Written by Jay Ratkowski
There’s a bottomless well of articles out there predicting the future of Google. Most of them are written by SEOs, so they talk about things like semantic search, personalization, social integration, etc. Basically, they talk about how search queries and results will work in the future.
While this stuff is interesting and important in its own right, I’m far more interested in how a $300 billion company not only plans to sustain that value, but increase it.
Does Google Really Need to Worry?
One of the largest threats to Google’s continued dominance, is that websites keep trying to go for the old portal model. That is, they want their site to be your starting point for most of your internet activity. Facebook wants to be that for anything social, but also for search and product research. Amazon wants to be that destination for anything you purchase and/or consume (from laptops to popcorn to content).
Google is already a portal for productivity. You use it to search, get mail, create & share documents, advertise, etc. However, they really only make money on search. Much like Amazon
attempts to will subsidize losses on Kindle sales with book, movie & music purchases – Google tries to subsidize all of their software, services and devices with ad revenue.
This model works, as long as people keep using Google to search at least three times as often as they use anybody else. And more complicated than that, people need to use Google to search for things that make other companies money (thus justifying those companies spend large amounts of money on advertising).
Google won’t survive if you only use it to remember who played the girlfriend in that one John Cusack film. They need you to look for flight reservations, new televisions, homes, and lawyers.
This is an ongoing concern for Larry Page and friends. How often do you bypass search engines and go directly to Amazon.com when you want to shop for a new tablet? You probably go straight to Travelocity or Hotels.com when you want to plan that next vacation or business trip. You know that’s where you’ll end up anyway, and you trust those sites, so why bother searching for alternatives?
Small Birds & Graphs of Knowledge
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This is exactly what Google has been trying to address in recent years. An excellent example is what they’ve done with Hummingbird. Finally, Google is putting their nearly forgotten purchase of ITA Software to use in an impressive way.
Starting a flight booking straight from the SERP? That is an amazing productivity tool.
What if I want to go out to a movie tonight? Things like showtimes have popped up here and there in the SERP before, but now you can do so much more. Click on a time and you’re taken directly here:
How easy is that?
The lingering problem is, even with the incredible efficiency offered by the Knowledge Graph, you’re still leaving Google to buy those tickets. Maybe you’ll have such a good experience that next time you’ll go direct to Fandango and skip the search.
There’s only one way Google could make life easier AND keep that ad revenue coming in, and I think they’re already working on it…
You do not wish to leave Google.com
And that’s where Google Shopping comes in.
Shortly after the announcement that Google Shopping would be a 100% paid system, the company announced the launch of their Trusted Stores program.
It’s a nice program for everyone. Retailers get an extra trust marker to let consumers know it’s safe to buy. Consumers get to couple that happy feeling of trust with some free purchase protection from Google.
But what does Google get out of this?
Data. Lots of incredibly valuable data.
This time it’s not about consumers, it’s about retailers. You see, to be a Trusted Store, a retailer needs to give Google their sales data. This includes Basic order information, expected ship dates, tracking numbers and cancelation info. For every Trusted Store, Google knows your online sales volume, your customer satisfaction rates, your inventory levels (based on how many backorders you get) and your fulfillment times.
What can Google do with this data? They can become the largest drop-ship merchant on the web. Google now has a massive product catalog with Google Shopping & PLAs, they have a growing fulfillment network with Trusted Stores, and they have a full-featured payment gateway with Google Wallet. If they implemented all of those on the Google Shopping page, there would be no need to leave Google.com for your transaction.
Google could get the PLA revenue they already get, but add on credit processing fees via Google Wallet. Plus, they’d be able to sell the idea that advertising is more targeted if they have a ton more consumer purchase data.
Is My Business Out of Luck?
If/when something like this happens, the biggest fallout would be the loss of branding. If you’re staying on Google during the entire purchase, and every merchant has a good reputation, why would you buy on anything but price? Any value a retailer can offer beyond the low price is rather difficult to convey in this scenario. So how do you survive?
The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. The simple part is, you need your website to be memorable enough to drive more and more direct traffic. The complex part is, how to make that happen.
Fortunately, the same things Google has been preaching as a way to be search-engine friendly for years will apply. You need a site that is visually pleasing, technically sound and of great value to users. User Experience has to be a priority. Just like it’s now incredibly easy to find a purchase those movie tickets via a Google search, it needs to be a similar experience on your website. Dedicate resources to user testing and conversion rate optimization. Users need to come away from your site thinking “that was easy.”
You also need to find ways to generate value to your users on a recurring basis through new content. Customers will have to be nurtured into being repeat customers via social media campaigns, email, remarketing, etc. You’ll also need to figure out how you can demonstrate customer service that leaves a lasting impact. Even if a customer converts on the first visit and has a great experience, they need to be reminded of how awesome your site was, so they think of your next time around.
Basically, you need to ask yourself, “Is my website worth bookmarking?”