A guide to Google: Origins, history and key moments in search

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Google is the most popular search engine in the world, with a commanding market share of over 80% globally and just under 80% in the U.S.

While we don’t have any figures direct from the company, it’s estimated that billions of searches – or trillions per year – are conducted on Google.

Google’s immense popularity makes it an essential platform for brands and businesses that want to be visible and found by their target audiences when people are searching for products they sell or topics they have deep expertise and experience in. 

This can be achieved with search marketing – organically, by following SEO best practices, via paid advertising (PPC), or in combination.

A brief history of Google

It’s hard to imagine a time before Google dominated search. Google is a household name synonymous with search.

But back in the late 1990s, the search engine landscape was totally different. 

At the time, Yahoo was the biggest player in search, but there were several other search engines including Excite, Lycos, AltaVista and Ask Jeeves.

But before Google would change search and marketing forever, there was BackRub. 

This was the name of the search engine two Stanford PhD students – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – started developing in 1996.

The name “Backrub” came from how the search engine analyzed “backlinks” pointing to websites to understand their importance for ranking purposes.

Page and Brin assembled Backrub using leased servers and parts they bought at discounted prices. It operated on Stanford’s network for over a year, eventually processing around 10,000 queries a day.

While primitive compared to today’s Google, Backrub introduced concepts like link analysis for relevance ranking. It laid the foundation for Page and Brin’s breakthrough PageRank algorithm, which became the core of Google’s Search.

Soon after, Page and Brin decided the name wasn’t a winner and started brainstorming. In 1997, they renamed their fledgling search engine to “Google” (thanks in part to a typo while searching for available domain names). Google.com was then registered on Sept 15, 1997.

While other search engines relied on counting how many times keywords were used on pages for ranking, Google introduced its PageRank algorithm. This looked at how many other sites linked to a page as a way to gauge its importance.

The Google homepage launched in 1998 with a basic, uncluttered interface showing just a “Google!” logo, search bar and Search button.

Within a few years, Google search results would win over users due to far better relevancy. It wasn’t long before Google became the most popular search engine and further increased its global dominance in search over the coming decades.

Google overview

  • Founded: Sept. 4, 1998
  • Founders: Larry Page and Sergey Brin
  • CEO: Sundar Pichai
  • 2022 revenue: $282.8 billion
  • Full-time employees: 181,798
  • Official birthday: Sept. 27 (since 2005)

Timeline: Google Search key moments

Search Engine Land’s Google coverage by category

Search Engine Land has been covering Google since 2006. Below are links to our various Google categories.

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