Bruce Clay, the person who coined the term SEO, at PubCon in 2011
Bruce Clay. Photo provided by Michael Dorausch

Does it really matter who coined the term SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization? Well, maybe for some, it does. The practice of positioning web pages higher within a search engine have been around for about two decades. A lot has changed within the field of SEO since then, although one thing has not: the hero(s) who have been defined to have coined the term SEO.

When the field first started to emerge, in the mid-90’s, there were several ways of describing the action needed to rank a website within a search engine:

  • Search Engine Ranking
  • Search Engine Submission
  • Search Engine Positioning
  • Search Engine Registration
  • Search Engine Placement
  • Website Promotion

This article is going to cover the people who had involvement with popularizing the methodology of ranking a website in a search engine with the specific term of “Optimization” within the title. And, to keep it interesting, I’ve also included an awesome rock-and-roll story, some shout-outs to some Big Time SEOs, and a highlight about an SEO opportunist who had involvement with the US 2016 Presidential Election.

SEO Hero Series Preamble

As the first publication within the SEO Hero series, I would like to introduce the purpose of these posts and direct attention to whom they are for. Hero SEO is participating in the WIX “SEO Hero Challenge”, a competition which started on December 16 and will continue until March 15, 2017. The objective of this challenge is to rank the highest within Google for the specific keyword “SEO Hero”. If you would like to know more about the competition you can read about the WIX SEO Hero Competition Rules on our website.

To serve the SEO Community by identifying it’s past

I’ve found, one of the best ways to learn about a particular subject it to identify where the subject originated. Within these SEO Hero publications, I will be identifying where the SEO community started and how the practice has evolved to what we know as modern day SEO through demonstration of identifying the heros within this growing field. With this said, lets dive deep into the the first article: The Hero Who Coined the Term SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Blast to the past!

We’ll start out in the Summer of 95′; Braveheart was in theaters, Seal had a #1 hit single in the pop-charts, Jerry Garcia was still alive, and surprisingly Jefferson Starship was on tour.

Yes, this article is about Search Engine Optimization; just bear with me!

thanks for bearing with me

Jefferson Starship released a live album in January 95′, Deep Space / Virgin Sky, a collection in dedication to the recently-past band member Papa John Creach; a member who held longevity with the group since they were identified as Jefferson Airplane.

Recorded live at the House Of Blues in West Hollywood, the album featured eight previously unreleased songs.

This was big for the band – they have not released any new music in over a decade and to market how current the band is in regard to technology, a website was launched.

Hot Tuna over there, with their 90’s website.

Well, kind of. Having a website in 1995 was a big thing! This was at the beginning of the tech bubble; years before Google even existed. Most websites which were around at this time were either government / military websites or websites hosted within university networks.

The manager of Jefferson Starship knew that having a website would be a great promotional tool. He planned on using it, although when the time came to boast about their new website to a venue promoter he forgot the domain.

Not only did the manager forget the domain, the entire band did as well. The domain at the time, which is no longer active, was jstarship.com.

Even though Google was not around, there were several search engines which were being used to find websites; such as AltaVista, Infoseek, and Yahoo! Directory to name a few. The band manager used Alta Vista to find the official Jefferson Starship website, to become infuriated with the fact that the domain finally appeared on the fourth page.

Cybernautics, the company who built the website

[enter Bob Heyman]

It was at 3 a.m. on a Monday when Bob Heyman, the Senior Vice President of Audience Development at, and founder of, Cybernautics, received the hysterical phone call from the Jefferson Starship manager in regard to where the domain was showing up within the search engine, or the lack there of.

Below is a quote which accounts for this bit of SEO history from the book, co-authored by Mr.Heyman, titled Net Results: Web Marketing That Works, published in 1998, and can be found on page 137 of the book.


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 [expletive] don’t we come up before page 4 on this damned thing? Page [expletive] 4, you [expletive] morons” the voice on the other end shouts.

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

Lovely way to wake up, don’t you think?

It was at this point in Bobs career where he identified that ranking websites within search engines would be a priority of his and his company Cybernautics.

Cybernautics worked quickly in getting this domain to rank well within the search engines. Their process in doing so at the time: plastering the keyword “Jefferson Starship” across the entire website, using a font color which matched the color of the background. The domain sprung to #1 and Cybernautics’ new client, Jefferson Starship, was satisfied with the service.

Bob Heyman claims, along with his partner Leland Harden, coined the terminology for this field as “Search Engine Optimization”, even creating the first search engine optimization managerial position within any business.

We Built This City…

We built this city on SEO and Notepad

You can read more about Mr. Bob Heyman’s claim to coining the term SEO on Search Engine Land, a great website for learing about SEO, within the article written by Bob Heyman.

A different account, one told by Mr. Heyman himself, of the Jefferson Starship story claims that the manager found the domain on the second page and not on the fourth page within the results of AltaVista. This can be found here in a lengthy Search Triggers video on YouTube.

Bob Heyman is an SEO Hero

Now, we talked about Bob Heyman and his claim-to-fame of who coined the term SEO, but you might be asking why I started this article of a picture of someone else?

Ah, yes – this leads me to incorporating one of the most iconic marketing phrases of the 90’s:

But Wait, There’s More!

[enter Danny Sullivan]

Danny Sullivan, titled by some as The Father of SEO, is definitely worth a mention when it comes to the early years of ranking web pages within a search engine. Danny is the creator of Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, the Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo, and is identified as the person who popularized the term SEM, or search engine marketing.

Search Engine Watch started in April 1996 under a different name, and it changed to as we know it today, in June 1997. Even though Danny sold Search Engine Watch shortly after creating it, he stayed with the project for almost a decade as their editor-in-chief until moving on to create Search Engine Land in 2006.

Within the stent Danny spent with Search Engine Watch, he spearheaded the Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo. This international digital marketing series ran from 1999 to 2006 and attracted up to 6,000 people per event, occurring up to 6 times per year.

Alright, that’s enough of an introduction on Danny Sullivan for now (HINT HINT). All I would like to define is that the guy has been around the SEO game since its early inception.

Who coined the term SEO?

Well, that is what we have been discussing. Right?

In 2004, a post within the Search Engine Watch forums was posted asking “Who Invented the Term “Search Engine Optimization”?” and Danny Sullivan chimed in with his opinion on the question.

Sadly, the forum is no longer available so I have paraphrased Danny’s post from an archived version of the page.

The paraphrased quote below would have been found within the forums of Search Engine Watch and was written by in June 2004.


1996: SEW started in April 1996 under a different name. Can’t find any references within archived versions of SEW relating to SEO or “optimization.”

Web Week, Cnet, Inc and the NYT all ran stories about search engine optimization that year [1997], though the last three definitely did not use the words “search engine optimization” or make reference to “optimization.” …

October 1997: First reference I find to the word “optimization” in the body copy at SEW. It was on the former Search Engine Design page. I renamed that no doubt because something made me think that “Search Engine Positioning” was a better term. Reference was:

Web Ranking Tools Bruce Clay provides a page outlining his optimization strategies.

[The] copy I have of his page from that time has a quote from someone saying to him: Then, last week, I took your advice step by step. I optimized my tags to take full advantage of their use.

That page from Bruce doesn’t use “optimization” as a word at all. However, there’s a very good chance that I drew my description from an email Bruce may have sent me about the page, so certainly making him one of the first to be popularizing it.

So that’s what I could find — still no definitive first reference, but I think it’s fair to say that it seemed to come into play around early to mid-1997. Love to hear what others can find/recall.

Not much was said in the posts which followed Danny’s, for he responded to the original question with detailed information.

The Father of SEO, Danny Sullivan, claimed that he did not believe that the term optimization would be best to describe the action it took to rank a web page in a search engine. Although Danny defines that there is probably no definitive answer, he does identify one person who may have popularized the action of “optimization” within web pages to rank better.

The person who optimized for search engines!

With identifying the people who have been accredited for popularizing the word “optimization” within the practice of ranking within search engines, I find that I would not be giving the due diligence necessary if I left this person out of this article.

[enter Bruce Clay]

SEO Hero: Bruce Clay!

SEO Hero Bruce Clay

There he is! Who the heck is Bruce Clay? Well I’m glad you asked!

Bruce Clay has been providing SEO services through Bruce Clay, Inc. since 1996. Starting his business out from his dining room table in his house, to now having several locations around the word; Bruce Clay can be seen as one of the people early to the SEO game and which also demonstrates his success in entrepreneurship.

In an interview, Mr. Clay identifies that, although he acknowledges the credit Danny Sullivan points his way in coining the tern SEO, he doesn’t find it necessary to adopt the title.

I know Danny at one point had given me credit for coining the term, but there’s a reference to it in an un-authenticated email where somebody talked about it that was picked up by Wikipedia. I don’t really care. All I know is that I’ve made a good living doing it, and that’s what matters.

Bruce Clay doesn’t care – great name for a punk band!

The “Unauthenticated” Email

The email Bruce Clay points out is in reference to an archived email in which Danny Sullivan discovered in the 2000’s. Although no person has officially stepped up to be the author of the email, this find has been accredited in being the first time optimization was used when defining the service of increasing the position of web pages within search engines.

This email, with the subject line titled “The Truth About Internet Marketing”, was published in July 97′. Three key points were identified within these tips for marketing on the internet:

  1. Paid Internet Advertisement
  2. Search Engine Optimization
  3. Email Marketing

As I just mentioned, no one has taken credit for authoring this email. Now with this said, there is someone who takes full ownership.

[enter Jason Gambert]

In 2008, Jason Gambert filed with the USPTO in attempt to commandeer the trademark for the service of Search Engine Optimization. As you might assume, this caused a stir within the SEO community.

I’ve caught up with Jason Gambert & would love to share my experience.

There were several reasons why I reached out to Jason Gambert:

  • What he knew about this email
  • Does he practice SEO, himself
  • And is he the Jason Gambert which ran in The 2016 US Presidential Election

WHAAAT?!?!? Presidential Material; apparently he thinks so!

Jason Gambert Ran in The 2016 US Presidential Election

The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Running under the American Justice Party, Jason Gambert made a bid towards the 2016 US Presidential Election. And from what I’ve gathered, he is defining himself to be the winner: POTUS and POTCUS, or The President of The Continental United States.

It is for further information and intelligence purposes the Americans must know, or should know by now there are two systems, two systems at work here. There is the United Stated Corporation and then there is the Republic of the United States of America, the Presidency that I represent and did in fact win. The reason I won, both in fact, POTUS, and POTCUS, is for the fact I was the only NON-CORPORATE Candidate that had the real court all in session.

-Jason Gambert

That’s great Jason, thank you. Although, let’s get back to that email.

One of the several ways I found Jason Gambert was through the ownership of the domain in which the 97′ marketing email derived from, ascella.net. Although not available any longer, this domain use to point to content written by Jason Gambert.

With this sparking my interest, I asked Jason if he knew the origin of the email – hopeful in receiving information I once did not know about.

The Specimen of Jason Gambert

Jason Gambert's SEO Email Specimen

Jeez Jason – do you keep the specimen in a petri dish?

The Attempt To Own SEO As A Service

Back to the 2008 SEO trademark claim!

[enter Jonathan Hochman & Rhea Drysdale]

There was opposition in the Gambert’s 2008 claim to the trademark. Most notably, Jonathan Hochman and Rhea Drysdale.

Let’s first start out with Jonathan Hochman. Mr Hochman, once hearing about the trademark filing, invested around $10,000 of his own money in legal fees. Although it was not Mr. Hochmans’ opposition which led to Gamberts Trademark filling to be tossed out, it was the start of acknowledgment from the SEO community that this aggression will not stand, Man.

It was finally the opposition of Rhea Drysdale which ultimately ended the trademark of SEO for Jason Gambert. After years of legal battles and $17,004.33 spent of her own money in opposition, on March 11, 2010 Mrs. Drysdale was awarded in favor in the fate of SEO.

The Board’s order of October 29, 2009 made clear that applicant was to supplement his responses to opposer’s discovery requests within twenty days of the order. The order further stated, in no uncertain terms, that “opposer’s attorney is to be in receipt of applicant’s responses within twenty days.” Applicant was warned that his failure to comply with the Board’s order “in any way” would be grounds for an entry of judgment against him. Applicant’s failure to comply with the twenty day deadline cannot be overlooked. We agree with opposer that applicant cannot rely on Trademark Rule 2.119 or the Federal Rules in this instance. The record is clear that opposer’s attorney was not in receipt of applicant’s supplemental responses within twenty days of the order or November 18, 2009. Moreover, our review of the untimely supplemental responses of applicant submitted in conjunction with opposer’s reply brief reveal that applicant’s responses remain, on the whole, deficient. Our patience with applicant has worn thin. In view thereof, opposer’s motion for sanctions is granted. The opposition is sustained, and registration is refused to applicant.

Rhea Drysdale is the CEO of Outspoken Media, a digital marketing agency based out of Troy, NY. She has been known to speak at digital marketing conferences in the past. If you want to show appreciation for her work, buy her a diet coke! She would like that! If you would like to read more about Rhea’s experience with the SEO trademark saga, you can review the article she published SEO Trademark Registration Terminated

Continuing, Jonathan Hochman is the founder of Hochman Consultants, a digital marketing agency located in Cheshire, CT. Mr. Hochman has two computer science degrees from Yale University and has been a speaker within digital marketing conferences since the mid-2000’s.

With the effort both of these people endured, it would be my great pleasure in anouncing that both Jonathan Hochman and Rhea Drysdale are SEO Heros!

SEO Heros: Jonathan Hochman & Rhea Drysdale

Rhea Drysdale and Jonathan Hochman are SEO Heros

If it weren’t for these two people, there could have been a probability that we might not “optimize” webpages to rank better within search engines, but rather use some other word for the service.

So, Who Coined The Term SEO?

We’ve already covered this, Bob Heyman coined the term Search Engine Optimization. He has published this topic in several places; one of my favorite being on Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land in 2008. That’s right, Mr. Heyman published an article on a blog owned by Danny Sullivan, a person who assumed that Bruce Clay was probably the one who “optimized” only four years prior.

I asked Mr.Heyman what his conversation was like with Danny Sullivan in regard to his publication on coining the term SEO on the SEL blog; to his response, Danny has always been cordial.

Oof, both stand-up people!

For reasons I which to make clear; the purpose of mentioning Bruce Clay, Jonathan Hochman, and Rhea Drysdale. I find that these people are imperative in mentioning within this article of SEO Hero: The One Who Coined The Term SEO , for their impact is great when specifically defining the fact that SEOs “optimize”.

If you enjoyed this SEO Hero article, go ahead and leave a comment & signup for the Hero SEO Newsletter.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *