What’s the biggest Internet success story? Google, right? And everyone, until recently myself included, thinks it’s because Google is so good at performing searches.
Tonight, I’ve changed my mind.
Before Google, there were some very good search engines. There were AltaVista and Metacrawler and others whose names are now lost to me. Yahoo!¹ was more a directory than a search engine.
As a power Internet user in the late 90s, I was not unhappy. I was able to search and get the results I wanted with little trouble.
So why is Google such a big deal? It’s not the search as much as it’s, their search seems benevolent.
Google was very smart. They cleaned up the home page.
All the other site where you could find stuff were gravitating toward being portals. Their home pages were full of news and tips and links and they included display ads. It was obvious to their users, they were sales machines. Please click. Please buy.
Google was basically a box where you entered text and not much more. No ads.
But searching is not a one web page affair. The search page leads to the results page. No search ends on the home page. Google was satisfied making their money on that landing page.
After the home page, every subsequent page on Google does contain ads. And, they are contextually tied to what’s on that page. If it’s possible to say, they are good ads.
It’s genius. But I don’t think it would have worked had Google not been willing to treat their home page as a loss leader. No ads!
As time went on Google has been able to extend their brand. They have contextual ads on webpages, like this one (look to the right). The have a mail service, also with contextual ads. They have other services too, but the payoff (to them) is always the same, and you never see any sign of commerce when you begin to do what you want to do.
Even better, since each ‘lead’ is prequalified, they can charge a higher CPM.
It’s not like a movie on TBS, where the first block is 45 minutes long and by the end you’re stopping for spots every 120 seconds. Google works so well because they run commercials and no one minds!
In this TiVo world, where the publisher of the New York Times worries he won’t have a paper based paper in five years and where CBS has just announced they’re selling a handful of TV stations for a few million more than they paid for just one of them, Google has succeeded in making us forget they are running commercials.
It is the genius of what they do, and any other elegance in the performance of search is no more than an interesting footnote.
I doubt, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin were testing Google at Stanford, they had a clue what their success could be. They were
lucky wise to give away the product they had worked so hard to develop.
Business is always better when you don’t worry if people will buy what you’re selling, but instead try to sell what they are dying to buy.
¹ – I have been on the Internet long enough to have sent a comment to Yahoo! and gotten a personally written response that referred to “Jerry’s reaction” to what I’d suggested. “Jerry” was Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang. That ain’t happening today.