A Short History of the Search Industry

Short history of the search industryIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably gathered by now that the search industry moves at a blistering pace.

Search industry heavyweights like Google, Yahoo! and Bing are constantly jostling for position to be the most popular search destination, have the largest search database, have the most relevant results and grab the most market share.  As is typical for such a heated industry, it’s in a constant state of flux.

Since I joined the industry in 1996, I’ve watched search companies make deals, break partnerships, launch products, copy technology, sue each other or simply buy each other outright. Even if you live and breathe search, it’s hard to keep up to speed with what’s going on, so it’s not suprising that newcomers to the industry can be completely overwhelmed!

While writing new content for our Search Engine Optimization courses at Search Engine College, I thought it might be fun to put together a bullet point history of the major events over the past 10+ years to help students make sense of this crazy industry. So here it is:


A Short History of the Search Industry

  • Feb 1994 – Stanford University Electrical Engineering graduates Jerry Yang and David Filo founded a website called “David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” which was later renamed Yahoo!
  • 1995 – AltaVista, the first search engine to use a multi-threaded crawler (Scooter), was launched by researchers at Digital Equipment Corporation’s Western Research Laboratory.
  • March 1995 – Yahoo! became officially incorporated.
  • August 1995 – The Microsoft Network (later rebranded as MSN) debuted as an online service and Internet service provider to coincide with the release of the Windows 95 operating system.
  • 1996 – Stanford University Computer Science graduates Larry Page and Sergey Brin began collaborating on a search engine called BackRub.
  • 1997 – Page and Brin rebranded BackRub as Google. See the original Google Home Page.
  • 1995 – The web portal Go.com was first launched by entrepreneur Jeff Gold.
  • 1995 – Inktomi Corporation was founded by UC Berkeley professor Eric Brewer and graduate student Paul Gauthier based on the success of the search engine they developed at the university.
  • 1998 – Infoseek was merged into the Go.com network.
  • 1998 – Go.com was acquired by the Walt Disney Company and redeveloped into The Go Network portal using Infoseek search technology.
  • 1998 – The MSN.com domain name was reinvented as an Internet portal, putting MSN Search in direct competition with search sites such as Yahoo! and the Go Network.
  • Feb 1998 – GoTo.com became the first company to successfully provide a pay-for-placement search service (a pre-cursor to today’s PPC programs).
  • Sep 1998 – Google Inc. became incorporated as a private company and began operating out of a home garage in California.
  • Feb 1999 – MSN Search launched a revised search engine which displayed listings from Looksmart blended with results from Inktomi.
  • Jun 2000 – Google became the official search results provider for Yahoo!
  • Jun 2000 – Google reached 1 billion pages indexed, becoming the world’s largest search engine.
  • Oct 2000 – Google launched the AdWords self-service ad program in direct competition to GoTo.com.
  • Jan 2001 – Disney announced that it would be closing Go.com, its search engine and its volunteer-edited directory, prompting the creation of offshoot directories like JoeAnt, Goguides.org and Skaffe.com.
  • Mar 2001 – Go.com rebranded as GoTo.com and switched over to providing search results from paid listings service GoTo.com, with non-paid results from parent company Inktomi.
  • Oct 2001 – GoTo.com rebranded as Overture Services Inc.
  • Dec 2001 – Google reached 3 billion pages indexed.
  • Sep 2002 – Google News is launched.
  • 2002-2003 – Google became king of the search engines and the most popular search destination with worldwide Internet users, wrenching market share away from Yahoo.
  • Feb 2003 – Yahoo purchased the Inktomi search index.
  • Feb 2003 – Google acquired the Blogger brand from Pyra Labs.
  • Feb 2003 – Google was named Brand of the Year for 2002.
  • Mar 2003 – Google launched AdSense.
  • Apr 2003 – Pay-Per-Click provider Overture bought search engine Alta-Vista.
  • Apr 2003 – Overture purchased search engine AllTheWeb from FAST Search.
  • Jun 2003 – FAST Search purchased AltaVista Enterprise Search from Overture.
  • June 2003 – Microsoft announced their intention to build their own search engine.
  • Jul 2003 – Yahoo purchased Overture (including AltaVista and AllTheWeb).
  • Oct 2003 – LookSmart lost their MSN distribution partnership.
  • Nov 2003 – Google rolled out a major algorithmic update across data-centers, nicknamed *Florida* because of the hurricane-like impact it had on the SEO of many web sites.
  • Jan 2004 – Pay-Per-Click providers FindWhat and eSpotting merged.
  • Jan 2004 – Yahoo launched Yahoo Research Labs.
  • Feb 2004 – Google expanded their web index to over 6 billion documents.
  • Feb 2004 – Yahoo dropped Google results and launched their own search crawler.
  • Mar 2004 – AskJeeves purchased Excite.
  • Apr 2004 – Google announced an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
  • Apr 2004 – Google launched Gmail.
  • Apr 2004 – Google purchased Picasa.
  • Jun 2004 – Overture (Yahoo) launched Local Sponsored Search
  • Aug 2004 – Google and Yahoo resolved their patent disputes.
  • Aug 2004 – Google rolled out their Initial Public Offering (IPO), listing on the stock exchange and becoming a public company.
  • Sep 2004 – MSN launched MSN Music.
  • Oct 2004 – Yahoo launched mobile search.
  • Oct 2004 – Google launched Desktop Search
  • Oct 2004 – Yahoo unveiled personal search.
  • Nov 2004 – Microsoft upgraded MSN Search to provide its own self-built search engine results, codenamed Longhorn.
  • Nov 2004 – Overture (Yahoo) extended sponsored search relationship with MSN until 2006.
  • Dec 2004 – MSN launched the MSN Spaces blogging service.
  • Jan 2005 – Yahoo launched Yahoo Desktop Search.
  • Jan 2005 – Google launched AdWords API.
  • Jan 2005 – Google launched Google Video.
  • Feb 2005 – Yahoo launched Yahoo Music.
  • Feb 2005 – Google added Movie Search.
  • Feb 2005 – Google moved Google Local to their home page.
  • Mar 2005 – Yahoo launched Yahoo Search Developer Network.
  • Mar 2005 – Yahoo re-branded Overture as Yahoo Search Marketing.
  • Mar 2005 – MSN launched the MSN adCenter online advertising platform.
  • Mar 2005 – Google purchased Urchin Stats.
  • Apr 2005 – Yahoo launched Personal Search.
  • Apr 2005 – Google launched My Search History.
  • Apr 2005 – Google launched Site Targeting in AdWords.
  • Apr 2005 – Google launched Google Advertising Professionals program.
  • May 2005 – MSN launched MSN China.
  • May 2005 – Google launched Toolbar 3.0.
  • May 2005 – Google launched AdSense for Feeds.
  • June 2005 – Google launched Google Maps.
  • Jun 2005 – Google launched Google Sitemaps.
  • Jun 2005 – Google launched Mobile Web Search.
  • Jun 2005 – Google added Personalized Search.
  • Jun 2005 – Yahoo settles click fraud class action suit with Checkmate Strategic Group.
  • Jun 2005 – Google released Google Earth.
  • Jul 2005 – Yahoo revamped their home page.
  • Jul 2005 – Google announced China office.
  • Aug 2005 – Google launched Google Talk.
  • Aug 2005 – Yahoo launched Audio Search.
  • Sep 2005 – Google launched Blog Search.
  • Sep 2005 – Google announces partnership with NASA.
  • Oct 2005 – Google launched Google Reader.
  • Oct 2005 – Google merged Google Local and Google Maps.
  • Nov 2005 – Google launched Google Base.
  • Nov 2005 – Yahoo launched a mapping service.
  • Nov 2005 – Google launched Google Analytics.
  • Nov 2005 – Google launched Froogle Local.
  • Nov 2005 – Google launched AdSense OnSite Advertiser Sign Up.
  • Dec 2005 – Google re-vamped and re-launched Book Search.
  • Dec 2005 – Yahoo launched Yahoo Answers.
  • Dec 2005 – Google and AOL announced global advertising partnership.
  • Dec 2005 – Google created Music Onebox Search.
  • Jan 2006 – Google launched the Google Video Store.
  • Jan 2006 – Google News comes out of BETA.
  • Jan 2006 – Google releases new version of Google Toolbar
  • Jan 2006 – Google released Google Pack.
  • Feb 2006 – Yahoo re-launched Yahoo Music.
  • Mar 2006 – Google launched AdWords Local Business Ads.
  • Mar 2006 – The first public beta of Windows Live Search was unveiled by Microsoft.
  • May 2006 – Yahoo re-designed Yahoo Search Marketing.
  • May 2006 – Google launched the Google Co-op.
  • May 2006 – Google launched Google Desktop 4.
  • May 2006 – Google launched Google Notebook.
  • May 2006 – Google launched video ads on Google AdWords.
  • May 2006 – Yahoo re-vamped their home page.
  • May 2006 – Yahoo announced strategic partnership with eBay.
  • Jun 2006 – Google launched Google Spreadsheets.
  • Jun 2006 – Google introduced Ad Scheduling for Google AdWords.
  • Jun 2006 – Google combined Google Analytics with Google AdWords reporting.
  • Jun 2006 – Google launched Google Checkout.
  • Jul 2006 – Google launched Google Maps for Mobiles.
  • Aug 2006 – Yahoo re-branded Yahoo Music to Yahoo Music Jukebox.
  • Aug 2006 – Yahoo signed mobile search advertising deal with go2
  • Sep 2006 – Google News introduced Archive Search.
  • Sep 2006 – Windows Live Search officially replaced MSN Search.
  • Oct 2006 – Google launched Google Docs and Spreadsheets.
  • Oct 2006 – Google launched AdWords Website Optimizer BETA.
  • Nov 2006 – Google acquired YouTube.
  • Nov 2006 – Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft announced joint support for the Sitemaps Protocol.
  • Dec 2006 – Google added new features to Google Toolbar for Firefox.
  • Dec 2006 – Yahoo launched the Yahoo Search Marketing PPC service to directly compete with AdWords.
  • Dec 2006 – Google launched Google Patent Search.
  • Jan 2007 – Google launched mobile search in China.
  • Jan 2007 – Yahoo launched Internet Search for Mobile.
  • Feb 2007 – Google made Gmail available to the general public.
  • Mar 2007 – Windows Live Search was rebranded to Live Search.
  • Mar 2007 – Google launched AdWords Pay Per Action BETA.
  • Mar 2007 – Yahoo launched Yahoo Go for Mobile.
  • Apr 2007 – Opera named Yahoo exclusive partner for mobile search.
  • Apr 2007 – Yahoo and Comcast announced advertising partnership.
  • Apr 2007 – Google announced acquisition of DoubleClick.
  • May 2007 – Google launched a new version of Google Analytics.
  • May 2007 – Google launched Universal Search model.
  • Jun 2007 – Google acquired FeedBurner.
  • Jun 2007 – Microsoft launched MSN Mobile.
  • Jun 2007 – Yahoo launched Search Marketing APIs.
  • Jul 2007 – Yahoo acquired Right Media.
  • Aug 2007 – Yahoo re-launched Yahoo Mail.
  • Sep 2007 – Google launched AdSense for Mobile.
  • Sep 2007 – Microsoft launched MSN Video.
  • Oct 2007 – Google launched video units for AdSense.
  • Oct 2007 – Yahoo re-launched Yahoo Search.
  • Nov 2007 – Google launched OpenSocial.
  • Nov 2007 – Yahoo and Adobe announced advertising program for PDF publishers.
  • Dec 2007 – FTC cleared Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick.
  • Dec 2007 – Yahoo and CNBC announced a global distribution agreement.
  • Feb 2008 – Google launched Google Sites.
  • Feb 2008 – Microsoft made a bid to purchase Yahoo for 45 billion.
  • Feb 2008 – Yahoo officially rejected Microsoft’s acquisition offer.
  • Feb 2008 – Yahoo launched Yahoo Buzz.
  • Mar 2008 – Google completed acquisition of DoubleClick.
  • Jun 2008 – Microsoft and Yahoo ended acquisition negotiations.
  • Jun 2008 – Yahoo started using Google ads in US & Canada.
  • Jul 2008 – Yahoo rejected new Microsoft acquisition proposal.
  • Sep 2008 – Google launched Chrome, a new open source browser.
  • May 2009 – Google launched Google Wave.
  • May 2009 – Microsoft re-branded Live Search as Bing.
  • May 2009 – Microsoft launched MSN City Guides featuring Bing Maps.
  • Jul 2009 – Microsoft and Yahoo announced major search and advertising partnership.
  • Jul 2009 – Google announced the launch of their own operating system – the Google Chrome OS.
  • Oct 2009 – Google launched Social Search.
  • Oct 2009 – Google announced partnership with Twitter to include their updates in search results.
  • Dec 2009 – Google redesigned their home page for the first time in many years.
  • Dec 2009 – Google Real Time Search went live.
  • Jan 2010 – Google entered the retail market by launching their own mobile device – the Nexus One.
  • Feb 2010 – Google launched their social network Buzz.
  • Feb 2010 – Microsoft and Yahoo announced the impending implementation of their Search Alliance.
  • Feb 2010 – Yahoo partnered with Twitter to integrate content and enhance social search experience.
  • Apr 2010 – Google Real-Time Search was enhanced with Twitter content.
  • Apr 2010 – Google Local Business Center was renamed Google Places.
  • May 2010 – Google rolled out a completely new look for SERPs and an algorithm update later nicknamed *MayDay*.
  • Jun 2010 – Launch of Google’s new search index Caffeine provided 50 percent fresher results than previous index.
  • Jun 2010 – Yahoo announced a partnership with Facebook to integrate their content into Yahoo Search results and allow users to link their accounts.
  • Aug 2010 – Google announced discontinuation of Google Wave.
  • Sep 2010 – Google Instant is launched, with predictive search results appearing as you type.
  • Oct 2010 – Google launched Place Search functionality that helps you find local information by organizing websites around real world places.
  • Oct 2010 – Yahoo rolled out new interactive features in their search results including rich content and multimedia search.
  • Oct 2010 – Bing became the 4th largest search engine on the web by query volume.
  • Oct 2010 – Yahoo Search Marketing PPC accounts were transitioned to Microsoft adCenter accounts, combining the services into a single brand.
  • Oct 2010 – Bing announced partnership with Facebook, integrating more social signals into search results.
  • Nov 2010 – Google added local product availability to Google Place Search.
  • Nov 2010 – Bing launched Movie Search.
  • Nov 2010 – Yahoo launched new social and local search features, including Twitter integration and local Search apps within Yahoo search results pages.
  • Nov 2010 – Google rolled out a new interface for Google AdSense.
  • Nov 2010 – Yahoo launched the Yahoo Contributor Network.
  • Dec 2010 – Yahoo announced they would be shutting down Del.icio.us, Altavista, MyBlogLog, Yahoo! Bookmarks, Yahoo! Picks and Yahoo! Buzz.

Wow. I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning. I know it’s not the most exciting way to present the data, but I’m working on a bells and whistles version for the new year.

I’ll keep this search industry timeline updated with major activities taking place, so make sure you bookmark it now.

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Industry Flashback: AltaVista Boasts Larger Index

flashbackIt’s time for another episode of: Search Industry Flashbacks!

Date: 3 July 2002Original Post: AltaVista Boasts Larger Index

Summary: It’s July 2002 and AltaVista have been steadily losing market share to Google and Yahoo for some years. In an attempt to turn things around, they dramatically increased the number of files being indexed and updated their news feed:

Content:

According to AltaVista, their index now contains 1.1 billion pages, representing over 120 million video, audio and image files. They’ve also increased the frequency of their news feeds, updating news sources every 15 minutes.

Not only that, but AltaVista have also improved their Express Inclusion offering by increasing their refresh rate. Effective August 1, 2002, all URL’s using their Express Inclusion service will be visited on a daily basis.

They said it couldn’t be done, but it seems AltaVista are proving the critics wrong by finally turning things around and offering a better user experience.  Let’s hope this new customer focus will help them regain market share lost over the past 12 months.

Postscript: At the time, I (rather optimistically) thought it could be AltaVista’s big comeback. How wrong was I?

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Industry Flashback: Overture Gets Greedy

flashbackIt’s a New Year so I’m rolling out a new blog feature: Search Industry Flashbacks.

Some of you new to this blog may not know this, but I actually started blogging about the search industry in July 2002. I was wading through the old blog archives today and having a good old chuckle at the stories that made search headlines back then when it struck me. Those old posts would make blogging gold today! Plus they’ll save me from thinking up new ones.

So without further ado, I give you the first Industry Flashback:

Date: 21 August 2002

Original Post: Overture Gets Greedy

Summary: It’s August 2002 and Overture (later to be bought by Yahoo! and re-branded as Yahoo! Search Marketing) is the main pay per click engine with Google AdWords still playing catch up at this point. As an Overture advertiser, I’m fired up about a new feature they’ve rolled out. I must have been pretty upset as I’ve even compared them to LookSmart:

Content:

An email from Overture to advertisers has sent some shock waves around the SEO community today. Not content to disappoint us with their sneaky Auto-Bidding tool, now Overture calmly announce that their Match Driver tool will ensure your listings will appear for search terms you haven’t even bid on!

That’s right – your ad will appear for searches that you haven’t blatantly specified, meaning you will end up having to pay for clicks you didn’t even want!

In their email, the spin doctors from Overture worded it like this: “The new expanded matching enhancement allows you to receive traffic from more complex user search queries. This feature looks at your term, title and description to match your listings to searches where we believe the intent of the user is to find your product or service even though they have not typed in the exact keywords you’ve bid on”. Makes me wonder if they borrowed LookSmart’s PR team especially for the occasion.

Search engine forums are already abuzz with talk of the so called “enhancement” and it’s not pretty. I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Postscript: The Match Driver tool turned out to be a pre-cursor to the Broad Match or Advanced Match keyword-matching options later introduced by most pay-per-click search engines. And I still don’t like them!

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