On Google’s 15th Birthday: 15 Ways it Changed the World

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Google is celebrating its 15th birthday today. The firm has changed a lot since a certain Larry Page and Sergey Brin put their collective heads together and decided to incorporate a little project called Google on September 4, 1998. Here, ClickThrough’s Martin Boonham, looks at 15 ways in which the search engine has changed the world in which we live... and search.

It became a verb

There is a reason why the phrase, “just Google it” exists. Google is now pretty much synonymous with the Internet at large. It’s the go-to source for information or help on pretty much any subject.

Apparently, the search engine was originally set to be christened ‘BackRub’. So if you’re a grammar purist who’s irked by the shift from proper noun to everyday doing word, just be thankful we’re not saying ‘shall I BackRub that for you?’.  It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

It made search better

Named after Larry rather than webpages, PageRank revolutionised Internet search, and gave birth to link building as a digital marketing technique.

Before PageRank, search engines ranked results using easy-to-exploit factors like the number of keywords mentioned on a page. (SEO circa Want to be on the first page of Google for ‘shoes’? Just mention the word ‘shoes’ 70 times in your copy and you’re good to go.

PageRank was a stroke of genius in the Google algorithm. By assigning value to inbound links, and ranking accordingly, it made search better for users and made it harder for untrustworthy sites to claw their way to the top of the pile.

And then made it even better.

Those in the digital marketing business will be well aware of Google updates like Panda and Penguin. Before these cuddly, animal-themed updates however, there were many, many more – some given names like ‘Jagger’ or ‘Florida’.

The many many Google algorithm updates and subsequent tweaks have targeted everything from spammy websites to dodgy backlinks.

It gave us the tools we need to do our jobs

Once Google had succeeded in making digital marketing a ‘thing’, it gave us the tools we needed to make it viable. Google Analytics is vital for SEO professionals and webmasters, whilst Google AdWords put PPC on the map, and made it much easier to monetise non-eCommerce sites.

It put a visual world at our fingertips

Image search is pretty much taken for granted now, so everyone is able to look in astonishment at that Miley Cyrus outfit after hearing about it all over the social media stratosphere, and think nothing more of it. However, in the early days, things were quite different. Google launched its image search in 2001, offering users access to a reported quarter of a billion pictures at the time – but now it is impossible to know exactly how many images are available.

It reinvented executive toys

Ah, how did we amuse ourselves on our lunch breaks before the invention of Google Doodles? We’ve been treated to everything from a playable Pac-Man game to a strummable guitar.

There’s a serious side to the playfulness though – according to The Telegraph, the Pac-Man doodle alone cost the economy $120 million.

Interestingly, the first Google doodle by all accounts was this strange little stick-figure man:


If you think it looks like something out of The Wicker Man… you’re half right. The Google guys opted for the doodle to let people know they were attending the Burning Man festival that weekend.

It changed how we read the news

Google launched its News service back in 2001, and although it has faced stiff competition from publishers in Europe – most recently in France and Germany – it still offers users a quick way of viewing snippets of information across a broad range of topics related to searches they have prioritised in the tool.

It made millionaires

Aside from Google being a big player in making businesses money, it also made a reported 1,000 of its own employee’s millionaires when it first went public in 2004.

It took on Apple at the Smartphone game

While phones come and go, their operating systems have been around for quite a while. Google launched its smartphone operating system, Android,  back in 2005 – ok, truth be told, it didn’t develop it so much as acquire Android Inc.

Nevertheless, Android is a big player in the world of smartphone operating systems – so big that by November 2011, Android had more than half the market share of smartphones across the globe.

It is soon to launch a new update, entitled KitKat, but regardless of names and versions, many love the system for its openness and adaptability, something many people find isn’t offered by Apple’s iOS system – but that kind of fanboy conflict is better left to the millions of smartphone forums out there.

It stopped us getting lost

Lost? Better get out the map. Now a decade ago, this might well have been actual physical map, but with Google Maps, the old A-Z and red pen approach is a blast from the past. It actually didn’t start out as a Google product – the Internet giant acquired Where 2 Technologies, the company which employed the designer brothers of the original map tech, Lars and Jens Rasmussen. Google maps has since become a vital tool in getting us to out-of-office meetings, finding that cool little bar your friend told you about, and generally knowing how to get from A to B, whether by bike, on foot or in your car.

It made the world a smaller place

And speaking of maps, let’s not forget Google Street View. Launched in 2008, it has had its fair share of controversies and laughable additions, with lots of snaps of people doing things which should carry an 18 certificate, the service has nevertheless offered us a way of viewing our street, without going through unthinkable endurances like stepping out in the cold and look at it the old fashioned way.

It made us all astronauts

While world domination is the dream of action film villains, Google Earth gave us all access to the globe – at our fingertips. Exploring far away destinations became as simple as a click of the mouse. And with Google Sky, you aren’t limited to just Earth either, with stars and celestial bodies also available to explore.

It gave us another great web browser

Okay, so it might not be the most world-changing thing Google’s ever done – and there are plenty of other web browsers out there. But bear with me – Google decided to launch its own offering on September 2, 2008, so in essence it is celebrating the fifth birthday of its browser, as well as its own 15th birthday. And we all know what happens when the big brother gets a big celebration and the little brother doesn’t even get a slice of cake…

Chrome wasn’t a big hit in its early days, but the competition did encourage the likes of Microsoft and Mozilla to innovate a little more. Nowadays many of the ClickThrough team swear by Chrome, including our SEO director, Peter Philpott, so Google has definitely done something right!

It gave us an alternative to Facebook

Although Facebook is the social networking site of choice still, Google+ has started to make some inroads – and with Eric Schmidt proclaiming the importance of being an accredited author in order to rank well, it looks like it will be a close ally of digital marketing professionals for some time to come.

It always keeps us on our toes

With concepts such as Google Glass and driverless cars, the future looks to be quite interesting not only from a general concept, but from a search marketing perspective too.

Recently it was confirmed Google had patented pay per gaze advertising, this was backed up by an interview with one of the boffins at the search engine firm voicing his optimism of a future of visual and audial driven search.

The idea we may be able to say to our smartphone: ‘book me a ticket to a Manchester United game’, and it be able to offer a number of suggestions based on your command is certainly interesting. Although, the visual lead side of things might be a little too Minority Report for some – with suggestions a Google Glass like device will monitor your surroundings and what you’re looking at, in order to pre-empt any searches or queries you may make. Amazing? A bit creepy? I’ll let you be the judge.

So there you have it, 15 ways in which Google has changed the world of digital marketing and the world at large. Here’s to another 15 years.

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