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Part 12: A Brief History of Google

Updated: Aug 8

At last, we have made it! Finally, we are at the inception of Google. We will not go into depth about what Google has become, which is Alphabet, but rather how it captured and maintained its dominance as a search engine. We will begin this story in 1995 at Stanford University.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin had just accepted scholarships to join Stanford’s master’s in computer science program with Page coming from the University of Michigan, Brin from the University of Maryland. The two met while at their orientation and, although they often didn’t see eye-to-eye, they were good friends during their initial years at Stanford.

It would be Page who made the first breakthrough. While researching topics for his thesis, Page had an epiphany – the internet is nothing more than a bunch of connected nodes, and how connected one node is to another should determine its quality. To translate into terms previously used in this blog series, the internet has bunch of websites which contain hypertext, and the quality of the webpages should be determined by the quality and quantity of the hypertext on them. This idea would not be the genesis of Google, however, but a simpler tool known as Backrub. Backrub’s main functionality allowed users to see what pages a particular website linked to. Given the tens of millions of websites at the time, the potential of this idea was obvious. Backrub began crawling the web in March 1996 [1].

After the crawl began, Brin decided he wanted to help Page realize the full potential of Backrub. The full crawl of the web was eventually completed, but now the pair had to solve the next challenge – how to rank all of these web pages? It was then they developed the PageRank system. Essentially, PageRank determined how many web pages linked to a particular web page: the greater number of links the better. The next ranking factor was the quality of the pages the links were coming from: the higher quality of linked pages the better. These two scores were then added together to assign the web page an importance factor. PageRank is still used today, although it is now one of hundreds of algorithms used by Google Search…which was the next breakthrough.

The pair decided PageRank would be best applied to the existing search engine model, as no other search engine at the time possessed this type of ranking algorithm. The algorithm, in theory, would be a merit-based system similar to that of the citation system used in academia. They decided to name their search engine Google, a tribute to googl, which is 1 with 100 zeros following it, representing the seemingly infinite amount of information on the internet [2]. Google officially launched on Stanford’s campus in August 1996.

Although the launch and initial feedback for Google was positive, it was not without fault. For instance, since Page used his own Stanford home page as a starting point for Google, the crawler took up half of Stanford’s total network bandwidth and broke it on multiple occasions. Apart from this issue, certain institutions were extremely hesitant to give information to Google, a problem that is reappearing today. Stanford didn’t seem to mind these problems, though, for they knew the potential of this creation.

For the next two years, Larry and Sergey would continue to build their world-beating search engine before deciding to monetize it. Initially, they planned on licensing their PageRank algorithm to other search engines. However, the business case for search engines had not been developed yet, and investment capital was hard to come by. It took a $100,000 investment from Andy Bechtolsheim which finally gave them the capital they needed to turn Google into a full-time occupation. Shortly after this investment, Google was incorporated [1].

Despite the investment, the business case problem still remained. Larry and Sergey continued to seek more venture capital and continued to receive the same response – “You need to have banner advertising to make this technology profitable.” Banner advertising is what you see in magazines and newspapers. There had to be a better way, they thought, which allowed for companies to pay them for leveraging the search engine whilst not interfering with the overall user experience. Enter Bill Gross and Overture with their PPC, or Pay-Per-Click, model. As the name indicates, PPC was a system of advertising which allowed companies to pay for higher rankings on search engines without impeding on the user experience. At the time, a typical PPC cost was $0.05 to $0.10 per click depending on the competitiveness of the keyword or keyphrase [1].

Overture offered Google an opportunity to partner with them, but Google refused. Instead, they created their own competitive system called AdWords, which is today known as Google Ads. The modern-day search engine model was now complete. Overture would sue Google for copying their PPC model, but Overture received nothing more than a financial payout. Google had officially taken over the search engine market which it still dominates today, no offense to Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo. To attribute a number to that dominance, Google was visited 89.3 billion times per month in 2022, and it controlled 91.9% of the search engine market [3]. Don’t expect those number to change anytime soon.

Well, I suppose I could end this blog series here, but I don’t feel that’s right. We’ve covered too much of human history to end it now. We will recap the search engine history story and put a bow on it next week.


[1] Sebo Marketing. “A Brief History of Google - Part 1.” Sebo Marketing, Sept. 2017, Accessed 24 July 2023.

[2] Wikipedia contributors. “History of Google.” Wikipedia, July 2023, Accessed 24 July 2023.

[3] Mohsin, Maryam. “10 Google Search Statistics You Need to Know in 2023 | Oberlo.” GOOGLE SEARCH STATISTICS YOU NEED TO KNOW IN 2023 [INFOGRAPHIC], 25 Apr. 2023,,8.5%20billion%20searches%20per%20day. Accessed 24 July 2023.

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