Timeline of search engine optimization

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This is a timeline of search engine optimization, attempting to describe significant events related to this practice. For the sake of context, many events directly related to search engines, their evolution, products and updates, are included.

Sample questions

The following are some interesting questions that can be answered by reading this timeline:

  • What are some historically significant search engines and when were they launched?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Search engine launch".
    • You will see the launch of search engines, notable for their historical importance like WebCrawler, or by their magnitude, like Google and Yahoo!.
  • What are some significant updates involving search engines?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Notable update".
    • You will see some significant updates by prominent search engines, mainly Google; aimed at improving aspects like geographic intent, end-user data, content farm combating, etc.
  • What are some of the several competitions specialized in SEO?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "SEO contest".
    • You will see a number of notable contests launched in several countries.
  • What are some numbers illustrating the evolution of search engine?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Statistics".
    • For internet userbase evolution, sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Statistics (internet userbase)".
  • What are some significant events illustrating the evolution of internet search?
    • Sort the full timeline by "Event type" and look for the group of rows with value "Search evolution".
    • You will see the evolution of internet search toward mobile search, and the envisage of future mainstream search toward voice.

Big picture

Time period Development summary More details
1991–2002 Prelude period[1] Early period starting from the launch of the world’s first website by Tim Berners-Lee. As websites start crowding the Internet, the first search engines fill a need for structure and accessibility. in 1993, search platforms like Excite revolutionize how information is cataloged and make finding information easier by sorting results based on keywords found within content and backend optimization. Webmasters and content providers begin optimizing websites for search engines in the mid-decade. Yahoo! in 1994 and Google in 1997 enter the scene to improve and simplify how data is indexed and delivered. In this primitive stage, 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. In 1994, several new search engines become widely accessible to the public.[2] In 1996, in which some consider the time when SEO really took off, Sergey Brin and Larry Page begin building BackRub, the predecessor of Google, which would become the biggest, most recognized search engine.[3] Around 1997, the first algorithm crackers appear. 1997 is the year that several SEO providers decode all 35 parameters of Excite’s algorithm.[4]
2003–2005 Early developments[1] Google, MSN and Yahoo!, the three major search engines that are left, start incorporating undisclosed page ranking factors into their algorithms. The era of keyword-spamming SEO is long over. Webmasters and content providers have to rely on more creative ways to promote content and generate inbound links in order to achieve long term increases in search engine rankings.[4]
2006–2009 Middle period This period introduces highlights like Google's Universal Search to offer additionally more engaging content media in search results such as news, images, and video.[1]
2010–2012 Consolidation period [1] Social media becomes a more pivotal piece of SEO strategy.[5] By 2010, content farms appear, designed to lure search engine algorithms. As a response, Google decides that the quality of the content should matter more for search engine rankings, and in 2011 launches its Google Panda update which effectively kills the practice.[6] Toward 2012, Google continues setting restrictions to means of improving users' ranking score and continues penalizing websites using unethical methods of rankings.[7]
2013–present Modern SEO era[1] Focus moves towards mobile search. In 2014, the app indexing launches, making apps appear alongside websites in search results. In 2015, the so-called ‘Mobilegeddon’ update appears, making website mobile friendliness a ranking signal in searches.[6] By 2017, SEO is considered, for the most part, a conversation with Google Search.[4] 2018 starts with the continuation of mobile as a key focus for search engines.[6] As of 2019, SEO campaigns are much more laborious and complex than they were a decade ago. Users get better relevant results and webmasters and content providers have to provide actual value in order to rank high on search results.[4]

Full timeline

Year Month and date Search engine (when applicable) Event type Details
1945 Concept development American engineer Vannevar Bush introduces the concept of “collection of data and observations, the extraction of parallel material from the existing record, and the final insertion of new material into the general body of the common record.”[8] Bush emphasizes the necessity for an expansive index for all knowledge, stating: "[Information] has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. A record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored...Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of the systems of indexing. The human mind does not work this way. It operates by association."[9][10][11]
1987 Archie Early development Search engine Archie begins as a project for students and staff at McGill University, with aims to connect the McGill University School of Computer Science to the internet.[2][12][13]
1990 Archie Early development McGill University student Alan Emtage launches Archie.[14] Designed to search and store directory listings on file transfer protocol sites, it is considered by some to be the very first search engine[5] Archie searches File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites to create index of downloadable files. Due to limited space, only the listings are available and not for the contents for each site.[15][8][9][16]
1991 vlib.org Early development English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee in Geneva launches his WWW Virtual Library vlib.org. It is considered the oldest catalog on the Web.[15][17][18][19]
1991 Early development The first website is developed for the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.[20] It is believed that SEO is born in this year, with the launch of the first website.[3]
1991 Mid-year Early development Gopher system is released by Mark P. McCahill, Farhad Anklesaria, Paul Lindner, Daniel Torrey, and Bob Alberti of the University of Minnesota[21] Gopher is considered to be the first search engine using a hypertext paradigm.[22] A step toward the World Wide Web hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), it would become popular for several years, because it provides a way to share text files from all over the world.[23]
1993 February Early development Six Stanford students create Architext, a project seeking to use statistical analysis of word relationships to improve relevancy of searches on the Internet. Architext would later become the search engine Excite.[22] Excite would revolutionize how information is categorized, making it easier to find information “by sorting results based on keywords found within content and backend optimization.”[5][3][24]
1993 Notable update The graphical Mosaic web browser improves Gopher’s primarily text-based interface.[22]
1993 June World Wide Web Wanderer Early development Matthew Gray at MIT develops the World Wide Web Wanderer, which is considered the first web crawler to measure the size of the Web.[5][15][16]
1993 October Aliweb Search engine launch Web search engine Aliweb launches. Created by Martijn Koster, it allows users to submit the locations of index files on their sites.[16][25][26][27]
1993 Statistics There are approximately 600 websites online at the time.[16][20]
1993 Statistics (internet userbase) The are about 10 million internet users at the time.[16]
1993 September 2 W3Catalog Search engine launch W3Catalog, the world’s first primitive web search engine, is started by Oscar Nierstrasz at the Centre Universitaire d’Informatique (CUI) of the University of Geneva.[28][2]
1993 Late year World Wide Web Wanderer Search engine launch World Wide Web Wanderer is used to generate an index called the "Wandex", an early web search engine.[29] Wandex becomes the first search engine to crawl the web indexing and searching indexed pages on the Web.[22][30][31]
1994 January Yahoo! Search engine launch Stanford University students Jerry Wang and David Filo create Yahoo! in a campus trailer. Yahoo starts originally as an Internet bookmark list and directory of interesting sites. Webmasters have to manually submit their page to the Yahoo directory for indexing so that it would be there for Yahoo to find when someone performed a search.[32][33][34][15]
1994 WebCrawler Search engine launch WebCrawler, the first full-text search engine, is created by Brian Pinkerton. Prior to this, only webpage names/domains were indexed in catalogues.[9][16]
1994 Greg Boser discovers that he could use the Internet to sell protective foam equipment to fight fires. Boser builds a website and starts seeking ways to drive potential customers to his site for sales.[22]
1994 Statistics The number of websites grows to 10,000, up from 600 websites in 1993.[20]
1995 Organization John Audette forms Multi-Media Marketing Group, which would produce a popular newsletter with tips for influencing search engines.[35][22]
1995 Late year Excite Search engine launch Excite is commercially released as a crawling search engine.[36][37][22]
1995 Statistics The number of websites grows to 100,000, up from 10,000 websites in 1994.[20]
1996 January Backrub Search engine launch Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin build and test Backrub, a new search engine that ranks sites based on inbound link relevancy and popularity. Backrub would ultimately become Google.[38][39][34][16]
1996 May Hotbot Search engine launch Inktomi launches Hotbot web search engine.[2]
1996 Statistics The number of websites grows to 650,000, up from 100,000 websites in 1995.[16][20]
1996 Statistics (internet userbase) The are about 74 million internet users at this time.[16]
1997 Concept development According to industry analyst Danny Sullivan, the phrase "search engine optimization" probably comes into use around this time. Sullivan credits Bruce Clay as one of the first people to popularize the term.[40] "all signs definitely point to the term SEO originating around 1997."[34] "In 1997, the words “search engine optimization” were first used by John Audette and Bruce Clay, and soon after SEO became a widely used term."[16]
1997 April Ask Jeeves Search engine launch Davis Warthen and Garrett Gruener launch Ask Jeeves as a natural language search engine, using human editors to try to match search queries.[41] AskJeeves later becomes ask.com.[16][2][27]
1997 September Google google.com is registered as a domain name.[42]
1997 September 23 Yandex Search Search engine launch Yandex Search is announced.[43][44] It is Russia’s largest search engine.[16]
1997 Statistics The number of websites surpasses 1,000,000, up from 650,000 websites in 1996.[20][16]
1998 Backrub Search engine launch Larry Page and Sergey Brin, then graduate students at Stanford University, develop "Backrub", a search engine that rely on a mathematical algorithm to rate the prominence of web pages. The number calculated by the algorithm, PageRank, is a function of the quantity and strength of inbound links.[45]
1998 Goto.com Search engine launch Goto.com launches with sponsored links and paid search. Advertisers bid on Goto.com to rank above organic search results, which are powered by Inktomi. Goto.com would be ultimately acquired by Yahoo!.[34][8]
1999 November 18 Conference Search Engine Strategies (SES) takes place as the first-ever all search marketing conference.[34][8][16]
1999 Statistics The number of websites online reaches 2.2 million.[16]
1999 Statistics (internet userbase) The number of internet users reaches 279 million.[16]
2000 January 18 Baidu Search engine launch Baidu launches. It provides China’s largest search engine.[16]
2000 Yahoo!, Google Partnership In what is considered to be the worst strategic move in search history[46], Yahoo! partners with Google and lets Google power their organic results instead of Inktomi. At this time Google is a little-known search engine. After this, every Yahoo search result would say “Powered by Google”, with Yahoo! ending up introducing their largest competitor to the world and Google becoming a household name.[34]
2000 December 11 Google Notable update Google Toolbar becomes available as a web browser toolbar for Internet Explorer, allowing SEO practitioners to see their PageRank score (a number between 0-10).[47][48][34][8]
2000 October 23 Google Service launch Google AdWords launches.[34] It is a pay-per-click online advertising platform that allows advertisers to display their ads on Google's search engine results page.[49]
2000 Conference Pubcon launches in London as the first of a large search conference series.[50][51]
2001 Concept development Danny Sullivan, a prominent industry writer, unsuccessfully suggests the term "search engine marketing" as a successor to "search engine optimization", with the purpose to cover the spectrum of activities involved in performing SEO, managing paid listings at the search engines, submitting sites to directories, and developing online marketing strategies for businesses, organizations, and individuals.[34][52]
2001 Year round Google Userbase Users massively abandon old search engines like Lycos, Excite, AltaVista and Hotbot, and move their interest towards Google.[4][16] Brett Tabke, Founder of WebmasterWorld, comments: “Many SEOs have sleepless nights as we realize it is Google or bust.” [16]
2002 November 15 SEO contest Schnitzelmitkartoffelsalat is launched by German webmasters as the first recorded SEO Contest.[53]
2002 Google Service launch Google announces the launch of Froogle, a free product listing and price comparison service where users can discover various products from across the vendors, sort them and make a purchase.[16][54]
2003 Google Product launch After acquiring Blogger.com, Google launches AdSense, which serves contextually targeted Google AdWords ads on publisher sites.[34]
2003 SEO evolution Blogging becomes popular and is utilized for SEO. Blogger and WordPress become widely used.[16]
2003 Statistics (internet userbase) The number of websites online reaches 38 million.[16]
2003 Statistics (internet userbase) The number of internet users reaches 782 million.[16]
2004 March SEO contest Promoweb agency organizes the first French-speaking contest, Mangeur de Cigogne (eater of stork).[55]
2004 May SEO contest Nigritude Ultramarine 2004 launches as the first english language SEO competition, created by darkblue.com and run by SearchGuild.[56]
2004 August SEO contest A new contest of SEO is organized in the United Kingdom by a web agency, based this time on keywords seraphim proudleduck.[55]
2004 Google Notable update Google and other top search engines start improving results for queries that have a geographic intent (e.g., a restaurant, plumber, or some other type of business or service provider in the user's location).[34]
2004 Google Notable update Google and other search engines begin making greater use of end-user data, such as search history and interests, to personalize search results. This means that the results the user sees could be different than what another person obtains sitting next to the user in another computer when searching for the same query.[34]
2004 SEO contest Seraphim Proudleduck is held. This SEO Contest is presented by Salmonbones.[56]
2004 Service launch SEO Moz is founded by Rand Fiskin. First a blog, SEOmoz would grow to become one of the largest providers of SEO Tools.[16]
2004 Google, MSN, Yahoo! Notable update The three major search engines that are left, Google, MSN and Yahoo!, start incorporating undisclosed page ranking factors into their algorithms.[4]
2005 January Google, MSN, Yahoo! Partnership Google unites with Yahoo! and MSN for the nofollow attribute, which is created in part to decrease the amount of spammy links and comments on websites, especially blogs.[5]
2005 March 1 SEO contest Loquine Glupe is held. It is hosted by webmaster-forums.co.uk.[56]
2005 May–December SEO contest Hommingberger Gepardenforelle 2005 launches as another German contest. The goal of this SEO contest is to figure out how search engines determine rankings.[56]
2005 June Google Notable update Google debuts personalized search, which makes use of user personal search and browsing history to make results more relevant.[5]
2005 Product launch Nofollow tags are created as a means to combat spam. SEO professionals begin using this tag as a way of PageRank sculpting.[34]
2005 September Google Notable update Google releases Jagger, an update that helps to diminish the level of unsolicited link exchanges that fly around.[34][57]
2005 SEO contest Msnbetter Thangoogle launches as a Polish SEO contest intended to promote SEO in Poland and get the attention of search engines.[56]
2005 November Google Service launch Google launches Google Analytics. This free, web-based tool would become so popular at launch that webmasters would experience downtime and maintenance warnings.[5][16][34]
2005 December Google Notable update Google releases Big Daddy, an update that improves the architecture of Google to allow for improved understanding of the worth and relationship of links between sites.[34][58]
2005 December 20 SEO contest The V7ndotcom Elursrebmem Competition is organized in the United States.[56][55]
2005 Google Notable update Google starts personalizing search results, taking into account a user’s search history to come up with customized results pages when that user is logged in.[4]
2006 February–May SEO contest "The Four Required Words" SEO Contest launches. It is sponsored by milliondollarscreenshot.com and is the first contest to use an expression in quotes and targeted image search, even though no images are shown in the time of the contest.[56]
2006 March–December SEO contest Carcasherdotcom seocontest launches.[56]
2006 October Google Acquisition Google acquires YouTube for US$1.65 billion. Youtube would ultimately become the second most used search property in the world.[34]
2006 Google Product launch Google launches Google Webmaster Tools, a suite of SEO tools that provides data and configuration control and lets webmasters view crawling errors, see what searches the user's site showed up for, and request reinclusion.[34]
2006 Product launch XML sitemaps are introduced, soon acquiring a great support from the search engines. XML sitemaps allow webmasters to display to the search engines, every URL on their website that is available for crawling. An XML sitemap contains not only a list of URLs but a range of further information, which help search engines to crawl more intelligently.[34][8]
2006 Google Controversy BMW is banned and utterly removed from Google’s search results for using a technique called cloaking, which means showing one type of content for search engines and another one for users.[6]
2006 SEO contest Redscowl Bluesingsky SEO contest takes place. It is sponsored by SEOLogs.[56]
2006 Google Service launch Google Webmaster Central is launched. It is a free portal from that notifies the user of major technical issues with his/her website.[16][59]
2007 January 15 SEO contest SEO World Championship launches. It is sponsored by European Internet Marketing company Eastpoin.[56]
2007 March 20 Google Product launch Google announces Plus Box, a new search feature that lets users see more information about individual search results.[60]
2007 May 2 Jason Gambert attempts to trademark the term SEO by convincing the Trademark Office in Arizona that SEO is a "process" involving manipulation of keywords and not a "marketing service."[61]
2007 May 16 Google Product launch Google undertakes the most radical change to its search results ever, with the introduction of its Universal Search system that blends listings from its news, video, images, local and book search engines among those it gathers from crawling web pages.[62]
2007 Search evolution Search starts to evolve in new ways. Updates are aimed at improving the user experience.[34]
2007 Google Program launch Google starts a campaign against paid links affecting PageRank.[4]
2008 February–April SEO contest seocontest2008 launches. It is sponsored by the UK Webmaster World Community.[56]
2008 June–August SEO contest Busby SEO Challenge 2008 is held. It is sponsored by Busby Web Solutions based in Australia.[56][63][64]
2008 Product launch Yoast SEO starts operations as a SEO tool.[65][66] It is a WordPress plugin that makes it easy for users to do things like control titles and meta descriptions, set their targeted keywords and track how often they're using them, manage sitemaps, and other tasks.[67]
2009 January 18 Google Notable update Google Vince Update is released. It favors brand websites when it comes to search results for traffic-rich keywords.[34][68][69]
2009 March–August SEO contest Net Builders SEO Contest is held. The targeted keyword is "sulumits retsambew" which is webmaster stimulus backwards. Backwards seems to be a common trend in these contests.[56]
2009 June 3 Bing Search engine launch Bing launches, with Microsoft aggressively marketing it as the search engine that would produce noticeably better results than Google.[5][16]
2009 August 10 Google Notable update Google announces Caffeine, which would become one of the most important updates in the search engine’s history.[70]
2009 Bing Partnership After Microsoft Live Search becomes Bing, in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge Google’s nearly 70 percent grip of the U.S. search market, Yahoo! and Microsoft join forces to partner on a 10-year search deal (though it would end up being reworked five years later).[34]
2009 September–December SEO contest OES Tsetnoc SEO Contest is held.[56]
2009 Year round Google Notable update Google executes between 350 and 550 adjustments to its search algorithm along the year, meaning at least once a day, showing the "rapid advancement required to stay on top if playing the game of SEO at the highest level".[6]
2009 Google Google Google announces attempt to stop the effects of PageRank sculpting that come as a result of nofollow links.[4]
2010 December Google Notable update Both Google and Bing add "social signals," which first display any written Facebook posts, for example, from the user's own network that matches his/her query.[5]
2010 A tactic appears where websites are created from large amounts of low-quality textual content, frequently updated and specifically designed to lure search engine algorithms. These sites are linked together forming so-called ‘content farms’ whose only purpose is to drive search engine traffic and, just like doorway pages before them, sending the incoming traffic to the final destination.[6]
2010 Year round Statistics 52% of the companies are estimated to spend more on SEO, 39% Spending about the same, and 9% Spending less.[16]
2011 February 23 Google Notable update Google launches Google Panda, a algorithm update aimed at combating content farms by rewarding high-quality websites and diminishing the presence of low-quality websites in Google’s organic search engine results. Google Panda is initially known as "Farmer."[71]
2012 April 24 Google Notable update Google Penguin launches as a Google algorithm update.[5][2] It is aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines.[72]
2012 May Google Product launch Google unveils the Knowledge Graph, a new visual interface that provides popular facts about people, places and things alongside Google's traditional results. This constitutes a major shift away from interpreting keywords strings to understanding semantics and intent.[34][73] The Knowledge Graph would become popular in knowledge representation and knowledge management applications widely across search engine, biomedical, media and industrial domains.[74][75][76]
2013 October Google System launch Google App Indexing is launched for a limited set of publishers. It is a system that allows searchers to click on listings in Google's search results, taking them into apps on their Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.[6] [77][78]
2014 Google Notable update Google releases "Pigeon", an algorithm update whose goal is to improve local search rankings.[5][79][80]
2014 November Google Notable update Google adds a "mobile-friendly" label for search results that are optimized for such platforms, where text is readable without zooming or horizontal scrolling, and links are spaced well enough so that there’s a reduced chance of mis-tapping.[5][81]
2015 February Google Notable update Google announces a change, with a mobile-friendly test that allows webmasters to view potential issues and make changes before the rollout.[5]
2015 April Google Notable update Google introduces mobile update. Since then, non-mobile-friendly websites would start getting lower rankings. This means SEO is no longer about keywords and content, with responsive design as new factor.[5]
2015 May Search evolution Mobile search surpasses desktop search.[82]
2015 Search evolution 2015 is known as the Year of Mobile, the point at which mobile searches overtake desktop search for the first time on Google.[34]
2015 October Google System launch Google RankBrain is announced. It is a machine learning (AI) algorithm initially used to try to interpret the 15 percent of searches that Google has never seen before, based on the words or phrases the user has entered.[34][83]
2015 April 21 Google Notable update Google introduces search engine algorithm update so-called ‘Mobilegeddon’, which makes website mobile friendliness a ranking signal in searches.[6][84]
2015 Google Standard development According to a study, the top-ranking factors for search engines and their algorithms (including Google’s core algorithm) are ranked in order of importance as:
  • Domain-level link features
  • Page-level link features
  • Page-level keyword and content-based features
  • Page-level keyword agnostic features
  • Engagement and traffic/query data
  • Domain-level brand metrics
  • Domain-level keyword usage
  • Domain-level keyword-agnostic features
  • Page-level social metrics[2]
2016 March–June SEO contest Apex Forum SEO Contest is held.[56]
2016 August Google Google announces a crackdown on mobile pop-ups.[5]
2017 January Google Notable update Google introduces an algorithmic change called the “Intrusive Interstitial Penalty” in order to “punish aggressive interstitials and pop-ups that might damage the mobile user experience.”[2]
2017 March Google Notable update Google introduces update informally known as “Fred”, which would have a major impact on the SEO community.[2]
2018 June Google Market distribution As of date, Google accounts for over 72.47% of all global desktop search traffic, followed by Baidu at 13.47%, Bing at 7.64%, and Yahoo! at 4.74%.[85]
2018 July Google Notable update Google announces that from then on, page speed would be a ranking factor for mobile searches.[6][86]
2020 Search evolution Comscore predicts that by this year, 50% all searches will be voice.[6][87]

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See also

External links


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