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Is Google God? Part 1

Rodger Jacobs
"Is Google God?" That's the question that Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman posed in a June 29, 2003, column for The New York Times.

"If I can operate Google, I can find anything," Alan Cohen, a vice president of Wi-Fi provider Airespace, told Friedman. "And with wireless, it means I will be able to find anything, anywhere, anytime. Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything. Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google."

Every day, 200 million faithful and devout Internet users make the pilgrimage to the altar of Google, extracting precious data from an index comprised of 8 billion URLs. Four out of five Internet searches occur on Google or on a site licensing its technology.

Not unlike the higher power that Cohen likens it to, the world's largest search engine is pervasive and all-knowing. Google worshippers can search for flight information, track USPS, UPS and FedEx shipments, access reverse directory telephone look-ups, acquire area code and VIN information in the blink of an eye, or get the latest news from Google's news product that crawls more than 4,000 online news sources daily — the first-ever news service compiled solely by computer algorithms without any human intervention.

In the vast cosmos of e-commerce, good search engine placement is vital; it is acknowledgement from a beneficent electronic God that there is a place for you in the universe.

A lot of charlatans and snake oil salesmen have developed around the edges of the Google phenomenon, hawking services and techniques designed to boost one's presence in Google's eye or to maximize revenue from affiliate programs. The first heresy they will whisper in your ear is that submitting your site to Google multiple times increases your odds of a high page ranking.

"You need not submit to Google; Google will find you," Partha Bhattacharya at Developers.evrsoft.com stated, underscoring Cohen's omnipotent phrasing. "It has been Google's longtime practice to extensively crawl the web so as to build its own comprehensive database of webpages, no matter whether you submit or not. In the process, it has outsmarted others in producing the most relevant search results."

Google's famed robot, Googlebot, crawls millions of webpages everyday, Bhattacharya said, and it's quite probable that a new website will be automatically crawled sooner than one can imagine, whether submitted or not. Google does not require submission nor, despite an electronic urban myth to the contrary, does it "penalize" sites for over-submission. You are free to submit as often as you wish.

"However," Google warns, "given the nature of our inclusion process, your time is better spent improving the content and links to your site."

Robot That Jumps
The best way to ensure that Google finds your site is for your page to be linked from lots of pages on other sites. Google's robot jumps from page to page on the web via hyperlinks, so the more sites that link to you, the more likely it is that Googlebot will find you quickly.

But here is where the religious dogma gets muddy. All gods big and small, after all, have episodes of vindictiveness for transgressions of the Law. While Google will not send a plague of locusts down upon your house of electronic commerce for failing to stick to policies and protocol, it can ban you to the wasteland of the Internet for an indeterminate period if you fall into disfavor.

"Google is to search engines what Microsoft is to personal computers," writes Rob Sullivan, production supervisor at Searchengineposition.com. "They control the market and can effectively do what they want. In response to public outcry they say, 'We hear you, but so what? We own you and can do what we want. So there.'"

Google runs on a unique combination of advanced hardware and software. The speed of the site can be attributed to the efficiency of its search algorithm and the thousands of low-cost PCs the company has networked together to create a super fast search engine.

The heart of Google's software is PageRank, a system for ranking web pages, which was developed by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University. And while there are dozens of engineers working to improve every aspect of Google on a daily basis, PageRank continues to provide the basis for all of Google's web-search tools.

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote by page A for page B. But Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."

Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don't match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page's content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it's a good match for your query.

In Part 2, we'll look at developing PageRank, optimizers, and The Google Dance. Stay tuned!

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