Happy 10th Birthday, Search Engine Watch – A History Of The Site

Ten years ago today, I created Search Engine Watch. Now I’m here at Search Engine Land, but since I ran SEW for 95 percent of its existence, I thought it would be nice to look back and cover how it evolved and changed over the years. So here’s a stroll down memory lane.

Some of those who know my work might be thinking that this 10 years thing sounds familiar. That’s because on April 17, 2006, I wrote My Decade Of Writing About Search Engines. It covered my personal 10 year anniversary, which started with the predecessor to Search Engine Watch, "A Webmaster’s Guide To Search Engines."

Search Engine Watch Is Born: June 9, 1997

Just over a year after my personal start in writing about search, I expanded my guide and relaunched it as Search Engine Watch on June 9, 1997:

Search Engine Watch Launch, June 9, 1997

As you can see in the screenshot above, the site was divided into several major areas:

  • Webmaster’s Guide To Search Engines provided basic guidance and intro information about SEO and search marketing.
  • Search Engine Facts & Fun had tips on searching and related information.
  • Search Engine Status Reports largely focused on search popularity stats as well as the Search Engine EKG charts I used to maintain to track search engine freshness.
  • Search Engine Resources had provided link lists of articles ranging from legal issues to business development.
  • The Search Engine Report was a monthly newsletter of search engine news.
  • Subscription Services provided access to a special twice-monthly newsletter, some additional resources and longer versions of some articles and a downloadable "book" version of the site, shades of the premium content from SEOmoz or Aaron Wall’s SEO Book, to come in the future.

Search Engine Watch Is Sold: November 18, 1997

In the fall of 1997, I was approached by Meckermedia (later renamed Internet.com, INT Media and Jupitermedia) about buying Search Engine Watch. I decided to sell. Nope, I didn’t become a millionaire, but it made for a good, solid down-payment on a house, after taxes. It also meant I had more development support for the site and someone else to deal with the ads. I could focus firmly on content.

Search Engine Watch Awards: January 22, 2001

Search Engine Watch gave out its first awards for search engines on January 22, 2001. Google won the top spot, and the company was young enough that it used that award as part of its marketing to gain further acceptance. The awards continued for five years running.

Chris Sherman Joins & SearchDay Starts: May 7, 2001

For about four years, I provided all the editorial writing for Search Engine Watch. During this time, news about search continued to ramp up. I needed help. In addition, I was concerned that I had no way to reach out to readers on a daily basis, to provide them with news headlines from the many sources that were growing beyond Search Engine Watch.

SearchDay and Chris Sherman were the solutions. Chris had run the Web Search Guide for About.com since 1998, and I loved what he wrote. I was thrilled when he agreed to join Search Engine Watch as associate editor and take up the challenge of running its daily newsletter, SearchDay. That newsletter provided both headlines from around the web as well as original content each day. Here’s Chris’s first edition and his last one (number 1475!). He is, of course, now executive editor here at Search Engine Land.

First Major Redesign: April 2003

Search Engine Watch: April 2003

Search Engine Watch had relatively minor tweaks made to its look and feel done by yours truly and FrontPage over the years. But in April 2003, it underwent a dramatic change primarily designed to introduce new advertising elements and to ensure that the latest stories were shown more prominently on the home page.

Facelift: April 2004

Search Engine Watch: April 2004

Around April 2004 (as best I remember), the site’s colors changed as part of a general move to integrate it better into the ClickZ network. The screenshot above also shows how units to show content from the Search Engine Watch Forums and the Search Engine Watch Blog were added later in the year.

Elisabeth Osmeloski Joins & Search Engine Watch Forums Launched: June 8, 2004

Three years after the addition of SearchDay, it was time for SEW to have another major content enhancement — the addition of the Search Engine Watch Forums. Search Engine Watch was woefully late in gaining its own discussion forums. In part, this was because I was happy to leave forums to other sites, such as Search Engine Forums and WebmasterWorld. We had our niche, and they had theirs!

There were two problems with this. First, more and more search news and tips began to come out through forums. The big Google "Florida" Update of late 2003 especially underscored this, when masses of webmasters descended upon WebmasterWorld to try and understand a huge change to the Google ranking algorithm. Search Engine Watch lacked forums and thus missed the ability for members of its own community to talk to each other.

Indeed, that missing community was the other big reason to start the forums. There was a Search Engine Watch community, people who read and visited the site on a regular basis. They simply had no way to talk to each other. Launching the forums, with Elisabeth Osmeloski at the helm as forums editor, filled a big gap. In addition, rather than it being "too late" for a new forum, the SEW Forums found a healthy audience.

Gary Price Joins & Search Engine Watch Blog Launched: September 16, 2004

In August 2004, Gary Price joined the site as news editor, initially charged with helping compile headlines for SearchDay. But that was a holding pattern for him until the new Search Engine Watch Blog was ready. This helped fill another gap for Search Engine Watch, providing a way for editors to post stories of importance throughout the day.

Years earlier, SearchDay allowed the site to keep people current on a daily basis. But search news continued to pour in, to the point that people were looking for updates several times during a day. The Search Engine Watch Blog aimed to solve this problem, when it went live on September 16, 2004.

Search Engine Watch Sold Again: August 2005

On August 2, 2005, it was announced that Search Engine Watch was to be sold by Jupitermedia — which had purchased it from me those many years ago — to Incisive Media. I first heard rumors of the sale in June of 2005 during a dinner with some attendees at the SES London show. Both Chris Sherman and I remarked we thought it seemed unlikely since no one had yet spoken to us about any sale. The site still largely depended on us, and we both had contracts allowing us to walk away at short notice.

In July, I got clued in by Jupitermedia CEO Alan Meckler that a basic agreement had been reached, so it wasn’t a shock when the final news came out. I was happy with the change at that particular time, remarking that "overall, it’s a good thing."

Gary Price Leaves: Feb. 9, 2006

On February 6, 2006, Gary Price departed the site. Ask.com had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Though incredibly sad to see him go, we were relieved to have about the only person who could keep up with Gary’s blogging pace — Barry Schwartz – come on as news correspondent.

Title Changes & Correspondents: March-May, 2006

With the site now having three different editors, it was time for some title changes. In March 2006, I went from editor to editor-in-chief, while Chris Sherman went from associate editor to executive editor. In April 2006, Elisabeth Osmeloski shifted from forums editor to managing editor, a newly expanded role to help me begin some much delayed site updates and enhancements.

On the blog, we also added a number of correspondents, to help the site keep up with search news:

Server Move Prompts My Private Resignation: July 19, 2006

When Incisive purchased Search Engine Watch, the company had an agreement for Jupitermedia to continue hosting the site for a year. In the last month of that agreement, there was a rush to finally do the migration, which started on July 18, 2006.

It did not go well, in my view. Important things broke, such as the ability to instantly sign-up to become a paying member of the site. I asked that the migration be slowed, even if this meant having to pay more to extend the current agreement. This was denied. For me, it was the last straw in a what had grown into a frustrating year of being with the new owners. I quit.

In particular, I quit before a long-promised agreement for me to continue working with the site had materialized. I had made it clear that when the site was sold, there was little incentive for me to continue working to build it in the long-term for the new owners. I was told a new agreement was being developed, but continually, nothing was provided. When the server problems hit, I decided I was better off on my own.

Incisive asked me to reconsider, and I agreed to talk further, while they produced an actual agreement.

Contract Negotiation Failure Prompts My Public Resignation: Aug. 29, 2006

After several weeks, the agreement I finally received just didn’t cut it for me to stay on and help Incisive take Search Engine Watch into a second decade of life. I publicly announced on Aug. 29, 2006 that I was resigning as editor-in-chief. I was honestly surprised by the reaction, an outpouring of support by so many of my readers. These posts on my personal blog cover some more from this period:

I continued talking with Incisive, and we did reach an agreement for me to continue producing some SES shows in 2007. However, we didn’t come to terms for SEW.

Last Day For Me & Correspondents: Nov. 30, 2006

On November 30, 2006, I served my last day as editor-in-chief of Search Engine Watch. The next day, I started working for my new site here, Search Engine Land. Barry Schwartz and all the SEW correspondents also decided to join me at Search Engine Land. Chris Sherman followed when his contract was up a month later, saying his farewell on December 29, 2006.

New Editor-In-Chief Rebecca Lieb Named: Dec. 7, 2006

The departures left Search Engine Watch without anyone running it and Elisabeth Osmeloski as the only remaining "original" staff. For those wondering, I’d have had Elisabeth come over to Search Engine Land in a second if we hadn’t agreed she was in a better position with Search Engine Watch, at that time.

The leadership gap was quickly filled by naming ClickZ executive editor Rebecca Lieb as editor-in-chief of the entire ClickZ network and moving the editor of Search Engine Watch to report to her (previously, Search Engine Watch was part of the ClickZ network, but the site ran independently from her direction). Elisabeth was promoted to editor of SEW, and Kevin Newcomb came on to take over as news editor. By February, new correspondents began being added

New Logo: Feb. 19, 2007

To celebrate SEW’s 10th year, the site gained a new logo. For those keeping track, here they are over the years:

Search Engine Watch Logo: June 1997

Search Engine Watch Logo: April 2003

Search Engine Watch Logo: April 2004

Search Engine Watch Logo: February 2007

Search Engine Watch Gains Columns: April 5, 2007

By April, what I call the Clickzification of Search Engine Watch finally began — columns started. ClickZ is largely a column-driven site, and Search Engine Watch now had its own, dramatically changing the site’s home page look:

Search Engine Watch: April 5, 2007

Search Engine Land has columns, of course – a bunch of them. I’ve seen some people suggest that Search Engine Watch copied us. It’s the reverse.

Eric Ward, who writes our Link Week column, had been approached about doing a link column for SEW. He asked what I thought. My advice to everyone who worries they are somehow picking "sides" between SEL and SEW is to do what they think is best, as I want what’s the best for them.

That’s what I told Eric — if he thought it was useful to do a column over there, no harm, no foul with me! But Eric said something to the effect of "I’d rather write a column for you!" So Eric — who helped launch Search Engine Watch with his fantastic link building and publicity service years before — helped get the column train going here. Thanks, once again, Eric!

Death Of The Search Engine Report: April 18, 2007

The Search Engine Report newsletter actually predates Search Engine Watch, and I felt a real sadness when I filed my last edition of it, number 120, ten full years of diligently recapping the search news on a monthly basis.

I had also maintained the Search Engine Update newsletter that went out twice per month for paid Search Engine Watch members for nearly as long.

On April 18, 2007, the Search Engine Report was killed. A monthly newsletter would still be offered, but it would no longer be called the Search Engine Report. Instead, only the Search Engine Update name would continue, as readers were told:

In an effort to continue delivering quality content and news to all our readers, we’ve decided to merge the SE Report with our SE Update newsletter. You will continue to receive a monthly newsletter free of charge, but it will be a more comprehensive newsletter with additional content and commentary once per month (which will continue to be mid-month), under the banner of the "Search Engine Update." The Search Engine Update will continue to recap of all of the latest headlines and featured stories available on Search Engine Watch.

It really did make me sad to see the Search Engine Report name go away.

FYI, I still do a monthly recap of search news here called Search Month (the May recap will be out shortly — I’m a bit behind having been doing to our SMX Advanced show recently). In addition to Search Month, we have a daily SearchCap newsletter and columns via newsletter, as well. See the entire list, here.

New Ads: May 1, 2007

The long-standing "Marketplace" ads introduced back in 2003 disappeared, in place of top-of-the-page large banners and a "Sponsored by" box in the left-navigation area. The Search Engine Watch Forums also gained new banner ads inserted into threads:

Search Engine Watch: May 2007

Elisabeth Osmeloski Leaves: May 22, 2007

The last of the SEW "originals," Elisabeth Osmeloski, departed Search Engine Watch on May 22, to become director of online media for the Zonder.com Vacation Rentals site. Rob Kerry, known as evilgreenmonkey at the Search Engine Watch Forums, took over as SEW Forums Editor.

Kevin Ryan Provides Strategic Direction: June 7, 2007

Earlier this week, Kevin Ryan was announced as vice president of global content for Search Engine Watch, as well as the associated Search Engine Strategies conferences. His role is to provide strategic direction for the site — a new editor to provide SEW’s day-to-day coverage needs is still being selected, Rebecca Lieb told me.

SEW’s Future

When the original staff of Search Engine Watch effectively walked out, some assumed the site would collapse. I did not. The site has so much traffic flowing into it that stopping it in its tracks would be akin to trying to stop a giant ship from moving forward after its engines stop by pushing against its bow. It’s going to keep moving on inertia alone!

But SEW quickly revved up its engines, so that it wasn’t moving along just on inertia. The new correspondents and columns are giving it a new voice and direction as it enters its second decade.

I’ve no doubt while both SEW and SEL evolve, there will be inevitable comparisons and rivalry. Rebecca Lieb wrote recently of SEW being the best site about search. I respectfully beg to differ, as Search Engine Land speeds along to be what I think is the best site about search. Readers will be the ultimate judges, and there’s no doubt they’ll all benefit from both sites — as well as the nearly 400 other sites covering search — compete with each other.

Happy 10th Birthday, SEW!

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | SEM Industry: Blogs & Forums | Stats: History


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.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • AussieWebmaster

    Great overview Danny. I definitely think there is a lot of room in this industry for numerous sites offering information and a community to the global members of the search village.

    I look forward to your entry for the 10th Birthday of SEL. By that stage nour children will be the columnists, editors, speakers and panelists.

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