Search Engine Optimisation - A Brief History

Being on the first page of Google is all that matters to most businesses, but it's a crowded space and getting to the top isn't easy.

According to Wikipedia, search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's unpaid results.

Well that sums it up nicely, but as you might expect that there is a lot more to seo than meets the eye. In fact, SEO is a job description in itself and anybody that is any good at it can command a very high salary.

When I first started making websites, we did not have search engines as we know them today but instead there were web directories, the best known of which were Yahoo and DMOZ. These were some of the earliest curated guides to the internet and they were manually edited by human beings. I remember it taking months to get my site listed on Yahoo and the resulting boost in traffic when it first appeared.

It was later that crawler style search engines that would spider the web came along. AltaVista was the first one that really got people's attention as search engines learned how to actually scan the words on the page rather than just catalogue their titles.

So began the practice of search engine optimisation and I remember filling my pages with keywords as this was really helping my site's position on AltaVista. I became so carried away that there were often more keywords stuffed in the footer than there were actual written words on the page and I confess now to making my page text the same colour as the page background so that they didn't show up. I wasn't alone.

Soon after came specialist websites such as Search Engine Watch which researched and commentated on the business of search engines and provided crowdsourced insights of how to climb the rankings. The seo business now had a 'Trade Publication' as befits any proper industry. Other titles were to follow as were thousands of people calling themselves search engine optimisation consultants. 

Also in 1995, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were students at Stanford University in the United States. For his dissertation, Page had been thinking about the mathematical relationships between hyperlinks found in webpages, and of how the frequency of such 'backlinks' might form a basis for indicating which websites were the most influential in any given field.

So was born 'Pagerank', a major factor in how Google came to index the web. Indeed, this very webpage contains many backlinks to other websites just to illustrate this point.

When Page and Brin went on to form Google, they (rightly) downgraded the importance of keyword meta tags as they were so open to manipulation and to this day it is thought that Google pays no attention to them

Google hit back hard, penalising millions of websites which were using so-called 'black hat' techniques to spam Google's search results.

As Google came to dominate the world of online search, keyword stuffing as it came to be known, also started to die out when it no longer delivered the results that it once had.

The SEO community moved into developing backlinking strategies. At first with well-intentioned link exchange programs, but then in no time, this too began to get silly with the automated creation of so-called 'link farms'. These were circles of often bogus websites that did little more than just link to each other.

Link farms pervaded for a while, but in the meantime, the quality of Google's search results went down the pan. Something had to be done and Google hit back hard, penalising millions of websites which were using so-called 'black hat' techniques to spam Google's search results.

Two of the most notorious Google purges were codenamed Penguin and Panda. As a result of these initiatives, many thousands of websites were literally wiped out from Google's search listings and many businesses that had been sailing at bit close to the wind had to suffer the consequences.

Google is usually thought of as a search company but it is important to remember that in revenue terms it is actually an advertising business. Google are acutely aware that if their search results do not deliver utility and good value to their users that they run the risk of losing their audience and along with this their revenue. 

Today's search engine strategies must, therefore, focus on providing high-quality content and of being useful to your website's visitors. The risk of not doing so is to risk Google to losing interest in your website.

Current thinking centres around a modern discipline known as 'content strategy', putting quality content first, followed by best practice 'white hat' seo techniques and leaving most 'black hat' tricks in the past.

Just as it should be done, you might say.


This is the first of many blog posts that will follow, discussing best seo practice and you can learn to apply this your own organisation. Please use the tags below to find related articles.

At easable.uk our SEO expertise has been hard earned over many years and by working with us we can get you off to a great start.

We can tailor-make a search engine optimisation program designed to make you stand out from your competitors and we can help with high-quality link building, directory submissions, keyword analysis, content research, speed optimisation and other many other best practice 'white hat' seo techniques that won't get you into trouble with Google for spamming their system.

SEO is an ever-changing field and it takes a lot of research to keep on top of developments.


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