Timeline of Search Engine History

Search engines have changed the way we find information, conduct research, shop for products and presents, entertain ourselves and connect with others. Behind almost every online destination, social network, cell phone and online newspaper is a search engine. Search engines have become the connecting force and directional guide to everyday life.

This year, we’ve witnessed the consolidation of search, with the blockbuster Microsoft Yahoo partnership, the launch of Microsoft and Google becoming more and more dominant and diversified. But how did this all start?

Remember when Google powered Yahoo? Remember when Google was Backrub?

We’ve put together a timeline of the history of search engines to understand the roots of this technology which has become such an important part of our world.

Click Above to Expand the Search Engine History Timeline in your Browser Window

Notable Search Engine Milestones :

1994 : Yahoo! created by Stanford University students Jerry Wang and David Filo in a campus trailer. Yahoo was originally an Internet bookmark list and directory of interesting sites.

1996 : Sergey Brin and Larry Page, two Stanford University students test Backrub, a new search engine which ranks sites based on inbound link relevancy and popularity. Backrub would ultimately become Google.

1998 : Goto.com launches with Sponsored Links and paid search. Advertisers bid on Goto.com to rank above organic search results which were powered by Inktomi. Goto.com is ultimately acquired by Yahoo.

2000 : Yahoo partners with Google and lets Google power their organic results instead of Inktomi. Beforehand Google was a little known search engine. The end result, Yahoo introduces their largest competitor to the world and Google becomes a household name.

2003 : Google launches AdSense after acquiring Blogger.com. AdSense serves contextually targeted Google AdWords ads on publisher sites. The mix of AdSense and Blogger.com leads to a surge in monetized simple Internet publishing and a blogging revolution.

2006 : Google acquires user generated video sharing network YouTube which ultimately becomes the 2nd most used search property in the world. Google is still working on properly monetizing YouTube.

2009 : In an attempt to challenge Google’s 70% grip of the search market, Yahoo and Microsoft join forces to partner on a 10 year search deal. And the future is now.

Loren Baker
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Loren Baker

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30 thoughts on “Timeline of Search Engine History

  1. Inktomi fast infoseek excite lycos? There was search before google and it definitely wasn’t Yahoo! This is like posting on the history of the world and starting with the roman empire!

    1. Did you look at the visual timeline Terry? Most of those are listed.

      We did not list Hotbot and its comment tag indicators, which was later powered by Lycos. We also skipped the network search engines … iWon (CBS then Ask.com then IAC), Go.com (ABC) and Snap (NBC and now Snap) which were more directories or powered by third parties. Speaking of which, also notice that LookSmart … once powered by its Zeal directory and various third parties like Inktomi, is not on the list.

      There’s only so much that can fit on a visual timeline which is now relevant to the search engine field.

      Perhaps a Search Engine Graveyard is in order? Just in time for Halloween :)

      While I did use Webcrawler sparingly, my favorite search engine was NorthernLight … which categorized search results in its little blue folders well before Ask.com and Vivisimo did.

    2. Yes Terry, there was Search before Google, but it was really awful. Anyone working online back then was excited when Google launched because for the first time we could execute a search and get relevant, meaty results that actually helped us work faster and more efficiently.

      Using the history of the world analogy, it’s more like just listing the main events and leaving out what went nowhere. :)

      Loren, a search engine graveyard is indeed in order!

  2. Loren
    This is great. as someone involved since January of 95, I love these – being a reminscing Cancerian makes it more enjoyable… I would say though that Overture was a very big player in the PPC market that you didn’t include. While you’ve already stated that only so much can get on a visual timeline, I would think that Overture’s contributions were radical and game-changing enough. Until Yahoo bought them and killed that venerable Overture Keyword tool, anyhow!

  3. well what the heck! I may have known that back then, though I was hooked on Lycos and until Overture became known, wasn’t involved with PPC… I do remember FindWhat though, along with Gopher

  4. Sorry Loren my eyes are bad and I totally just read the text… my bad. I agree on the LookSmart ommission… it also was back fill to Inktomi when it was providing results for MSN. Infoseek? First instant crawl after submission and in the days of Excite and AV just as much of a player as either of those.. it was bought by disney and it’s directory/channels became GoGuides and Skaffe directories. Can’t see how you could leave it out. But I guess it’s your timeline you decide what goes in it. Alltheweb first to do flash from Macromedia SDK and I believe index JS may have also been first Major Se to index PDF. DirectHit also provided results to other engines for some reason I’m thinking hotbot and used click metrics in it’s algo. NorthernLight and the engine using HITS algo were the first stabs at authority. Can’t remember that one right now IMO, these Are other important SE Technology breakthroughs.

    Just saying… these deserve honorable mentions at least :)

  5. Hey Loren – great piece and it was nice to meet you at SES San Jose. I want to say that from 1996 – 2000 AltaVista was the #1 Search Engine in the space, as I used to be a sales person at DoubleClick then, and we exclusively represented them and went up against Yahoo fiercely. Excite, Lycos, Hotbot, WebCrawler, etc. brought a smaller amount of inventory then AV was delivering. I just thought altavista.digital.com should be enlarged and highlighted with its old mountain background. See you at SMX!

    1. Man, we used to rank people so high in Altavista back in the day. Then it started cranking out commercials after DoubleClick and went south after the rebrand.

      Remember Raging.com? It was the simplified version of AV without all the ads, bells and whistles!

  6. I remember back in the late 90’s, I made use of Lycos, Excite and Altavista – simply picking one at random whenever I wanted to search. Yahoo never did it for me though; still to this day I’ve yet to use it a few times.

  7. Decent recap. But maybe you need two separate histories – organic search and sponsored. Under the sponsored you could include Goto/Overture/Yahoo, Espotting/Findwhat/Miva, 7Search, Kanoodle, etc, etc.

  8. You really should include WebCrawler, developed by Brian Pinkerton. Also, OpenText had an early web search service– and it offered boosted ranking to paid listings well before GoTo did.

  9. Altavista and dogpile are missing?

    Anyway, this is a nice timeline for those who want information regarding the early days of search engines. In the near future, expect more changes to come.

  10. on your typewritten one.. you kinda gotta add webcrawler.. (for the 1995 slot.?)

    webcrawler was the search engine for yahoo for a bit…

    first index.. webcrawler
    first directory – yahoo!
    at least those were the big 2 in 1995.

  11. There are a lot of great points here,
    but I'm not sure I agree with real-time search being discarded.
    I agree that it's not verey relevant,
    but isn't the point of it to show what people are currently saying about a topic.

  12. Congratulations on a well written, interesting and superb blog!
    Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of presentation.

  13. Congratulations on a well written, interesting and superb blog!
    Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of presentation.