Search engines are important because it brings values in tons of information. The higher you rank in results pages, the more clicks and traffic your site will generate. Search engine also improves user experience, making it more likely for customers to become repeat buyers. And Search engines are the backbone of the internet. With the rise and growing domination of mobile traffic, local search has become a fundamental part of small- and medium-sized businesses’ success.
These are just some of the benefits of using search engine optimization (SEO) to your website and by the help of search engines your business gets to rank and meet the right audience for traction. But the fact that many websites and online business owners still find search engine optimization is not a mystery.
To combat this, lets understand what search engines are all about and why they are important in any online business. As a future business owner (or one), a digital marketing expert (or amateur), you need this skill to survive and provide value.
Defining Search Engines
A web search engine or Internet search engine is a software system that is designed to carry out web search, which means to search the World Wide Web in a systematic way for particular information specified in a textual web search query. That definition is according to Wikipedia.
A search engine provides a list of results that best match what the user is trying to find. Today, there are many different search engines available on the Internet, each with their own abilities and features. Search engines are answer machines. They exist to discover, understand, and organize the internet’s content in order to offer the most relevant results to the questions searchers are asking.
Search engines find the results in their database, sort them and make an ordered list of these results based on the search algorithm. This list is generally called the search engine results page (SERP). A search engine is an online tool that searches for results in its database based on the search query (keyword) submitted by the internet user. The results are usually websites that semantically match with the search query.
Now, you’ve gotten an insight into what a search engine is, what is the history of search engines, types of search engines, uses of search engines, and evolution of Search Engines? Let’s explore!
History of Search Engines
The Internet and the Search Engines have changed the way we search for information, do research, entertain, shop and connect with other people. Let’s find out about the history of “Search engines” that we use today.
In 1990, the first search engine was developed. It was called Archie. A year after they invented the world wide web (WWW), the early search engine crawled through an index of downloadable files. However, the limited data made only the listings available, not the content. However, in 1991 Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the WWW, created a virtual library to help users find URLs for different websites. The CERN webservers hosted the library at the beginning of the internet.
Then came 1993; JumpStation brought a new leap with their linear search which showed a page’s title and header in the same results. The search engine ranks results in the order they were found. Note that JumpStation was the first WWW search engine that behaved, and appeared to the user, the way current web search engines do. It started indexing on 12 December 1993 and was announced on the Mosaic “What’s New” webpage on 21 December 1993. It was hosted at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
The year 1994, was when David Filo and Jerry Yang create Yahoo! Search. The site was the first collection of web pages across the internet. They include man-made descriptions for the URLs. Site owners can add Informational sites for free, but commercial sites had to pay $300/year. The same year that Yahoo! Search launched, saw the launch of Web Crawler. They create the first search engine to index entire pages. The amount of data required to do the search engine too slow to use during the day.
Lycos search engine also launched in 1994. The search engine cataloged over 394,000 documents by August. By January 1995, they had over 1.5 million documents cataloged. 1996 saw Larry Page and Sergey Brin create the predecessor to Google BackRub. The initial idea used backlinks to help rank websites for better search. The backlinks show you how one website that links to another site counts as a vote. This idea is the basis of a website’s authority. Today’s algorithm still relies on the same initial concept. It has advanced tremendously in the past 20 years, but backlinking still plays a part in the ranking. AskJeeves, was the first search engine where they attempt to have human editors respond to search queries. The site became easy prey to spam.
In 1998; Google officially launches. Sequoia Capital and others invest in Google. Also, AOL selects Google as a search partner in 1999. 2000 saw the Teoma engine being released. 2001 the search engine Excite goes bankrupt and is bought by for $10 million. Thereafter AskJeeves– The search engine buys Teoma to replace their Direct search engine.
2002 was the year Yahoo! acquires other search engines to find search results for customers organically. Previously, they outsourced the service to third-party vendors. In 2003, Overture bought by AllTheWeb for $70 million and Inktomi bought by Yahoo! for $235 million. Yahoo! then buys Overture for $1.63 billion. All these while, what about Google? They were announcing the first search algorithm update at Northeastern’s SES Boston, which is why it is called the “Boston” update. 2004 saw Microsoft launch their new MSN search engine.
2005, Microsoft’s MSN search engine starts to use its in-house technology in favor of Yahoo! results. Ask– IAC (Ticketmaster.com and Match.com) buy Ask Jeeves for $1.85 Billion. They change the name to Ask.com and drop the Teoma search platform. Nofollow– The major search engines use the “nofollow” tag to clean up spammy blogs. In 2007 Google creates “Universal Search.” Instead of the traditional 10-listings, they added features for News, Video, Images, Local, and other verticals. 2008, “Google Suggest” launch provides dropdowns of suggested topics. 2009 we see MSN/Live Search becomes Bing.
2010 saw Google improve their web indexing system to enhance fresh search results by 50%. They call the update Caffeine. Google Instant shows real-time search results for users as they enter a query. To create a more structured internet, Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft (Bing) create Schema.org in 2011. Google– The search engine launches the first significant algorithm change to improve query results. The Google Panda algorithm reduces the effectiveness of content farms and scraper sites. The change affects 12% of all US search results.
In 2012 following the Panda release, Google launched the Google Penguin algorithm update. This update penalizes sites buying links or using link networks to boost their search rankings. 2013 sees Google revolutionize their search algorithm again with their Hummingbird update. The algorithm is the first attempt by a search engine to understand the human intent behind a search query. The history of search until then focused on how to improve language queries. 2014 did see Yahoo! become the default search engine for Mozilla Firefox in the US.
Google– The Pigeon algorithm updates the search engines local search results. They want to provide accurate, relevant local search results for users. Google– discusses how website security is now a ranking factor with their HTTPS Everywhere campaign. 2015 saw Google unleash Mobilegeddon to force websites to add mobile-friendly websites. The change acknowledges the rapid rise in mobile search use.
Furthermore, Google releases RankBrain, a machine learning program that automates the ranking algorithm. Bing– Copying Google, they add a mobile-friendly algorithm. 2016 we see Google Possum attacks local spam sites just like the “nofollow” tag a decade earlier removed spammy websites. Google also integrated the Google Penguin update in the core ranking algorithm to ensure the death of link farms. 2017 ushers in Google penalizing sites using interstitial and pop-up ads that destroy the mobile experience.
That’s quite a history! Don’t forget along the line we have DuckDuckGo, and many other search engines who are part of the history this far.
Types of Search Engines
Crawlers, Directories, Hybrids, and Meta are the four (4) types of search engines. Let’s detail how they all work.
- Crawlers: These kind of search engines use a “spider” or a “crawler” to search the Internet. The crawler digs through individual web pages, pulls out keywords and then adds the pages to the search engine’s database. Google and Yahoo are examples of crawler search engines.
- Directories: Directories are human powered search engines. A website is submitted to the directory and must be approved for inclusion by editorial staff. Open Directory Project, eHubber, and the Internet Public Library are examples of directories.
- Hybrid: Hybrids are a mix of crawlers and directories. Sometimes, you have a choice when you search whether to search the Web or a directory. Other times, you may receive both human powered results and crawler results for the same search. In this case, the human results are usually listed first.
- Meta: Meta search engines are ones that search several other search engines at once and combines the results into one list. While you get more results with meta search engines, the relevancy and quality of the results may sometimes suffer. Dogpile and Clusty are examples of meta search engines.
Uses of Search Engines
- Filters: Search Engines essentially act as filters for the wealth of information available on the Internet. They allow users to quickly and easily find information that is of genuine interest or value to them, without the need to wade through numerous irrelevant web pages.
There is a lot of filtering to do — three years ago in 2004 the number of pages in Google’s index exceeded the number of people of the planet, reaching the staggering figure of over 8 billion.
- With that much content out there, the Internet would be essentially unworkable without the Search Engines, with Internet users drowning in sea of irrelevant information and shrill marketing messages.
- Relevant Information: The goal of the Search Engines is to provide users with search results that lead to relevant information on high-quality websites. The operative word here is “relevant”. To attain and retain market share in online searches, Search Engines need to make sure they deliver results that are relevant to what their users search for. They do this by maintaining databases of web pages, which they develop by using automated programs known as “spiders” or “robots” to collect information.
- The Search Engines use complex algorithms to assess websites and web pages and assign them a ranking for relevant search phrases. These algorithms are jealously guarded and frequently updated. Google looks at over 200 different metrics when assessing websites, including copy, in-bound links, website usability and information architecture.
- Brand Information: Search Engines matter because they increasingly determine the information about brands, products and services that customers access online. Being easy to find on Google, Yahoo and Bing is now as much of a marketing necessity as having a strong presence in print and broadcast media, or an effective traditional direct marketing program. And as consumers and organizations come to rely more heavily on them to find the goods, services and suppliers they need, the importance of the Search Engines to modern businesses can only increase.
- Research: Most people who are using a search engine are doing it for research purposes. They are generally looking for answers or at least to data with which to make a decision. They’re looking to find a site to fulfill a specific purpose. Someone doing a term paper on classic cars for their Automotive History 101 class would use it to find statistics on the number of cars sold in the United States, instructions for restoring and customizing old cars, and possibly communities of classic car fanatics out there. Companies would use it in order to find where their clients are, and who their competition is.
- Shopping: A smaller percentage of people, but still very many, use a search engine in order to shop. After the research cycle is over, search queries change to terms that reflect a buying mindset. Terms like “best price” and “free shipping” signal a searcher in need of a point of purchase. Optimizing a page to meet the needs of that type of visitor results in higher conversions for your site. Global search engines such as Google tend to reward research oriented sites, so your pages have to strike a balance between sales-oriented terms and research-oriented terms.
- Find Entertainment: Research and shopping aren’t the only reasons to visit a search engine. The Internet is a vast, addictive, reliable resource for consuming your entire afternoon, and there are users out there who use the search engines as a means of entertaining themselves. They look up things like videos, movie trailers, games, and social networking sites. Technically, it’s also research, but it’s research used strictly for entertainment purposes.
- A child of the 80s might want to download an old-school version of the Oregon Trail video game onto her computer so she can recall the heady days of third grade. It’s a quest made easy with a quick search on Google. Or if you want to find out what those wacky young Hollywood starlets are up to, you can turn to a search engine to bring you what you need.
Final Remarks: Evolution of Search Engines
The history of search is fascinating because initially, no one would have suspected an upstart like Google would dominate search engines the way they have over the past few years. However, looking back they were the ones who first started to understand what customers wanted. By looking at this history, as search engine marketers we can understand how to improve our rankings and stay current with Google’s upcoming requirements. Many other search engines have emerged too, such as Bing, Duckduckgo and others. The journey has been a long one, but realistic.