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December 28, 2007

Google in 2000

What search engine did you use in 2000? It's very likely that the answer is not Google. Three months before Google became the default search provider for Yahoo, Google's search results looked slightly different than they look today. Google showed relevant categories from DMOZ, the snippets were much shorter, the "related pages" feature was called GoogleScout, "I'm Feeling Lucky" was added to every search results pages and you could choose the number of search results from a drop-down. At that time, Google didn't offer any specialized search engine, but it added at the bottom of the page a list of links to competitors (you probably used one of those search engines). The number of search results was much smaller because Google only indexed around 200 million web pages and Google was still looking for ways to monetize the search engine.

Google still hosts a search results page from April 2000, even if it's slightly modified because it was a part of an April Fool's Day prank called Mentalplex. Here's a slightly updated search results page from later that year.

The same year, Google introduced text ads, but they were rather primitive. "Google has recently started to include text-only banner ads on their search engine, but you may have not noticed the change because most searches currently don't include a banner ad along with the search results," reported in January 2000. Here's how the advertising system worked at that time:

"Google uses its Patent-Pending PageRank Technology and sophisticated query classification to create a Virtual Directory. In other words, Google categorizes the thousands of different search queries into the Internet's most popular and targeted areas. Advertisers simply select from a wide range of available categories most appropriate to their business. Google will match the appropriate ads to the category most relevant to the user's search."

The web could still be approximated by directories, collections of high-quality sites manually categorized by editors. In March 2000, Google integrated data from the Open Directory Project: "1.5 million entries, arranged in over 200,000 categories, selected and maintained by a volunteer corps of more than 22,000 editors." Larry Page concluded that "the addition of Netscape's Open Directory Project creates the most comprehensive and robust search resource for finding information and browsing the Web. We've combined the best aspects of search and directories to create an enhanced tool for easy access to information contained on the Web."

Google's traffic started to grow at an alarming rate. "Google ended 1999 averaging about 7 million searches each day, a roughly 70,000% increase over the 10,000 searches per day that were performed on the Google site in December 1998! This explosive growth reflects the total number of searches performed by users on and on our corporate partner sites. As of the middle of January, we are averaging more than 10 million searches each day," reported Sergey Brin and Larry Page in the company's newsletter. Google wasn't satisfied and launched an affiliate program that enticed webmasters to add a Google search box to their sites. "By signing up for our affiliate program (...) you'll be able to place a Google search box on your site and begin receiving 3 cents for each search you send our way." At the end of 2000, Google handled more than 100 million search queries a day.

2000 was also the year when Matt Cutts joined Google. "When I joined in 2000, Google was a scrappy underdog search engine. Back then, Altavista was vastly more popular and reported 50 million searches a day. Google was popular among savvy webmasters and at many universities, and usage was growing quickly by word-of-mouth, but the smart folks at Google were eager for the company to be more well-known."

An example of positive feedback from 2000 (Usenet, via Google Groups):

"Try I've been most impressed with its ability to return good, relevant hits. Another big bonus with Google is that the site is almost completely clear of bandwidth-hogging graphics and advertising. The web site has to be the fastest I've ever seen."

2000 is the year that made Google a successful search engine, even if many people wondered what's the revenue strategy. "The company's adamant refusal to use banner or other graphical ads eliminates what is the most lucrative income stream for rival search engines. Although Google does have other revenue sources, such as licensing and text-based advertisements, the privately held company's business remains limited compared with its competitors," concluded Business Week in December 2000. "Now comes Google's big test. Can it keep forswearing pay-for-placement deals that allow commercial sites to buy high rankings in searches? Yahoo has begun cutting these deals in droves, matching lesser competitor LookSmart. But Brin says he isn't worried: When somebody searches for 'cancer,' should you put up the site that paid you or the site that has better information? Brin is betting better information will win the day. "

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