It continues to astound me that the search engine optimisation (SEO) sector has only been around for a few short years. It has developed into such a massive space, supporting so many individuals, companies and marketing strategies that it seems impossible it has grown up in such a short time.
So how has the industry developed so rapidly and what from? Well, for those who love minutiae, trivia and senseless levels of background knowledge, here it is: A Potted History of Search Engines.
I have aimed to list every main milestone in the search world’s first ten years but there are a lot! If you think I have missed out anything important then do let me know.
1989: Tim’s List
In the beginning, there was a huge list of websites. I mean it, an actual list. This was kept up to date by Tim Berners-Lee, who edited the information.
Evolving from the ocean of the early web and crawling onto the beach of the future came AliWeb, arguably the first ever search engine (as we understand search engines. Archie and World Wide Web Wanderer were very different early incarnations).
Clearly its innovative developers are not reaping the rewards you would expect from such a brilliant move, but the site still exists.
1993 and on: More portals launch
Once one search engine had been developed and the internet continued its massively rapid development, it became apparent that some form of navigation tool was a standard requirement of the WWW and a host of portals sprang into existence in the nineties.
HotBot, Excite, Lycos and eventually Google were just a few of the many engines clamouring to help consumers find their way about the web.
1997: Optimisation endeavours start
Webmasters started to recognise the value of ranking highly in the search results. Two arms of optimisers begin to emerge; black hat and white hat, i.e. those which tried to trick the search engines into ranking pages highly and those which aim to fulfil the demands of the portals.
1998: Enter Google and PageRank
Google’s founders have been busy at uni creating PageRank, an algorithm which assesses pages’ value based on the number and quality of inbound links. This makes it harder for black hat SEO tactics to operate and improves the results offered to searchers.
Then the money began to roll in. As it became apparent the internet could provide thousands of new ways of making cash, investors stopped viewing it as the realm of geeks and perverts and began to consider investing serious money into the web. This is made easier by the arrival of the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising model.
It is widely believed (for widely, read ‘Wikipedia says’) that this method of generating advertising revenue was created by Bill Gross, the man behind early engine Goto.com. Before that, most adverts were charged for every thousand impressions.
2002: Yahoo! Buys Inktomi
Yahoo! invested in Inktomi, a search provider which powered search facilities on other websites. Despite this, the engine continued to use Google to power its results.
2003: Yahoo! Goes Solo
Yahoo! ditched its working relationship with Google and ran its own search engine, using the technology it had acquired to create Yahoo! Slurp.
Kevin Gibbons is Director of Search at
The views of the author don’t necessarily represent those of the publisher.