“I find it interesting you claim to have done SEO for more than 20 years when Google hasn’t been around that long.”
That was the statement I was met with two weeks ago from someone claiming there was no such thing as an SEO copywriter. It came after I tried to explain what an SEO copywriter is (and is not) and how the most skilled in the trade work their magic. After my helpful explanation – which included my years of experience – I was challenged to prove my credentials.
To make a long story short, I gave the person a brief history of search before Google came along. Yes, search engine optimization, or SEO for short, existed before search engine giant Google entered the scene in 1998. As hard as that is for some to imagine, Google isn’t the “OG” search engine.
It got me thinking that maybe others truly do not understand how search worked before Google launched. Maybe they’re too young to remember the days of clunky dial-up internet and even clunkier search engines. Or maybe they simply never thought much about SEO because they don’t need to use it. If you fall into either of these categories, then this blog is for you.
What is a search engine?
Before we can talk about search engines, I should probably define them. If you want the techy explanation, here goes. According to our friends at techopedia, a search engine is, “a service that allows Internet users to search for content via the World Wide Web.”
Here’s the more exciting explanation, courtesy of me.
Users (that’s you) sit in front of their electronic devices that are connected to the internet. If you’re among 59.72% of internet users globally, that device is your cell phone.
Let’s say you’re searching for an auto repair place to fix your car’s muffler. You might ask Google (or Bing or any other search engine) “find car repair places near me.” And just like magic – POOF – a list of mechanics close to your home pops right up. Neat, innit?
You can thank search engines for that capability. They’re designed to scour the internet to find exactly what you’re looking for and deliver a handy list of possibilities right to your device. SEO copywriters also have a little something to do with how search engines work, but we’ll get to that later.
Why do you need search engine optimization?
Do you want to be found? If you answered no to that question, then you can stop reading this blog. However, I’m willing to bet if you own a business, I got a resounding yes to that query.
You can’t scrimp on search engine optimization these days. With 85% of Americans going online daily for something, you’re missing the opportunity for new and repeat business if you’re not coming up in search.
Search engine optimization is a complex beast. There’s SEO content strategy, link-building, local SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO (to name a few). It’s best to hire an SEO expert who can help your brand navigate through the SEO process if you want to achieve success.
Now that we know what a search engine is and why you need to include search engine optimization in your digital marketing plan, let’s dive into how people managed to find anything before Google hit the search engine scene.
How did people search before Google?
It can be difficult to remember a time B.G. – Before Google. Alas, it existed, and people were searching for things online even back then. User intent isn’t a new concept in SEO. It’s always been a thing.
However, how search engines ranked content was entirely different in those prehistoric days of the World Wide Web. Back then, it was all directory-driven.
If you’re wondering what the heck that means, let me explain. Directories were human-driven. There were editorial teams for early search engines who decided on content ranking. They would manually explore website pages and other online content and classify it into a category.
Directories were super for local search. You could call them the early version of Google My Business.
There were more than a few early search engines. Some are worth mentioning. Others, not so much. Here are some of my personal favorites.
AltaVista launched in December 1995. To this day, I have fond memories of this search engine. It was the first fully searchable, full-text database that was both accessible and user-friendly.
Don’t get me wrong – AltaVista certainly wasn’t fancy. But it got the job done. The search engine was bought out twice – once by Overture, again by Yahoo – before it went offline around 2013.
I could be wrong, but I often suspect Google’s creators were taking notes on how smooth the user experience was on AltaVista to incorporate some of those features into their search engine.
Excite launched the same year as AltaVista. Designed by six students from Stanford University, it was one of the first search engines that did more than simple searches. It had portals for news and weather, an email service, an instant messaging service, and a fully-customizable homepage.
Its creators continued to expand and improve services, including the 1996 purchase of WebCrawler and exclusive agreements with technology companies like Apple and Microsoft.
Excite was bought out by AskJeeves (now Ask.com) in March 2004. It still exists in some form today but is not nearly as popular as it was during its heyday.
Yahoo! was one of the most well-known search engines before Google became a household name. It went live online in 1995 and still survives to this day. Starting in 2021, it added other services to its search engine capabilities like Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Mail, and Yahoo News.
It may not be Google, but Yahoo is still one of the most popular websites by web traffic in the world.
The Wild, Wild West of SEO
Back in the early days of SEO, it felt a lot like living in the Wild West. Competition was fierce. Someone was always challenging your brand to a duel online to see who would come out on top. What made it tricky was most of the SEO tools that exist today weren’t in play back then. You had on-page SEO and that was it.
Unfortunately, the lack of SEO strategies contributed to shady practices like Black Hat SEO. SEO keyword stuffing was a big thing in those days. If a competitor used an SEO keyword for your industry 50 times in a piece of content, the only way to beat them was to use it 100 times (or more).
You can thank those limited SEO practices of yesteryear for most of the spammy, crappy content floating around on search engines today. Thankfully, Google finally has seen the error of its ways and launched its Helpful Content Update.
Thankfully, I never engaged in that nonsense, even back then. I knew then, as I know now, that quality content is the best way to rank well online. My early on-page content that’s still floating around on the interwebz today ranks just as well now as it did back then.
Journalism: the key to SEO genius
One of the things that made me so good at on-page SEO back then was my journalism background. I knew how to tell a story. People got hooked early and stayed until the call to action (even when the CTA was subtle).
Research was my thing, so I didn’t spew random and unverified “facts” in my content. I regularly included industry experts in my pieces so that readers felt like they learned something from a person who had been there and done that.
I still use my journalism skills to create top-ranking SEO content today. My clients are amazed at how fast I can get their pages ranking at the top without cheating the system. I don’t need luck to continue the winning streak. All I need to do is stay the course while producing high-quality content.
Search engine algorithms are fickle. They change at the drop of a dime. It’s why while I pay attention to SEO industry trends, I never stray from the journalistic formula for creating content because it works.
If you’re ready to stop paying SEO shillsters for subpar content that doesn’t convert, reach out to me today to schedule a free consultation.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.