Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) history

Published Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Search engine optimization (SEO) has been around for over two decades, with its roots in the mid-1990s when search engines such as AltaVista, Excite and Lycos began to gain popularity. During this time, webmasters began to understand that the better their websites were optimized for search engines, the higher they could rank on these results pages.

The dawn of a new century brought the rise of Google, Yahoo! and MSN as major players in the search engine market. By 2005, SEO had evolved into an industry of its own as savvy marketers sought to understand how to optimize their sites for Google and other major search engines. Companies started to offer SEO services and tools to help small businesses get a leg up online and compete with larger rivals.

Over the next decade, SEO would continue to evolve as more sophisticated algorithms were introduced by Google, Yahoo! and MSN, making it even harder for website owners to keep up with changes if they weren’t familiar with SEO best practices. Artificial intelligence (AI) would also become an important part of SEO – allowing machines to process large amounts of data and make decisions based on their learning. As AI becomes more powerful, so does SEO – making it ever-more important for companies to ensure that their websites are properly optimized for visibility on search engine result pages.

Today, SEO is a multi-faceted discipline that requires knowledge across many areas, such as coding languages like HTML or CSS; understanding keyword research; content writing; link building; creating a mobile-friendly site; social media marketing and much more. With modern technology rapidly advancing, SEO success requires staying ahead of the curve by keeping up with changing trends to stay competitive in today’s digital world.

SEO history timeline:

The history of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is over two decades long, with its origins tracing back to the mid-1990s. Here is a timeline of key events in its evolution:


AltaVista, Excite and Lycos emerge as major search engines, prompting webmasters to begin understanding the importance of optimizing their sites for better rankings.

AltaVista was one of the earliest search engines on the web, launching in 1995. It was an incredibly powerful and popular tool at the time, allowing users to search through vast amounts of indexed web pages. AltaVista quickly became a major player in the search engine market and set the standard for other search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN. The company also pioneered advanced features such as natural language queries and clustering technology, setting the stage for more sophisticated algorithms that would eventually emerge.

Excite was one of the first major search engines to arise in the mid-1990s, joining AltaVista and Lycos. The company launched an early version of its engine in 1995, allowing users to search for content on the web quickly. Excite focused on leveraging advanced technology, such as natural language queries, to give users more accurate results. It became a popular alternative to AltaVista, helping it compete in the search engine market before Google eventually began dominating with its algorithms and features. By 2001, Excite was struggling financially and subsequently sold off its assets.

Lycos was another major search engine on the web that emerged in the mid-1990s, alongside AltaVista and Excite. It was one of the first websites to offer users a comprehensive index of web pages, with advanced features such as keyword search and advanced query options. Lycos quickly became popular for its ease of use and wide range of results, making it a go-to choice for many web users. In addition, Lycos also developed its technology known as clustering, allowing users to easily refocus their searches to narrow down the most relevant results. Despite its popularity at the time, Lycos eventually faded from prominence as more powerful search engines, such as Google, began dominating the market.


Google has risen to dominate the search engine market, ushering in the era of SEO as an industry of its own. Companies offer SEO services and tools to help small businesses get a leg up online.


In 2005 search algorithms became more sophisticated as Google, Yahoo!, and MSN refined their ranking techniques. Website owners must learn best practices to stay competitive.


2009 was a year with a great new change – artificial intelligence (AI) has become a major player in SEO as machines start processing large amounts of data and making decisions based on what they learn.


The ever-evolving nature of SEO requires website owners and marketers to stay ahead of changes by keeping up with modern trends to remain visible on search engine result pages.

SEO after 2015

Since 2015, SEO has continued to evolve at a rapid pace. Some key developments include:

The rise of voice search and conversational AI. As virtual assistants and smart speakers become increasingly popular, optimizing for longer, more conversational queries is important. This means incorporating natural language and contextual understanding into content and site structure.

The growth of mobile usage. Mobile-first indexing and AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) are now crucial for high rankings and fast page loads on mobile devices. Neglecting the mobile experience can significantly hurt a website’s SEO.

The importance of user experience. Google’s algorithms now factor in user experience more heavily. Search rankings are increasingly weighted in terms of page speed, ease of navigation, and content relevance. An intuitive, user-friendly website is vital for SEO success.

The power of AI and machine learning. AI algorithms play an ever-larger role in search, analysing huge amounts of data to understand user intent and match queries with the most relevant results. As AI advances, staying ahead of trends will be key for SEO professionals and companies seeking to optimize their digital presence.

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