A Brief History of Google Search, as Demonstrated by Stephen Colbert

When we think of search engines, the one that immediately leaps to the top of mind is, of course, Google. It's the big yellow fruity thing, the 800 pound gorilla, the top canine, etc. etc.

So let's take a quick glance at the major events since a couple of kids in Stanford started their BackRub service. And who better to help us out with that than the Greatest Living American – Stephen Colbert.

January 1996: A Revolution (Dance Dance?) Begins

BackRub shimmied onto the scene in January 1996, with an unsuspecting public unaware that the world as they knew it was about to change. Somewhere in the Alta Vista offices an executive shuddered for no discernable reason.

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September 1998: No More BackRubs, it's Google Time!

Having registered the name a year earlier, Google was incorporated in September 1998. The fresh faced search engine would soon take the world by storm.

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September 2002: Google's Partnership with Arthur Murray

The first major shuffle of search results was launched on an unsuspecting set of SEO professionals, teeth were gnashed, mouths emitted wailing noises, and the Google dances began...

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February-July 2003: Free Monthly Dance Lessons

Starting with the Boston update, and running through the Cassandra, Dominic, Esmerelda and Fritz updates, Google continued their process of keeping SEO professionals healthy by getting them on their feet dancing away as their rankings rose and fell to the beat of Google's drum.

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September 2003: Supplementally Speaking

Google split the index out, throwing all those pages they'd crawled but didn't really like so much into what SEO professionals lovingly referred to as "Supplemental Hell", which of course meant that we had twice as many indices to love.

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November 2003: Florida – Everything Changes

This was the biggie, Google cracked down on all kinds of bad tactics, apart from those they missed which were cracked down on in subsequent updates, or those they created by changing things which were cracked down in subsequent updates, or not. As you may expect SEO professionals reacted well to this change.

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August 2004: Google IPO – They're in the Money

A few years after the tech bubble burst Google went public. There was much rejoicing from those SEO professionals who realized that Google were indeed our new overlords, and they should therefore snag a piece of the pie (9 years later they're at almost 9x launch price).

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May 2007: Google Takes on the Universe

Sure there were other updates and things that happened between the IPO and the Universal Search update, but the title did include the word ‘brief', so we're skipping some bits.

May 2007 saw Universal Search launch, suddenly there were no longer 10 blue links, you could see videos of George Formby, pictures of Neil Gaiman, and news about the new, soon to be a hit, "Bionic Woman" remake starring Michelle Ryan directly in your search results. The new SERPs were vibrant and fresh, and opened up whole new avenues for SEO professionals.

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May 2007–May 2010: Nothing to See

Remember earlier when I mentioned that we were skipping bits? Yeah, same again here.

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June 2010: Caffeinated Results

Google rolled out their new Caffeine infrastructure update after giving SEO professionals about 7 months to play with it and provide feedback. This improved their speed and also resulted in a fresher index.

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December 2010: Social Gatherings

Google, and Bing (they're another search engine that we're not covering in this post), announced that they were indeed looking at social data and using it to influence rankings. Those that had previously predicted this and had made the move to social began to sing about their delight at the Google pot of gold at the end of their double rainbows (so that's what it meant).

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February 2011 (and every few weeks after that): Kung Fu Pandu

The first Panda update rolled out, smacking down low-quality sites. Those who operated within Webmaster Guidelines, having good quality sites just sat back and watched as their sites moved up in the SERPs gaining the traffic the other sites lost.

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June 2011: Scheming Search Engines

Schema.org was announced by Google and the other two main search engines at that time. This meant you could provide your data in a standardized, finger licking, bite-szed format for the search engines to digest.

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October 2011: You Don't Really Need Your Data, Do You?

In the interests of privacy, and protecting the user, our Google masters decided that site owners didn't really need to see all of their data in their analytics, and they were only going to snap their fingers and "not provide" a small percentage of keywords anyway… (a small percentage is apparently defined as something less than 100 percent).

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April 2012: Attack of the Penguins

Google's next big update (there were plenty of others in between and after) was Pingu Penguin. This series of updates (the fourth of which was confusingly named Penguin 2.0) focused on spammy content, and once again proved to be a big traffic hit for sites that weren't doing things "the Google way".

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January 2013: Take a Picture, It'll Stay on the SERPs Longer

Google made a change to the image SERPs. No longer does clicking on an image take you to the source page, instead it expands in the SERP. Google describes this as an improvement as their studies showed conversion rates for sites going up… shame about those sites that operated on a CPM basis and lost ~80 percent of their image search traffic.

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July 2013: The Panda's Getting Better

Google launched a Panda update which is alleged to have softened some of the earlier Panda penalties on sites. Given that this launched at around the same time as the Apple iOS 6 referral data issue was fixed, happiness was observed in all five corners of SEOland.

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Back to the Future

As Google continues its worldwide dominance of the search world, all SEO professionals can do is try to figure out where they're going before they get there, make sure their sites are as buttoned down as possible, and accept whatever scraps Google throws their way...

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About the author

Simon Heseltine is the Director in charge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at AOL Inc. In this role Simon and his team are responsible for organic search and training across all AOL and Huffington Post Media Group properties. He has also visited the UK office on several occasions to consult and train the AOL-UK teams on SEO best practices.

In his previous position as Director of Search at a Washington, D.C., based agency, Simon was responsible for developing and implementing organic search and social media strategies for companies across several industries. He also developed and delivered training programs for clients, including a large U.S. media company, to enable them to best take advantage of the opportunities available to their companies through both organic search and social media.

Simon is a frequent speaker at conferences in the U.S. and UK on topics ranging from SEO to social search to reputation management. He also teaches SEO at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as part of their Digital Media Management program.

Simon has a BA (Hons) from the University of Humberside, and a Masters in IT from Virginia Tech.