Category: Technology News

Today is Google’s official birthday. Founded in September 1998, the world’s most popular search engine is now a grand 15 years old. To celebrate, we took a look back on how the company has revolutionised search and online marketing over the past decade and a half…


What’s in a name?

Googol definition

'Google’ is a misspelling of ‘googol’

Google was born out of a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two PhD students at Stanford University, USA.  The earliest version of their search engine was christened ‘BackRub’ and it was a few years later that the pair re-named it to what we know it as today.

The name ‘Google’ originates from a common misspelling of ‘googol’, the number represented by a 1 followed by one hundred zeros. In a paper written about the project, Larry suggested that the name “fits well with our goal of building very large-scale search engines”.


Ranking by relevance

Back in 1998, search engines operated very differently to what we’re used to today. Web pages would be ranked according to how many times a keyword appeared on the page, without taking into account contextual factors to establish the page’s relevance more accurately.

AltaVista search engine circa 1998

AltaVista, an early search engine

What set Google apart was PageRank. Developed by Larry, the algorithm tracked the number of backlinks for every webpage it crawled, and used these to determine the page’s importance and relevance.

The first Google homepage

Google’s very first home page – based
on all those exclamation points,
Larry and Sergey must have
been very excited


Starting point

The new search engine initially operated from the Stanford website, first as BackRub and later as Google. However, after more than a year on the Stanford servers, the amount of bandwidth Google was using became too much for the university. Larry and Sergey purchased the domain on 15th September, 1998, shortly after registering the company on the 4th of that same month.

Using the Wayback Machine, we can see what the very first home page looked like.

ASIDE: Astute readers may be wondering why Google celebrates its birthday on 27th September, rather than the apparently more significant dates of the 4th and 15th. In fact, Google has never used either of these dates. In 2003 and 2004, Google recognised the 7th as its birthday, but it was moved back to the 27th in 2005 and has remained as such ever since. According to Google: “The exact date when we celebrate our birthday has moved around over the years, depending on when people feel like having cake” (the web page stating this is no longer available, but you can see it on the Wayback Machine here.)


Coming out top

By the end of 1998, Google had an index of more than 60 million pages. The search engine was a hit and PC Magazine nominated it as the search engine of choice in December 1998.

Google continued to grow at a rapid rate over the next couple of years, making the site available in 15 languages and moving location twice to accommodate its rapidly increasing workforce (its first home was a garage let to the university students by Susan Wojcicki, who is today a senior vice president at the company).
Google Maps Street View of the garage that was its very first home

Google’s first home, a garage in California

Google mascots on the grounds on the Googleplex

Google mascots at the current Google HQ, known as the Googleplex

In June 2000, Google formed a temporary partnership with Yahoo! to become their default search provider. In that same month, Google announced that it had indexed over one billion URLs and established itself as the world’s largest search engine.


Word up

In October 2000, Google launched AdWords – for the first time, businesses could advertise on the world’s most popular search engine.
Google AdWords logo

AdWords gave marketing specialists a new way to promote their brands online

2002 saw ‘Google’ being voted the most useful word of the year. By January 2006, the term ‘to Google’, meaning ‘to look up a word using a search engine’, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The site’s popularity was now so extreme (and still is) that the brand name had become synonymous with the generic act of searching the web.


Continuous development

With search engines being a major source of online traffic, the practice of search engine optimisation (SEO) has become essential. Primarily involving targeting search engine traffic through the use of carefully-chosen keywords, Google encourages SEO as a way of ensuring a website is indexed.
Panda Google update


Many Google updates are named after animals

However, some webmasters opted for so-called ‘black hat’ SEO methods, which did not adhere to Google’s quality guidelines. Concerned that such sites were ranking higher than they should, Google announced the Panda algorithm update in February 2011.
Penguin Google update


Hot on the heels of Panda, Penguin went live in 2012

Since its inception, Google had undergone many updates. However, unlike minor ‘data refreshes’, the Panda algorithm had a major impact on search rankings. The update affected up to 12% of all search results.

Panda was followed by the Penguin algorithm update in April 2012 and then Penguin 2.0 in May 2013. Each algorithm update has a major impact on what factors are deemed to be important for ranking. Google’s continuous changes are what make SEO such a time-consuming practice – and what makes our SEO specialists jobs so interesting.


The future is search

Google has grown from a university research project to a garage-based start-up in California to the world’s most-used search engine. Today, it has more than 30,000 employees in more than 70 offices around the globe.
Google offices around the world

Google’s offices around the world

While the company has expanded to provide additional services (including email, maps and even a music player), it is search that remains the ultimate tool for businesses. Because so many people use search engines such as Google to browse the web, some carefully-chosen optimisation techniques can make all the difference to the number of visitors your website is able to reach – and, as a result, the number of sales you are able to make.

How much of your web traffic comes from search engines? Let us know what Google has done for your business by leaving a comment below.

De Facto offers tailored SEO services, including site evaluation, strategy and training. Find out more about our SEO solutions on our main website.


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