The Evolution of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Trends Over 25 Years
Columnist Thomas Stern invites you to take a trip through the history of search engine optimization as we know it, as well as a brief glimpse into the future.
After only a quarter century, SEO has evolved from the simplicity of a single-celled organism into a living, breathing, and adaptive structure used to create valuable and relevant relationships. Today, SEO connects a generation of knowledge-hungry individuals to targeted information through a network of personalized, accessible, and engaging content media. To intelligently predict the future of SEO, it is essential to first understand the trends that have emerged over time.
On August 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee launched the world’s first website, which is still live today. Over the years to come, many more websites emerged offering users information with bare-bones usability and optimization.
Eventually, as websites crowded the Internet, the first search engines filled a need for structure and accessibility. Search platforms like Excite revolutionized how information was cataloged in 1993, and made finding information easier by sorting results based on keywords found within content and backend optimization.
scene to improve and simplify how data is indexed and delivered.
In this primitive stage of SEO, anything goes. Marketers would leverage keyword stuffing, excessive tagging, and (often spammy) backlinks to generate high rankings in search. Often, major algorithm updates would take several months to complete, allowing black-hat SEO tactics to remain effective for long stretches of time.
Future search giants like Google began to see the opportunities for connecting users to more valuable content and worked to implement the rules and regulations of the Internet we have in place today.
In the wake of unethical optimization tactics, Google took charge on developing a more level playing field for brands and content producers to earn rankings. This period brought many updates that penalized bad linking practices and keyword stuffing to improve indexing.
In a continued effort to improve the value and relevancy of results, search engines offered a first glimpse at personalized search based on user history. Additionally, the
birth of local SEO helped connect users with valuable information near them such as maps, locations, store hours, and mobile results.
In this era, marketing focused heavily on generating inbound links (backlinks) to increase search exposure. Google’s motto of “don’t be evil” is evident through its attempts to regulate search results and ensure brands earn results with ethical practices. This period built the foundation for a more user-focused web.
Recent trends in search and user behavior influenced the need for a more reactive search experience. This period ushered in features like Google’s Universal Search offer more engaging content media in search results such as news, images, and video. Real-time updates from Google News, Twitter, and newly-indexed content blended the need for optimization with timely, user-focused content.
A massive change in SEO occurred, forcing brands to earn rankings through quality, user-focused content or face penalties in search.
Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads. There is an apparent struggle between personalization and privacy.
There are few things we know for certain about the future of SEO, but without a doubt, we can expect to see a more niche and focused experience built around user intent and high quality, unique content.