It seems as if Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been trading forever, but it's a lot younger than you might think.

The world's leading search engine went public five years ago today.

The initial demand was surprisingly weak. Google was hoping to price its shares as high as $135 apiece. It had to settle for $85. The stock opened at $100, and for the most part, it hasn't looked back.

Online advertising has been a winner for Big G, but it's not some magical ingredient, either. If paid search were the investing equivalent of the Midas touch, rivals Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) would have come along for the ride.

They didn't.

 

8/19/2004

8/18/2009

Change

Google

$100.34

$445.28

344%

Yahoo!

$28.11

$14.75

(48%)

Microsoft

$22.59

$23.58

4%

Source: Yahoo! Finance. (Microsoft's quote is adjusted for dividends.)

Investors who missed out are probably kicking themselves, and rightfully so. Google even reached out to lay investors through a quasi-IPO that allocated some shares to individual investors who bid on the stock through a Dutch auction. It obviously wasn't enough to lift Google from settling for its original $85 price tag, but Morningstar (NASDAQ:MORN) and NetSuite (NYSE:N) went on to follow suit.

Google's success has come as a result of exploiting its strengths. As the world's most popular search engine, Google has made an easy sell of its contextual-marketing AdWords program, which is attractive to any advertiser that wants to drum up keyword-targeted leads. As a result of AdWords' success, Google was able to parlay its booming ad inventory into its AdSense syndication program, dynamically populating third-party sites with AdWords ad blocks.

The only downer is that Google traded as high as $747.24 two year ago. Investors who showed up unfashionably late are celebrating the terrible twos instead of the fabulous fives.

The upside, regardless of an investor's entry point, is that Google is surprisingly cheap. The shares have run up a bit lately, but Google is still fetching a reasonable 21 times this year's projected profitability and just 18 times next year's earnings target. China's Baidu.com (NASDAQ:BIDU) is growing more quickly than Google is overseas, but Google is the rare stateside player that's actually growing during the recession.

It's been an amazing first five years. One can only imagine what the next five will bring.

Read up on Google:

Baidu and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers selections. Morningstar is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Morningstar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still uses Google a lot in his daily life. He owns no shares in any of the companies in this story and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.