Who woulda thunk that a simple backlink on a website would change the world?
Not you, not me, but to two Stanford graduate students, that link was the key and the magic, and in that, there is a very valuable insight for entrepreneurs big and small.
It was 1995. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were grad students in computer science trying to find a seemingly simple solution. There had to be a better way to locate what you were looking for on what was then known as the World Wide Web. Back then, the option was to type a search term into the search engines of the time (Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves, Lycos, etc.) and then wade through scores of irrelevant pages that these sites would cough up.
The results were usually a waste of time because early search engines ranked sites based on how many times a searched term would show up on a web page. Given that, early webmasters quickly figured out that all they had to do was stuff a page with searched terms, and voila!, their page would get ranked high.
It was ingenious, ridiculous and nefarious all at once.
Trying to sell some boots? Then simply repeat and stuff the page with the term “boots,” its synonyms and related words (galoshes, waders, mukluks, shoes, hiking boots, ski boots, footwear, foot gear, combat boots, blah, blah, blah) and you just might strike Internet gold.
“Keyword stuffing” made for some not only horrible search results – page upon page uselessness – but equally, it caused early web designers to create some truly awful web pages and content creators to create equally horrible content.
Larry and Sergey figured there had to be a better way. In early 1996, the two began to work on writing code for a different sort of search engine, one that would not look at keywords, but instead would 1) rank a page based on how many other pages linked to that page and 2) look at how reliable those sites were.
They thought that being different was the key.
They were right.
Larry and Sergey realized that an actually valuable web page was one that other people had found good enough to link to; if a lot sites about hikes and hiking linked to a specific page about boots, that was likely a more valuable page about boots than some stuffed one. And if, say, the U.S. Geological Survey linked to that page too, then it really was probably very good.
From such things empires are born. An insight, an idea, a better way, a different way, can change the world. And if nothing else, it can change your world.
Working out of their dorm rooms, using cheap, borrowed computers and maxing out their credit cards, Larry and Sergey named their new search engine Google, after the math term “Googol” (1 followed by 100 zeros.) Its first home was the URL Google.Stanford.edu.
So, just what was the value of that little insight, of that secret sauce of linked pages and thus a better search engine?
• Larry and Sergey are worth a combined $100 billion today.
• Google’s parent company Alphabet is worth almost $1 trillion dollars
• Whoever you are, wherever you are, you likely used Google today.
No, you are not going to create the next Google, but that’s not the point. What you can and should do is examine what it is that makes your business unique, different and special and double down on that.
That’s where the magic waits.
Steve Strauss is an attorney, popular speaker, and the bestselling author of 17 books, including The Small Business Bible. You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.com, get even more tips at his site TheSelfEmployed, and connect with him on Twitter at @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at TheSelfEmployed.