I was invited to give a talk recently by Deborah Ager for a group of Search and Marketing professionals in Virginia. At first I was planning on doing the same talk I usually give, one I’ve been giving for years about why my companies embrace what we call Search Engine Simplicity.
Something told me that this was the wrong talk for this crowd when I was on my way there, further validated when I spoke to some of the people in the group before hand.
So instead I spoke completely off the top of my head on two things:
1- The importance of pondering what Google is going to do NEXT rather than NOW, and preparing for that eventuality, and,
2- What we will all do if Google suddenly ceases to exist (or, more likely, no longer be relevant to our businesses – remember when Yahoo was a search company?) .
After talking to people following the event, I realized that I’m overdue for this year’s Google Strategy Session for 2012. We’re doing it workshop style this year due to my lateness – and also because I want to travel to Africa to see my ailing father. (He’s better but he can’t fly as we’d hoped, so I want to go to him.)
Which of course led me to create this blog post about why looking beyond the fix-it tactics are so important: if you start thinking strategically, you can often avoid the issue of having to fix something altogether.
But strategy is more than being prepared for the changes happening now or even six weeks from now.
Is What Google is Doing Now Unimportant?
At the same time, that’s more of a tactical mindset – that only tells you what to tweak right now. Google’s current status is a weather report. You can look outside and tell it’s sunny.
So can you look at the top search publications – and a few that aren’t at the top, or aren’t in search – and tell what Google’s doing right now, or has done recently. For Example, in non-search publications you have:
- A Googler’s frustrated rant on the inner workings of Google, accidentally posted in public on Google+
- The New York Times posits that Google cannot be both a big company and not evil
- Another Former Google employee’s explanation of why he left Google (See also CNN’s coverage.)
- CNet asks if Google Has Lost Its Magic
- A Writer from the Atlantic with his theory on Why many have fallen out of love with Google search sesults
- Cris Crum of Web Pro News asks if Google Deserves to Be Labeled Evil
And all of these things have relevance today even though they aren’t directly about Google or Google search. But not just in that public perception often affects what a public company does. It’s also particularly helpful when current trends and hints of future actions come from the horse’s mouth.
Google Tells Us (at least part of) What It’s Doing
Sometimes you can even get answers straight from Google. They’ve freely announced recent plans to change or adjust, including:
- Search Plus Your World, and other recent changes in search & the Google algorithm
- Local search changes and updates, mobile integration, Universal Search and other algorithm improvements and changes (ongoing gradual changes to Google search that added up to what’s currently being perceived as a big shift, dating back to 2007)
- Google’s slow shift towards social mixed into search first announced in October 2009, prior to Search Plus Your World, including the quiet emergence of Google Social Search, the +1. and the much louder debut of Google+, and Google+ business pages
- Google’s navigation bar and search page redesign, emphasizing certain products
- Google’s shift in direction, leadership, and product focus, including closing or shifting away from certain products
- The integration of Chrome and Android in everything from browsers to mobile to TV
All of those signals about the current status of Google are important and to be duly noted, both the official stories that lean on fact and the editorial opinions that are based on observations – even if the conclusions they draw border on hyperbole.
Sometimes that hyperbole becomes fact in the future. Or it may give you a clues for what not to do. More significant is the ability to build yourself a kind of almanac to Google’s future moves, so you can start preparing your company today.
It didn’t take rocket science to predict that Google results would be heavily integrated with video and other multimedia. Though there were doubters in the beginning, you don’t have to be a genius to realize that narrow topic or niche specific blogging is one of the fastest ways to gain favor with – and steady traffic from – Google web search as well as many of its other properties.
True, change didn’t used to happen this fast even on the web. So thinking about the future of Google was left to search experts. But it does now, and if you’re a business owner, or thinking about launching a startup that in any way could rely on Google for exposure, it’s time to integrate, at minimum, a yearly look at what current trends in Google could turn into next year.
The combination of what Google is doing today and mapping of current trends to guess what it might do tomorrow, is a good place to start the basis of your Google Strategy. Otherwise, if you start with next steps such as content and keyword optimization, you could create the wrong type of content, or fail to optimize the right documents for keywords.
What will Google Do Tomorrow?
As we examined earlier, Google has had a major shift in the way the public perceives it.
And it’s no accident that there were a series of both minor and major shifts in what the company’s public aims and issues were driving this. If we look at those trends, we can make guesses about what the next trends will be. They may not always be precise – who saw Google+ coming when Twitter just started out? However, even wrong guesses can help us plot the direction a trend is going, which is more important than being exactly right about predicting a future climate.
IE – it’s more important to realize that search and social were going to merge back in 2009/2010 than it would be to predict whether the catalyst would be Google+, the former integration of Twitter into Google search results, or what some saw as a potential partnership between Google and Facebook prior to Facebook’s relationship with Microsoft.
And we should make those guesses – or find an expert we trust and follow theirs – despite the potential risk of not quite hitting the mark.
Sometimes you’ll be a bit off base, we all are. I made a huge proclamation on Google HotPot – the only other time Google made me out to be such a big liar was with Google Wave.
The point is – even without an exactly correct prediction, even when my speculation was off – which really only pulled my average of correct guesses to 93% – there was enough value and education in those decisions to have made them worthwhile.
Making those predictions led to deeper exploration into Google Places, which paid off big for people who were quick enough to hop on the Google Boost and subsequent flat ad rates through Google Tags before that program was discontinued and partly re-introduced later as AdWords Express. Not to mention businesses that got a head start on Google Places before it became popular.
And the mis-step with Google Wave gave great future insight into knowing whether a Google launch of a product feature would be successful.
Last year, I had a search strategy meeting about this same thing, where Google was going next, and how to be prepared for this shift. I talked about how much more heavily Google would be looking at Realtime, Local and Mobile. And 90% of what I predicted is unfolding as I expected, though not exactly as speculated.
Next time: How Do We React – Better Yet, How Do We Move Proactively?