the history and evolution of google search featured image

How the Evolution of the Google Search Engine Has Changed Business

The word “Google” has become nearly synonymous with the concept of “search” over the past couple decades. With the emergence of technology such as voice searches, one must wonder if the word “Google” will someday replace the word “search” entirely (Lost your keys? Just Google them!).

Businesses are learning that they are left behind without a presence on Google’s search results pages. Gone is the heyday of direct mail and billboards – if your customer can’t find you on the first page of search results, do you really exist? No matter who you are or what your business does, you need to know about the evolution of Google search to understand how your site will be affected and what you can do to beat out the competition in this space. Hence, we’re looking into the history of the Google search engine, the world’s most famous algorithm.

Just BackRub It

steel chain with shallow depth of field representing link building

While the full history of search engines began several years before, Google started in 1996 as a concept engineered by two Stanford students in a dorm room. While other search engines primarily collected and retrieved URLS and titles based on pure keyword match, the earliest iteration of Google was different. The early Google search algorithm, then named “BackRub”, utilized citations to help provide searchers with valuable search results. It gave pages “value” based on how many times they were mentioned (linked to) across the web. Pages that had a lot of links pointing towards them were given stronger rankings on the search results pages, as the number of mentions indicated that the page was important to readers.

Does that sound familiar? If you have some knowledge about search engine optimization, you’ll know that gaining links to your site is one of the most powerful ways to rank in higher positions on search pages and get more traffic and conversions. Maybe the name has changed, but Google still values the “backrub” your site gets when another reputable site links to it.

You (Can) Always Get What You Want

Have you ever Googled something and been amazed by how perfect the results were? Contrary to what you might think, Google’s algorithm can’t read your mind – well, not exactly.

The minds behind Google spent the years after its inception looking for ways to make the algorithm produce more relevant results for searchers. They found a lot of nifty ways to achieve this. In 2000, the great evolution of the Google search engine began when the team started to tweak the algorithm that helped bring trustworthy and relevant pages to the top of the search results. There have been a lot of changes to Google search over the years, but some notable updates include:

  • google search timeline of changes to google's algorithm2003: Google began cracking down on sites that were manipulating the links-as-votes algorithm with huge sites created simply to link to other sites. In fact, Google is still perfecting the way it determines “good” links and “bad” links – which is why trying to manipulate Google’s algorithm by purchasing or trading links is an unwise long-term decision for your site. Google will find you, and it will penalize you.
  • 2010: Google started taking into account signals from social media when deciding what pages rank highest. Similar to links, social signals help indicate that a site is a place that people like and trust. That’s right–Twitter is not just for the kids anymore.
  • 2011-2015: The Panda algorithm updates went live to help demote ad-heavy and thin content pages, which offer a somewhat unfriendly user experience. With this big round of changes, Google helped push up high-quality content and websites to the top of the list. A grammatically-incorrect paragraph or two just doesn’t cut it anymore.
  • 2012-2016: The notorious Penguin updates took a swing at websites using spammy tactics to improve their rankings, such as keyword stuffing. In other words, if you’re writing for the machines and not humans, Google probably doesn’t like your site.
  • 2015: Google announces that machine learning was being built into the algorithm and was one of the most important ranking factors. Essentially, Google is not just reading the words we search, but also interpreting what we really mean when we type them.

The continuous improvement of Google’s algorithm is one of the reasons it has dominated the history of internet search. While Yahoo! technically existed before Google, people flocked to Google due to the ever-improving relevancy of its search results. Sounds as if we like having our minds read – and sounds like we should be trying to read our site visitors’ minds when creating our sites, too. Google’s doing it, after all.

Don’t Rage Against the Machine

google voice search smartphone

What’s next for Google, then? A robot that comes to your house and answers your questions before you can ask them? Maybe not yet – but we’re not that far off.

Mobile technology is driving changes in Google’s search algorithm and layout, and up-and-comers like voice search are beginning to change the way we search and the way Google answers. “Googling” is ingrained into nearly every moment of our daily lives. We don’t look through the phone book to find a plumber anymore – we Google “plumbers near me”.

And even the concept of Google has taken over the way we do things – everything from dating apps to shopping sites operate using intelligent search algorithms that want to read your mind and give you what you want.

While other mediums will still hold value, search is becoming the main battleground for all kinds of businesses – ecommerce, service, even entertainment. Search is where you win conversions such as phone calls and form fills, or where you lose customers with weak rankings and spammy-looking titles. Google constantly looks for ways to give better search results to searchers, and sometimes, sites get hurt when Google decides they’re not good enough.

But why fight it? Give Google what it wants – because it’s also what every business’ customers want. They both want to see high-quality and easy-to-use sites that answer their burning questions. If there’s anything business owners can learn from the history of the Google search algorithm, it’s that it just wants the results that are best for everyone.

You know what they say – build a great site, and the customers will come.


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Zoe James

Zoe James

Junior SEO Analyst at Leverage Marketing
Austin native and University of North Texas marketing major Zoe James was an accomplished member of the UNT Swimming and Diving Team. Her skills as a team member and leader of student-athletes translated to her expertise as a Business Development Manager, after which she sought the creative and analytical challenges of search engine optimization at Leverage Marketing. She is a lover of animals, food, and fitness, as well as a master of the unique and wonderful culture of Austin, TX.
Zoe James
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