Happy 14th Birthday Google, I Wouldn’t Know What SEO Meant Without You

You might have already noticed that the Google doodle for today is sporting a few birthday candles – 14, to be exact. Google marks its 14th anniversary today, growing from a small search engine to a dominant player in software and tech, while becoming virtually synonymous with the idea of a search engine itself.

The last 14 years have had their ups and downs for both the company and its users – and by users, I mean just about anyone in the United States who uses the Internet. And, sadly, Google’s commitment to its unofficial motto of “Don’t be evil.” has come into question in the last eight years (roughly around the time the company went public).

Google’s search engine is unimpeachable – 14 years later, and there is simply no competition. Google has become synonymous with the Internet search (just Google it), and once your company gets to that level, it’s pretty darn hard to fail. After all, people aren’t going to be saying “Just Bing it” anytime soon. That dominance has led Google to become the king of online advertising – the true source of the company’s massive inward flow of cash. An entire field, search engine optimization, was created solely for the purpose of analyzing Google’s search engine and trying to find ways to get webpages ranked higher on Google. Google ended up being an inadvertent job creator in that way, although a lot of those jobs were “black hat” – annoying spammers resorting to dirty tricks to get their spam-filled pages ranked higher, essentially polluting the Internet with garbage. There’s always a downside.

Of course, once sites thought they had SEO mastered, Google pulled out the rug from under them with algorithm updates (Panda and Penguin) that wrecked sites’ Page Ranks overnight. In a way, Google can’t be blamed too much – the creation of SEO was more of an organic reaction to Google’s success than something Google itself created. The company probably never felt particularly beholden to it, and, though it has tried to take a more cooperative stance towards legitimate SEO, has never made supporting it a priority.

Google’s real turns for the worse happened after going public. Being loyal to shareholders over users has a way of changing a company, and Google was no different. The company needed to find ways to maximize its earning potential, and you don’t do that without taking advantage of users in some way. That way manifested itself in a few privacy controversies, most notably the unified privacy policy that allows Google to aggregate all of a user’s activity across all Google services for the purpose of targeted advertisements. The Internet community was less than thrilled. No matter how many times it gets repeated by tech companies, targeted advertisements will never, ever be accepted by Internet users at large as something deserving of the title of “a service.” It’s an annoyance foisted upon users, as part of an increasingly grudging agreement we have to make with tech companies in order to continue using their useful services. Google is the poster child for this.

Google has also had its share of outright flops. I’d talk about Google Wave, but chances are you already forgot about it, and there’s no need to remind you of it any further. Google+ is one we can talk about – an attempt to catch up to Facebook in the social media world. It didn’t succeed to the extent Google hoped, at best becoming a haven for people tired of Facebook, at worst leading to a degradation of Google’s search engine quality, under suspicion that Google’s algorithms were favoring Google+ pages. To be fair to Google+, though, it is underrated in one big way – Google+ Hangouts are excellent for video chatting with multiple people at once, and it is arguably the single greatest gift that the Internet has given to education. It’s maybe the first tool that genuinely makes a virtual classroom possible by integrating cloud services like documents and streaming YouTube videos into video chat.

Lest we forget the good, Apple has recently gone through great lengths to remind us how great Google Maps are. Apple’s terrible maps on iOS 6 shine light on how polished and reliable Google Maps have become. They have a great reputation for reliability, and the driving directions, public transportation directions, and walking directions are simple to get and priceless when you need them. Gmail also deserves a mention as arguably the most popular email client at the moment.

Also, they have that one Android thing that is currently leading the smartphone market. That’s not doing too badly, either.

What can we expect from Google in the future? Probably more of the same – a lot of great services, a few terrible ones, and a side order of controversy and user outrage. We’ll see in the next 14 years how that all shakes out, but chances are good that a few of us will be viewing those future years through Google Glass.

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