2001 In Review: Search Engine Marketing Gets Respect, As Does Search Generally

This article is part of a series, a review of the 2000 decade and search developments. Below, major events from the year 2001 in consumer search. For the complete series, see the introduction, The Google Decade: Search In Review, 2000 To 2009.

Search Marketing Gets Respect

For me, the biggest story of 2001 was the recognition that search marketing was a legitimate activity that major companies should consider. Despite search being a powerful channel for years before this, the profits that were being generated by public search companies like GoTo (later Overture) helped wake some people up to the fact that something huge was going on. While Forrester still wasn’t recommending search to drive web site traffic, analyst firm Jupiter finally made a suggestion that it should be considered. All this made me feel search had turned a corner, and I wrote:

To some degree, search engine marketing has been like the Rodney Dangerfield of online advertising — it’s gotten no respect. Or, at least it has gotten no respect in relation to the time and effort analyst firms have put into understanding it compared to banner advertising. The good news is, that’s all about to change.

It’s Search Marketing, Not SEO

This was also the year I pushed for an umbrella term to cover search marketing activities. Search, until this year, had largely been about SEO — search engine optimization, the act of getting better “free” or “organic” listings in search engines. But as paid search opportunities emerged, the ability to buy listing on a cost-per-click / pay-per-click basis, people wondered if all that fell into the SEO category. My suggestion was that there should be an umbrella term, “search engine marketing,” that covered both major activities: SEO + PPC. As I wrote at the time:

As the nature of search engine promotion has expanded and matured, the label “search engine optimization” hasn’t seemed to cover what some companies and individuals feel they do. But what should come to replace it, if anything?

The venerable phrase “search engine optimization” originally emerged to cover the optimization that was done for crawler-based search engines. Now directories are a big part of the search engine mix, as are paid listing services. In many cases, you aren’t really “optimizing” for these other venues, but you certainly are doing work that can influence how people are listed.

Personally, my preferred successor term is “search engine marketing” …. I’ve like the term because I feel it encompasses many things: optimizing for crawlers, managing paid listings, submitting to directories — you name it. All of these activities are marketing on search engines.

These days, I still push that SEM = SEO + PPC. But to some, that’s been bastardized into SEM = PPC. Wikipedia’s poor entry on search engine marketing doesn’t help, on this front. I think it’s important to have an umbrella term because a good search marketer does want to consider both things. Also, while I like the acronym SEM, I tend to just say “search marketing” rather than “search engine marketing” now.

Google Hits Its First Bump

In 2001, Google acquired the Deja newsgroup search service. Temporary changes it made soon drew attacks. While everyone attacks Google these days, this was the first significant PR challenge it had ever faced, in my opinion. Nor did the company learn much from it. Google continued operating under the assumption that because it believed internally that it would do no evil (a motto not even coined yet), everyone externally would believe this. Outsiders didn’t, of course — and Google’s failure to get this continued to bite it over and over again.

Google, Bush & Early Google Bomb

Speaking of Google, in 2000 it came under fire for how its supposedly great relevancy was ranking results for a search on “Liv Tyler nude” that, well, didn’t actually have nude pictures of the actress. In 2001, a similar thing happened involving George W. Bush. No, not the miserable failure Google bomb. Instead, Google was ranking Bush’s official campaign web site tops for “motherf***r.” Again, this raised more questions about just how great Google’s search algorithm really was.

AltaVista Dies; Teoma Emerges

Beyond Google, AltaVista underwent four redesigns this year as it tried belatedly to win in the portal game. It never recovered. AltaVista had been the choice for serious searchers, and many Google ideas came from AltaVista. But as AltaVista went down the wrong path, its users switched to Google, further solidifying Google for its future dominance.

Meanwhile, Teoma — which used its own brand of link analysis like Google — launched this year and later in the same year went for a song to Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves did a $500 million stock deal for Direct Hit technology the year before. Now after the dotcom crash, it got Teoma for a song: a $4 million cash-and-stock deal.

Search Grows As Information Resource

Another remarkable change this year was how important search had become for everyday life. One study found we suffered search rage if we didn’t get answers within 15 minutes or less. Another released this year found that in only five years, search engines had supplanted information resources we’d relied on for hundreds and thousands of years, such as friends, family and libraries.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Stats: History | The Google Decade


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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