The History of SEO
The 90s

Those of us who are even the most technologically challenged have likely heard of “SEO,” or “search engine optimization.” Simply put, it’s a means of strategically creating online content so that it ranks high in organic Internet searches for the purpose of generating more traffic and, in a business sense, more brand awareness and revenue.

But SEO strategies today are far different from what they were in the early days, when the Internet was soaring to popularity in the mid-to-late-90s. No, back before the term “SEO” was even coined (unofficially, the term is thought to have been created in 1997), trying to get sites ranked was somewhat of a virtual equivalent of the California Gold Rush – masses of new website managers entering the arena and trying to out-rank their competition and prosper for as long as possible in any way possible. Times have definitely changed, but it’s still interesting to look back on the early days of search engine optimization to see how far we’ve come.

SEO: 1990-1997

There’s really no official launch date of the Internet, but most tech experts have come to the consensus that it was sometime in the mid-1980s. However, SEO didn’t come into play until the early search engines began to categorize the World Wide Web about a decade later in the mid-90s. In these early days, webmasters would index webpages using a “spider” that would crawl the webpage and essentially index the content. An indexer would then work to extract content from the page and rank it according to the words and phrases that were used.

This was way before Google. It was the early days of SEO – before SEO was even known as “SEO” – and the algorithms for ranking keywords and phrases were understandably simple and not very efficient. For example, if your website had a blog, you could insert keywords and phrases related to whatever was popular at the time and expect to see a somewhat significant boost in traffic regardless of what your site was all about. Back in the early days, SEO was all about site traffic – not quality of content or conversions or sales. It was all about getting clicks.

In fact, if you have a good memory, you can probably recall sometime in the mid to late 90s when you did an Internet search for the movie Titanic or the sitcom “Seinfeld” and then clicked on an accounting firm’s website that had incorporated the keywords into their site to generate more traffic.

It was a problem - but since the early days of SEO, algorithms have been constantly changed to make search engine results much more credible. They’re still being changed today, actually, largely due to the “hacks” that website developers are initiating to get around the algorithms. Here’s a look at some old-school ways to boost SEO from the early days that have since been corrected:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Hidden text
  • Buying links to direct traffic to your site
  • Poor quality of content
  • Ad spam

Today, SEO is very different from what it was in the 90s. It’s still focused on keywords and phrases, no doubt. But Google algorithms have a much more advanced way of filtering out the junk from the quality, relevant content that a web user may be searching.

And when you come to think about it, SEO is still largely in its infancy, having just been conceptualized some 20 years or so ago. It had to start somewhere and it’s been a fast-paced process to better the system since. Who knows what the algorithms of tomorrow may look like.

Published on: June 20, 2014 by Donny Lamey