The Birth Of SEO

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a term that has come into common use.  People ask how my partner Leland Harden and I happened to coin the term Search Engine Optimization and become the first search marketing agency.

The 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, I asked, “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 (, 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, I 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 I 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 as  pleased as they had been upset..  They called as asked what we called this process we had done for them

Leland  and I looked at one another.  “Search Engine Optimization”.

And so SEO was born.

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