Understanding Search Engine Optimization

Understanding Search Engine Optimization

What do you do when you need to find something on the Internet? In most cases, you pop over to one of the major search engines and type in the term or phrase that you’re looking for and then click through the results, right? But of course search engines weren’t always around.

In its infancy, the Internet wasn’t what you think of when you use it now. In fact, it was nothing like the web of interconnected sites that’s become one of the greatest business facilitators of our time. Instead, what was called the Internet was actually a collection of FTP (File Transfer Protocol)sites that users could access to download (or upload) files.

To find a specific file in that collection, users had to navigate through each file. Sure, there were shortcuts. If you knew the right people — that would be the people who knew the exact address of the file you were looking for — you could go straight to the file. That’s assuming you knew exactly what you were looking for. 

The whole process made finding files on the Internet a difficult, time-consuming exercise in patience. But that was before a student at McGill University in Montreal decided there had to be an easier way. In 1990, Alan Emtage created the first search tool used on the Internet. His creation, an index of files on the Internet, was called Archie. 

If you’re thinking Archie, the comic book character created in 1941, you’re a little off track (at least for now). The name Archie was used because the file name Archives was too long. Later, Archie’s pals from the comic book series (Veronica and Jughead) came onto the search scene, too, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Archie wasn’t actually a search enginelike those that you use today. But at the time, it was a program many Internet users were happy to have. The program basically downloaded directory listings for all of the files that were stored on anonymous FTPsites in a given network of computers. Those listings were then plugged into a searchable database of web sites.

The search capabilities of Archie weren’t as fancy as the natural language capabilities you'll find in most common search engines today, but at the time it got the job done. Archie indexed computer files, making them easier to locate.

In 1991, however, another student named Mark McCahill, at the University of Minnesota, decided that if you could search for files on the Internet, then surely you could also search plain text for specific references in the files. Because no such application existed, he created Gopher, a program that indexed the plain-text documents that later became the first web sites on the public Internet.

With the creation of Gopher, there also needed to be programs that could find references within the indexes that Gopher created, and so Archie’s pals finally rejoined him. Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives) and Jughead (Jonzy’s Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation and Display) were created to search the files that were stored in the Gopher Index System.

Both of these programs worked in essentially the same way, allowing users to search the indexed information by keyword.

From there, search as you know it began to mature. The first realsearch engine, in the form that we know search engines today, didn’t come into being until 1993. It was developed by Matthew Gray, and it was called Wandex. Wandex was the first program to both index and search the index of pages on the Web. This technology was the first program to crawl the Web, and later became the basis for all search crawlers. And from there, search engines took on a life of their own. 

From 1993 to 1998, the major search engines that you’re probably familiar with today were created: 

  • Excite — 1993 
  • Yahoo! — 1994 
  • Web Crawler — 1994 
  • Lycos — 1994 
  • Infoseek — 1995 
  • AltaVista — 1995 
  • Inktomi — 1996 
  • Ask Jeeves — 1997 
  • Google — 1997 
  • MSN Search — 1998

Today, search engines are sophisticated programs, many of which allow you to search all manner of files and documents using the same words and phrases you would use in everyday conversations. It’s hard to believe that the concept of a search engine is just over 15 years old. Especially considering what you can use one to find these days!


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