Search Engine History

In The Beginning…

Dial-up Internet

CompuServe/America online start providing people with dial up internet access in 1995. There was very limited content online at this early stage and crawling wasn’t as advanced as it is today, so finding results would be very hard as well as Slow. (1)

dial up

Search Engines

Around the same time (some even going live before dial up was widely available) a number of search engines were introduced including altavista, Lycos, WebCrawler, Yahoo! Directory, and Google. All of these were very basic and reasonably limited due to the relatively small size of the internet at this point, as well as this there was no advanced algorithm like there is today to sort search results, so engines would essentially just throw a large quantity of any related terms at you. (2)

search engine beginnings

PPC Engines/Birth Of Broadband

Google were one of the first engines to introduce a more organised system for ranking search results, others followed suit and this allowed search engines to become the starting point, as well as the primary method for people to look for web content. By essentially stealing a page out of directories like the Yellow Pages book (yes, the pun was intended) in which people would pay a flat fee to be more visible, Overture (later purchased by Yahoo) would introduce a model that other search engines would also go on to adopt in the form of PPC (Pay Per Click). Sites would pay for every click they received on their search result, bidding wars would ensue in order to gain a higher ranking. (3)


Manipulating Bids/Blind Bidding/Third Party Tools

As time went on it became clear that the system was flawed due to sites being able to overwhelmingly outbid others to increase their visibility. As well as manipulating others bids, engines would allow a site with a higher bids price to drop to that of a penny higher of those just below them, so they would never actually pay their full bid price. Competitors would force the highest bidder to then pay the full price of their bid by raising their own to just below the highest ranking sites bid, this would develop into a war of sites essentially trying to cost their competitors as much money in CPCs as possible. To combat this Google would introduce their AdWords extension in October 2000; this would allow sites to use keywords to target visitors. (4)

The blind bidding process was then introduced as a result making all bidders blind to each other’s bids; third party tools would now also come into play. These tools would allow competitors to set automatic bid prices, cost/revenue targets, and conversions. (5)


blind bidding ppc

Quality Score

Over time it became clear that the bidding process wasn’t as an effective model as it could be, and Google introduced Quality Score. Quality score would determine which ads would appear on the page and in what order. Based on a number of factors including keyword, ad text and page relevance, quality of the page, and CTR (Click Through Rate). Yahoo and Microsoft would later follow with their own similar quality score models.

google quality score

Google Analytics

After acquiring Urchin in 2005 Google launched analytics, which allowed sites to gain valuable insights into their audience. This included:

  • Measurement of audience interaction – downloads, video plays, mobile ad clicks.
  • Preserves data
  • Can give reports to help you reflect on your sites strengths, weaknesses, traffic, and certain features popularity.
  • Cross device performance(6)


Searches are becoming much more simpler and accessible to use, no longer is it a case of having to be sat at home on the computer typing in your query and sifting through vast quantities of results. Smart phones have opened up a whole new world of accessibility, being able to now use search engines on the move, use location settings as a GPS and to find information regarding what’s near you, voice features also allow to search completely hands free simply by talking to your phone. Other devices such as laptops, tablets, game consoles and smart TVs can also access and use search engines, making the scope of data that can be collected from users larger than ever.

cross platform devices

What Does The Future Hold?


Giving people information they want when they need it most, make it easier for them to find what they need with them having to do very little to get to it. It could work very similarly to how cookies tracks peoples interests across the web, but delivers services, products, information to people according to local settings, app use, and smart phone usage/habits.

Future of search engines

Social Media Integration

When querying on a search engine, as well as being shown search results, social media can also be implemented. Almost in a similar way to how reviews for a restaurant or holiday resort are brought up by Yelp, any posts from social media can be brought up regarding your search term.

Nick Blane
Nick is a recent graduate of Music and Live Events Management from Bucks New University in High Wycombe. Though his business background centred within the music industry, his exposure and involvement in marketing and social media engagement for brands, helped him take a more holistic approach and apply his connection of digital with sociology along with his entrepreneurial skills.