Who Coined The Term SEO?

Someone’s trying to trademark the term SEO, which has roiled the SEO community. The someone is named Jason Gambert, and he has filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office, claiming to have coined the term “SEO” (for Search Engine Optimization). SEOMoz and others have moved to challenge Gambert’s claim. As the person (along with my partner Leland Harden), who actually did coin the term Search Engine Optimization back in 1995, I feel uniquely qualified to weigh in on the validity of Gambert’s claim.

Jason Gambert asserts that he was the first to use the term SEO, in a 2007 email. The actual origin of SEO happened this way, as recounted way back in 1997 in the book Net Results that Leland and I wrote with Rick Bruner. Here’s an excerpt from page 137:

The scene is the Heyman home, the summer of 1995, 3:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. The phone rings. Bob, senior vice president of audience development at Cybernautics, grabs the receiver and mumbles, “Hello?”

“Why the #$%$ don’t we come up before page 4 on this damned thing? Page #$%$ 4, you #$%$ morons” the voice on the other end shouts.

Examining the alarm clock and smiling meekly at his wife, Bob asks, “Huh?”

The caller was the manager for the rock band Jefferson Starship, then a new Cybernautics client. He was throwing a tantrum befitting a rock industry insider in the middle of the night over the fact that the Web site Cybernautics had recently built for the band appeared several screens down in a search of “Jefferson Starship” on a particular search engine.

As it turns out, the band was on the road, and the manager had wanted to show a club promoter how hip Starship was to have its own web site. Unfortunately he couldn’t remember the URL (www.jstarship.com, now defunct), so he resorted to a search engine lookup. To his considerable annoyance, the page did not come up especially close to the top of the list.

The next morning, Bob dragged into the office a bit sleepier than usual, gathered the staff and explained that mastering the art of search engine ranking was a new company priority.

It turned out that what governed organic search results back then was how many times the keyword appeared on the web page. The Cybernautics designers had done a tasteful job and the keyword Jefferson Starship did not appear as often as it did on fan pages about the band. Once Bob had his designers have the words Jefferson Starship recur on the page in tiny black print against a black background the page rank vaulted to number one. The band was pleased.

Bob and Leland Harden called this new field Search Engine Optimization and soon thereafter hired the first SEOM (Search Engine Optimization Manager). And so SEO was born.

So, clearly, Jason Gambert’s claim of coining SEO in 2007 is patently spurious. Here are links to various posts about Gambert’s Trademark claim and the ensuing furor:

From TechDirt: Internet Marketer Tries To Trademark SEO

From SEOMoz: Pulling A Fast One

You can access the current status of Gambert’s Trademark filing here.

Bob Heyman is Chief Search Officer at Mediasmith in San Francisco. Bob’s new book (with Leland Harden). “Digital Engagement”, will be published by the American Management Association’s publishing arm in January.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Legal: Trademarks | SEM Industry: General | SEO: General | Stats: History


About The Author: is the Chief Search Officer at Mediasmith in San Francisco, and co-author of Digital Engagement, published by The American Management Association. Bob coined the terms "Audience Development" for building traffic to websites and "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO).

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