Search Engine Optimization

Tessa Wuertz Posted by Tessa Wuertz on November 07, 2017

The Evolution of Website Search Engine Optimization

The Evolution of Website Search Engine Optimization

The Evolution of Website Search Engine Optimization

SEO—or Search Engine Optimization—has reached buzzword status in the last few years, but it’s actually been around a lot longer than that—almost since the beginning of the modern World Wide Web. Understanding the history of SEO can help us understand where it’s going and how businesses can remain competitive in a search-crazy world.

SEO: A history

istock-614498462.jpgPinpointing the exact beginning of SEO as a practice is tricky at best, but insight can be gained from looking at the roots of the modern web. Even before the first website was posted in 1991, with others popping up in quick succession, scholars anticipated the need for a web indexing system. Some argue that the first search engine was Archie, which was invented in 1990 by a student at McGill University. describes Archie’s functionality as follows: “Essentially Archie became a database of web filenames which it would match with the users' queries.”

Next came Architext (later known as Excite) which was created by six Stanford students and utilized keywords optimized in the back end. From there came a slew of others: Wandex, ALIWEB, JumpStation, Infoseek, Yahoo, AskJeeves and more. Then, in September of 1997, became a registered domain.

It soon became obvious to web developers that search engines used algorithms to sort their results and that content could be manipulated according to the rules of these algorithms in order to achieve a higher ranking in the search results. Arguably, this was the real beginning of modern SEO.

Early on, SEO was all about keyword stuffing and obtaining sketchy spam backlinks—check out our SEO glossary for more info on these terms. Were these methods attractive to advertisers and web developers? Sure. But were people finding quality content? More often than not, no.

Google started separating from the pack when it recognized this problem and struck out to deliver higher quality results. Google’s 2003 “Florida update” adjusted the way keywords and backlinks were handled by the algorithm. It disrupted how SEO had been implemented up to that point as Google took an aggressive user-first stance, no longer rewarding websites for low-quality content stuffed with keywords.

In 2005, Google launched Google Analytics—a free and ongoing service allowing marketers to track website traffic. With this data, web designers and developers can monitor the success of their SEO efforts and adjust content and strategy accordingly.

The next major change in Google’s algorithm came in 2009. This update saw the company continue to put users first by speeding up site crawls, creating real-time rankings and allowing for a quicker indexing of sites. Microsoft also launched Bing in 2009, cementing the dominance of a user-first approach and adding pressure on Google to stay customer focused.

Google’s algorithm adjustments since 2009 continued the trend of penalizing sites with low-quality, “spammy” content while also adding Maps, Tweets, news headlines and more to search results. Search suggestions—wherein Google tries to guess what you’ll be searching for as you’re typing—were also added and updated to make the search engine more user-friendly.

Finally, in 2015, Google began ranking non-mobile and non-responsive sites lower, causing a lot of older websites to call for a redesign.

What’s next?

As users continue to migrate to smartphones, Google and Bing will likely increase the value of mobile-friendly and mobile-first sites. Prioritizing local results will also gain importance as users search for products and services available in their area. Businesses should optimize their websites accordingly and develop rich content featuring detailed location descriptions. Social media content may also gain importance for businesses as Google expands beyond Twitter to include post content from other platforms in its search results.

Finally, the use of voice-command tools is on the rise and may increasingly affect the way searches are conducted and results are displayed. According to Google, 20% of searches are done using voice, a trend likely to increase with the rise of in-home voice-command services like Alexa, Echo and others. How results and rankings will be affected is yet to be seen but is still something to keep in mind when designing and developing new websites.

SEO is complicated. We can help!

efelle creative is a Seattle-based web marketing firm that specializes in website design and development, website content managementsearch engine optimization, and other online marketing services. Since 2005, efelle has worked with hundreds of businesses to help them with their web development needs. Call us at 206.384.4909 or fill out our online contact form to get in touch with a custom web design specialist.