It’s fair to say that today, when we think of search engines there is only one name that springs to mind, no not Yahoo, not Bing but Google. But how when they were not the first and initially not the best, did they manage to come from nowhere to become what many now consider the only search engine?
This showcase and rise to domination is hugely interesting to me. All too often in business you hear people talking about markets being too saturated, barriers to entry being low and the competitive environment being challenging. What Google have actually shown us is that marginal differences and the ability to solve real customer problems first, is the key to success even if you are getting started in the most challenging marketing environment.
So what can we learn from Google’s rise to top rankings and 18 years of search domination?
1. Users Come First
It sounds obvious, but what Google did exceptionally well in the early days was consider their users. It’s easy to get distracted by other things, revenue generation, new ideas and lavish designs, but what Google achieved was really getting into the nuts and bolts of what their customers needed.
Yes the problem every search engine solved was being able to organise content, but Google took this one step further. They realised that with the web taking off at such a rapid speed and people becoming more reliant on web search for fast results, that searches based on key phrases just wasn’t enough. They needed to create something that provided not just a list of ‘on topic’ content, but relevant content. Their search engine needed to be more intelligent and organise content in intuitive ways. They identified that by using links and clicks as a recommendation/ratings system they were able to get an indication of relevancy and value. This notion is what laid the foundation for how Google would operate, which continues to this day.
Lessons to be learnt from Google
Whether we like it or not, time plays a huge role in our success or our failure in business. How we spend our time, how long it takes us to make major decisions and how quickly our competitors move, this will all ultimately affect how well our business performs.
Google didn’t just create another search engine, they took time to perfect the engine and solve the future problems today. Other big players at the time such as Yahoo and Excite might have been ahead then, but by the time they realised they needed to develop their platforms, there was already Google for users to turn to, with no need to wait for their old favourites to innovate.
2. Be Brave, Be Different
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for search engines is how to turn a user trap into a business with a revenue model. The immediate reaction for search engines was to use advertising as a means of generating revenue. Adverts were displayed all over the page and there were constant pressure to create bigger better adverts to hold people’s attention for longer.
Whilst other search engines were caught up trying to work out how to keep users on the website so they were exposed to more adverts, Google already knew that this model wasn’t going to work. People don’t come to a search engine to wait around and look at adverts, they come to a search engine to find information quickly. Google knew if they were to succeed at building a working revenue model they needed a advertising platform which followed user search trends. This led to the development of Adwords which in itself was an incredible innovation. Advertising is suddenly accessible to all size businesses, you are able to target very specific audiences and the results are different for every single search. Relevancy was a priority for Google from day one.
Lessons to be learnt from Google
If it’s broke fix it. We are confronted with adverts hundreds of times on a daily basis, we have spent years trying to find ways to skip adverts. Unlike televisions, newspapers and traditional media ads where we can choose whether to engage, the concept of excessive irrelevant advertising online has never worked. Understand what works and what doesn’t work and make decisions based on intuitive data.
3. Branding Brilliance
Brand and identity has always been at the core of a business. What seems like a very simple identity has formed the basis of what is a truly sensational business.
It’s funny to think that only 18 years ago, we wouldn’t have had a clue what anyone meant if someone said the word Google. Today we use Google as a verb as part of everyday life. ‘How did you find out that?’ ‘I Googled it’.
Why is it such a great brand? It’s memorable, it’s simple and although through time Google has got more and more creative with its search engine, it has stuck to its routes. You go to Google to search and so thats all you will find on Googles site, the brand is about simplicity and making it easy for people to find the information they need quickly.
Lessons to be learnt from Google
We all too often underestimate the power of brand in our buying journey. Totally unconsciously, you are exposed to hundreds of brands everyday, some you will remember, some you will forget in a hurry.
Take time to develop an identity that sticks, think about how your brand will look across a wide range of media and whether people are likely to remember it. Brands don’t have to be boring or tell people what you do, they need to be exciting so people want to take time to find out more.
4. Budget to be the best
There are always going to be ways to do things more cheaply, there are always other companies that you could work with, approaches that you can adopt and shortcuts you can take. You only have to look at Google to realise that they didn’t take shortcuts, they worked out exactly what they needed to do and executed it effectively.
Spending a little more, even when at the earliest stage of your businesses development can be the difference between success and failure. Your brand, your product, your service will all be determined by how you position yourself, so make the right statement and spend what you need to get it right.
Lessons Learnt from Google
Although saving money and limiting budgets seems like the sensible option when you’re starting out, giving the wrong impression or making the wrong statement will have far greater detrimental effects. We are in an exciting time in the world of business, where there are many funding opportunities that we can tap into, think of creative ways to ensure your business is right for now, for the future and for your target customer.
5. My Own Conclusions
What’s interesting in this for me, is not that Google are now the most widely used search engine globally with as much as 89.5% of all Global searches, but how they gained this success.
You read all of the time about big ideas, innovators, first movers, however, Google at the time didn’t create something totally new and weren’t seen to be doing anything different than the big players. What they were actually doing was fixing the cracks in a broken model, fine tuning and as a result created what was to become a revolutionary advertising model.
If something isn’t working, if your customers are not happy, your products aren’t selling or if you are failing to make money, chances are the model is broken and you need to fix it. Don’t just do things because it’s the way things have always been or because it’s what everyone else is doing, take time to understand your customers, why they interact with you and why they ultimately want buy from you or don’t, take time to do your research and develop a strategy that solves the real problems.
Innovation is important to every business, but sometimes it’s not just about being revolutionary, It’s incremental changes that make a big difference.