The Evolution Of SEO

When the first websites were launched in the mid 1980s, diversity was almost non-existent. Every site in the pre-web era had a .com address, a rudimentary navigation structure and monochrome text-only interfaces. In an age before search engines, there was no need for search engine optimization to draw in audiences – a URL was all you needed.
Even after Sir Tim Berners-Lee devised the world wide web, search engines remained relatively basic and limited. Yahoo charged companies to appear in its listings until 2002. While Ask Jeeves had a hundred staff manually matching queries with websites. Due to this erratic progression, it’s impossible to say exactly when website SEO began. Most industry observers point to the late 1990s, as people began to realize the importance of effective online marketing in terms of achieving a good position in results pages. Yet as far back as 1994, web crawlers could identify and index every word on a particular webpage.   

We’ve trawled the history books to assemble a timeline of key milestones in website SEO’s evolution… 

1997: Ask Jeeves introduces the concept of natural language searches, meaning stop words can be ignored for the first time. 
1998: Launched at the same time as a rival platform called Google, Direct Hit starts measuring what results when people click on in an attempt to refine future results. 
1999: The world’s first website SEO conference – Search Engine Strategies ‘99 – discusses how to make sites more search engine-friendly by adding meta tags and optimized content. 
2000: Google AdWords is launched, capitalizing on the pay per click marketing concept pioneered by’s founder Bill Gross. 
2001: Several search engines experience a rapid fall from grace, including AltaVista, Excite and HotBot. Many people regard 2001 as the year Google claims the search engine crown. 
2002: Google AdWords evolves into a PPC campaign, where consumers bid for top rankings in ad listings. This replaces the unpopular original CPM model, with its erratic pricing. 
2003: WordPress launches, democratizing the process of website development and allowing anyone to make real-time content changes. Update frequency is becoming key for SEO.
2004: SEOmoz launches as a platform for one man’s thoughts on SEO. The company flourishes and rebrands as Moz in 2013, remaining a world leader in inbound marketing.
2005: Google Analytics is unveiled, enabling people to track digital campaign performance.
2006: Microsoft launches AdCenter, featuring demographic targeting and dayparting. This involves charging ads at different rates, depending which time of day or night they display. 
2007: The iPhone is born, and companies wake up to the merits of mobile internet. Within a decade, every site worth its salt will have a streamlined and responsive website. 
2008: Search engines begin downgrading sites with unethical linking practices, and the thriving overseas link farm industry enters terminal decline. 
2009: Microsoft launches Bing, with predictive search suggestions. Rival Yahoo! swiftly signs a ten-year deal to publish results collated using Bing’s algorithm. 
2010: An American company deliberately cultivates bad online reviews to secure premium links from complaint websites, to boost its ranking. The owner is eventually arrested. 
2011: The concept of black hat marketing enters the public domain, as search engines clamp down on deliberate attempts to game their algorithms with tricks like keyword stuffing. 
2012: Google’s Penguin algorithm update starts penalizing sites packed with advertising, and punishing sites abusing anchor text. Blog networks and directories quickly fall from favor. 
2013: The growth of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter ensures social signals have an increasing influence on search rankings. Companies invest heavily in their social presence. 
2014: The adoption of secure websites increases once Google begins using HTTPS as a ranking signal. 
2015: Mobile now accounts for the majority of web traffic and digital ad spending. Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm begins penalizing slow-loading sites designed only for desktop. 
2016: The importance of keywords has declined to the point where they’re no longer essential ingredients on a particular website. Regular original content uploads are now more valuable. 
2017: Voice-controlled personal assistants are driving changes in search terms, with more natural language results curated around the contextual analysis of past activities. 
2018: WestHost publishes a guide to the evolution of SEO, which becomes the most informative website SEO guide of the year…