How Does Google Know?

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Who has used Google before?

Who HASN’T used Google before?

If you’ve ever used Google before, you’re probably familiar with the fact that no matter what you search for, there always seems to be millions of results.

It used to be - at least in my experience - every time someone wrote a paper about any arbitrary topic, somewhere in that paper would be something along the lines of…

Screenshot of a Google Search for money. A search on Google for Toastmasters reveals over 13 million results.


Screenshot of a Google Search for Toastmasters. A search on Google for money reveals over 7 billion results.

or - if we really want to get into middle-school-type reports -

Screenshot of a Google Search for Abraham Lincoln. A search on Google for Abraham Lincoln reveals over 97 million results.

But the miracle of Google ISN’T that it can find so many web pages for almost any topic.

The miracle of Google is that despite returning millions - or billions! - of results, you rarely have to go past the first page of Google to find something relevant.

How many results are on the first page of Google?


Ten results out of millions. And they’re all relevant.

How Does Google Know?

Are you familiar with the blue, underlined text on the internet?

Example of a hyperlink.

What does it do?

What this link (hyperlink) is, in reality, is a citation.

Remember citing things in research papers in school? Links serve a similar purpose.

It turns out this is very useful information for searching the web.

The more links - or citations - page has, the more relevant the information must be.

Furthermore, pages that have higher “relevance” should matter more in their citations that less relevant sites.

For instance, an academic site should matter more when citing something than say, a random blog site.

It turns out Google even came up with a fancy equation to determine how relevant a page is:

The PageRank Equation. Google’s Fancy Equation.

They called this “PageRank.”

Pages have higher PageRanks the more other pages link to them; links count more if those other pages have a higher PageRank themselves.

A fun PageRank graph. A fun PageRank graph from Wikipedia

And over 20 years later - the original Google paper was published in 1998 - we still use their search engine.

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