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Google's stated mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".
The genius of this statement is that it sounds quite innocuous, indeed philanthropic, despite its obvious grand ambition, but actually allows pretty much anything within its scope.
It is interesting to see just how much of the online customer journey (from search, to research, to purchase) Google is taking hold of. Will we all end up as "wholesalers" to Google's customers?
There are all sorts of variations on the marketing funnel or customer purchase cycle. For example, there's "AIDA" (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action).
Online we certainly know that people search for things (most purchases online start with search); people research products and services online (using product/price comparison, reviews and ratings etc.); and they buy them online.
In the AIDA model online, attention might be driven by an online ad or an article perhaps, interest would be indicated via search, desire would be elicited following research and action would be the last click and purchase.
I think it has been long assumed that the role that a search engine like Google plays in all this is to help relevant customers find your site – you may already have won their attention and they want to find you; or perhaps you can get their attention using paid search ads.
But it's intriguing to see just how far along the customer journey Google is now going.
Let's assume that a company has managed to pique your Attention (via a Doubleclick - aka Google - served ad)...
You do a search to find out more. And let's face it, we all know search is actually used as a navigational tool as much as it is to actually *search*.
Below is a screengrab showing the search results for 'flowers in Hertford'. The top 'natural search' result, as you can see, is actually a load of listings from Google Local. (and note the Google Checkout icon on the Serenata Flowers paid ad - more of that later).
This is fair enough perhaps? It's helped get rid of the affiliates who were polluting such natural search results.
But it's starting to go further.
Have a look at below which shows the Argos natural search listings - top of Google for a search on 'Argos' as you'd expect. Except now there is a site search feature there. However, the search results you get are still within Google, not on the Argos site.
...which is great for Google as it gets a load more page impressions (and therefore can serve more ads).
Not sure how happy I would be if were a retailer who had spent a lot of money on my own site search to return results the way I (rather than Google) wanted to. Then again, they are showing, and linking to, my product sub-categories, and they are Google, so who am I to complain?
And how about the one below. This is a search on 'flights london to new york'. The top 'natural search' result is actually more like a price comparison tool built directly into the search result itself.
- You are using Doubleclick/Google to do your advertising to drive attention/demand (and if you own a site, of course you're using Google's recently announced free ad serving platform, Google 'Ad Manager')
- You use Google Adwords to drive traffic to your site when people search following exposure to your (Google-served) ads
- You use Google Site Search on your site to help people find things
- And you use Google Optimiser and Google Analytics to help boost conversion rates
- And Google Checkout to help 'your' customers pay (which, incidentally, helped your Google paid search ads perform better, for less money, in the first place)
- And all hosted on the Google Apps platform using Google tools like Google Page Creator to actually create and manage your site...
In fact, do 'your' customers ever really need to leave Google world? Google already owns the start of pretty much all customer journeys online, so, in the name of making the rest of the information journey more 'useful', why shouldn't it deliver the rest of it as well?
And when all your competitors are tooled up with Google, so Google also has a perfect view of your market place, and they roll out PPA (Pay Per Action) then at the beginning of each year/season we can all just agree with Google how many customers they will give us, at what price, and then all we need to do is sort out the fulfilment, delivery and customer service.
Ok, I'm pushing things to make a point, but it will be interesting to see how far Google goes.
I'm not even necessarily against Google doing this - it might just be something we all have to live with and adjust our business models accordingly?