Going Gaga for Google

SAN FRANCISCO (04/20/2000) - Fickle Web surfers often switch from one search engine to another as if they were brands of soap. But one that has drawn a loyal following is Google, a search engine launched last fall with a different twist.

What sets Google apart from the search engine pack is its PageRank technology, which the company says returns more relevant results than other sites. PageRank uses a complex ranking system based on the number of hyperlinks to any given site. Each link is considered a "vote," although votes from different sites are weighted differently. For example, if CNN.com links to a site, that site earns a vote. If your home page links to the same site, it earns another vote, but the vote from CNN is counted more heavily.

If you really rely on Google's system, the site offers an even faster search:

Its I'm Feeling Lucky button takes you directly to its most relevant result.

Google has seen a steady rise in traffic since its launch, according to Media Metrix. In February 2000, the site had 2,697,000 unique visitors and a 3.6 percent reach, which means that 3.6 percent of the online population visited the site in that month. In February 1999, when the site was still in beta testing, it had a 0.4 percent reach.

Interest in Google shows no sign of letting up.

"I can't recall another search engine getting this much buzz for so long," says Danny Sullivan, the editor of Search Engine Watch. "People were jaded with search engines, and Google was refreshing."

Changes Ahead?

But will Google be able to keep the visitors coming?

Sullivan thinks so. "Google is really into search. (The creators) live and breathe search. Other search engines have evolved into portals, but Google is remaining a search product," he says.

Google agrees the secret to its success is staying true to its roots. "We won't try to be everything to everybody," says Kimberley Vogel, a Google spokesperson. "Turning into a portal isn't the avenue for us."

That's not to say that Google hasn't added features. You can now search in different languages and by categories through its Web Directory.

Also, Google added text-based sponsored links from advertisers.

Put to the Test

So, does Google live up to all the hype?

I checked it out by searching for the official Hillary Clinton Web site. I entered simply "Hillary Clinton" as my search query. The first result was the White House biography of the first lady, next was the first lady's page on the White House Web site, and third was Hillary 2000, the Web site for her Senate campaign.

The same search on Direct Hit, which uses a "Popularity Engine" for its searches, showed the Google advantage. The first result was the same as Google's, the White House biography. But Direct Hit's second and third results were personal pages called "Hillary Rodham Clinton Is The Sexiest Woman Alive" and "I Love Hillary Clinton."

Netscape and AltaVista offered similar results: The first result was an official site, but the next results were personal pages or parody sites.

Google wins this simple test, but only time will tell if it will win the search engine wars.

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