Top 10 Things I Learned From Google This Year

As loyal readers know -- and much to the chagrin of at least one fellow columnist -- I've devoted a lot of time and word-count this year documenting what I've learned from Google. In August I wrote "Everything I Need to Know About Marketing, I Learned From Google." In it, I shared 10 simple but elegant lessons Google taught the marketing world along with examples of companies that were putting these concepts into play.

That column generated a strong response from the MediaPost community, so I followed up it up with another five lessons and then another five. Once the Google juice started flowing, I couldn't stop -- so I went on to cover five lessons Google taught us about product development before spilling a three-part-series on general business lessons learned from Google. Finally, I had a little fun contemplating what I learned from Google about dating.

Today, I'd like to broaden the filter even more and share the top 10 things I learned from Google this year...

1.     Google is fascinating. Clearly, I'm not the only one obsessed with Google. In 2009, Google was not only the most visited Web site, but the most valuable brand in the world. From Google Wave to the Google phone to the real Google phone, we hung on every announcement out of Mountain View. This year, the Big G was officially deified when Jeff Jarvis released "What Would Google Do?" (Be sure to get the 411 on WWGD and see how it compares to my forthcoming book -- more on the latter later.) Not satisfied with comparisons to Christ, Google even managed to track down Santa Claus this year

2.     In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 seconds. With Google incorporating real-time results on the SERP, you don't have to crash a state dinner or sleep with Tiger Woods to get mass exposure. (Those are, however, both good ways to get crabs.) Instead, just tweet about a trending topic and you can garner a page-one Google listing. But beware, such fame is fleeting. With results continually updating dynamically, you're lucky if your ranking lasts 15 seconds, much less 15 minutes.

3.     Faster is better. 2009 was the year Google decided the  Web wasn't nearly fast enough for you. In June, it broke a campaign called "Let's make the Web faster" and opened up its Page Speed tool. In August, it unveiled "Caffeine," shaving precious tenths-of-seconds off loading times. Later, in December, it introduced Google Public DNS. As Jarvis observes in WWGD, "Google has made us impatient people, more than we know. If we can get any of the world's knowledge in a blink, why should we wait on hold or in line or until your office opens."  

4.     Google knows us better than we know ourselves. In May, Google added new features to Google Suggest, including personalization.  (Proving that the power of suggestion cannot be ignored, Mashable captured some of the funniest Google Suggest results.) Google also launched personalized recommendations for Google Reader in October. And, finally, in December, Google rolled out personalized search for everyone, regardless if you have a Google account and/or are logged in. While personalization is great, I've long worried that it will create self-fulfilling prophecies. Nonetheless, perhaps it's time to admit that Google knows best.

5.     Birds of a feather flock together. I've always thought that the perfect search engine would incorporate signals from my social graph. This year, Google demonstrated that it agreed. But not in the way I had hoped. In October, Google bowed a social search experiment in labs. This feature allows content from people in your social graph to bubble up in the results. And, while that's all fine and dandy, I'd find it more helpful if the content preferred by my friends, not created by them, bubbled up to the top. I'd love to see a Sidestep-like slider that allows me to toggle the SERP based on listings most-often clicked on by my friends and connections. I'd also like to be able to easily see the most popular listings based on general demo and geo selects -- that is, results preferred by men 25-54 in Chicago.

6.     There is a place for display ads on SERPs. I felt like an old 49'er finding gold in them thar hills when I searched for a "wireless monitoring system" one fine Saturday in November and found graphic ads on the Google results page. Like Woodward and Bernstein blowing the whistle on Watergate, I quickly grabbed screenshots and posted them to my blog. Turns out these were just Product Listing Ads announced by Google a few days earlier. To be sure, I've been calling for display ads on SERPs since 2007 when I wrote in my Search Insider column, "as long as the ads are relevant, non-interruptive and clearly marked 'sponsored' -- like current PPC text listings -- I think display ads on SERPs could be received well (or at least not  cause mass revolt)." Looks like my wish has been granted. I'd still like to see Google push the envelope further on the SERP from an advertising standpoint -- specifically, allowing creative unit rotation using tools like Teracent (which Google bought last month) and third-party serving.

7.     Mobile marketing has arrived. In November, Google gave us 750 million reasons why mobile is now a viable part of the marketing mix. And, while we may still be awaiting the ideal ad format -- sorry, banner ads on WAP sites and in apps just don't do it for me -- there's no denying that mobile should be a part of every marketer's consideration set.

8.     You can mask anything with a pretty dashboard. During my tenure on the agency side, I became all-too aware of the power of the dashboard. In new business pitches, I would watch in amazement as clients drooled over anything we put on the screen that flashed, blinked and had moving dials. And when we showed dashboards that integrated search data with other media channels, you'd have thought we had just given a demo of the first slide projector. (Don Draper would be proud.) In November, Google stole a page from agency pitch-theater by unveiling a dashboard of its own meant to dazzle privacy advocates. I'm not sure this will have the same effect, though.

9.     We live in a sick world. While swine flu was busy sweeping through barns and classrooms around the world this year, Google was busy tracking it through Google Flu Trends. In October, Google expanded this project to 16 additional countries so people could figure out how many disposable masks and gloves they needed to pack before traveling.

10.  It's time to throw the book at 'em. Two weeks ago, I agreed to terms with McGraw-Hill to publish a book with the working title, "Everything I Know About Marketing, I Learned From Google." My manuscript is due March 31 for a fall 2010 release so, for the near-term, I'll be pouring all of my creative writing energy into my book. Accordingly, I won't be writing original content for my bi-weekly Search Insider column in Q1. Instead, I'll be sharing excerpts from the interviews I'm conducting with various industry luminaries about marketing lessons learned from Google that will be peppered throughout my book. On Jan. 13, you'll read the first in this series featuring the wise words of Seth Godin.

I'd like to thank MediaPost for supporting this project and all of you for reading and participating. Please share your thoughts via comments below and @LearnFromGoogle on Twitter. Sorry, Rob, you'll have to put up with this thread for a little while longer.


As we wave goodbye to 2009, I'd like to wish you all a happy and healthy new year and plenty of Googspiration in 2010!

Tags: google, search
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3 comments about "Top 10 Things I Learned From Google This Year".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , December 30, 2009 at 6:49 p.m.

    Happy and a healthy to you, too. Please keep this article and reread it in about 10 years, again in 15 and 20. Meanwhile, reread 1984 and adjust according to what you know now.

  2. Michelle Cubas from Positive Potentials LLC , December 31, 2009 at 2:46 a.m.

    Best of luck with the book. You can't go work with Seth Godin involved. He's a master.

    Happy new year.
    -MC

  3. Aaron Goldman from Kenshoo , December 31, 2009 at 9:23 a.m.

    Thanks Michelle and Paula!