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SEO Through the Ages: A Brief Historical Overview

It seems that search engine optimisation (SEO) has been around forever, and there will be some marketing professionals who will not know a time before this incredibly powerful form of digital marketing! It is fascinating to consider the history of SEO, particularly when you consider just how influential search engines have been over the years. With this in mind, this post will provide a short history of SEO that will outline the key developments over the years.


History of SEO. Digitally Unique - Link building services UK

The Birth of Search Engines 

It is difficult to imagine life without search engines (but some of us remember it!). The very first search engine was actually released in 1993 - W3Catalog. It was in the late 90s when search engines as we now know them started to take shape with the birth of Google in 1998 and the introduction of the PageRank algorithm, which ranked search results based on their relevance and credibility. 


The Rise of SEO

SEO was born as soon as webpages started to be ranked by search engines. Tools like Webcrawler were developed to help website owners optimise their sites for a higher ranking, which became even more important during the dot-com bubble around the millennium when there was a surge in online businesses all vying for position on search engine results lists. 


Algorithm Updates 

As SEO became more prevalent, more underhanded tactics started to be used. To combat this, Google updated its algorithm in the years to come to ensure that results combated spam and promoted high-quality content. Major updates included:


  • Florida (2003)

  • Panda (2011)

  • Penguin (2012)

  • Hummingbird (2013)


Mobile SEO

Of course, another major development around this time was the rise of smartphones and mobile commerce. Consequently, Google performed a Mobilegeddon update in 2015 that rewarded mobile optimisation. Additionally, it was around this time that local SEO emerged, enabling brands to raise their profile in the local area and target local customers.


Voice Search & AI

Towards the end of the late 2010s, voice-activated virtual assistants like Alexa transformed the way that people used search engines. As a result of this, marketers had to adapt to optimise for voice search.


The 2020s

In 2020, Google introduced Core Web Vitals - an update that focuses on user experience, including page speed and visual stability. This means that in the last few years, technical SEO has been key. 


In modern times and looking ahead to the future, it is likely that there are a lot of changes to come. The rise of AI is transforming the search engine and digital marketing landscape, so marketers must embrace AI and make it a key part of SEO strategy. This is currently evident with Google RankBrain, which utilises machine learning to understand the intent behind search queries.


It has been fascinating to see the evolution of SEO over the years, particularly as it clearly reflects what has been happening in society. SEO remains one of the most effective forms of digital marketing and an area that businesses of all sizes and in all industries need to utilise in an increasingly competitive online marketplace. 


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