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.
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.