Although I am sure that there may be earlier examples of people engaging in search engine optimization, one of the most indisputable accounts I was able to uncover occurred in 1995 when John Audette formed Multi-Media Marketing Group (MMG) after the sale of over 4,000 copies of his book on how to market on the Internet. John started MMG with the specific goal of seeking ways to improve a website’s ranking on specific search terms. One of his employees, and an early pioneer in SEO, Danny Sullivan is actually credited with coning the phrase Search Engine Optimization at one of those early meetings.
As we examine the history of SEO, it’s important to keep in mind that both search engines and the Internet have evolved over time and didn’t always exist in their current form. For example, the first search engines began to surface back in 1990 with the appearance of Gopher, the first search engine, which relied heavily on the hypertext paradigm for relevance, but Google, the current undisputed champion, which today incorporates 199 additional factors into a page’s rank did not appear until 1998. Each year there are countless theories on the future of SEO, but many of these theories declare that the entire practice of SEO will soon become extinct, yet each year these theories are proved wrong as SEO continues to evolve. As the age old saying goes, “The best predictor of the future is the past.” This rings especially true when it comes to SEO. By examining how far SEO has come since its inception, it becomes clear that the practice will always find a way to remain relevant.
SEO, unlike other practices, does not have a specific date of creation. It slowly evolved over time after the first public search engines began to develop and increase in popularity in the early ’90s. By 1993, these search platforms began to utilize keywords to sort information found on websites in order to provide users with more accurate search results. It was shortly after the introduction of this method that marketers discovered that they could influence these results and increase traffic to particular websites by stuffing keywords into website content. The outcome was search engine results that were packed full of spam. These black-hat techniques, as they are now known, were prominent in the world of SEO until search engines altered their algorithms in efforts to eliminate spam and provider users with helpful results.
After search engine creators became wise to SEO techniques, keyword stuffing and other unethical practices no longer worked. With the risk of being banned from search engines for using these tactics, SEO evolved to work with search engines instead of attempting to outsmart them. This meant that the entire way that SEO was conducted had to be altered to fit the rules laid forth by search engines. This continues to remain a priority in the industry as search engines upgrade and make changes throughout the years. Today, SEO is a booming industry that focuses on white-hat tactics in efforts to provide users with the most informative content through the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
By examining a brief history and the evolution of SEO, it is clear that it will continue to be a valuable asset for many years to come.