Commentary

Everything I Need to Know About Marketing I Learned From Google

Last month I shared what search taught me about running a business. Today, I'd like to list 10 lessons Google taught me -- and the rest of the world, for that matter -- about marketing.

 

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

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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.

15 comments about "Everything I Need to Know About Marketing I Learned From Google".
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  1. Fj Rich from EPI, August 26, 2009 at 12:06 p.m.

    Great stuff, applies to all businesses--go where the customer is, give them want they want.

  2. Bill Chambers from Bright Chapel Financial Services, August 26, 2009 at 12:34 p.m.

    Each of Aaron's marketing nuggets are so valuable because they are so pure and basic. Marketing always works best when it keeps the simplest goals in its sights. Every marketer should print this out and put in on the wall right next to their Desiderata poster.

  3. Kim White, August 26, 2009 at 12:55 p.m.

    Very insightful!

  4. Amy Oliver, August 26, 2009 at 1:10 p.m.

    Other things I've learned, Aaron, include:

    1) Spelling counts--you wouldn't believe how many people I work with spell words wrong in our social media and online marketing and think "no one will notice" because "everyone does it anyway".

    2) So does grammar--If you want people to find you and you work at Utah Foster Care Foundation, you better sure as H*** not choose UFCF as your keyword and plug it in everywhere. You know what you get from Google when you type UFCF into Google? A correction to UFC and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

    3) Black hat tactics, whether accidental or not, will ALWAYS be punished by Google. And that means NO ONE in your company should be touching your social media and online marketing and SEO unless they 100% know for 100% sure that they know what they are doing.

    4) If Google is all you do, you'll still be wondering why nobody knows about you. It's the same with traditional media. If you only choose one medium, you won't make a true difference in your marketing results.

    And I'm sure there are a hundred others...but that's good for the moment.

  5. Scott Brinker from ion interactive, inc., August 26, 2009 at 1:14 p.m.

    Nicely done. Here's to "test everything"!

  6. David Peterson harvey from The Hidden Art, August 26, 2009 at 1:20 p.m.

    That's interesting, because I don't see as much relevance in results from Google as I do with Yahoo Search. I never have. In fact, I see less relevancy in results. Always have.

    It's long been my opinion that Google did well because they hyped this effectively, but Yahoo has done a better job with relevancy for me, less crap to click to get to the pages I want to see with the information I need.

    Now, Bing comes along with all the hype about its relevancy. So, I tried it. Guess what I found? I still get better results from Yahoo Search.

    So, scratch numbers 1 and 2, which makes me look at the rest with a bit of a jaundiced eye.

    Peace,
    David

  7. David Gould from Resolution Media, Inc., August 26, 2009 at 2:14 p.m.

    How about the "Law of Averages". Build and market enough "stuff" and some of it is bound to succeed. Of course I suppose that could be a corollary to Test Everyting assuming you have enough cash.

  8. Max Kalehoff from MAK, August 26, 2009 at 2:56 p.m.

    Awesome. You ought to write a book out of this. But to keep it real, you also should include what Google taught you not to do.

  9. Brooke Nichols from MyUS.com, August 26, 2009 at 3:10 p.m.

    Each of these notions is applicable to search programs of all shapes, sizes and objectives. Search, being the most measurable form of media, gives us such incomparable insights into consumer behavior. I would agree that, for the most part, Google recognizes and respects that fact. As marketers, these lessons can help build the foundation to a stable, successful and measurable search program to meet our unique and varied consumer demands.

    Thanks for providing another applicable approach to a vast and ever-changing landscape!

  10. Matthew Quint from Columbia Business School, August 26, 2009 at 3:54 p.m.

    Nice post, Aaron.

    <a href="http://www.buzzmachine.com">Jeff Jarvis</a> kinda beat you to the punch with his book "What Would Google Do?"

    While it isn't all targeted to lessons about marketing, it has a lot about that in there.

    Check out this video discussing his specific <a href="http://bit.ly/p0zHe">WWGD? marketing insights</a> from his presentation at the <a href="http://briteconference.com">BRITE '09</a> conference.

  11. Michael Davis from TribeFinders Customer Strategies Inc., August 26, 2009 at 5:45 p.m.

    Aaron,

    Loved your column... particularly #1!

    While Google has redefined relevance "algorithmically", marketing has always been about this; or should have been. As a former corporate marketer whose evolved deeper into data-driven marketing, it was a source of frustration over the years that despite often having the tools at hand to be more targeted, we would still send massive amounts of DM because that's what it took to hit target. We see the same approach in E-mail use. Instead of trying to gain more customer insight as conversion rates eroded, the answer is... just send more mail! The low cost has exacerbated the 'volume' issue.

    For all the reasons you mentioned. I'm a big fan of Search. After years of marketers (or product managers) paying lip service to the "voice of the customer", Google's relevance mania forces you to now 'literally'... think in customer terms!

    For customer-focused marketers, its been a long time coming but our mindset is now being rewarded. We're so committed to this approach that I wrote a Whitepaer on it last January (available here if anyone's interested http://www.rhino.ca/whitepaper/online_marketing_ROI.php ).

    Keep up the great work Aaron!

  12. Paul Knegten from Dapper, Inc., September 1, 2009 at 11:02 a.m.

    Couldn't agree more Aaron. That's how I look at the ecosystem.

  13. Aaron Goldman from 4C, September 2, 2009 at 12:51 p.m.

    Thanks for the comments all. Appreciate the feedback and suggestions for other lessons from Google. Quickly want to address a few specifically...

    Amy - re: spelling and grammar, I agree those are critical but think Google has conditioned us to focus more on quick bullets (aka keywords) when conveying our brand USPs rather than full sentences and long prose.

    David PH - relevancy is in the eye of the beholder.

    David G - amen. Throw enough crap against the wall and something is bound to stick!

    Max - workin' on it! And good point on including the what not to do's.

    Matthew - haven't gotten around to reaching WWGD but get the sense it's more about general business strategies than marketing. No doubt Google has also taught us plenty about biz models, product development, etc. Could probably write a book on each!

  14. Arthur Einstein from Loyalty Builders, September 2, 2009 at 3:03 p.m.

    Aaron. Absolutely terrific post. And the reason that Google is by far the world's biggest advertising agency AND the world's biggest advertising medium.

    Google flies in the face of the "branding" culture that's out there. Which is Ironic, because the best way to build a brand, now and for the future, is not to brag it up, but to get it into people's hands and be dead sure they have a good experience that will bring them back.

  15. Tevfik Dalgic from University of Texas at Dallas, November 4, 2009 at 10:24 a.m.

    Good points Aaron,marketing is not a rocket science but a common sense. Keep going.

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