Search engine optimization is the process of increasing a website or web page’s visibility to a search engine. The process of raising a website’s visibility has a history as old as the internet and the World Wide Web. For as long as the internet has existed, websites have been attempting to get in front of customers. The motivations for advertisement on the web are similar to the motivations for advertising in the real world. Advertisers want to place their products in front of customers.
The First Search Engines
In the mid-1990s, the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. It was not nearly as popular as it is today. The first search engines began to catalog the early World Wide Web. In those early days, webmasters would submit the URL of their site to a search engine. The engine would them crawl the page, pull the internal links to other pages, and index information found on the page. The search engine would copy a page and store it on their own servers. The indexer would then extract information about the page. This information included words and links. The search engines placed particular importance on certain words based on what users were searching for. Site owners began to recognize the importance of being ranked highly and visible to searchers. From this realization, the first SEO techniques developed.
These early techniques were both white hat and black hat techniques.
Origins of the Phrase
The phrase “search engine optimization” was first popularized by Bruce Clay in 1997. Attempts were made to actually trademark SEO as a term, but they were unsuccessful.
The early techniques relied on webmasters providing information to the search engine. This information included the meta tags, index files, and keywords. However, using meta data was found to be unreliable because it could be too easily manipulated. The webmaster could use a keyword in the meta tag that had no relation to the content on the page. Webmasters also began to manipulate their URLs to rank highly on search engines. These dishonest techniques created intense competition amongst emerging search engines. The success of a search engine depended on its ability to return relevant results. Irrelevant search results killed many of the earliest search engines. They began tweaking their algorithms to prevent webmasters from manipulating them. Many of the big engines these days work in conjunction with the optimization industry to create a symbiotic relationship.
Webmasters are still allowed to submit their website information to the engines, but the complex algorithms now tend to prevent black hat techniques. If a website is found to be utilizing less than scrupulous techniques, it will typically be banned for a time. Some bans can be permanent.