Big Brother, Google and Print Media

Has it occurred to you yet that Google – at least the search engine part of Google – is, essentially, a monopoly?  They have achieved such penetration in the realm of Internet search that, what few competitors there are,  are insignificant.

I remember when I started surfing the net back in the 90’s.  None of us knew what we were doing and AOL gained a huge leg-up by organizing the Internet (today that seems so silly) and by giving us crude search capabilities.  I drifted from search engine to search engine and eventually settled into AltaVista.  In the mid-nineties AltaVista leaped ahead of its competitors by pioneering the use of web-crawlers that would go out, scan websites for information, and return data for indexing.  Today we call the crawlers ‘Spiders’ and they scamper a little faster.  AltaVista was eventually bought by Yahoo and, in May of last year, was shut down.  Now, when you try to search using AltaVista, you’re really searching using Yahoo.  As an interesting aside, it was AltaVista that brought us that wonderful translation tool, Babel-Fish.  Just as the search part of AV has been over taken by Google, so has Babel-Fish:  today we use Google Translate.

Which brings me back to the Google monopoly.  They didn’t gain that position by destroying or overtaking competitors; we gave it to them.  Google came out of the box so far ahead of their competitors that almost overnight other search engines were left in the dust.  Google made the Internet useful.  It brought order to chaos.  That’s the nice part.  But to monetize search, Google had to bring value to those of us with something to sell or something to say.  They realized (just as Don Taylor did in 1976) that the most effective marketing was highly targeted marketing.  The delivery of a highly targeted demographic to an advertiser proved to be very valuable and targeted pay-per-click ads became a dominant feature of the Internet.

So, how did Google get so good at segmenting and categorizing demographic groups to deliver to advertisers?  They kept track of us.  They recorded what we searched for and what we clicked on.  They watched how we behaved when we interacted with them and they stored that information, analyzed it, reduced it to numbers and predictive algorithms.  Today Google knows more about what interests me than just about anyone else!

We’d like to believe that Google is blind, like justice.  We’d like to believe that if I – a White male in his 60s living in Southern California – search for something, that you – a Hispanic female in your 30s living in the Northeast – also search for, we’d get the same results.  Not so. Google not only sells you as a potential target to advertisers, it also uses what it knows about your online behavior to filter search results so that your search outcome may be very different than mine.

I got a big reminder of this yesterday.  Ron McCoy, who lives 90 miles away in Riverside, just bough an IPad II.  The Apple version of PowerPoint on the IPad is something called Notebook.  Ron wanted to convert his PowerPoint Franchise Sales Presentation to Notebook and had no luck figuring it out.  While we were on the phone, I Googled it and quickly came up with a website devoted to Notebook with a long string of how-to’s about this very subject.  When Ron did the same search the website was buried. Google gave us different results because:  we live in different areas and we search for different stuff.  Google watches . . . Google knows.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Google.  I’m more a Google person than a PC (Microsoft) person.  I have a Google T-Shirt.  I have an Android phone.  But sometimes all of this Google-looking-over-my-shoulder-while-I-browse creeps me out a bit.  Sure, their motives are purely Capitalistic:  they want great data on me to sell to advertisers.  But what if their information came under the control of an entity – a faction, a government, a policing unit – who maybe had other motives?  Makes me want to browse through an anonymizer!

I applaud Google for what its done to marketing.  That arena is fundamentally different and the difference is directly related to what Google did.  But it’s interesting:  after years of diss-ing print media as the nearly extinct dinosaur that it is, Google has taken to using traditional paper advertising to show its concern for our online safety.  They’ve earmarked tens of millions of dollars for a ‘Good to Know’ campaign running in newspapers and magazines.  The first ad ran in Britain recently and encouraged people to be a little more creative with their passwords.  It’s actually very good information, so good that I’ll reproduce the ad here and encourage you to do what Mother-Google is asking you to do!


Having gotten all of that rambling tangential junk out of the way, here’s my point for you today:  If Google – who owns the Internet – who invented online marketing – is getting into print advertising, isn’t’ it something you ought to consider for your business?   For five years we’ve preached that print is dead-dead-dead, and every time one of our brokers put a toe in the print-media waters he pulled it back in shock and horror.  But suddenly, Maurine Grisso takes a full page ad in her local paper for a song the week between Christmas and New Years and actually develops LEADS.  I know:  Maurine is a brash pioneer, sometimes so far on the cutting edge that she’s actually on the bleeding edge; but nobody can fault her for not taking risks and sometimes reaping big rewards.  And I’m not suggesting you sink thousands of dollars into print advertising this month or next.  What I am suggesting is that it might be time to put that toe back in the water.  Spend $50 or $100 and run a little ‘Sell Fast – Save Thousands’ ad or something similar.  Try putting a true ETM (with sold-and-saves, testimonials, and an Easy Way plus a few listings) on the back of a Homes magazine.  Pay very close attention to the results you get:  how many inquiries does this specific ad produce?  Then let me know if Google and Maurine are right or if it’s still too early.  Thanks!

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