The Birth of SEO: How It All Started in the 1990s

Today any of us who’s got some business with websites or at least has hired some techie to set up a website for his firm has, of course, heard the term – ‘SEO.’

Now all of us are like, “Oh, yeah, SEO…, we know about SEO, all right. SEO has something to do with GOOGLE.!”

Well, that’s partly correct. Keeping up with what’s being fed to us as ‘Digitalisation,’ SEO will most certainly appear to run hand-in-glove with Search Engine giant GOOGLE. But, has any of us ever wondered how the word SEO was coined?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, basically revolves around a set of dedicated procedures that are deployed to ensure more traffic to a particular website or sometimes a single webpage. Put in simple words, SEO has everything to do with popularising a website, thereby making it more visible on the vast web.

SEO specialists are now highly sought-after. That is quite fair. Everybody and everything out there is trying to get noticed on the web. But when the concept of SEO was started back in the early- 1990s, it wasn’t a big deal then.

The birth

Now as we seek to find the birth of SEO, we have to know about the famous rock band of the 80s – Jefferson Starship. While many of us may or may not have heard about them, these guys were quite the thing when life was more about the outdoors and less about what our neighbors shared on social media. Stories tell that Jefferson Starship had a website and was pretty off because they couldn’t find their own webpage on the internet. When their promoters Bob Heyman (who co-authored “Digital Engagement”) and Leland Harden were asked to find out the cause behind this, to their sheer amusement and shock, they understood that Jefferson Starship members couldn’t find their webpage because fans were writing too much stuff about them and posting the same across the web, so much so, that the actual website was compromised on SERP (search engine results page) rankings. 

Mr. Heyman and Mr. Harden did tackle the situation by simply increasing the number of references to the actual website pages, but this was the harbinger of a different digital marketing era altogether. Organic SEO loyalists believe this was how SEO was born, and from then onwards, online marketers and advertisers took up the same framework and kept on modifying and evolving their practices to make SEO the tool it is today.

But, there are also digital marketers who give credit to American Tech entrepreneur and founder of Search Engine Watch (1997), Danny Sullivan, to have actually popularised the concept of search engine optimization and leveraged its true potential to help businesses connect with their target audience on the web. Sullivan is predominantly regarded as the ‘Father of Search Engine Marketing’ and has revolutionized the way website rankings were used to understand business outreach and clientele connect.

At this juncture, we also have to note that the founder of one of the very first interaction-based marketing firms Multimedia Marketing Group (MMG), John Audette, was using the term SEO in his online marketing practices and figures.

Though we may never know whether it was the Jefferson Starship incident or Danny Sullivan or MMG’s John Audette who came up for the very first time with the true concept of SEO, we can rest assured that search engine optimization became an inevitable reality much before Google came and became the force it is today.

Anything will do

During the late 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium, the concept of SEO was pretty blunt. Techies were beginning to understand that web pages are to be pushed higher up the SERP rankings to improve quantitative and qualitative visibility, but they were ill-equipped.

Crawl-based search engines had flooded the web space, and better SEO tactics involved what just might get you busted today – SPAMMING!

In order to get a certain website noticed, online marketers heavily relied on keywords. That we do now, as well, but then, it was about the numbers. Repetitive usage of keywords through web pages and meta tags as well encouraged. And when an online marketer was able to mix this with accurate integration of HTML tags and hyperlinks, there was an easy opportunity to go beyond the competition.

It is believed the world’s first website was launched in 1991, and with the first website coming into force, everybody started to make an effort to go online. Soon a large number of sites came up from literally everywhere. So now everybody wanted to be on the top. Introduce “Black Hat SEO” practices. There was no law, and everybody was allowed to do whatever they felt necessary to make their websites stand out in the crowd. Keyword-stuffing, stealing content material, dubious backlinks, etc. – No Problem at All!

Google and the revolution thereon

Around the year 1996, when still at Stanford University, two students created their own search engine and named it Backrub, which would ultimately become Google. And yes, these two students were Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

When Google slowly began to understand and reform the way SEO works, it was the new millennium, and Google encouraged website hosts to go for quality content and fair practices and, in turn, earn their search engine rankings. This was when the actual foundation of modern search engine optimization pillars was set.

It was during this period Google evolved its search algorithm to put sense into the way keywords and content were used to optimize websites. This was also when localized SEO gave a bigger meaning to web visibility for businesses by targeting potential clients. Google also started a SPAM war, where online marketers using unethical search engine optimization practices were heavily penalized.

Still evolving

SEO has been constantly evolving ever since its inception 28 odd years back. And it is poised to change itself completely and become more and more human.

At this point, how can you make sure your website and your content are optimized for SEO?

The answer is simple, be YOU!

Learn more from an SEO expert.

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