Google Search

"Famous web search engine" redirects here. For information about search engine popularity, see Web search engine § Market share.
"" redirects here. For the company itself, see Google.

Google Search
Type of site
Web search engine
Available in 123 languages
Owner Google (Alphabet)
Revenue AdWords
Website (US)
IPv6 support Yes, by arrangement[1] or
Alexa rank Steady 1 (December 2016)[2]
Commercial Yes
Registration Optional
Users 4.5 billion active users
Launched September 15, 1997 (1997-09-15)[3]
Written in Python, C, C++[4]

Google Search, commonly referred to as Google Web Search or simply Google, is a web search engine developed by Google. It is the most-used search engine on the World Wide Web,[5] handling more than three billion searches each day.[6][7] As of February 2016 it is the most used search engine in the US with 64.0% market share.[8]

The order of search on Google's search-results pages is based, in part, on a priority rank called a "PageRank". Google Search provides many different options for customized search, using Boolean operators such as: exclusion ("-xx"), alternatives ("xx OR yy OR zz"), and wildcards ("Winston * Churchill" returns "Winston Churchill", "Winston Spencer Churchill", etc.).[9] The same and other options can be specified in a different way on an Advanced Search page.

The main purpose of Google Search is to hunt for text in publicly accessible documents offered by web servers, as opposed to other data, such as images or data contained in databases. It was originally developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1997.[3] Google Search provides several features beyond searching for words.[10] These include synonyms, weather forecasts, time zones, stock quotes, maps, earthquake data, movie showtimes, airports, home listings, and sports scores. There are special features for numbers, dates, and some specific forms, including ranges,[11] prices, temperatures, money and measurement unit conversions, calculations, package tracking, patents, area codes,[10] and language translation. In June 2011 Google introduced "Google Voice Search" to search for spoken, rather than typed, words.[12] In May 2012 Google introduced a Knowledge Graph semantic search feature in the U.S.

Analysis of the frequency of search terms may indicate economic, social and health trends.[13] Data about the frequency of use of search terms on Google can be openly inquired via Google Trends and have been shown to correlate with flu outbreaks and unemployment levels, and provide the information faster than traditional reporting methods and surveys. As of mid-2016, Google’s search engine has begun to rely on these deep neural networks.[14]

In October 2016, Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst with Google, announced that the search engine will be making a new, primary web index dedicated for mobile, with a secondary, less up-to-date index for desktop use. The change is a response from the continued growth in mobile, and a push for web developers to adopt a mobile-friendly version of their websites. Illyes stated the change will happen in "months".[15]

Competitors of Google include Baidu and in China; and in South Korea; Yandex in Russia; in the Czech Republic; Yahoo in Japan, Taiwan and the US, as well as Bing and DuckDuckGo.[16] Some smaller search engines offer facilities not available with Google, e.g. not storing any private or tracking information; one such search engine is Ixquick.


Main article: PageRank

Google's rise to success was largely due to a patented algorithm called PageRank that helps rank web pages that match a given search string.[17] When Google was a Stanford research project, it was nicknamed BackRub because the technology checks backlinks to determine a site's importance. Previous keyword-based methods of ranking search results, used by many search engines that were once more popular than Google, would rank pages by how often the search terms occurred in the page, or how strongly associated the search terms were within each resulting page. The PageRank algorithm instead analyzes human-generated links assuming that web pages linked from many important pages are themselves likely to be important. The algorithm computes a recursive score for pages, based on the weighted sum of the PageRanks of the pages linking to them. PageRank is thought to correlate well with human concepts of importance. In addition to PageRank, Google, over the years, has added many other secret criteria for determining the ranking of pages on result lists, reported to be over 250 different indicators,[18][19] the specifics of which are kept secret to keep spammers at bay and help Google maintain an edge over its competitors globally.

In a potential hint of Google's future direction for their Search algorithm, Eric Schmidt, Google's then chief executive, said in a 2007 interview with the Financial Times: "The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as 'What shall I do tomorrow?' and 'What job shall I take?'".[20] Schmidt reaffirmed this during a 2010 interview with the Wall Street Journal: "I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions, they want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."[21]

In 2013 the European Commission found that Google Search favored Google's own products, instead of offering consumers the best result for their needs.[22] In February 2015 Google announced a major change to its mobile search algorithm which would favor mobile friendly over other websites. Nearly 60% of Google's online search traffic comes from mobile phones. Google says it wants its users to have access to premium quality websites. Those websites which lack a mobile friendly interface would be demoted and it is expected that this update will cause a shake-up of ranks. Businesses who fail to update their websites accordingly could see a dip in their regular websites traffic.[23]

Search products

The exact percentage of the total of web pages that Google indexes is not known, as it is very difficult to accurately calculate. Google presents a two-line summary and also a preview of each search result, which includes a link to a cached (stored), usually older version of the page.

Google's cache link in its search results provides a way of retrieving information from websites that have recently gone down and a way of retrieving data more quickly than by clicking the direct link. This feature is still available, but many users are not aware of this because it has been moved to the previews of the search results presented next to these.[24][25]

Google not only indexes and caches web pages, but also takes "snapshots" of other file types, which include PDF, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Flash SWF, plain text files, and so on.[26] Except in the case of text and SWF files, the cached version is a conversion to (X)HTML, allowing those without the corresponding viewer application to read the file. Users can customize the search engine, by setting a default language, using the "SafeSearch" filtering technology and set the number of results shown on each page. Google has been criticized for placing long-term cookies on users' machines to store these preferences, a tactic which also enables them to track a user's search terms and retain the data for more than a year. For any query, up to the first 1000 results can be shown with a maximum of 100 displayed per page. The ability to specify the number of results is available only if "Instant Search" is not enabled. If "Instant Search" is enabled, only 10 results are displayed, regardless of this setting.

In 2012, Google changed its rankings to demote sites that had been accused of piracy, except the Google-owned YouTube site.[27]

Non-indexable data

Despite its immense index, there is also a considerable amount of data available in online databases which are accessible by means of queries but not by links. This so-called invisible or deep Web is minimally covered by Google and other search engines.[28] The deep Web contains library catalogs, official legislative documents of governments, phone books, and other content which is dynamically prepared to respond to a query.

Google optimization

Because Google is the most popular search engine, many webmasters have become eager to influence their website's Google rankings. An industry of consultants has arisen to help websites increase their rankings on Google and on other search engines. This field, called search engine optimization, attempts to discern patterns in search engine listings, and then develop a methodology for improving rankings to draw more searchers to their client's sites. Search engine optimization encompasses both "on page" factors (like body copy, title elements, H1 heading elements and image alt attribute values) and Off Page Optimization factors (like anchor text and PageRank). The general idea is to affect Google's relevance algorithm by incorporating the keywords being targeted in various places "on page", in particular the title element and the body copy (note: the higher up in the page, presumably the better its keyword prominence and thus the ranking). Too many occurrences of the keyword, however, cause the page to look suspect to Google's spam checking algorithms. Google has published guidelines for website owners who would like to raise their rankings when using legitimate optimization consultants.[29] It has been hypothesized, and, allegedly, is the opinion of the owner of one business about which there have been numerous complaints, that negative publicity, for example, numerous consumer complaints, may serve as well to elevate page rank on Google Search as favorable comments.[30] The particular problem addressed in The New York Times article, which involved DecorMyEyes, was addressed shortly thereafter by an undisclosed fix in the Google algorithm. According to Google, it was not the frequently published consumer complaints about DecorMyEyes which resulted in the high ranking but mentions on news websites of events which affected the firm such as legal actions against it. Google Search Console helps to check for websites that use duplicate or copyright content.[31]

Universal search was launched by Google on May 16, 2007. It was an idea which merged the results from different searches into one. Prior to Universal search, a standard Google search would consist of links to different websites. Universal search incorporates a wide variety of information such as websites, news, pictures, maps, blogs, videos, and more to display as search results. Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products & User Experience during Universal search launch, described the goal of universal search, "With Universal search, we're attempting to break down the walls that traditionally separated our various search properties and integrate the vast amounts of information available into one simple set of search results… We want to help you find the very best answer, even if you don't know where to look."[32]

Dedicated mobile search results

In October 2016, Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst with Google, announced that the search engine will be making a new, primary web index dedicated for mobile, with a secondary, less up-to-date index for desktop use. The change is a response from the continued growth in mobile, and a push for web developers to adopt a mobile-friendly version of their websites. Illyes stated the change will happen in "months".[15]


A definition link is provided for many search terms.

Google search consists of a series of localized websites. The largest of those, the site, is the top most-visited website in the world.[33] Some of its features include a definition link for most searches including dictionary words, the number of results you got on your search, links to other searches (e.g. for words that Google believes to be misspelled, it provides a link to the search results using its proposed spelling), and many more.

Search syntax

Google's search engine normally accepts queries as a simple text, and breaks up the user's text into a sequence of search terms, which will usually be words that are to occur in the results, but one can also use Boolean operators, such as: quotations marks (") for a phrase, a prefix such as "+", "-" for qualified terms (no longer valid, the '+' was removed from Google on October 19, 2011),[34] or one of several advanced operators, such as "site:". The webpages of "Google Search Basics"[35] describe each of these additional queries and options (see below: Search options). Google's Advanced Search web form gives several additional fields which may be used to qualify searches by such criteria as date of first retrieval.

Query expansion

Google applies query expansion to the submitted search query, transforming it into the query that will actually be used to retrieve results. As with page ranking, the exact details of the algorithm Google uses are deliberately obscure, but certainly the following transformations are among those that occur:

"I'm Feeling Lucky"

"I'm Feeling Lucky" redirects here. For the 2011 book by Douglas Edwards, see I'm Feeling Lucky (book).

Google's homepage includes a button labeled "I'm Feeling Lucky". Prior to a change[37] in 2012, when a user typed in a search and clicked on the button the user would be taken directly to the first search result, bypassing the search engine results page. The idea was that if a user is "feeling lucky", the search engine would return the perfect match the first time without having to page through the search results. According to a study by Tom Chavez of "Rapt", this feature cost Google $110 million a year as 1% of all searches use this feature and bypass all advertising.[38]

With the introduction of Google Instant, the functionality of the button behaves differently.[39] Currently, the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button changes based on the user's settings and what webpage users are at. If Google Instant is turned off, the button will work as it previously did or, if the search box is empty, redirect to the Google Doodles gallery. If Google Instant is turned on and a user hovers over the button, the button text will spin and land on a phrase that starts with "I'm feeling" (e.g. "I'm feeling hungry" or "I'm feeling smart"). Each phrase links to a Google page related to the associated phrase.

Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox used "I'm Feeling Lucky" as the default search string when the user entered a query in the location bar; this functionality was deprecated in later versions.[40]

Rich snippets

On May 12, 2009, Google announced that they would be parsing the hCard, hReview, and hProduct microformats and using them to populate search result pages with what they called "Rich Snippets".[41]

Rich Card

On May 17, 2016, Google announce a new search result format builder called "Rich Card". Rich cards are similar like Rich snippet, use Structured markup to showcase the content in a new visual format. Rich card for four content categories: Recipes, Events, Product and Reviews.[42][43]

Special features

Besides the main search-engine feature of searching for text, Google Search has more than 22 "special features" (activated by entering any of dozens of trigger words) when searching:[10][11][44]

Search options

The webpages maintained by the Google Help Center have text describing more than 15 various search options.[49] The Google operator

Some of the query options are as follows:

The page-display options (or query types) are:

Error messages

Some searches will give a 403 Forbidden error with the text

We're sorry...

 … but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can't process your request right now.

 We'll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon. In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker or spyware remover to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software.

 We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we'll see you again on Google.

sometimes followed by a CAPTCHA prompt.[51]

Google's Server Error page

The screen was first reported in 2005, and was a response to the heavy use of Google by search engine optimization companies to check on ranks of sites they were optimizing. Google says the message is triggered only by high volumes of requests from a single IP address, however the use of the "allintext" operator a few times in a period of minutes has the same effect. Google apparently uses the Google cookie as part of its determination of refusing service.[51]

In June 2009, after the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson, this message appeared to many internet users who were searching Google for news stories related to the singer, and was assumed by Google to be a DDoS attack, although many queries were submitted by legitimate searchers.

January 2009 malware bug

A screenshot of the error of January 31, 2009.

Google flags search results with the message "This site may harm your computer" if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. Google does this to protect users against visiting sites that could harm their computers. For approximately 40 minutes on January 31, 2009, all search results were mistakenly classified as malware and could therefore not be clicked; instead a warning message was displayed and the user was required to enter the requested URL manually. The bug was caused by human error.[52][53][54][55] The URL of "/" (which expands to all URLs) was mistakenly added to the malware patterns file.[53][54]

Google Doodles

Main article: Google Doodle

On certain occasions, the logo on Google's webpage will change to a special version, known as a "Google Doodle". This is a picture, drawing, or animation that includes the logo. It is usually done for a special event or day although not all of them are well known.[56] Clicking on the Doodle links to a string of Google search results about the topic. The first was a reference to the Burning Man Festival in 1998,[57][58] and others have been produced for the birthdays of notable people like Albert Einstein, historical events like the interlocking Lego block's 50th anniversary and holidays like Valentine's Day.[59] Some Google Doodles have interactivity beyond a simple search, such as the famous "Google Pacman" version that appeared on May 21, 2010.

Google Caffeine

In August 2009, Google announced the rollout of a new search architecture, codenamed "Caffeine".[60] The new architecture was designed to return results faster and to better deal with rapidly updated information[61] from services including Facebook and Twitter.[60] Google developers noted that most users would notice little immediate change, but invited developers to test the new search in its sandbox.[62] Differences noted for their impact upon search engine optimization included heavier keyword weighting and the importance of the domain's age.[63][64] The move was interpreted in some quarters as a response to Microsoft's recent release of an upgraded version of its own search service, renamed Bing.[65] Google announced completion of Caffeine on June 8, 2010, claiming 50% fresher results due to continuous updating of its index.[66] With Caffeine, Google moved its back-end indexing system away from MapReduce and onto BigTable, the company's distributed database platform.[67] Caffeine is also based on Colossus, or GFS2,[68] an overhaul of the GFS distributed file system.[69]

Conversational search (OK Google)

During the Google I/O conference in May 2013, Google's Amit Singhal presented on the future of search, explaining that a search engine's three primary functions will need to evolve and that search will need to: 1. Answer, 2. Converse, and 3. Anticipate. As part of his keynote talk, Singhal stated, "A computer you can talk to? And it will answer everything you ask it? Little did I know, I would grow up to become the person responsible for building my dream for the entire world." Conversational search technology was then featured and Singhal introduced the term "hot-wording" to describe search without the need for an interface, whereby the user simply prompts the Google search engine by stating, "OK Google." The I/O audience was then shown a demonstration in which a user asked a question and the search engine answered back in "conversation," in addition to the presentation of results for the query.[70]

The conversational search function was incorporated into the latest version of the Chrome browser during the week beginning May 20, 2013. The "OK Google" search prompt was not included into the upgrade and users are required to click on a microphone icon that appears on the right-hand side of the search box. Google displays its answer to the user's question in the form of "cards" at the top of the search results while the information is conveyed verbally—according to one search engine writer, Google continues to work through the feature's bugs.[71]

Hummingbird update

Main article: Google Hummingbird

The "Hummingbird" update was announced as part of Google's 15-year anniversary and a Guardian technology journalist described it as "the biggest change to the inner workings of the world's most popular search engine since Google's "Caffeine" update in 2010." The update was progressively introduced over the month prior to the announcement and will benefit more modern forms of search, whereby users ask Google a question rather than entering keywords into the search box.[72][73]


Searches made by search engines, including Google, leave traces. This raises concerns about privacy. In principle, if details of a user's searches are found, those with access to the information—principally state agencies responsible for law enforcement and similar matters—can make deductions about the user's activities. This has been used for the detection and prosecution of lawbreakers; for example a murderer was found and convicted after searching for terms such as "tips with killing with a baseball bat".[74]

A search may leave traces both on a computer used to make the search, and in records kept by the search provider. When using a search engine through a browser program on a computer, search terms and other information may be stored on the computer by default, unless the browser is set not to do this, or they are erased. Saved terms may be discovered on forensic analysis of the computer. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) or search engine provider (e.g., Google) may store records which relate search terms to an IP address and a time.[75] Whether such logs are kept, and access to them by law enforcement agencies, is subject to legislation in different jurisdictions and working practices; the law may mandate, prohibit, or say nothing about logging of various types of information. Some search engines, located in jurisdictions where it is not illegal, make a feature of not storing user search information.[76]

Various search engines provide encrypted Web search facilities. In May 2010 Google rolled out SSL-encrypted web search.[77] The encrypted search can be accessed at[78]

FTC Fines

In 2012 the US Federal Trade Commission fined Google US$22.5 million for violating their agreement not to violate the privacy of users of the Apple Safari (web browser).[79] The FTC was also continuing to investigate if Google's favoring of their own services in their search results violated antitrust regulations.[80]

Search Suggestion

Google Suggestion displaying search suggestions starting with “google sea.” The first suggested term, “google search”, is completed in gray text within the text box, and Google Instant provides search results for this term while typing (not shown here).

In 2008, Google started to give autocompleted search suggestions in a list below the search bar for incompletely entered queries.

Google Instant, a feature that displays suggested results while the user types, was introduced in the US on September 8, 2010. In concert with the Google Instant launch, Google disabled the ability of users to choose to see more than 10 search results per page. At the time of the announcement, Google expected Instant to save users 2 to 5 seconds in every search, collectively about 11 million seconds per hour.[81] Search engine marketing experts speculated that Google Instant would have a great impact on local and paid search.[82] Google Search is a turn from a static HTML page into an AJAX application.[83]

Instant Search can be disabled via Google's "preferences" menu, but autocomplete-style search suggestions cannot be disabled, by intention.[84]

The publication 2600: The Hacker Quarterly compiled a list of words that Google Instant did not show.[85][86][87] Most banned terms are those considered rude, but some apparently irrelevant searches including "Myleak" are removed.[87]

In September 2012 several sources reported that Google had removed bisexual from the list of blacklisted terms for Instant Search.[88] As of August 2013 the word bisexual still did not autocomplete, and LGBT activists renewed efforts to have it whitelisted. As of June 2014 "bisexuality" (but not "bisexual") and "myleak" were found.


Product Sans, Google's typeface since 2015

In late June 2011, Google introduced a new look to the Google home page in order to boost the use of the Google+ social tools.[89]

One of the major changes was replacing the classic navigation bar with a black one. Google's digital creative director Chris Wiggins explains: "We're working on a project to bring you a new and improved Google experience, and over the next few months, you'll continue to see more updates to our look and feel."[90] The new navigation bar has been negatively received by a vocal minority.[91]

In November 2013, Google started testing yellow labels for advertisements displayed in search results, to improve user experience. The new labels, highlighted in yellow color, and aligned to the left of each sponsored link help users clearly differentiate between organic and sponsored results.[92]

Smartphone app

A Google Search mobile app is available for Android, Windows Phone and iOS devices. In addition to allowing users to perform web searches, the app implements Google Now, Google's voice recognition and intelligent personal assistant software. Google Now uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of web services. Along with answering user-initiated queries, Google Now passively delivers information to the user that it predicts they will want, based on their search habits.[93] Google Search for Android was originally introduced in 2007, the same year the Android operating system was introduced. On January 11, 2012, Google introduced an update where they included an updated and simplified user interface, along with other improvements.[94] As of May 2016, around 20% of Google searches on Android used voice recognition.[95]


Google is available in many languages and has been localized completely or partly for many countries.[96]

The interface has also been made available in some languages for humorous purpose:

In addition to the main URL, Google Inc. owns 160 domain names for each of the countries/regions in which it has been localized.[96]

On September 29, 2015, an Ex-Googler Sanmay Ved managed to buy the domain from Google via Google Domains, and gain full webmaster control.[97] Google later acknowledged the purchase,[98] and rewarded Ved who in turn requested that the reward be donated to charity. As a result, Google doubled the reward.

Search products

In addition to its tool for searching webpages, Google also provides services for searching images, Usenet newsgroups, news websites, videos, searching by locality, maps, and items for sale online. In 2012, Google has indexed over 30 trillion web pages, and received 100 billion queries per month.[99] It also caches much of the content that it indexes. Google operates other tools and services including Google News, Google Shopping, Google Maps, Google Custom Search, Google Earth, Google Docs, Picasa, Panoramio, YouTube, Google Translate, Google Blog Search and Google Desktop Search.

There are also products available from Google that are not directly search-related. Gmail, for example, is a webmail application, but still includes search features; Google Browser Sync does not offer any search facilities, although it aims to organize your browsing time.

Also Google starts many new beta products, like Google Social Search or Google Image Swirl.

Energy consumption

Google claims that a search query requires altogether about 1 kJ or 0.0003 kW·h,[100] which is enough to raise the temperature of one liter of water by 0.24 °C.

Possible misuse of search results

In 2007, a group of Austrian researchers observed a tendency to misuse the Google engine as a "reality interface". Ordinary users as well as journalists tend to rely on the first pages of Google search, assuming that everything not listed there is either not important or merely does not exist. The researchers say that "Google has become the main interface for our whole reality. To be precise: with the Google interface the user gets the impression that the search results imply a kind of totality. In fact, one only sees a small part of what one could see if one also integrates other research tools".[101]

Predicting behavior

At the 2016 New Hampshire primary, the top-searched Democratic candidate was Bernie Sanders with 72% of the searches and won with 60% of the vote, according to real-time results of Google's trending search queries, and Hillary Clinton received 28% of the queries and 38% of the vote. The top-searched Republican candidate was Donald Trump, who received 41% of the searches an hour before the polls closed and won with 35% of the vote and John Kasich got 16% of both the vote and the searches.[102]

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