By Phil Bilbrough 
Some time ago, a time before Twitter (ATBT), I presented my predictions for the online future. I believed that social networking sites would offer loyalty schemes to retain their audiences, that Sky TV would go online, that TV advertising would come under serious stress, that Google would take over the world, that we would lose a large newspaper, and that Micheal Jackson would would become the world’s oldest pop star.
I didn’t get everything right. But an attractive former colleague emailed me recently saying that my crystal ball wasn’t that bad, better than a Wall St Broker even, perhaps I should look into it again and tell Rodney Hide what a super city looks like. Yes Google is taking over the world – and mostly – I don’t mind.
The very recent, www.googleflip.com is kinda cool. I’m an online news freak. I like nytimes.com, news.bbc.co.uk and smh.com.au, now on all the same screen. Announced today-ish was Google Sidetracks – a comments function on every page – which I can’t see me using.
So where else is Google? There is the classy Google Earth (and sea and space), Google Maps, Google Analytics, Google Alerts, the Google Homepage, Google Books, Google Calendar, Google Insights, Google Documents, Google Adsense, YouTube, Gmail, Google Calendars, Google News, Google Reader, Google Scholar, Google Images, Google Wave, Google Groups, Google apps, Chrome, DoubleClick, and I must have missed something…missed a lot.. and that’s right there is the Google search engine.
In a way Google are where Microsoft, at one time, probably wanted to be. You only need to spend a week as a computer support help desk guy to know that helping people with their computing is hell. It is hell I tell you. You realise that Microsoft don’t need to be hated as much as they are – I mean they have millions of people testing their products everyday. Millions of people not being able to insert a picture, un-bold a heading style, or they can’t find a file because they are using Outlook to file their attachments.
Google may end up on the desktop as an operating system, but at this moment it is a bunch (a lot) of pretty reasonable FREE services remotely delivered.
And to pay for the delivery of these worthwhile products and services, they sell advertising. They sell well. And this is when Google and I meet in a dark alley and have it out. Except Google, not perceiving that I exist, steps on me and doesn’t bother to remove me from the tread of their shoes.
Advertising on Google – Adsense (SEM search engine marketing) – is effective. Optimising your website for an improved Google listing (SEO, search engine optimisation) is also effective. But is it the only thing? And does it work by itself?
No it doesn’t. No no, on both accounts. I’ve recommended Google Adwords campaigns for many years, and I stand by those recommendations – so what am I saying? I’m saying that there are other games in town.
I doubt that an successful Google Adword campaign has worked by itself. I strongly believe that Google adwords are part of the call-to-action for any offline campaign. That, if some ad appeals to you, you go to Google and search for the product in the ad, the Adword pops up and you are on your way to a purchase. My recommendation is to use adwords campaigns in support of any campaign that you may doing, but its part of the mix – not the whole campaign.
I don’t think that the online advertising industry was fully developed, or some of the sites weren’t offering enough to advertisers when Google stomped in and snatched a large chunk of the online advertising market and held tight. Advertising agencies get cut loose or are turned into 31 character specialists.
I would need to dig deep to see if Google is helping site publishers, they probably are. Unless sites put up a paywall, they need advertising, or a benefactor, or Google adwords to survive. And with Google adwords you don’t need to convince them to advertise on your site.
So what is the downside to Google? Nothing apparent yet, except there are advertisers (clients) equating online advertising with Google. As soon as a potential client hears that I’m a Digital Strategist they say, “So you do SEO?” “No”. And this is only one reason why SEO bugs me.
So if everyone does SEO, could SEO become a self fulfilling industry? What if, in New Zealand, four five banks, a few loan brokers, twelve financial planners and a few credit card firms chase the same position on Google search results for the same words? Who wins then? The SEO optimisers. That logic already applies to the Google adword auction. Who wins when companies chase the first page of results for their adword? Google.
I think that the SEO/SEM is a dangerous path for brands. They are part of the mix, yet a client risks commoditizing their brand. Turning their brand into fish and chips and serving it to their customers for evaluation and price comparison with their competitor’s. This is anti-brand. A client can chase the click through rates and a great cost per click yet it is that great offer which ultimately drives click through, and is that good for the brand? Good for the customer, but is it sustainable for your company? I see price fights in my crystal ball.
This isn’t Google’s issue, Google is big, dynamic (for profit) organisation and customers are attracted to it like John Key is to Americans. It kind of the new “You never get fired for buying blue (IBM)” from the seventies.
There are other ways to reach people online. For nervous clients – those scared of the big budget brand campaigns that fueled the eighties advertising scene – there will always be Google and someone selling it in some form. Yes there are other ways to advertise online or as I say “Give your working audience 20 seconds of entertainment.”
Google is OK. I remember when it first was sent to me – I was using Alta Vista. Google was fresh, clear, not-geek-like and very internet. Somehow it feels that it is one of the drivers of the internet. Just don’t tell clients that it is the only one.