Every day 268 million people use Google to search for something. The query goes in, the company's software delivers back the most relevant links. The interaction is so simple--and the hidden calculation behind the results so complex--that it's no wonder people tend not to notice much about the process. Who bothers to ask the ingredients of a magic formula?
For all of its experiments with maps, books, e-mail, and social networking, Google is still an empire built on search. Ninety-seven percent of the company's $23.7 billion haul in 2009 came from advertising. While Google doesn't break out what each of its individual ad products such as AdWords or AdSense generates, multiple people within the company concede that Google is as dependent on the "Sponsored Links" generated by search queries as an oil nation is on its wells.
Since Google's 1998 debut, the search results page--where a home page query is returned with 10 suggested links on the left and multiple advertiser links on the right--has been through seven subtle redesigns. The most recent, in May 2007, saw the addition of images and video in what was dubbed "universal" search. On May 5, Google unveiled its eighth iteration, which Marissa Mayer, vice-president of search products and user experience, calls "particularly large and particularly important."
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