This article is part of a series, a review of the 2000 decade and search developments. Below, major events from the year 2000 in consumer search. For the complete series, see the introduction, The Google Decade: Search In Review, 2000 To 2009.
Google Launches AdWords
To me, the big story of 2000 was Google’s launch of AdWords. It allowed anyone to buy ads — through a self-serve system — on Google and its network of partners. But this wasn’t the AdWords that many know today. In its original system, ads were sold on a cost per impression basis, rather than cost per click. The CPC change came later, and AdWords especially took off when it happened. Still, this was the genesis of the money machine that Google later became and still remains.
Google “Powers” Yahoo
This was also the year that Google signed a deal to power some of Yahoo’s search results. Some argue that this is what made Google into the giant it is today, by exposing Google to a wider audience. I’m not one of those. Google’s branding was hard to find on Yahoo, for one thing. I think word-of-mouth about Google’s own site was what grew the company more than any other factor. But there’s no doubt that the deal with Yahoo allowed Google to be taken more seriously by potential business partners as a serious player in the search space.
GoTo Syndicates Paid Listings
Google didn’t pioneer paid search ads. Open Text did, in 1996 — and quickly dropped them after an outcry in some quarters of the web that selling paid listings was crossing a line. This was despite the fact that Open Text’s listings were clearly marked and separate from editorial listings as is commonplace today.
GoTo (later Overture, later Yahoo) resurrected the idea in 1998, launching a search engine where all the results were sold to the highest bidder. In 2000, it pushed ahead with a significant change, to power paid listings on other sites rather than trying to make its own a success. GoTo built an enviable network that eventually included every major player except one — Google.
Paid Inclusion Gains Ground
Related to paid listings was paid inclusion, the practice of selling placement within the “unpaid” results at search engines. Sound confusing? It was. Paid inclusion was a sort of backdoor way of selling people into the most important area of search results — the editorial ones. To make everyone feel better, better rankings weren’t promised. If you did rank better, there were a vareity of explanations offered about why that happened “naturally.” This year, Ask Jeeves, LookSmart and Inktomi all jumped into it.
Yahoo Drops Free Submit
Yahoo was unique among the major search engines by using human editors to compile its editorial listings. Those editors were expensive, and the demand to be in popular Yahoo was strong. So to make money, Yahoo started charging for the right to submit to commercial categories of its directory. Sure, you might get in for free through other methods. But pretty much, the message was “pay to play.” Ironically, as Google grew more powerful, fewer companies felt they needed to play at Yahoo at all compared to the 1990s.
Old Is New: Prizes & Facts
In the old is new department, iWon decided it could get users by giving away prizes. That built market share initially, but it wasn’t maintained. So far, Bing’s similar tactics haven’t worked either.
Also from “old is new,” iWon decided it could win in the search game by giving people facts, rather than links to web pages that have those facts. In 2009, Google, Yahoo and Bing all made similar announcements on how they would improve search more with direct answers like this. Sure, it’s a great idea. But what, it took 9 years for them to get the memo from 2000?
Ask Jeeves Buys Direct Hit
This year also saw Ask Jeeves do a $500 million stock deal to acquire Direct Hit, a technology to improve search results by measuring what people click on within them. Then that technology never got put into practice with Ask Jeeves.
FTC Gets Pagejacking Complaint
In 2000, big brands discovered that what your SEO firm does might reflect badly on you, plus we got a new term: pagejacking. Greg Boser of Web Guerrilla (now 3 Dog Media) found that high ranking pages from sites such as Disney and the Discovery Channel appeared to have been copied and used by a company called Green Flash to get top rankings for other sites such as eToys and Barnes & Noble. He filed a complaint with the FTC. Green Flash blamed a sub-contractor.
Google, Liv Tyler Nude & Link Scamming
Finally, while Google’s reputation was growing, it was also being dinged for bad relevancy — by none other than Jimmy Wales and before he got Wikipedia going. Wales had done a search for “liv tyler nude” and discovered the top sites were showing up because they’d generated hundreds of links to make themselves relevant for that term — despite not actually having Liv Tyler in the nude. Google counted it hadn’t been tricked. There just weren’t good sites out there showing the actress in the buff. That turned out to be incorrect, as Wired covered at the time.