Search Engines and SEO: Birth and Evolution

Conception and Birth

In the beginning, around 1990, was the World Wide Web. It quickly went forth and multiplied exponentially. Soon it became obvious that a way to identify and allow people to quickly and effectively locate information they were looking for would be a very good thing. The solution to that problem is the web search engine. As the early web developed, it also became increasingly clear to business marketers that they had a potentially game changing opportunity available to them. If only there was a way for marketers and other messengers to reach the people who were looking for what they were offering. The strategy of letting the search engines know that a website has what customers are looking for is now commonly referred to as SEO, or search engine optimization.

Early Childhood

In 1993, the first search engines were launched. Within two years, Aliweb, WebCrawler, Lycos, Infoseek, AltaVista, Excite, and Yahoo! all were created and made available to users. They enabled structure and accessibility, revolutionizing how information was catalogued. Results were organized using key words (now called “keywords”) and phrases discovered in webpage text.The early years of SEO could be compared to the wild west. Tactics like keyword stuffing were accepted practice. When Google entered the scene in 1997, they and Yahoo worked to evolve and simplify the ways that data were organized and delivered. Marketers had to respond accordingly.


Starting in 2003, the goal was to improve the relevance and value of user search results. To make sure webmasters earned their search results with ethical SEO practices, there was a strong focus on cleaning up how backlinks were created.

For example, several message-board posts could be created with links to a company’s website. At the time, this would inflate their ranking artificially. This was as annoying to message-board administrators as search engine users.

College Days

This was the time to create search experiences that gave more than just text-base results. In 2007, Google Universal Search was launched to add results from other Google engines. The goal was to offer new kinds of content including video, images and news. This meant that SEO had to focus more on these media in order to build page rank.

Google Suggest was launched in 2008 to make search more useful by displaying related keyword search options based on historical data. These changes were coupled with new research tools like Google’s Trends and Analytics that helped marketers more effectively focus and target their efforts.


Launched in 2011, Google Panda was a major change to their search results algorithm. Together with Google Penguin, launched in 2012, they introduced much stricter regulations and enforced tougher penalties. Marketers had to be even more careful not to frivolously optimize with keywords saturation. There were some very high profile examples made of companies that did not comply. Page ranking was driven even more by quality content that enhanced user experience.

In March 2013, Google announced that updates to search engine algorithms would be occur more frequently and less obviously than in the past. This means that SEO marketers need not be so reactionary to anticipated changes.

Recent Times

Companies like Google can develop their own digital presence by making use of data they have collected from their users. This allows them to personalize user experience based on location, device, and history. Other marketers must come up with more creative ways to use content optimization that generates user engagement. However, increased personalization has also led to growing concerns about security, privacy, and invasive marketing techniques.

Now, SEO requires content that is segmented and designed based on device and user intent. Companies unwilling or unable to make these changes will lose search visibility.

The Future

SEO will continue to evolve to meet users’ growing demands for personalization and instant gratification. Brand developers will need to optimize with new kinds of content, perhaps from external sources, to determine how users search. Exposure and engagement can come from shorter, more direct content which takes advantage of user intent.

The job title “SEO Marketer” continues to change to “Digital Marketer.” Developing a consistent online presence requires planning that includes all digital channels and strong, responsive social influence.

A survey of the past can teach us that the best path forward combines ethical optimization techniques and strong relationships with content creators and users.

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About Kevin O’Connor

Kevin O'Connor has been in the digital marketing game for over 7 years. He writes these blogs, scripts for videos on the web and TV, short films, and all kinds of other fun stuff. He wrote this description of himself, for example. He thinks it's weird to write in the 3rd person.

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