Search engine optimization (or SEO) refers to a variety of techniques that aim at enhancing the visibility of a website by search engines so as to attract increased and high quality traffic. A high level of quality traffic is the lifeblood of any online business. We can trace the history of SEO from the 1990s when the internet started to become very popular, although its development had began much earlier.
Due to the increase in the number of servers connected to the internet, there was a growing need for a method of locating and organizing data online. Alan Emtage a student at McGill University made the first attempt at this in 1990 while doing a school project. He called his project Archie, and this was followed in 1991 by another one called Project Gopher by Mark McCahill of the University of Minnesota. By 1993, a semblance of search engines as we know them now started to emerge. The years from 1993 to 1998 saw the establishment of many of the search engines we know now.
With the coming of these search engines, some enterprising individuals saw an opportunity to make money. These were what we believe are the pioneers of SEO and they started forming forums to connect and exchange ideas relating to what they called internet search marketing. One of these pioneers, David Sullivan, is credited with coining the term ‘search engine optimization’.
During those early years, webmasters needed to forward their websites to the search engines which would then use bots to index and crawl these sites. The advantages of ranking high in search results soon became apparent, and people started to develop techniques to trick the algorithms used by search engines. This meant that even low quality web pages could rank first in search engine results. There was therefore a need to for more complex algorithms. At the same time concepts such as keyword density began to take root. By 1997, Yahoo was the foremost search engine but most of the content submitted online was spam. To address this, search engines started to innovate by using such methods as word lists and multi-language platforms.
The establishment of Google in 1998 was a watershed moment for SEO. Created by two graduates of Sanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, it introduced PageRank into the lexicon of SEO. PageRank assessed a website’s relevance using several factors such as the number and quality of inbound links. Because of the usefulness of its results, it soon became the main search engine and this led to the exit of some of its competitors.
Later years and today
From 2000 to 2001, the internet underwent a seismic shift. Google’s advanced algorithms put paid to the widespread spamming and revolutionized SEO site ranking. there was exponential growth in the techniques of site ranking and general SEO. Google did away with outdated tactics such as directory submissions and introduced new bots which would scan sites and identify various elements such as relevant backlinks and keyword density. The bots (or crawlers) could also detect duplicate content on a website or on other sites. The webmasters also began to capitalize on some of the methods used by Google especially when it came to backlinks. Since more backlinks meant higher rankings, people created new ways of generating thousands of links but again Google programmers devised ways of catching such backlink spamming. This constant struggle goes on up to today. From 2003, Google algorithms have become increasingly more intelligent and complex. For instance the Panda and Penguin updates of 2011 and 2012 introduced penalties for keyword stuffing and enabled analysis of link legitimacy
The advent of social networks also had a significant effect on SEO. In the early stages social networks focused on particular niches of the internet and had little impact when it came to SEO. This would later change and today all of us use social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Myspace which have billions of users. This has meant that algorithms have had to be improved to cater for the unique architecture and content of social networks.