In the Beginning
While the idea for collecting the world’s knowledge into one common record came as early as 1945, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the first search engines that today’s Internet users would recognize as such were developed. Yahoo and AltaVista, two of the most-used of the earliest search engines, were established in 1994 and 1995, with Ask Jeeves (now Ask.com) following shortly afterwards in 1996. Google, now today’s number one search engine, was launched in a few years later in 1997. Other early search engines (some of which are still around today!) included:
Quantity over Quality
In the early days of SEO, search engines were not the sophisticated algorithms that they are today and even the best of them ranked sites based on quantity rather than quality. Thus, websites could improve their rankings in searches by keyword stuffing, or repeating a keyword as many times as they could on a single page. Sometimes, this would result in keywords just being listed with no other context as websites prioritized search rankings over actual user experience. Another method sites often used to try to manipulate search rankings would be to create spammy backlinks, or links on poor quality, irrelevant sites, often with incorrect anchor text, intended solely for the purpose of manipulating search ranking. In the early days of search engines, the search algorithm wasn’t able to sort through the quality of the links and ranked solely by quantity. Updates to algorithms that were designed to combat these tactics were often slow or not sufficient.
The Road to Panda
In an attempt to change the focus to users rather than advertisers, Google provided guidelines for ‘good’ SEO, but because the ‘black hat’ SEO tactics often still worked within the Google algorithm, often these guidelines were ignored. Google’s PageRank couldn’t yet distinguish between good and bad links.
Many sites that had used the spammy black hat SEO tactics were penalized in search rankings. While there was an outcry at the time, the update paved the way for future changes in Google’s search algorithm and firmly established the company’s emphasis on high-quality user experience.