Amid all this activity, hardly anyone in the UK took any notice of a technology-driven media start-up in California. It did not remain anonymous for long - there can be few people remaining who have not heard of the company that revolutionised search on the internet sufficiently to have its brand name included in the dictionary. Today, the brand offers such compelling search advertising opportunities that it posts revenues of more than $5bn a quarter.
The first Google index in 1998 contained 26m pages; in 2000 it reached 1bn. This year, it hit a new milestone: 1tn.
In the 10 years since launch, Google has shaped the way the majority of consumers find information for work and leisure.
Two years ago, it acquired user-generated content site YouTube, and last year snapped up digital marketing business DoubleClick. Its dominance is astounding, but also a cause for concern. Many observers are dismayed by the dearth of strong competition, and with Google holding the whip hand, inevitably the price of search listings has risen.
It could, then, be argued that increased commercialisation has made Google's search listings less relevant. Not surprisingly, the company denies this, and claims price inflation is not an issue.
'One of the biggest strengths of the Google auction is that advertisers choose the price they are willing to pay, and remain in control of their costs,' says James Cashmore, industry head of Google Europe. 'Google does not set any price. It is a free market governed by supply and demand.'
Cashmore stresses that the model Google uses for its auctions is not purely commercial. He says advertisers cannot bid their way to the top, because users are placed centre-stage with the inclusion of a quality score. Relevance has more impact on search rankings than ability to pay.
'Keeping ads relevant is in both the consumer's and Google's interest,' says Warren Cowan, chief executive of search marketing agency Greenlight. 'Google's quality scoring ensures the relevance of paid and natural listings. Advertisers need to have relevant ad text and landing pages, and Google polices these things.'
However, Arjo Ghosh, chief executive of iCrossing UK, believes price inflation on keywords is a concern for many brands. He is keen to see a move away from 'last click wins' measurement in pay-per-click advertising, whereby a purchase is measured by the final click, even though other media may have played key roles in a sale.
Despite these quibbles, Ghosh is a fan of Google. 'It still sweeps all before it,' he says. 'Its market penetration, combined with its ease of use, makes it unbeatable.'
If this is the case, Google's second decade may well prove to be as impressive as its first. There is little doubt that the brand's rise has had a profound effect on marketing.
According to Google, its five biggest search advertising sectors are travel, retail, finance, technology and automotive. How, then, are marketers in such fields adapting their strategies ?
Travel: navigational aid
Roger Smith, Accor Hotels director of marketing projects, UK and Ireland, is in no doubt as to Google's impact on the travel sector. 'Search engines have changed the way we market,' he says. 'The opportunities they afford have given us new ways of addressing those using the web to research the market and make bookings.'
However, while Google is important to Accor, Smith adds that the company has not cut its above-the-line spend, because Google is less effective at building brand awareness and does not address the segment populated by technophobes.
Thistle Hotels' head of marketing Justine Ford is of a different mind. She says the chain is now spending less above-the-line, with a greater proportion of its budget going into search, because this continually produces a far higher return on investment. One of the main benefits to Thistle has been the ability to easily track the effectiveness of its online advertising through Google. Thistle has, adds Ford, had 'phenomenal success with non-branded search terms', and sales have increased dramatically since it started to use this technology.
Gerard Tempest, marketing director for Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants, points out that Google has changed how people research and plan almost everything, with travel no exception. In his experience, most hotel rooms are now booked following an online search, a shift that has been 'hugely beneficial' to Premier Inn because, says Tempest, it offers a 'good-quality product and transparent, good-value prices'.
Nevertheless, he argues that above-the-line brand-building cannot be forsaken. 'Paid search marketing is no longer the cheap option, so it is more important than ever for a market-leader such as Premier Inn to have a well-established brand name,' says Tempest. 'We have invested heavily in this over the past year, and are now reaping the benefits in terms of increased brand searches and lower-cost bookings.'
Of course, travel is not just about hotel rooms. Google has also affected marketing in the aviation industry. More than 50% of UK airline ticket purchases in the UK are now made online.
Katherine Gershon, interim marketing director at low-cost airline bmi, says that Google has made marketing trackable, so that marketing directors can demonstrate how it drives sales and focus investment in the most profitable areas. However, she adds a proviso. 'Not all Google's effects have been good,' she says. 'The decision to reverse the trademark protection rule, where other companies were banned from bidding on your brand trademark, is a sign that Google cares about its profits more than its customers.'
Finance: investment choice
Drew Wotherspoon, marketing director of independent mortgage adviser John Charcol, cites Google's 'huge' influence on the personal finance market, adding that consumers' preference for finding everything via Google still applies to the biggest financial commitment most of us will ever take on: a mortgage.
'Most mortgage advertisers will undoubtedly reduce spend above the line, concentrating on how best to tap into the dominant internet search market,' adds Wotherspoon. 'In the mortgage sector, one could even argue that Google searches have seen the rise of a new breed of marketers, the lead generators, who use key words and SEO to drive traffic to their site, only to sell the lead to more established players.'
Nationwide's head of brand strategy Peter Gandolfi believes there are too many big internet brands for Google's position to remain unchallenged. However, he concedes that the company's intense consumer focus makes it likely to at least maintain its dominant position. Furthermore, its acquisitions of other companies involved in the digital space means that Google's tentacles are spreading ever further.
'Google's dominant market position makes it a vital part of our communications plans,' says Gandolfi. 'The accountability of search has meant that Google has benefited from increased investment from Nationwide.'
Harriet Fletcher, marketing communications manager at website hosting company Rackspace, says Google's simplicity and accuracy have made it the business community's search engine of choice.
Automotive: driving force
In the automotive sector, car-hire companies have had to adapt their business models in similar ways to other travel-related businesses, while car manufacturers and dealers have had to incorporate search into their marketing plans.
'Google effectively established a media channel - search - an increased response and branding possibilities. This channel is clearly very significant in researching a car purchase,' says Suzanne Gray, advertising manager for BMW UK.
For many automotive brands, advertising on Google is now viewed as essential.
Who is after Google's crown?
Google has risen to such a dominant position that other search players are often overlooked. According to comScore, Google had a 75% share of the UK search market in June 2008, handling 2916m searches. EBay was its nearest rival with a 5.5% share. Next came Yahoo!, Microsoft, Ask.com, AOL and Facebook, none of which had a share bigger than 4.3%.
Hitwise's UK research for the same month focused on the leading search engines. It gave Google a crushing market share of 87%. Yahoo! and Microsoft took 4% each, and Ask trailed with 3%.
Overturning Google's hegemony is a daunting task. Gavin Ailes, deputy managing director at The Search Works, says: 'Microsoft, with all its marketing expertise, may pose the greatest threat. Cuil is also one to watch.'
Judith Lewis, search director at i-level Search, also has her eye on the start-up. 'Cuil is probably the most notable contender for Google's crown, though a merger between Yahoo! and Microsoft may help create a serious new rival,' she says. 'The internet is full of people trying to make a quick buck, so any aspiring rival's anti-spam filters, as well as the quality and relevance of its results, will need to be perfect.'
Cuil claims to search three times as many webpages as Google, and 10 times as many as Microsoft.
Many argue that social networking sites have meant that Google is used less for 'people search' - looking for information on an individual - because that information is more likely to be found on a social networking site. For pure informational search, however, social networking sites are unlikely to make much of a dent in Google's dominance.
Price-comparison sites continue to perform well, especially in the current economic climate. Google Product Search and Google Merchant Search do not currently trouble established players such as Kelkoo and Moneysupermarket.com.
'Google's advantage is that it is one step up the search stream,' says Adam Russell, LBi UK Media Account Manager. 'It has no outgoing cost of acquisition, because Google does not pay for its clicks, whereas Moneysupermarket.com, for example, ends up paying Google. Moreover, Google has collected so much information about its users that it has become very accurate in second-guessing their needs and taking them straight to it, or at least streamlining their journey.'
Google Chrome: the latest innovation
What is Google Chrome?
Google Chrome (www.google.com/chrome) is a web-based browser designed to take on the might of Windows Internet Explorer.
Why is it important?
It is the first step in Google's plan to convince consumers and businesses to replace Windows-based software with hosted web applications.
What is in it for advertisers?
A key issue for advertisers is who will create the platform that will support the next generation of web applications. As the gatekeepers of consumers' web activity, these platforms offer huge possibilities, both in terms of data collection and as ad platforms in their own right. However, Chrome has come under fire for retaining all the search listings and URLs that consumers type in. The 'Google Suggest' feature offers search terms based on consumers' past activity.
Last week, Google sought to reassure consumers. Senior vice-president for operations, Urs Holzle, wrote on the company blog: 'Given the concerns that have been raised about Google storing this information, and its limited potential use, we will anonymise it within about 24 hours - basically, as soon as we practically can.'
Will it succeed?
Persuading consumers to switch browsers is notoriously difficult. Habit is why businesses are often reluctant to invest in new technology. Crucially, PC makers may be unwilling to switch to web-based applications.
Google is expected to launch an online storage offering.