A Brief History of SEO


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a marketing strategy that has been a staple in the digital world since the late 90s. The foremost and simplest aim of SEO is to increase organic traffic and overall visibility, but over the years this has developed to encompass all aspects of user experience, from finding a website to using and engaging with the site. SEO as a strategy has been around since the internet started, but what started as a black-hat and underhand way of winning in the search engine results page has transformed into an organic skill set that relies on white-hat techniques to raise the visibility of any website.

The Beginnings

On August 6th 1991, the first website World Wide Web launched, marking the beginning of the potential for SEO to grow. Shortly after in 1993-1994, search engines such as Yahoo and Excite launched, transforming the way in which information was categorised.

In 1996, Sergey Brin and Larry Page released the search engine BackRub, and shortly after in 1997 the domain name was changed to Google, which then officially launched on September 4th 1998. Google would become the most influential search engine in the world in 2000, marking the start of a rapidly changing evolution in information visibility. Google has continually adjusted their algorithm to reward websites that offer high quality content relevant to the website’s purpose. The idea to do this was first made public by Eric Ward as far back as 1994, and Google had begun to make it a reality.

Quick Evolution

In the beginning stages of SEO, pretty much anything and everything could be done to improve a website’s rankings on the search engine results page (SERP), such as:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • The insertion of hidden text/links
  • The inclusion of malicious malware such as phishing, viruses and trojans

Today, these are known as black hat strategies. In 2003, Google released its first major algorithm, Google Florida, which would massively help in reducing the visibility of websites that had attempted to utilise these black hat strategies.

Later in 2005, the “rel=nofollow” attribute would be added to prevent the authority and rank of a link from being passed on, giving no benefit to people who put spammy links in places such as blog posts.

Google Panda released in 2011, placing a significant focus on website content. As a result, websites with large quantities of low-quality content or irrelevant content were, on the whole, penalised with reduced organic visibility. Shortly after in 2012, the Google Penguin update was released, targeting websites that used grey or black hat strategies to improve their rankings (for example, websites with pages where spammy links irrelevant to the page’s content were used).

Later Stages

Google Rankbrain was released in 2015, an extension of the 2013 Google Hummingbird update. These two updates placed an emphasis on understanding what users are looking for when they enter a search query, matching the relevant results with this in mind. As such, websites which used natural language throughout their content were rewarded, as opposed to websites with content consisting of keyword packing or other unnatural methods of conveying information.

In recent years there’s been a large rise in the number of search queries coming from mobile; in 2017, 57% of search traffic came from mobile devices, and this trend has only continued to grow. Google caught onto this with it’s Mobile-First Index in 2018, meaning that Google now prioritises the mobile versions of websites when creating its index. With the constant shift towards mobile, people have been forced to manage their websites - and consequently the SEO for their website - with this in mind.

Preparing for the Future

The history of SEO teaches us that utilising ethical optimisation methods, adapting to the times and providing relevant, high-quality content is essential for success; keeping this in mind is the best way to prepare for the future of SEO. For more on SEO in todays digital world, get in touch with our team on 01536 411153.

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