Google was now a force to be reckoned with, and it’s revenue
had hit new highs... just in time for April’s IPO. All this had created a new era of Google millionaires...
a far cry from the company’s
humble beginnings.Quote

A history of SEO

1990 to Present

1990 - 1992

The World Wide Web was born with the launch of the first web server at the CERN research facility in Switzerland. There were no search engines required as the entire contents of the web mostly consisted of a few pages.


The first web browser Netscape was developed and was freely available on all major desktops. Dial-up internet access was cheap and freely available. As the number of webpages grew there was no way to search amongst the growing number of documents online, so people resorted to sharing bookmarked pages. Attempts were made to organise and catalogue the web, but these met with very limited success.


The first directory Galaxy was launched in January. In April, Stanford students David Filo and Jerry Yang released Oracle, now known as Yahoo. Lycos launches a few months later. The first true robot Web-Crawler is released, and begins to index the entire content of the Web.


Nearly a dozen search engines were now online. Names like Magellan, Lycos, Excite, and Infoseek. Alta Vista was rolled out and quickly ruled the roost with its large database and advanced features.


Google (then named “backrub”) was just an idea in a dorm room amongst a group of college students at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.


Webmasters were enjoying the rich picking of being on top of the search engines. Getting a site listed was easy, stuff the meta-tags and home page with keywords, submit your site, wait a few weeks and voila! First page ranking for your keywords.

As early search engines suffered from extensive abuse and ranking manipulation. To provide better results to their users, search engines had to change to ensure their results pages showed the most relevant search results, rather than unrelated pages stuffed with keywords. Search engines responded by developing more complex ranking algorithms.


Paul Keene, founder of Little Big Voice builds his first e-commerce website. With no financial backing or other sources of income, and no money to spend on advertising he starts learning SEO the hard way.

Google receives its first investment and moves to new facilities, a garage in downtown California at Menlo Park.


Alta Vista wasn’t as popular as it used to be, MSN and Yahoo were gaining in popularity. Slow dial up modems meant that websites were frequently timing out. It wasn’t the user experience that everyone had hoped for - a new approach was needed.

Google hits the headlines to the tune of $25 million of venture capital and now handles over 500,000 queries per day. The investment allowed Google to move to its new location in Palo Alto.

Google forms new partnerships with AOL, Netscape and Virgin, very shortly Google were on the move again to their current location in Mountainview, California.

The main search engines were all competing for a fast growing market. They all thought that banner advertising and paid listings were the way forward but failed to see what was round the corner...

Searchers were fed up with slow loading times and waiting for search results, Google had found their achilles heel. Webmasters and searchers were falling over themselves recommending Google and its fast results service, you could read about it in every magazine and newspaper.


Realising that it wasn’t just a passing fad, companies were now paying good money for websites. With new design trends evolving such as flash animation, JavaScript rollovers and animated gif’s, the websites just didn’t work with the search engines. Therefore, it was back to the drawing board for many designers to good old plain HTML.

Google was taking around 3 months to index a new site. Too long to be able to measure the effect of any SEO changes made to the site.


Google began to index and crawl a huge number of sites. More than any other search engine had done previously. Unknown sites were suddenly catapulted to the first page of results and old long standing sites began to disappear...the infamous Google dance had begun.

Alta Vista fought back by copying the Google approach and releasing a stripped down version of its search facility but it failed miserably. Market share was shifting in favour of Google and the other search engines were waking up to their own nightmare. Other search technology companies such as Inktomi were losing their partners and disappearing for years to come.


SEO had grown up and the spam culling had begun. Things were changing, linking was the buzz word in Search Engine circles. Effective linking to quality sites and not linking through linking software or link farms was driving websites forward. Companies promising to submit your site to 10,000 search engines were now being seen as unscrupulous and damaging to the long term success of a website.

Google was now the number one market leader, some leading search engines were in decline and other had disappeared altogether.

Google, Alta Vista and MSN began to drop sites in large numbers, mainly sites that engaged in cloaked pages, doorway pages, duplicate websites, spam directories, hidden links and hidden text. Market leading SEO software such as Web Position Gold was considered high risk and Google even advised people against using it.

Spam hysteria had hit, website owners were in panic not knowing if their website was about to drop. To add to the pressure everyone was waiting for the monthly Google Dance to start, a major reshuffle of the Google search results. Theories were flying around on the forums to what had caused the most recent change. Nobody really knew why and not until some weeks later did a clearer picture evolve to what factors had driven the Dance. By this time business had already dried up for many website owners.

Chaos had hit again, DMOZ the Open Directory Project had instructed its editors to remove websites that did not meet its anti-spam guidelines, some were however removed for personal interest. It was because of the close relationship that DMOZ had with Google that panic once again set in.

This was also the year that the leading search engines began to use more sophisticated technology to weed out spammers and apply penalties. Google had also got tougher over linking, enforcing this with strict guidelines and codes of conduct.


Things continued as they had done the year before, companies finally realised that their websites had to change if they wanted to get good listing in the search engines. Things were once again changing, flash was being used more effectively and content was becoming the important buzz word of the day.

Site owners who had previously enjoyed several years of page 1 ranking were suddenly faced by three months of page 15. Large media agencies who jumped on the SEO band wagon now wanted out as they had failed to move ahead and change their tactics in these fast paced times. Large software driven companies were also falling by the wayside as they were unable to keep up with the changing algorithms.

SEO had grown up and the spam culling had begun. Things were changing, linking was the buzz word in Search Engine circles. Effective linking to quality sites and not linking through linking software or link farms was driving websites forward. Companies promising to submit your site to 10,000 search engines were now being seen as unscrupulous and damaging to the long term success of a website.

Agencies and website owners who had lost out in the cull of websites turned their attentions to Pay Per Click. PPC had always been around but now it gave a life line to those that had practiced unethical SEO. As a direct consequence of this renewed interest the cost of running a PPC campaign sky rocketed, forcing many small businesses into a corner.

This was also the year that saw the demise of Alta Vista, sold then resold for meager sums of money and Inktomi was now in Google’s wake.

There was some irony here, Google was born from humble beginnings in an age of search engines that provided poor results and were too complacent to change. Google had been made popular by the SEO industry, everyone was using Google at some point...but the irony was that the webmasters and agencies that had made it popular among the masses, were now becoming victims of it success.

No search engine wants to be manipulated, most of the webmasters and SEO companies of the day were unable to adjust with the times. Google’s massive rise in popularity took people by surprise, a monopoly was forming...if your website wasn’t ranking well in Google, you had real problems ahead. This meant many web marketeers who were either unable or unwilling to alter their practices partook in unethical SEO.

The biggest shake up to date was to happen in November...The Florida Update...this update uprooted the search positions for most industry sectors, businesses who had previously enjoyed good rankings shut down overnight. This was of course the precursor to Google generating extra revenue from its PPC system prior to its IPO in 2004.


This was the year that the industry will never forget...

In the aftermath of the Florida Update, webmasters, agencies and marketing managers were unable to understand what had happened. People didn’t know what to fix and whether it was better to ride out the storm. The problem is the storm continued and lasted many long months. For many businesses it was too late.

People turned their attentions to Yahoo and MSN, but by now Google was just too strong and was the dominant search engine. The whole SEO industry started to change, as corporations and agencies turned their attentions to PPC - suddenly everyone became an expert and the stampede had begun.

Organic Search was now dead. In the following months there were more updates and further casualties along the way. Google was now a force to be reckoned with, and it’s revenue had hit new highs...just in time for April’s IPO. All this had created a new era of Google millionaires...a far cry from the company’s humble beginnings.

On the plus side, many companies had now moved to ethical SEO, the days of the Black Hat SEO were numbered. It was realised that the industry was a turbulent one and their were factors affecting its outcome that nobody had control of. PPC had now established itself as a new niche and was seen by many as compliment to SEO.

During all this upheaval Yahoo was making acquisitions and going through a rebranding process. MSN was busy developing its new search technology ready to take on Google at its own game.


The industry was still recovering from the Florida Update but it was also adjusting itself to the influx of broadband to UK businesses and households. The government had held back on broadband for three years and now its true potential could be unleashed.

The .com boom was now over and many businesses realised that spending money on their website was a good investment. Google’s database of websites was ever growing, indexing was slow and the Google Dance was over. The industry had become settled again.

Compliance was the new word. If a website is compliant with Google’s guidelines surely this would protect it from any further reshuffles by the search engines. Not so...compliancy is complex, a site built using dynamic page creation or CMS could inadvertently become non compliant by design. The automatic filters that screen for these 'bad practices' are unconcerned as to whether the mistakes were intentional or not.

Search engines began to cut down on duplication. Many websites disappeared overnight from their top positions as they had knowingly or unknowingly been non compliant with the new regulations.

Google was developing new technologies and improving its search algorithm. This saw many websites being removed from position 1 as Google tested out its new algorithm developed to eradicate artificial link generation. This was rolled out in three phases, Jagger 1, 2 and 3.

Yet again a new industry had sprung up due to Google’s requirements that a site has links. Because of wide spread manipulation of this process resulting in some sites outperforming others in the search results - Google had developed a system of policing the process.