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#TBT: Why Google Won the Search Engine War

Computers & Monitors in 1997. Photo by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

Today we know Google as a dominant force in search. The search engine boasts an impressive market share and largely overshadows its competition in many of the world's key markets (China notwithstanding). No other search engine has its name used as a verb in a sentence (ie: "I don't know, why don't you Google it"?). In the current environment, Google is the search engine tour-de-force, hands down.

But it wasn't always like this. In the early years of search, there were a number of names in the industry, all competing for the title of king. Excite and Yahoo were the big players, and search engines were a dime a dozen. Google was still in its infancy, the brainchild of two Stanford graduate students, looking for financial backing or a buy-out.

So how is it that Google became the dominant force it is today? In our first post in our Throwback Thursdays column, we're going to give you the rundown on how Google emerged as the preeminent search engine among all the competition.

1. A Focus On User Experience

Google started with the idea that users essentially wanted access to the most relevant information in relation to their search queries. This is an idea that, despite its exponential growth and development, is no different from Google as it exists today.

Sergei Brin and Larry Page thought of links and clicks as a sort of recommendation, an indication of relevancy and value. This notion is what laid the foundation for how Google would operate, which continues to this day.

2. Technology

Using the idea of relevancy, they built Google in a way that - in comparison to other search engines at the time - was simply better at connecting users with more pertinent results.

A query typed in Google provided more utility and relevancy than did Excite, Yahoo and other search engines.

To put it simply, Google had a superior product.

3. Deviation From The "Walled-garden" Approach

When the search market was still negotiating its place in the World Wide Web, monetization presented a significant issue. People still hadn't quite figured it out. This was evident with early search engines. The notion of "stickiness" was believed to be the best model, which dictated that you want to attract users to your page and keep them on for as long as you could, so you could pepper them with advertisements.

Google did something completely different. For one, they didn't include any advertisements on their page. Two, a query directed users away from their page and towards relevant search results. This was a radical move, as Google did not yet have a business model to monetize. At this time, when revenue generation on the web was still being negotiated, all of the competition was still operating by trying to keep users on their pages in order to capture more advertising dollars.

4. A Different Way Of Advertising

The strategy that really differentiated Google from other search engines was the advertising model they eventually adopted. Like many of the great moves made by tech companies, the idea that would lead to AdWords was appropriated from Overture. Realizing that advertising was a necessity for profitably, but refusing to take the same path as Yahoo and Excite, Google started offering text ads that were unobtrusive and separate from organic results. The idea to sell pay-per-click ads on an auction basis was taken from Overture, and did not emerge until later.

What Google did differently, however, was introduce the same emphasis on relevancy of results and applied them to Overture's advertising model. The system was based on the notion that search queries not only reflected what a user was interested in, but also what they were interested in buying. Whereas Overture used a model where the highest bid received the most exposure (meaning irrelevant ads could get the top spot), Google implemented the clickthrough rate into the algorithm as a way to measure the relevancy of the ad. Thus, if an ad with a lower bid had more clicks, it would rank higher. This seemingly small tweak to an already good idea is what really laid the foundation for Google's advertising model and its huge success today.

Interested in the history of search, tech, social or anything related? Let us know a Throwback Thursday topic you want to see in the comments, or tweet us @senginepeople with the hashtag #TBT.