25 years of Google: how competition shaped the internet giant

AI is the prime battleground where Google needs to focus its energies if it’s to stay the literal byword for the internet in the future.

We often talk about how Google has been a search giant for a quarter century, but very little attention goes into the hurdles they’ve overcome over the years. BrightBid’s CEO, Gustav Westman talks about how Microsoft was simply too slow off the mark and Google’s dominance being built on three main tenets: Innovation, experimentation and focus on the core proposition of each product.

Google heads into its next quarter century, not simply as a search engine company but as a verb and a one-word response, reminding anyone that they have the power to access and discover any information they need without a fuss. 

While it’s important to celebrate this milestone and hope for continued success, it also offers an opportunity to reflect on the journey so far. 

Google’s rich history of being everyone’s de-facto search engine, currently accounting for more than 91% of the Search market may lead many to believe that the past 25 years have been without challenges from other operators However, its journey, at times, has been punctuated by competition and evolving rivals.

David versus Goliath 

From the outset, Google had powerful challengers in the form of Yahoo and Microsoft. 

Both had already tied up swathes of internet users with their free email accounts. Microsoft naturally already benefited from its brand strength through Windows and Office. Yet it failed to capitalise on its legacy while Yahoo simply didn’t understand the difficult balance to be struck between its paymasters, the advertisers, and the end users. While its search experience was plastered with intrusive ads, Google’s was clean, uninterrupted and through Search Ads even useful to the search experience. 

Microsoft was simply too slow off the mark. Bing only emerged six years after Google, years in which Google had plenty of time to iterate and improve. During that time it was also able to start hauling in the data, the engine oil that lubricates any successful search. And even in the relatively short lifespan of computing technology, Microsoft was something of an establishment figure. Google was seen to be much more innovative and experimental. Its quirky campuses and its ready sources of investment were hugely attractive to emerging talent. And Google was, initially, Google’s only product. Like any only child, it got all the attention and every opportunity to flourish. 

Other search engines came and went, such as the first natural-language search engine, Ask Jeeves. Some prevail, such as DuckDuckGo – comparatively niche with 0.54% market share but popular with users keen on staying under the radar from advertisers and tracking technologies. 

An evolving verb

Google’s total dominance is built on three main tenets: Innovation and experimentation, focus on the core proposition of each product and an insistence on putting product development before rapid return on investment. Its acquisition of YouTube in 2006 is case in point. A combination of powerful search and keen advertising packages meant Google could now become a multimodal service, evolving into a one-stop-shop for consumers and businesses alike. 

With its mission to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, Google has managed to insert itself into people’s lives as the ‘default’ internet. It is the default search destination, the default browser homepage, the default advertising platform. It is its ability to deliver granular, targeted ads that home in on what consumers are thinking about, not just actively searching for, that makes it one of the most valuable communication tools in the advertiser’s arsenal. And now, with its world-beating reserve of data, it can add Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the pot.


But does all of this mean that Google’s lead is forever unassailable? Certainly, there are challengers on the horizon. Our internet behaviour and how we seek out information changed once, it can change again.

A new vision

TikTok is already transforming how Gen Z and Gen Alpha access information and consume content. It’s reframing how advertisers want to reach emerging audiences, with new formats that at first glance seem incompatible with the stripped-back Google experience. Generative AI is showing that Google doesn’t have a monopoly on the world’s information. ChatGPT and Bing AI are both giving Google’s later AI launch, Bard, a run for its money but it would be premature to suggest the first off the block will naturally prevail. 

AI is certainly the prime battleground where Google needs to focus its energies if it’s to stay the literal byword for the internet in the future. Instrumental in AdTech, AI, automation and machine learning, can already help brands innovate and improve their marketing performance on the platform. But it will probably have to move away from its link-driven model and do more to capture consumers’ attention and serve their needs more intuitively. 

The first 25 years saw Google redefine the internet experience. It forewent short-term gains - and is reaping the long-term benefits. But future success depends on how well it can continue to redefine what the verb Google means as technology, society and user needs evolve.

By Gustav Westman