A (Brief) History of SEO

In the early years of search engines when there was no issue like ” Long tail keyword”—as with their predecessors, computer programming commands—the search engines couldn’t understand or accurately cater to the syntaxes of common phraseology, statements, and questions. To achieve the search engine results we wanted, we had to learn to think, and talk, like the search engines—with keywords and query strings. Ironically, as time progressed, several things happened as follows:

  • We spent more and more time online (and more time in search engines).
  • We learned how to think more like search engines (and also to filter out ad results and fruitless directory/landing page results).
  • We went from using myriad search engines with scattered results to identifying a favorite search engine (and speaking its language; for example, AskJeeves, which today is Ask.com).
  • Simultaneously, the search engine(s) grew wise to human phraseology and contextual keyword search. Suddenly, a word was not merely a literal word from a dictionary, but search results were affected by the surrounding words.
  • Google hit the scene and became king.
  • MSN attempted to compete with Google using a new search engine also planted on Yahoo!—Bing.
  • The search engines grew with semantic interpretation of keywords, integrating search history, social media content data, and web user interest to affect search results.
  • And Google was king.

Google is still king. It keeps releasing notable updates, and YouTube (also part of Google) is considered the world’s second largest search engine. Google’s other search properties include Google Blog Search, Google Images, Google Books, and so on.

Bing, although small in use compared to Google, keeps trying. (At the time of writing this book, Google is at 67% and Bing is at 29% of web search engine usage; see )

But Yahoo! (which still represents 11% of web search engine usage while utilizing Bing as its current search engine) has many legacy search content sites and directories that haven’t completely died yet. Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! Sports, and Yahoo! Local are just a few. For obvious reasons, Bing is the default search engine and common home page for Microsoft hardware and Internet Explorer; consequently, it acquires use that way. It will be interesting to see what Yahoo! does going forward with its efforts in publicity. Many big-name search engines that were popular prior to Google have withered to almost nothing. RIP AltaVista, Lycos, and Netscape.


What’s the Long Tail—and Just How Long Is It?

We can’t talk about SEO and its history without chatting about the “long tail.” So bear with me while I explain this critical attribute to search marketing strategy.

In the 1890s, a little-known company called Sears and Roebuck started mailing catalogs—first of watches and jewelry, then of general merchandise. It revolutionized business. The company was able to offer a broad variety of items to people all over the country. What someone in Maine didn’t want out of the catalog, someone in San Francisco might buy. And because their products didn’t involve multiple shipments, multiple warehouses, and price markups along the way, the Sears catalog could sell products—whether general or niche—at cheaper prices than other stores across America.

From this, an ongoing industry of catalog direct-mail marketing was born. Direct-mail marketing approaches, target segments, and statistical analyses birthed email marketing strategies, list buying, and frequency measurement. Catalogs had been able to reach niche buyers with niche products because the only costs were those of including the specific products in the overall catalog.

Email had the capability to reach audiences through an additional channel and was a low-cost alternative to direct mail. The statistical segmentation of direct mail, and then email, could efficiently market to audience micro-segments.

Because I’m sure the majority of my readers love knowing about the history of statistical calculation, here’s more on that: Email marketing inherited direct-marketing segment testing approaches, where certain materials would be sent to one segment “A,” with an alteration in materials sent to other segments “B” (and additional, multiple segments if desired). In email marketing, recipients could be directed to a web landing page (which could also be slightly differentiated per segment). This “A/B” or “multivariate” testing continues today in search marketing. Whether in PPC advertising or even in SEO, such testing strategies can be very revealing.

I just want to know why no one buys those bright red long johns anymore. Those always look so sweet in old westerns.

In 2004, Christopher Anderson, Editor-in-Chief for WIRED Magazine, wrote an article there about his “long-tail theory” for business in the blog). He then wrote a book about the same and revolutionized digital marketing and SEO.

The premise shows the traditional restrictions of costs, assets, locations, and markets for brick-and-mortar businesses that always hindered them from going after the extreme niche customer.

Anderson went on to show how not only were most of those barriers removed for eCommerce retailers, but the digital realm (search engines and social media) allowed for low-cost marketing, connecting niche product content with consumers all over the world.

Not only could modern businesses connect to previously untapped niche customers anywhere, but by doing so they extended their product life cycle—they could achieve new sales for products beyond their mass markets. This is the “infinite niche”—the idea that there is always one more customer out there worth tapping.

The idea, the moniker—everything about “long-tail” jelled with search engine optimization. Extreme niche keywords could be applied to search marketing. Why should search marketers fight for broad, competitive terms such as “shoes” when they could target

their positioning, and see more successful results, from keyword searches such as “black leather wedge heel shoes for women.” It also follows that someone searching for the latter, and finding related products on a website, is much closer to purchase than someone merely searching for “shoes.”

So why not micro-target accordingly?

Today we face a brick-and-mortar business world continuing to collapse when faced with competition and reduced costs of eCommerce, greater variety of products (long tail), and the shifting sands of the economy. U.S. eCommerce spending has gone from $122 billion in 2007 to $186 billion a year (at the time of this writing. We have arrived at a thought-provoking time in retail called “showrooming,” which means that traditional brick-and-mortar stores are used by consumers to see, touch, and feel a specific product on the shelves. Only then do they go online to make the purchase for a cheaper price. All these issues should be considered in SEO strategy, particularly for consumer goods.

The market forces in this mix include the following:

  • Weakened traditional economy
  • Growth in Internet use (for work and leisure)
  • Fewer brick-and-mortar stores available
  • Increased retail competitiveness
  • More and more comfort in consumer online purchasing, security, and credit card transactions
  • More and more comfort between consumers and search engines
  • Consumer behavior driven more by premeditated purchases thanks to personal spending concerns, competitive pricing, ease of online research, and social ratings and recommendations from friends and other consumers.