Search Engine Year in Review – 2003

It’s been a big year in the Search Engine industry, but you don’t need to be an SEO expert to understand the impact the year’s developments will have on the average Website.

The following is a brief overview of the year’s search engine events, along with my thoughts on the significance of the news as it relates to online businesses.

January 15, 2003 Froogle shopping search engine beta site launched by Google.

From these humble beginnings, we expect to see Google fully dominate the market for product search in a few years.

January 21, 2003 Teoma Releases Version 2.0.

This search technology has been applauded by critics and was even thought to help Ask.com compete with Google. To date, however, it hasn’t really made any difference.

February 15, 2003 Google buys blogger (Pyra Labs).

The phenomenon of Web logs or ‘blogs’ has reached full steam in 2003, yet it remains unclear on exactly what Google will do with this purchase. Some search engine critics have suggested that the prevalence of hyperlinks in blogs is actually adding irrelevant content to Google’s search results.

February 19, 2003 Overture buys Alta Vista and FAST Search.

Overture and Google played cat and mouse in 2003 with regard to the paid-placement space. The once mighty Alta-Vista is now simply a traffic driver for Overture, but not nearly as effective as the Google.com site.

March 4, 2003 Google Issues a press release announcing the launch of content-targeted advertising.

With this step, Google went head-on against Overture in the paid search results category.

March 10, 2003 Disney closes Go.com.

Disney closes Go.com and switches to Overture results (since switched to Google Adwords). Once a top search destination in its own right, the shell of Go.com becomes a simple feeder site for paid search.

March 12, 2003 Dealtime acquires epinions.

Epinions was an early entrant into the shopping search engine space. This new entity later becomes shopping.com.

March 19, 2003 Yahoo! completes Inktomi acquisition.

Afraid of becoming too dependant on Google, and forking over too much of its traffic, Yahoo! buys a Google competitor. Inktomi is a formidable technology, but has yet to be fully implemented at Yahoo -– we’ll see how it goes.

April 21, 2003 Overture completes acquisition of Fast.

Along with the Alta-Vista acquisition, Fast was intended to boost search traffic for Overture.

April 24, 2003 Google acquires Applied Semantics.

This company of highly educated linguists was seen as a great compliment to Google — the natural search abilities developed by Applied Semantics could help in search results, and their vast pool of paid search URLs became the property of AdWords.

April 28, 2003 Overture completes Alta Vista acquisition.

June 3, 2003 ValueClick acquires Search 123.

Smaller player acquires a much smaller version of other pay-for-performance search engines.

June 18, 2003 Google extends the AdSense program.

Google AdSense is extended to all Website owners in an affiliate-type model. The rest is history –- is there any site out there that hasn’t implemented Google AdWords to make a few extra bucks?

June 30, 2003 Overture responds to Google AdSense

Overture launches its own contextual advertising product, Content Match. The tit for tat battle between Overture and Google continues.

July 14, 2003 Yahoo! announces an agreement to buy Overture.

Yahoo! reaches an agreement to buy Overture (and, by default of earlier Overture acquisition, Alta Vista) in a deal valued in excess of $1.5 billion. Yahoo! had already placed Overture search results at the top of its listings, so it just bought the whole thing.

September 3, 2003 FindWhat.com announces its acquisition of Miva Corporation.

FindWhat acquires Miva Corporation, a supplier of ecommerce shopping software and services to small and medium-sized businesses. Pay-for-performance search meets a leading ecommerce shopping engine – we’re still trying to figure out what this is all about.

September 7, 2003 Google celebrates its 5 year anniversary.

Gee, it took Google a whole 5 years to crush every other search engine out there? Time flies.

September 15, 2003 Rumours of MSN’s plans abound.

There are rumors of MSN developing a new search engine. MSNBot has been spidering Websites.

September 15, 2003 A proposed settlement to the LookSmart Class Action Lawsuit was accepted.

September 15, 2003 Verisign begins re-directing domains as part of ‘Site Finder’.

Verisign begins to re-direct non-existent .com and .net domains to a sub-domain of its own Website in an ill-conceived and poorly received program entitled ‘Site Finder’. Every other Web property shuddered when Verisign took control of the entire Internet for a few days. ICANN threatened them and restored order.

October 2, 2003 LookSmart relaunches its paid listings program.

LookSmart’s paid listings program is relaunched in a failed attempt to counter the growing popularity of Google and Overture contextual advertising programs. An also-ran who came late to the paid placement party makes a last ditch attempt.

October 7, 2003 Microsoft announces that LookSmart listings will be dropped from the MSN search engine results in January 2004.

Ouch! LookSmart gets kicked while they’re down. This could be the date when the new MSN Search will be launched.

October 24, 2003 Google announces its acquisition of Sprinks.

At the same time, Google announces its intention to go public sometime in 2004. Financial analysts begin valuing the IPO at $15-$20 billion. The big get bigger and the rich get richer.

November 6, 2003 Google introduces the Google Toolbar.

Maybe it’s a shot at Internet Explorer…? Somehow this thing is supposed to bypass a Web browser to give you search results. But then, don’t you need a browser to go view the results? Maybe we just don’t understand this one.

November 17, 2003 Google shifts its algorithm.

This fairly common occurrence is referred to in slang terms as a “Google Dance”. But the “Florida Update”, as the update becomes known, creates a vastly different set of search engine results at Google for certain keywords. This update affected many highly placed commercial Website results – and is still being felt.

November 19, 2003 AOL acquires audio and video search engine Singingfish.

AOL apparently wants to be able to sort out rich media content and deliver it -– a position that’s consistent with their move into broadband delivery.

December 17, 2003 Google introduces book searches.

Watch out, Amazon.com!

What it all Means

What we saw in the year that just passed was the big get bigger (Yahoo! and Google) and squeeze out the smaller players (LookSmart). We’ve also seen a coming-of-age for keyword based pay-for-performance advertising, and a changing of the guard from market leader Overture, to a new entrant that has exploded on the scene: Google Adwords and AdSense.

What does all this mean for site owners and Webmasters as we move into 2004? How can we position ourselves to benefit from the changes that are continuing to shape the search engine landscape?

  • Savvy site owners wishing to attract qualified site traffic must master both traditional search engine optimization and pay-for-performance keyword driven advertising. The profits generated by search based advertising are here to stay – these programs will continue to evolve and grow.
  • Keep one eye on Google at all times – especially pre and post-IPO. If and when Google does go public, it may mean significant changes for the search engine. By all accounts Google is the single most important search engine in operation, generating over 250 million searches per day. The free-wheeling, do-as-you-please days at Google will come to a quick end once they have to perform, quarter after quarter, for Wall Street. Keep informed, know what’s coming, and get your site ready for it.
  • If you sell a tangible product, get listed with and test Froogle now. Don’t wait for next year’s holiday rush to discover that your listings are not correct or easily found. When Google gets behind something like this, it’s sure to dominate product search in the near future. Don’t be left behind!
  • Watch Microsoft carefully. If a new Microsoft-based search initiative gets off the ground this year, you can bet it will be well funded and well promoted. Site owners can benefit from first-mover advantages in getting listed. If you can become an early expert in the new search technology, your site and traffic could soar.

Good luck with all your Internet ventures in 2004!

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