Nothing reveals the passage of time like a look back at Google Search over the years. It seems like just yesterday we were submitting our first queries over the internet. For those of us (ahem!) who have spent the last few decades working in SEM and SEO, this abbreviated history of Google Search will no doubt leave you with a bit of nostalgia for the time before smartphones and social media.
Now step into the time machine and enjoy the ride.
The Early Years
Do you remember that logo? It was one of the first used by the search engine (notice it employs the same exclamation as the famous Yahoo! logo). During those early years from 1998 to 2000, Google Search was a fascinating tool for finding information on nearly any topic you could imagine. But because of its infancy, the search engine wasn’t always effective at delivering the best results.
Here's what the 1998 version of yourself would have been looking at:
The Middle Ages
By the end of the 20th century, Google had a revamped logo and was ready to roll into the next millennium. They would keep this version of the logo through 2010, during which time the company was starting to become a household name.
Throughout these middle years, from 1999 to 2010, the search engine would go through multiple iterations of its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), including the launch of its AdWords product in 2000:
And the launch of Google Images, or Image Search, in 2001:
Along with a host of other additions, including video, mobile search, local search, and maps – all before we closed the first decade of the 2000s. Here’s my own coverage of what Google was up to back then.
The Next Decade
As we entered the period from 2010 to 2020, the history of Google Search is best recalled at lightning speed – that is, a lot of changes took place, including:
- Authorship – Content writers could use authorship tags to increase visibility in search results. The search engine has since decommissioned the use of authorship.
- Google+ – The search engine’s first (and only) attempt at social media, Google+ provided a way for businesses to create a profile and publish content about their companies, events, and updates.
- Hummingbird – Widely considered the most significant update to the search engine since its humble beginnings, Google Hummingbird leveraged machine learning and conversational search to determine a user’s search intent.
- Mobile-First – For the first time ever, more searches were happening on mobile than on desktop. Google acted accordingly, calling for mobile-first web design to accommodate for this growing trend.
- Ad Placement – During this period, search ads were moved from the right sidebar to the top of search results – heralding a new ad type called Expanded Text Ads.
- Featured Snippets / People Also Ask – These new “answer boxes” began displaying at the top of SERPs to give users a quick answer to common questions.
While the Google logo hasn’t changed since 2015, there have been some updates to the SERPs since 2020. The most notable are:
- MUM – The Google MUM update leverages AI technology to better understand different types of content — think images, video, and audio — and deliver more accurate search results. It also prioritizes content in different languages as well as next-level conversational search.
- Search Intent – During the past couple of years, and especially during the height of the pandemic, users’ intent when searching changed dramatically. Google responded with an adjustment to SERPs.
- New SERP Format – The SERPs have come a long way over the history of Google Search, with today’s search results displaying various formats of information to satisfy user intent. You can read more about how people view search results in the modern age.
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From the very beginning of Google Search in the late 90s to the present-day search experience, there’s no doubt the way we search and the reasons we do it have changed over time. Search engine results have become increasingly more accurate, due to Google’s continued pursuit of the latest technology. Yet we have never had more privacy and security concerns than we do now. Time will tell how the world’s most popular search engine will change to address the growing concern on a global stage.
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