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A Brief History of Search

When the Internet was introduced as a concept in 1982 (surprisingly it was not invented by Al Gore) the interconnected networks were not much more than simple servers running a few pages with no e-mail applications or providers for the common individual. Actually, compared to today, it wasn’t really much of “the internet” at all, only a few computers at an alarmingly slow dial-up speed. What is harder still to comprehend is that for the next decade there was no real system for searching information. It wasn’t until 1990 that Archie (supposedly named for the comics, though denied by its developers), the first search engine, appeared (but only for the listings and not for content). In 1994 the first true search engines were developed that used natural language and page content. These search engines soon became so popular that they couldn’t be used during daytime hours and even still could be expected to suffer a long wait time.

But the days of getting coffee, taking the dog for a walk, or both, while your webpage slowly loads are long over. Modern search engines seemingly crawl over billions of websites in a fraction of a second to bring you the results you are seeking. How do they do this? Simply, a brief tag for each page is indexed in a database for quick access. Search engines then use a priority ranking system for websites based on the number of links they receive from other webpages to suggest better results. Today, because of advertising and marketing, web searching has become one of the most profitable businesses on the internet.

In 1997, businesses began to realize how important it was to have their pages ranked high and the phrase “search engine optimization” first appeared. Search engines used to, and still in some instances, suffer from manipulation of the keyword and tag system. The term “stuffing” refers to webpages filled with irrelevant keywords just to raise its rank or get visits from unsuspecting (sometimes innocent) web browsers. Some websites even resorted to a system of exchanging and selling links to raise their page ranks in another devious scheme referred to as “link spamming”. As you can imagine, this greatly irritated people and caused them to turn to other engines to satisfy their search needs.

In the 21st century, search engines began to combat these tactics by creating algorithms for searching that are still largely in place to this day. The major search engine providers keep the development of their ranking systems secret, which makes it much more difficult to manipulate. Eventually, personalized search came about, which greatly enhanced rankings due to individualized searching based on the history of each user, noting that users preferred certain websites to others (let’s just disregard the fact that this is basically spying on us). The history of these users creates its own popularity ranking and users suspected of manipulating page ranking are ignored.

Today, search engine optimization has become its own enterprise to better the search placement of entities wishing to increase their search traffic. In an age where Google makes algorithm changes every day, it requires a skilled individual to increase a website’s search placement without becoming guilty of stuffing or spamming or a various range of other notorious tactics. Even strategies that were considered acceptable years ago may be seen as unscrupulous tomorrow and a website that had a good rank might fall unexpectedly (much to their web manager’s shock and dismay). But with a good search engine optimizer, businesses can experience a very acceptable investment return.