Jason Ogaard: Google grows because it knows the market
Back when I first started tinkering around with computers, AOL and Yahoo were the Internet giants.
They had their own media portals, they had their own search, they had their own email services, they were the names that people associated with the Internet. The Internet was treated as a novelty then by most people and companies. Not much thought was put into services like search or email.
But in 1998, Google Inc was founded. Their only service was search. How did Google expect to compete with the likes of AOL and Yahoo in something like search? In the '90s, when a developer made a website they would add a 'keyword' attribute to it. This attribute isn't visible to the end user, it was a list of words used to describe the page. For instance, if I were to make a website about trees I would list things like: trees, bark, leaves, nature as keywords for that page. These keywords were indexed by search engines and used to decide what web pages to display when a user does a search for those keywords.
As you might imagine, relying upon keywords from the web developer can prove to be unreliable and quite possibly devious. Unscrupulous developers could use these keywords to get to their spam pages to the top of search results.
Google did search differently. Instead of relying upon keywords, Google used a number of different metrics. I should note that Google doesn't currently disclose how they index the web and rank websites, so this information is going to be out of date.
The first thing Google did was actually index all of the content on the website. The more words the webpage had regarding a certain topic, the better chance that website had to be listed when that topic was searched. This eliminates the need to keywords. Next, to help determine the order of the search results, Google used a few different attributes; the higher the number of other sites that link to that page the better that pages rank will be, the older that page is the better its rank will be, the regularity with which that page is changed the better it's rank will be, etc. There are a lot of metrics for determining page rank, we don't know them all nor could I list them here and keep this column to under a page. The rank of a page is the attribute a web developer cares about the most. If they can get ranked high, they will garner a lot of traffic.
This was all 15 years ago. A lot has changed since. The term Google has become synonymous with searching the Internet. Just like we call soft tissues Kleenex no matter what the brand is, the term for searching the web is 'Google it.' By a large margin, Google is the search engine used when a person does a search. It took companies such as Microsoft until the mid 2000's to realize that search is a very important product in a tech companies portfolio. Yahoo and AOL didn't pay much attention to search until it was too late. Yahoo now uses Bing! (Microsoft's search engine) to display all of their results.
I guess it pays to be the only company putting effort into a product that a lot of people want to use. Who knew?
JASON OGAARD was born in Bemidji and is a software engineer for FICO, a Minneapolis-based public company providing analytics and decision-making services, including credit scoring credit bureaus.