Who Invented SEO?

5th April 2024, Google suggests that Danny Sullivan “invented SEO”… For context, Danny Sullivan is now Public Liaison for Search at Google.

Who invented SEO

On 24th May 2024, after a bit of virality of my post on LinkedIn & HN, the answer on Google has updated to the following snippet.

In 2001, during my teenage years in India, cyber cafes were rare in my city. Cyber-cafe or alternatively also called internet cafe were beginning to emerge in India during that time costing as much as $1 (50Rs) per hour.

During the late 2001, the term SEO was most certainly not prevalent but I vaguely remember using the terms “search position” or “get promoted on search” on various articles I read about affiliate marketing.

Here is an AMA from Bruce Clay to and one of his answers suggesting he was already using this term in 1996…

In 1996, I was one in a small but growing field of search engine-focused web developers who figured out that steps could be taken to improve a website’s position in search engine results. One problem we all faced was explaining to businesses what it was we could do. Some people were calling it “search engine ranking.”

I had a different perspective. In the mid-70s I worked at a mainframe performance measurement company, Boole & Babbage. We had products that optimized application programs and determined how a program could be modified to perform faster. If I could take an application that would run in an hour and I could make it run in 10 minutes, that was valuable because mainframe computer time was very expensive. So anything you could do to improve performance was great. This was called “program product optimization.”

When I got into work on websites I just started calling it “search engine optimization” – it seemed to me to be a natural term based upon my history. I had years of history “optimizing.”

The image at the top claims that Danny was responsible for popularizing the term but not really inventing it.