The internet’s most popular search engine is celebrating its 20th birthday today.
Officially, Google was incorporated on 4th September, 1998 – making it 20 years and a few weeks old today – but it has often chosen to mark its birthday on 27th September instead. Few people know exactly why, though The Telegraph speculates that it’s because Google’s first ever “birthday Doodle” was published on this day in 2002.
Whatever the reason, Google has released a slew of fun games and tools in honour of the occasion, including a video, a delightfully nostalgic Street View tour of the garage where Google was born in 1998, and a search tool looking back over 20 years of popular search trends, created by Artist in Residence Cyril Diagne.
All in all, it’s the perfect excuse to spend a couple of hours of your afternoon exploring some fun but informative trivia about search over the last two decades.
And since we love fun and informative trivia, we’ve rounded up some of the most surprising facts we learned from 20 years of search trends, courtesy of Diagne and Google’s ’20 years of Google search’ tool.
1. The internet loves dogs more than cats
Almost anyone who has ever been on YouTube (or Reddit, or Buzzfeed, or I Can Haz Cheezburger) will agree: the internet loves cats. The internet was made for cats. Cat gifs, cat videos, cat memes, animated cats – the internet’s favourite animal is obvious. Right?
Except according to Google, we have always searched for dogs more than cats. While cats are an ever-popular second place search, there has never been a year in which we have searched for cats more than dogs, at least via Google.
Top searches for dog from the past two decades include “Dogs for sale”, “Cute dogs”, “Pitbull dog” and “How to draw a dog”.
2. Lolita: more popular than the Bible
The Bible is, unsurprisingly, the most searched-for book on Google, and has been since 2003, with the Qur’an coming in second since 2005.
But the most popular book on Google prior to 2003 was a much less sacred text: Lolita. The controversial 1955 novel was the most-searched book on Google from 1999 to 2002, the second most-searched in 2003 and 2004, and now sits at #10 in the list of most Googled books.
Other racy titles in Google’s historic top 10 include the Karma Sutra, which was #4 in 1999 and #3 in 2000.
3. Dora the Explorer has the best SEO
What would be your bet for the most popular children’s show of the past 20 years? A classic like Power Rangers or Thomas the Tank Engine, or an animated series for slightly older audiences like The Last Airbender or Adventure Time?
While all of these are contenders, the most consistently popular kids’ show by search volume in the past two decades has been Dora the Explorer. Dora has taken the number 1 spot in 9 out of the past 20 years: from 2003 through to 2007, and then again in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018.
Dora’s closest competitor in recent years has been Ben 10, which took the top spot from 2008 to 2013 and again in 2017, before being knocked down to third place this year by Power Rangers. Bad luck, Ben.
4. Pluto has never come close to topping Google
Poor old Pluto – as maligned in search as it is in the solar system, apparently.
Though its planetary status has long been the subject of fierce debate – to the point where it features in Google’s video looking back over 20 years of searches – Google’s search trend data holds that Pluto has never been one of the most-Googled “space objects”, even in 2006 when its status was downgraded to dwarf planet.
Fittingly, Pluto has consistently been the ninth-most-popular space object of the past 20 years, except for in 2010 where it slid to tenth place behind Neptune. The Sun is the internet’s favourite space object to search for, followed by Mars. Clearly, Pluto needs more pop culture representation.
5. ‘Peak Chuck Norris’ was later than you might have thought
Chuck Norris is a long-standing internet meme, but he’s never quite managed to claim the title of being the most-searched actor on the internet. So when did Chuck Norris enjoy peak popularity?
After a brief blip in 1999 and 2000, Chuck Norris really soared in search popularity in 2006, where he was the internet’s second most-searched actor, behind Jessica Alba.
He peaked again at #2 in 2008, behind Heath Ledger (sob), and enjoyed the #2 or #3 spot from 2009 to 2012, where he began the slow slide into (relative) obscurity. He’s currently the 9th most-searched actor on Google, with top searches including “Find Chuck Norris”, “Chuck Norris Memes”, and “Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris”.
6. 2006: The year of Sudoku
According to Google, the most popular game of 2006 was… Sudoku. Not Pokémon, not World of Warcraft (which was #2): the most searched-for game in 2006 was a humble pencil and paper puzzle.
Possibly because no-one understood how on earth to play it.
7. ‘Let it snow’ was a surprise smash hit?
While browsing the data for Google’s most popular songs, I was surprised to see an anomaly among the one-hit wonders and summer jams: Let It Snow, which was the most-searched song on Google in 2011.
It was more unusual given that, to my knowledge, it has never had a viral video dance routine or huge celebrity cover (at least not in 2011). So why the sudden popularity?
The answer to the mystery is actually one of Google’s own Easter Eggs. In December 2011, Google created a fun Christmas-themed Easter Egg in which typing “Let it snow” into your Google search bar would cause digital snow to rain down over the screen.
Google’s memory of its own Easter Eggs must be short, since seven years on, it is convinced that the public was searching for a Christmas song in 2011 and not a Google gimmick.
8. Friends has never ranked among top TV shows on Google
It was one of the most popular TV shows of the 1990s, but Friends may have been too early to make an impact on Google.
Though it was still going strong in 1998 when Google launched, finally concluding with its 10th season in 2004, Friends is nowhere to be found among Google’s top searches for TV shows in the late 90s or early 2000s.
The most Googled TV show in 1999 was The Simpsons, which comfortably held the top spot until 2004. Other TV shows which enjoyed more searches than Friends in the late 90s include South Park, Sesame Street and Days of Our Lives.
9. Martin Luther King Jr. is the internet’s favourite author
Perhaps this won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but the most popular author on the internet since Google’s inception has always been Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK has held the top spot in search in Google’s ‘authors’ category for the past two decades, enjoying more searches than William Shakespeare. Shakespeare has consistently sat at #2 since 2000, except for in 2011 and 2012 where he lost out to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, respectively. This year, his spot has been stolen by a more contemporary author: Maya Angelou.
There’s no doubt that King’s incredible words and legacy deserve to be the subject of hundreds of thousands of Google searches across the globe. However, the top searches for Martin Luther King Jr. reveal that he might just be the subject of people Googling to find out when his holiday is.
10. Mia Hamm beat David Beckham in 1999
Who was the most searched-for football player – sorry, “soccer player” – in 1999? If you guessed David Beckham, you were almost right.
David Beckham was the second most-searched footballer on Google in 1999 – behind American footballer Mia Hamm. If you haven’t heard of her, Hamm was a two-time Olympic gold medallist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion, and was also named Sportswoman of the Year in 1997 and 1999.
Beckham took the top spot from Hamm in 2000, but she remained in second place until 2002, and in the top 10 until 2005.
To find out what the next 20 years of search have in store, download Econsultancy’s market insight report, The Next Revolution of Search.