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The History of Search Engines and Content Marketing

Computer and Search Screen

Search engines have transformed the way we gather information, conduct research, shop, entertain ourselves, and connect with others. Today, there is a search engine behind every website, app, blog, and social network. Search engines have become our directional guides to daily life. Like the search engine, content marketing is a tool that has always functioned with the same goal — to provide people with the information they seek online. Since the early 1990s, search engines have been the driving force behind content marketing. However, a lot has changed since the early history of search engines. As search engines have evolved over time, it became necessary for content marketing to advance as well.

The History of Search Engines

The first search engine, the Archie Query Form, launched in 1990. Limited space meant it could only return listings without content in its search results. In 1991, the World Wide Web Virtual Library followed, as well as Jughead, Veronica, and other primitive search engines that had the capability to search titles stored on index systems, albeit only one server at a time. Providing a direct path to real, meaningful online content had yet to be realized.

By the mid-1990s, there was a multitude of search engines at one’s disposal, both human powered and crawler-based directories. They included AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo. In 1994, Yahoo originally began as an internet bookmark list and directory. To be included on Yahoo’s search results, webmasters had to submit their page to the Yahoo directory for indexing in order to be found during someone’s online search. By 1998, launched with paid search and sponsored links, allowing advertisers to bid in order to rank higher than organic search results. was eventually acquired by Yahoo, but additional search engines like MSN Search and DMOZ joined the competition in 1998, gaining popularity with webmasters looking to get their pages listed.

Google Revolutionizes Online Search

Image via Flickr by Search Engine People Blog

Before Google made its debut, websites were ranked based on their basic site structure, domain name, their ability to get listed in other online directories, and their on-page content. Google originally launched in partnership with Yahoo, only to use its “powered by Google” signature that accompanied every Yahoo search to become a household name on its own. It used its innovative information retrieval web crawler and PageRank algorithm technology to revolutionize internet searching. Google was different from the other search engines as it recognized additional website characteristics when retrieving information to rank them. It considered both on-page and off-page components, including the quantity and quality of external links pointing to a site, as well as the anchor text used when determining its rank. This motivated SEO practitioners and content marketers to focus on acquiring as many links as possible in an effort to rank higher over the next decade, which would eventually become problematic. This practice marks one way in which content marketing strategy was influenced by the evolution of search engines.

Content Marketing and Google Algorithm Updates

Google served as the demise of many other existing search engines by the early 2000s because it did what not many others could do — it simplified the online search and delivered results that were comprehensive. This did not make it easy for SEO practitioners. Google would regularly update its algorithms to streamline search engine results pages and target spam practices like keyword stuffing and use of hidden links in order to remove affiliate linking clutter. Early on, Google’s updates would send legions of businesses that were trying to carve out an online presence into a tailspin as they would fall in the rankings on search results pages. This caused them to abandon their spam practices to focus more on the development of well-optimized sites and content, which was better for everyone overall.

Maps, Images, Video, and News Integration

Future updates continued to focus on the end-user experience. Updates began improving results for geographic queries to help those searching for a local business within a city or town. Google and other search engines began using end-user data, such as search history and interests, to deliver personalized search results to individuals. In 2006, Google acquired YouTube, the user-generated video sharing network. The immense popularity of YouTube made it critical to brands, businesses, and individuals looking for online visibility. Here’s where the history of search engines officially became unrecognizable to what we see and use today — Google began blending traditional organic search results with news, video, and images via its Universal Search, which took the way we searched online to the next level.

Content Is Still King

In 2013, Google came out with an update that focused on improving semantic search called Hummingbird. As search became more conversational and less keyword focused, Google’s core algorithm now made it possible to interpret search queries based on user intent and translating them to deliver improved results. This allows users to search in a more conversational tone, not just by using keywords. This was critical information for content marketers to recognize, who then began to focus on segmenting content into topics rather than simple keywords, in order to pick up traffic derived from conversational searching. In addition, Google announced machine learning via its RankBrain update, which helps interpret searches to find pages that may not have the exact words used in the search. This algorithm enables Google to understand synonyms for keywords being searched so that it can deliver a more comprehensive search result. These two updates combined put the focus on topic-based content more than ever before, which should be the present focus in content marketing for SEO practitioners.

Understanding how the history of search engines and content marketing began and how far both have evolved over the years helps us all become better online marketers. Eliminating tricks and shortcuts in your marketing strategy and focusing on topic inspired content will help your business stay relevant, as well as propel its visibility.

About the author

Diana Cook