In an age where ‘google’ has become synonymous with information searching online, I think it’s important for all Google Search users to understand what Google Search is, and how it operates. Formed in a Californian garage, Google is the very handsome love child of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Both studying at Stanford University during the mid 90s, they were on a joint mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (1)
Google Search, as we know it today is a Web search engine. If you are unfamiliar with this term, think of a Web search engine as a gateway to the World Wide Web. When you google something, you are searching Google’s index of the Web. A common misunderstanding is the assumption that when querying the Web using a Web search engine, you are searching the whole of the Web. This isn’t strictly true. Not only are you not searching the entire Web, you are not searching the Web at all. You are instead searching Google’s index of the web. The Web contains many pages, most of which would be incomprehensible without the help of the indexing of Web search engines. Google’s day job is to find and index information held on the Web, in order for users of Google Search to be able to access the information they want.
Google Search / I’m Feeling Lucky
When you hit search on your Google browser, your computer starts communicating with one (or more) of Google’s servers. These servers contain large databases of the Web’s content, and are accessed via Google’s query engine. The query engine retrieves potential information sources, and the Google algorithm (the recipe for which is top secret) gets to work determining the ranking of the potential information sources. Google Search will then feedback the results of your query, usually with multiple options. These results have been ranked in terms of reliability and trustworthiness by the Google Search algorithm.
The Birth of Search Engine Optimisation
Due to the ranking of pages within indexes, an entire cottage industry has grown up around Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). With many website owners relying on Web search engines to send users to their website, a pay-to-play operational cost has developed around the Web. In order for Google Search to operate efficiently, Google use a ranking algorithm in order to try and return what they interpret to be the best version of the information the user is looking for. In order to do this, Google Search ranks pages and sites, assigning a score to every page contained within the World Wide Web. The ranking of pages by Google is an intricate and ever changing process, which has led to the SEO industry flourishing. In an effort to improve rankings, Webmasters operating outside of Google will try and trick Web search engines – resulting in the ranking process being honed time and time again by the Web search engine owner (Google in this case) in order to filter out this spam.
As with most technology, Web search engines are evolving. Moving from the simplistic tagging of information, to a semantic understanding of the Web. No longer relying on what site owners tell them about their pages, Google are beginning to delve deeper into their knowledge base, aggregating semantic data by analysing the connections between information, as well as the information itself.
Enter centre stage right: Machine Learning.