The Search Marketing Evolution

Do you know what the first web directory was?

It was run by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Here’s what the directory looked like (now located at W3C). Tim also maintained the Virtual Library Directory.

As the web grew, so to did the need for navigation. Early spiders and lists, including JumpStation and the WWW Worm, began crawling and indexing the web. The problem was, they indexed and listed the web in the same order the spider found it.

In order to make the crawled data more valuable, people devised ways to categorize and order the results. Early search engines, such as Exite, and directories such as Yahoo and Galaxy sprung up.

It was about this time that a few lightbulbs flickered on. If these early search services provide ranking, and many people were using them to navigate the web, then there was value in being ranked highly.

SEO was born.

Possibly the first comprehensive analysis of what had previously been a little-known hacker underground trick for manipulating the ranking order, was “A Webmaster’s Guide To Search Engines”, written by Danny Sullivan in 1996. Danny launched Search Engine Watch, a site for webmasters looking for advice on how to get ranked in search engines.

As an aside, here’s how easy it used to be: I recall figuring out how to rank in Infoseek in 1996. Infoseek would crawl and refresh SERPs on demand. You could copy the HTML of the top ranked site, paste that HTML into your site, submit, and – viola – your site would be ranked #1. You could then replace your HTML, and so long as you weren’t re-crawled, you’d rank at #1. I thought it was an amusing trick at the time, but had never heard of SEO. Year 2K kept me busy in another line of work, so it wasn’t an area I became involved with again until 2001.

Those who were around between 1993-2001 would recall how easy and effective SEO was. You could write up content, place a few tags in the right places, repeat a few keywords in an un-necessary manner, and, later, point a few links, and you could easily sail to the top of most search result pages. There wasn’t a great deal of competition, outside big-money areas, as search marketing wasn’t particularly well known. The rise of Google changed that and brought a lot of money into the sector. And when there’s money to be had, the competition mounts.

Fast forward to 2007, and the game has changed.

In a world where content production is easy, producing content isn’t enough. Content is only king so long as the content has little competition. As competition for attention increases, it isn’t enough to produce good content, as many people can produce good content. Is isn’t enough to mark up that content, as many people mark up content, or their publishing software does it for them. In most cases, content must be seen, remarked upon, shared, and have sufficient publisher reputation in order to rank well, and the tactics required to do so go well beyond traditional SEM.

So, Search Marketing is starting to incorporate aggressive PR and publishing strategy. Link baiting, viral marketing, link building, public relations, off-line advertising, blogging, podcasting, social networks, buzz marketing, and more. These are all valid channels in themselves, with the added benefit, if done properly, can help boost and maintain top search engine rankings. Those who master these channels, and incorporate them into their SEM strategy, will place themselves ahead of the pack for the foreseeable future. The SEO markup strategies of old have become increasingly marginalized, especially for new sites struggling to get established.


  1. Marketing Source Media Consultants > Home05-31-08

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