997 and was, initially, just the latest in a string of search engines. However, they had a secret weapon: PageRank. This was an algorithm that was used to rank websites more accurately.

Originally, PageRank was based pretty much exclusively on inbound links, a factor that (when the links are meaningful) is still a useful tool today! This shouldn’t be confused with the PageRank toolbar, later introduced by Google, which is now defunct.

Let’s take a quick look at the timeline of Google’s influence on search:

2002: At this point, it’s still possible to use backlinks to artificially make a page display for unrelated searches.

2003: Two important things happen this year. One is that Google starts contextual advertising with AdSense. The other is that they release the Florida Update, geared towards penalising black-hat tactics like keyword stuffing.

2005: Google Analytics launches, giving SEO pro’s a way to track and monitor their sites

2006: BMW is banned from Google for ‘cloaking’ – i.e. showing users and search engines different content.

2009: Google Caffeine Update goes live. Much like your morning cup of coffee, this made Google quicker and more agile. It gave Google the power to index the web more often and provide fresher results. This year also saw the introduction of real-time search.

2011: Google’s Panda Update is rolled out. This lowers the rank of thin, low-quality sites.

2012: Google’s Penguin Update goes live. This lowers the rank of sites in violation of Webmaster Guidelines.

2013: Google releases the ‘disavow tool.’ This allowed site owners to undo the damage caused by ‘bad links’ in the past by disavowing them.

So that’s the past…what about the future?

So what can we learn from the past of SEO? What lessons can it teach us about the future of SEO and what we should focus on moving forward?

1. The goal of search engines is the same as it always has been: to deliver the most suitable and appropriate content to searchers when they look for it, and to reward authoritative, high-quality websites.

2. Over time, search engines have evolved and black-hat practices have become increasingly penalised. Expect this to continue!

3. Quality, informative and unique content will always be rewarded, so continue investing in great content.

4. SEO is increasingly competitive – you need the right tools to find low competition, high ROI keywords and the fundamentals in place to achieve success in these areas.


Comments
Larry
Posted at 7:47 pm February 5, 2015
Larry
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Author

Both articles contain valuable, sound advice. Following it is the easiest way to reduce your costs and increase your revenues from web traffic. I have been doing SEO for nearly 20 years and have yet to find a keyword research tool so easy to use. I especially like the graphic presentation of results. It makes it so easy to communicate keywords to clients.

Mike Poynton
Posted at 4:17 pm February 17, 2015
Mike Poynton
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Author

Hi, Matt! Great post and infographic! I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Seems like yesterday I was using Gopher and and “Pamela Anderson” was the meta-keyword of choice of just about every slime-ball website out there trying to drive traffic. I’m old. One thing: Am sharing your infographic on my blog. But the image URL contained in the text box above is invalid. Needs to point to the actual infographic image. Thanks!

John
Posted at 4:38 pm April 1, 2015
John
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Author

This a history good to remember.
I remember that back in the year 2000, I used as search engine AltaVista, and I crated my first yahoo mail which I use even today.
Online I started my first website in 2004 (pretty late), but this website works even today and brings me a good income.

Crizmo
Posted at 8:17 am April 13, 2015
Crizmo
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Author

Its look like that the Google is relatively new search engine as compared to Yahoo and other but now dominates over all the other Search Engines.
Well what the reason behind the great success

InDecor
Posted at 10:36 am April 23, 2015
InDecor
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Author

The SEO is so revolutionized today as it were in earlier ear of search engine
Blogger has to focus on keyword research to get rank rather then just putting efforts on backlinks

Mark
Posted at 12:33 pm May 21, 2015
Mark
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Author

Google did really good work in evolving towards user needs. I think we all like Google for its simplicity and good results matching for our queries. That’s why Google wins for the moment (I doubt it will change soon). I hope Google won’t go too far into its “experiments”, as it starts to be pretty worrying, not only for the Internet world.

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