1. Relevance rules. The reason Google became so popular is simply because its search engine displayed the most relevant results. For marketers looking to leapfrog to the top of Google or have your product earn Google-like market share, the key is make your brand relevant. Apple is one company that manages to stay relevant -- read: build a cult-like following -- by continually releasing products that operate best when used with other Apple products, or simply work better than previous versions. It also aligns itself with its audience's passion points like music and design.
2. Tap the wisdom of the crowds. How does Google achieve the most relevant results? Its proprietary algorithm looks at the number and quality of inbound links for every Web site it indexes -- essentially tallying votes cast by other webmasters. Similarly, it ranks paid search advertisers not just on CPC but on click rate, among other factors -- essentially tallying votes cast by its users. One marketer successfully leveraging the wisdom of crowds is Doritos, with Super Bowl spots created and voted on by consumers. Threadless is another company that gets the power of the community -- printing T-shirts suggested and voted on by consumers
3. Keep it simple, stupid. Some people -- namely MediaPost publisher, Ken Fadner -- assert that Google's dominance from a usage standpoint is due not so much to relevance as simplicity. During a time when the trend was towards cluttered portals, Google stood out with its clean white page and clear call-to-search. So, too, must marketers use simple and overt calls-to-action (e.g., tell a friend, buy now, ask your doctor) and de-clutter the environment to which they drive people (e.g., store, Web site, phone). Although it's not as easy as, say, Ford just telling people to "Drive One."
4. Mindset matters. Google's been so successful because it allows advertisers to reach people when they're in a commercial mindset -- that's commercial as in looking to spend money, not watch commercials. Sure, sometimes searchers are just looking to be entertained or conduct academic research -- but many are looking to find a place to eat, shop, or otherwise transact. Marketers take heed! The reason your ads on social networks don't drive direct ROI is because people aren't thinking about buying stuff when they're stalking their high school classmates or poking their friends. Although the same could be said for airport security -- but Zappos made it work, so it just goes to show that strong contextual relevance can sometimes change the mindset.
5. Be where your audience is. Toolbars, desktops, third-party sites, docs, spreadsheets, email -- you name it, if you're online, Google's watching... I mean, available. For marketers, the lesson here is that you can't just "build it and they will come." You have to get guerilla and seed your brand into the conversation wherever it's happening -- blogs, social networks, coffee shops, bathrooms, etc. This was something the Obama campaign did brilliantly.
6. Don't interrupt.
Even though Google is as omnipresent as that other Big G, it very rarely interrupts people from what they were doing to
push a message for one of its products or one of its advertisers. Google, and search in general, is very much a pull-marketing channel. For marketers, it's important to remember that there's a fine
line between seeding the conversation and disrupting it. Best Buy is one company that's showing signs of
understanding the difference.
7. Act like content. Part of not interrupting is not acting like advertising. Acting like content -- which is, ironically, a phrase I cribbed from Brian Morrissey's blog post making a case for interruptive advertising -- is what search engine optimization is all about. And Google certainly rewards it. Create compelling content -- and, by compelling, I mean relevant and link-worthy -- and you'll stand out not only in the Google index but by winning over customers. Make people feel like you're giving them what they want and not selling them, and you'll earn their business. American Express does this well, with its Open Forum initiative acting as a resource for small businesses.
8. Test everything. If there's one thing that Google's obsessive about, it's testing. This is a company that tries 41 different shades of blue on its toolbar to see which drives the most clicks. And as any search marketer can tell you, testing -- new keywords, new copy, new landing pages, you name it -- is part of the daily SEM protocol. The ramifications for broader marketers are clear -- take nothing for granted. A little thing like the background color on the last frame of your TV spot can be the difference between recall and relapse. Malcom Gladwell wrote the book on this, citing brands like Airwalk and institutions like "Sesame Street" and "Blue's Clues" for their attention to detail.
9. Track everything. Of course, the yin of the testing-yang is tracking. There's no question Google gets how important tracking is to marketers. That's why is bought DoubleClick and Urchin -- or is it? The bottom line for marketers is that as more and more media is delivered digitally, it's inherently trackable. These days, it's a sin to not know which half of your advertising is working. The classic examples here are your direct marketing advertisers like Kaplan who tack unique identifiers -- unfortunately sometimes a bit clumsily -- onto their TV spots to track response.
10. Let the data decide. This could easily roll up into either of the last two points, but it's worthy of its own spot on this list. Too often, marketers use testing or tracking merely to prove an idea to which they were already married. In other words, they -- or their agencies -- come up with a concept that sounds spectacular and "just feels right" and then set up some experiments -- read: focus groups -- and manipulate the data to help push their idea through. Not Google. Per Marissa Mayer, Google "let(s) the math and the data govern how things look and feel" -- some would say to a fault. There's certainly a spectrum from "going with your gut" to letting data decide, but when it comes to being accountable to your boss -- or your shareholders-- doing what the numbers tell you is certainly the most defensible position -- especially if that data is highly targeted.
FYI, I've got another 20 lessons up my sleeve and may continue this series in my next column. I'd love to hear thoughts from the community, though. What have you learned from Google that's made you a smarter marketer? Let's see how much wisdom there is in the Search Insider crowd.