The History of Search


Technology, specifically the internet, has advanced significantly over the past 3 decades, and Search Engines are no exception. The first search engine called Aliweb created in 1993 was largely irrelevant to internet users. It allowed webmasters to submit their web pages and relevant keywords that could be used as descriptors. Sound familiar? It should.

Before Search Engines

Before the rise in popularity of search engines, internet users began to congregate URLs of interest onto popular newsgroup or directory-style websites. With directories, users were able to search through categories of URLs to find relevant information. 

Search Engines


The Search Engine Race

Following the creation of Aliweb, search engines exploded in popularity. In 1995 Yahoo! Along with a few other well-known brands became wildly successful. As internet-connected computers became widely available to the general public investors poured in to get a piece of the search engine they thought would control the internet.

Ranking Web Pages

Before Ask Jeeves launched in 1997, searchers had to be careful what keywords they entered in a search bar if they wanted useful results. Ask Jeeves became hugely popular by dissecting keyword phrases typed by users and giving more weight to important words in the phrase for better results. This made it easier for people new to the search engine to search with common speech phrases. 

In 1996 Robin Li Yanhong, one of the richest people in China, created a system called RankDex for his search engine called Baidu. RankDex used link analysis to determine the importance of web pages based on the number of other web pages linking to them. If you are familiar at all with today’s SEO strategies, you’d know that links still play an enormous role in determining page rankings. RankDex predates Google’s “PageRank” by two years, even being referenced in Larry Page’s first patent. However, PageRank solved a quickly growing problem of spammy websites with thousands of links. PageRank would analyze not only how many links a website was receiving, but also the quality of the websites those links were coming from. 

Before Baidu’s and Google’s link-based citation models, search engines were easily fooled by “keyword stuffed” websites. Essentially webmasters privy to how search engines worked would hide large lists of keywords to fool search engines into ranking them higher. 

Commercialization of the Internet

As businesses took to the internet to advertise for their stores, search engines became a prime target. Keeping the search engines running and free came at a cost that was to be recouped through advertising. While many search engines experimented with banner advertising that ended in users leaving, Although Google wasn’t the first, they quickly adopted the keyword ranking auction model. Businesses could pay for better rankings on keywords they thought their customers would be typing in when searching for their business.

Mobile Search

For the first time in 2015, Google announced that more users were performing searches on mobile devices than on desktop computers. With Microsoft failing out of the mobile phone industry, this solidified the dominance of Google as the most popular search engine. Even Apple iPhone’s safari browser is powered by the Google search engine. 

In 2019 Google introduced Mobile-First Indexing:

“Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query. Since the majority of users now access Google Search with a mobile device, Googlebot primarily crawls and indexes pages with the smartphone agent going forward.”

For websites with a lot of moving parts, it can become an issue if the mobile version of a site is not optimized for users or search engines.  If a website loads too slowly for a slower mobile connection, it may have a high bounce rate which can impact SERP rankings. If the mobile version of your website contains less content to create a better user experience, it might not rank as highly as it does on a desktop.

What’s Next?

Search engines will continue to be improved and eventually evolve. My best guess for what’s next? An increase in the accuracy and efficiency of voice search and machine learning for multi-answer searches. Not only that, but I would expect the need to visit individual businesses ‘ websites and make comparisons to end. The search engine result page will likely eventually contain all the information users need to make an informed decision without ever entering a business website. 

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