Often viewed suspiciously by outsiders, search engine optimisation has subtly become one of the most important marketing tools in history – making and breaking e-commerce companies. But the early days of the industry are still slightly hazy with its organic growth and proclivity to remain in the shadows.
Despite using Google or Bing on a daily basis, many of my friends were perplexed when I first told them I had started working for an SEO agency – and years later, they still don’t completely comprehend what I do and what the industry incorporates. Stealthily operating behind the scenes, the work of a good SEO agency is like a well-behaved child – seen, but never heard.
Like good SEO results, the entire industry developed organically when early web developers recognised the importance of meeting criteria set by search engines in their infancy. These criteria were often crude and easily manipulated by early SEOs, leading to distorted results and rankings. But as the search engines grew and developed so did the skills of the SEOs, with full agencies first coming to prominence in the 2000s.
It was shortly after the launch of Yahoo Search in 1995 that search optimisation was born in earnest. The simplistic algorithms of the young Yahoo searched primarily for keywords and terms – meaning SEOs could improve their rankings with simple keyword-stuffing – the act of implementing high volumes of targeted keywords (often invisible to the eye with the use of text of the same colour as the background).
Despite the crude practices, these early developers unwittingly became the forefathers of a hugely influential and important industry. As the techniques were still rather simplistic, dedicated agencies did not begin in earnest until a couple of years after the launch of Google in 1998. With Google’s ever-improving algorithms came harder tests for developers and amateur SEOs trying to rise up the rankings.
This led to SEOs teaming together to form agencies and companies outsourcing their SEO responsibilities to experienced professionals.
Banc Media’s Senior SEO Manager, Joseph Hollins-Gibson, started to get really involved about this time:
“I made my first website in about 2002 or 2003 – it was a simple weightlifting forum and it soon got spammed by my friends claiming that they would bench-lift their Grandmas in training. Although I eventually closed the site, it gave me my first taste of implementing the technical standards which would appeal to search engines. Although I did not realise it had a name, this was my first foray into SEO.
Joe, in his spare time.
“As I developed more websites, I learned more SEO techniques and started to perfect my skills. I think this is how a lot of SEOs began their careers.
“It was easy at first, I could get some duplicate content, spin it, upload it and the traffic would come rolling in. I’ve had to really evolve and adapt my techniques over the years to stay relevant, and I guess, ethical.”
Algorithm updates such as Panda from Google has all but eradicated some of the more unethical and manipulative techniques, but the early SEOs seemed to instinctively develop methods which are still accepted and beneficial in the current climate. Understanding the need to generate links leading to their websites, an early form of content marketing was born as web developers would generate content for third party websites.
Content marketing is now widely regarded as one of the key techniques used by SEO agencies (hence the high regard in which I, the copywriter, am held at Banc Media) – demonstrating some of the early principles are still effective. The combination of the creative and the technical still drives the SEO industry and successful search rankings in the modern post-Pigeon world.
Unfortunately for us SEO practitioners, the glory we receive will only ever be limited – forced to exist and operate in the shadows as we prop up the glamorous attention seeker. We are the ghostwriter, the hidden beam, Jacob from Lost and the man behind the curtain. But if you believe we can help you and the fortunes of your website, give us a ring on 0845 459 0558.