In May 2007, Jason Gambert embarked on an ambitious project that would have revolutionized SEO and in the process make him a very rich man. He applied for a patent at the US Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO). He wanted to register and copyright ‘SEO’.
In other words, every firm or individual would have to pay him something if they wanted to use SEO as part of their brand or business name. Smart move right?
This is a short history of Search Engine Optimization. The story of one man’s greed and the determination of a young lady, Rhea Drysdale, who made sure an injustice was not allowed to prevail.
Any online business in Nigeria and around the world always strives for one thing: as much traffic as possible.
Traffic, especially the right kind, is what would make all the efforts worthwhile. That is where money is made to sustain the business and of course pay some personal bills and live a comfortable life.
Before traffic though, there is the drudgery or hard work that goes into attracting people to the website. One buzz phrase everybody in the industry has heard is Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short.
A slew of firms (they are in the hundreds of thousands) have being built around that phrase and number keeps rising. Millions are made SEO experts around the world.
All of them promise webmasters the golden goose of huge traffic for a fee.
Today SEO is so ubiquitous that many who don’t know what it means think they know everything about it.
Some so-called SEO experts in Nigeria even believe the term was created by Google as a guide on how websites can rank better on Google.
But they are so wrong. SEO wasn’t created by Google or any other search engine.
That was why Jason Gambert was audacious enough to try and patent the phrase 10 years ago.
Prior to Lambert’s move, SEO was a term used by Internet marketers and website designers to describe how to make a site rank higher in search engines.
That definition still holds today. But back then, ranking a site higher on a search engine was more about using enough keywords or ‘keyword stuffing’ as it is known today
Today, the Google algorithm doesn’t care much about how often a particular keyword appears. The emphasis is on quality content and other variables.
The big question now is, if Google had nothing to do with the coining of the phrase Search Engine Optimization, who did?
Maybe, just maybe, if Mr. Gambert had not tried to patent SEO, we would never have known the origins of the term.
Gambert’s attempt to own exclusive rights to the use of SEO made Robert Heyman come out of the woodworks and claim credit for the origin of the term Search Engine Optimization.
According to Heyman, he and his business partner Leland Harden coined the term after the work they did on a rock band’s ( Jefferson Starship) website instantly took the website to the top of the search engine result page.
All they did was add ‘Jefferson Starship’ several more times on the website.
After the success of that tweak, Heyman and Harden named this exciting discovery Search Engine Optimization and not long after hired a manager to oversee that division.
All these happened in 1997 when Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, were just about to turn the concept of Google into reality. That is to say, Google was just another upstart with an uncertain future.
At the time, the dominant search engines were WebCrawler, Yahoo, Dogpile, Excite, etc. Even MSN search that became Bing later wasn’t popular then.
Once Heyman and Harden were able to show that they were the first to use SEO, a good foundation was laid for others to oppose Jason Lambert’s patent.
However, it was Rhea Drysdale who took the battle to stop the trademarking of SEO personally. Just 23 years when she first challenged the application, Drysdale spent about $17,000 of her own money for the legal war that lasted two years.
She prevailed ultimately when the USTPO permanently blocked the application by Jason Gambert to trademark SEO.
Very few of the so-called ‘SEO Experts’ in Nigeria and around the world have heard of Rhea Drysdale. They owe her a lot because the millions they are making today from the use of that phrase was down to her tenacity between 2008 and 2010.