The History of SEO Made Simple: The Evolution of Search Engine Optimization

August 25, 2013


In order to thrive in the highly competitive market that the organic search results pages provides, businesses need to get their site seen at the top of the SERPs—and that means strategic SEO and innovative Internet marketing.

Search engine optimization is key for companies looking to grow their business to it’s fullest potential by leveraging their online presence, but how did it all begin? When did SEO start? Why? And what’s different about it now?

The Beginnings of Search

It may seem obvious, but the rise of SEO couldn’t have happened without the rise of search itself. When search engines hit the scene in the 1990s, they revolutionized the way that people all over the world searched for, found, and shared information.

And ever since 1998, when Google was first launched, search engines have become increasingly sophisticated, their algorithms more complex and their abilities more comprehensive than ever before.

The rise of search gave marketers an unbelievable opportunity to expand their audience, reach new leads, and connect with more customers. But with search engines more capable than ever before and more searchers putting their trust in those precious top few results—getting into those top spots became increasingly crucial for businesses hoping to get found online.

And that’s where SEO came into the picture.

SEO Over the Years

Back in the late 1990s, SEO was not even a fully formed marketing term, let alone as sophisticated a set of strategies as it is today. Because the first search engines really only indexed a list of sites and their descriptions–not their actual content or any complete pages–the first search “optimization” techniques were essentially enhancements to file titles, meta descriptions, and the like.

But as search engines became more comprehensive, so did SEO.

In 1998, Google, which ranked their results based on what they called PageRank, changed the focus of SEO significantly. Back then, Google determined PageRank by the links to and from a site. Since links showed authority and popularity, the more links, the better. This system quickly proved to be a bit too simple, since some “black hat” SEO companies or even individual businesses themselves began to take their link building too far–focusing on the quantity of links back to their site as opposed to their quality, their relevance, and the value of the sites they were coming from.

At the same time, businesses and SEO companies began to realize the benefits of a whole host of other Internet marketing tactics–from email marketing to video marketing, conversion optimization to paid search and PPC advertising. And as more and more people started to spend their time on social platforms, social media quickly became a powerful online marketing tool that, like SEO, could help businesses increase exposure and gain new customers.

How SEO is Evolving and What it Looks like in 2013

As Google grew in popularity, the search engine strove to perfect its algorithms with the goal of providing searchers the best results possible.

In the last few years they’ve updated, refreshed, and enhanced their algorithm significantly. The series of Panda and Penguin were the most notable of these changes, which strove to promote quality content and penalize web spam, over-optimization, and poor quality links. Google wants to match searchers with sites that are the most relevant, most helpful, and most likely to, plain and simple, give them what they’re searching for.

The search engines determine which results are best by looking at more than page titles or links alone. Now, while building high quality, relevant links is essential to SEO, it’s more complicated than that.

404 errors, quality links, meta-descriptions, video views, canonical issues, sitemaps, social shares, fresh content, authorship tags, keywords, site-design, guest blog posts, all of these paint a picture for Google, they give Google insight into how smoothly your site functions, how relevant your content is, how popular your web presence is, how strong your brand is, and ultimately, how well your site will meet the needs of it’s searchers.

Today, “SEO” as a term is quickly becoming synonymous with Internet marketing as a whole.

Instead of social media and SEO being seen as two separate means to the same end, search and social are more intertwined than ever. Technical SEO, link building, content marketing, video marketing, social media–all of these and more must work together to show a site’s value, relevance, popularity, and authority on the web.

Any one tactic alone is not the answer. There is no single secret formula for seeing success online. The goal of SEO has even expanded beyond simply boosting rankings, beyond even driving traffic–its about helping businesses get qualified leads, more customers, and better businesses. As the search engines have evolved, so has SEO, and it’s never been more adaptable, more comprehensive.

What is crucial to keep in mind in 2013, is that SEO is not the same as when it all started; it’s better. It’s not less important; it’s more essential than ever. It’s not about fooling search engines into thinking a site is phenomenal, it’s about actually making that site phenomenal. SEO isn’t a strategy anymore, it’s not even a series of strategies, it’s an entire system, it’s the reflection of an entire sophisticated, comprehensive Internet marketing campaign. Search engine optimization is no longer about individual elements, it’s about creating an entire experience that searchers will love and that the search engines will see, and reward.

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