The History of Search [infographic]

From the beginning man has constantly been searching for something, whether it was cavemen searching for food and shelter, philosophers searching for the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything (The answer is 42 by the way) or teenagers searching for their friends and favorite music. Searching has always been part of our lives.

Searching has evolved over the years with mankind’s constant demand for wanting information faster. Many of us can remember the days when a phone book and rotary phone was the best way to find people and information. In today’s world, we have access to the Internet and search engines, which allow us to get to the information we need from anywhere in the world, and all of this can be done with a simple click of a button or a swipe of a finger.

In the last 20 years, online searching has grown rapidly, first with the introduction of the World Wide Web back in 1991, and then with the development of search engines, web crawlers and page rankings. Since then, search engines have constantly evolved as new standards were set by the rapidly growing web world.

In 1997, the words “search engine optimization” were first used by John Audette and Bruce Clay, and soon after SEO became a widely used term. In 1998, Google entered the search engine arena and soon took the lead in search engine market share, becoming the industry leader in search.

The 2001 Exodus was a huge kick in the shorts for many, as users abandoned older search engines like HotBot, AltaVista and Excite. Many users had moved their interest towards the new kid on the block, and so began “The Reign of Google.”

“Many SEO’s have sleepless nights as we realize it is Google or bust”. – Brett Tabke, Founder of WebmasterWorld

In 2009, Microsoft gathered all that it had learned from its previous search engines (MSN Search, live Search, Windows live Search) and wrapped it all into what they now call Bing. About a year later, Yahoo! jumps on board with Microsoft and begins using the Bing search technology as well.

Now to the present …

We have already seen some big changes in 2011, and we‘re only 3 months in. Facebook received a patent for curated search, which will involve ranking searches according to a link’s popularity. Google released the Farmer/Panda update, which devalues content farms like and others. Plus, Google introduced the +1 button with hopes of kicking their social search into high gear.

So much has happened already this year but I am sure there’s plenty more to come. Where do you see search engines and SEO heading in the next year, or even five years?

History of Search Infographic

Embed Code:

The History of Search


  • Archie – First search engine created by Alan Emtage, a student at McGill University in Montreal.
  • Search Methods Before the Internet – Phonebook.


  • Birth of the Internet – Tim Berners-Lee launched his invention: the World Wide Web.


  • Aliweb Launched – Allowed users to submit the locations of index files on their sites.
  • Wanderer – The first web crawler to measure the size of the web. Created by Matthew Gray
  • 600 + Websites Online.
  • 10 Million + Internet Users.


  • WebCrawler – First search engine to index full web pages and allow searchers to search with any word.
  • Lycos – Search engine and web portal launched.


  • Yahoo! – Launched using a web directory, not a full text index.
  • Alta Vista Launched – Introduced a multi-threaded crawler (Scooter) that could cover many more web pages.
  • Excite – Search engine and web portal launched.


  • Inktomi Founded – Search technology was used by HotBot and MSN Search
  • Alexa Founded – Alexa Rank is born.
  • SEO NOTE – You could still get a site listed in Yahoo by merely submitting it. As long as it wasn’t too gaudy, you were in within 72 hours.
  • 650 K + Websites Online.
  • 74 Million + Internet Users.


  • Search Engine Optimization – SEO terminology first used by John Audette and Bruce Clay
  • Yandex Launched – Currently Russia’s largest search engine.
  • Ask Jeeves – Founded by Garrett Gruener and David Warthen.


  • Google – Launched by Sergey Brin and Larry Page – PageRank was born.
  • DMOZ – Open Directory Project is launched and purchased by Netscape
  • Pay Per Click – Bill Gross developed the original PPC model.
  • MSN Search – Launched using Inktomi’s search technology.
  • SEO NOTE – Most search engines moved to off-page criteria for their ranking algorithms.


  • SES Conference – First Search Engine Strategies conference created by Danny Sullivan.
  • 2.2 Million + Websites Online.
  • 279 Million + Internet Users.


  • Yahoo! – Began using Google for search technology, but switched to its own technology in 2004.
  • Baidu – China’s largest search engine launched.
  • PubCon – First event held in London.
  • Google – Introduced the Google Toolbar and Matt Cutts joined the team.
  • AdWords Launched – AdWords is Google’s advertising product and main source of revenue. Google’s advertising revenue totaled $28 Billion in 2010.


  • The Reign of Google Begins.
  • The Exodus – Users abandoned other search engines such as HotBot, AltaVista and Excite in record numbers.
  • “Many SEOs have sleepless nights as we realize it is Google or bust.” – Brett Tabke, Founder of WebmasterWorld.


  • Google – Announced the launch of Froogle, a product search engine.
  • Yahoo – Acquired Inktomi for $235 million and offered to buy Google for $3 billion.
  • Google Became a Verb: The American Dialect Society chose it as the “most useful word of 2002.” It was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary on June 15, 2006.


  • Blogger and WordPress – Blogging became popular and was utilized for SEO.
  • Google “Florida” Update – This update turned the SEO world upside down. The new algorithm was context based. After this update, it was emphasized that quality of content and HTML code were the most important factors for rankings on a search engine.
  • 38 Million + Websites Online.
  • 782 Million + Internet Users.


  • SEOMOZ – Founded by Rand Fiskin, first a blog, SEOmoz grew to become one of the largest providers of SEO Tools.
  • Google Local – Google Local introduced to offer relevant neighborhood business listing, maps and directions.


  • Google – Introduced personalized search. Announced that hyperlinks with rel=”nofollow”[4] would not influence the link target’s PageRank. Google acquired Urchin software and launched Google Analytics.
  • Live Search – MSN rebranded as “Live” search.
  • Yahoo! – Launched Yahoo! SiteExplorer.


  • Google – Google Webmaster Central is launched. Google, along with MSN and Yahoo, announced joint support for sitemap protocol.
  • YouTube – Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion, which later became the second largest search engine.


  • Google – Launched Google Product Search. Began campaign against paid links that transfer PageRank. Introduced a “Universal Search” system that blended listings from its news, video, images, local and book search engines along with crawling web pages.
  • SMX – First Search Marketing Expo.


  • – Search engine created by ex-Googlers was launched and later shut down in 2010.
  • Google 10 Pack – Google three pack became the 10 pack, expanding the Local OneBox from three business listings to 10.


  • Bing – Windows Live Search was rebranded and became Bing.
  • Google – Launched Google Caffeine. Incorporated Twitter data into search results. Introduced Rich Snippets. Updated their brand.
  • New Canonical Tag – Supported by all three major search engines.


  • Google – Launched Instant Previews.
  • Facebook – Launched Open Graph API, which included the new “Like” button.
  • Yahoo! and Microsoft – Yahoo partnered with Microsoft to use Bing search technology.
  • 240 Million + Websites Online.
  • 2 Billion + Internet Users.


  • Facebook – Received patent on “curated search,” which involved ranking search results according to a link’s popularity with a user’s social graph.
  • Google +1 – Google kicked social search into high gear with its +1 button, similar to Facebook’s “Like” button. In 2011, 25 percent of bonuses may be based on the success or failure of Google’s social efforts.
  • Google Farmer/Panda Update – Google’s algorithm update devalued content farms like and others.


  • Search Engine Market Share. Google. Yahoo. MSN. Bing.
  • The Shift to Online Search Marketing. U.S. Search Engine Marketing Spending (SEO, PPC, etc.) In Millions. 2008-$12,241. 2009-$14,110. 2010-$15,980. 2011-$18,102. 2012-$20,886. 2013-$23,380.
  • Percentage of Companies Shifting Money from Traditional Marketing to SEO. 49% – Print Advertising. 36% – Direct Mail. 24% – Conferences & Exhibits. 21% – Yellow Page Ads. 18% – TV/Radio Ads.
  • Companies’ SEO Spending in 2010. 52% – Spending more on SEO. 39% – Spending about the same. 9% – Spending less.
Get Internet Marketing Insight For Your Company -


  1. James Anderson says

    Yes, it did take some time to gather the information, but it was a fun process and great learning experience.

  2. Scott Cowley says

    Beautiful piece of work, guys. I love it. If this were a wallpaper, I would plaster it all over my office.

  3. Dan says

    Awesome job, James. The idea spawned about a year ago, I think. Great to see it come together. Fascinating story about search, too.

    • James Anderson says

      Thanks Dan, and yes it has been in the works for a while now. I’m glad we could finally put things together and get it out there.

  4. AJ Wilcox says

    Absolutely spectacular, James. Best infographic I’ve ever seen. This one makes a very elite group of infographics I keep around as teaching examples. A+

  5. Dave Bascom says

    Great infographic. Well done. I did not realize Alexa’s been around since 1996. While they’re not exactly thriving, they still have more traction than most of their mid ’90s counterparts. I was also surprised that SEOMoz has only been around since 2004. Seems like those dudes have been around forever.

    I was a little disappointed to not see Infoseek on here at all. I used to love that search engine. In 1998, Infoseek indexed pages so fast, it was incredible. You could submit a page from your site and in 5 minutes you could search and it’s showing up. Then you could tweak your meta tags or stuff a few more keywords in alt or comments, or white text at the bottom of the page and resubmit to see if it improved in the rankings. AltaVista was similar, but took a few days to show up. The others took a week or two to index new pages.

  6. Lori Gilson says

    James, well done. You know what they say, an idea is worthless without execution. Congratulations on all of your hard work with this infographic. You took an over-talked idea, and turned it into reality.

    I do have one small beef- I think some of your information is incorrect. It has always been my understanding that Al Gore created the internet.

  7. Dustin Williams says


    Where is the birth of in this timeline? How did that get left out? J.K. Great job with the timeline.


  8. Dheeraj says

    Very Nice info.
    One more thing that I want to ask” Is bing powered by Google”
    Because the result for most of the queries is same in both search engines.

  9. Jeremy Thorne says

    Wow! That is really cool! Very informative and it catches the eye. Something that could have easily started out as a side project or something and turned into a very nice graphic.

  10. Andrew Broadbent says

    Great info and very long infographic, we are thinking doing a graphic about the panda update. thanks for the post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *