Commentary

How Google Hides Pizza

How many forks does Google have in us at any given time? Whether it’s search, email, maps, whatever…, Google has immeasurable amounts of data on us, all the time. And by merely clicking, we’re giving them everything they’re looking for. But they aren’t always reciprocating.

Think about those stressful moments: all you’re trying to do is find the name of that Italian restaurant where you and your wife had your 14th date so you can act like you remember when she brings it up. You’re searching the map, because you kind of remember what part of town it was in but that’s all. Sweaty palms, clicking and scrolling and all you see are Google advertisers cluttering your screen with pin drops that won’t get out of the way to show you that restaurant.

Have you tried searching for “pizza near me” on your phone lately? You’ll notice the map lights up with options that, with a click or two, can be called right away.  What you may not notice is what’s not there or what’s buried in there — those who didn’t advertise.  

I’ll be the first to admit that for a guy in marketing, I make it hard on marketers to reach me.  I have my location targeting turned off, I unsubscribe from emails that don’t inspire me and, like many households in America, I have a DVR so I can skip commercials. While this bunker-esque privacy setup tends to hold pretty well, a few annoyances sneak through.

I was an early adopter, I’ve been a beta tester, but I’ve become frustrated with the reduced utility of Google Maps as a mapping tool. Now, my experience can be so overloaded with advertising that it’s cluttering my experience, and the filter for those that pay ad dollars to Google has become so important, I can’t often find that “easy to find” destination amongst the pop-ups of Google advertisers.

There’s a balancing act that Google – and others – must play there. Depending on how far they go toward the advertising side of the business, the higher the risk of driving people to other platforms for information. Yelp, thank you.

In the tug-of-war between gathering data and how you generate revenue off of that data, Google lost the battle of the Italian restaurant. Advertising takes precedence over usability.

Now, all things considered, Google is doing a good job. They cover a lot of platforms and dedicate a lot of resources to staying on the cutting edge. But Google’s practices also bring to light that paper-thin line between utility and the need to drive advertising revenue.

Brands are constantly confronted with chicken-and-egg scenarios where customer service meets monetization. If you have a good product, you have customers. If you have customers, you have a good product to leverage. But at a certain point, marketers need to remember the user experience and – whether that’s a matter of functionality, messaging or timing – do the right thing.

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