Things are pretty topsy-turvy right now in webland.
Google seems desperate to prove that it knows us better than we know ourselves. And Facebook is just as desperate to prove that anything the G can do it can do too, and better. Google, in a disturbing parallel of the HAL 9000, knows that everything hasn’t been quite right with it as far as the public is concerned. Unfortunately, like that seminal, sentient super-computer, it just doesn’t know when to stop.
From the beginning one of Google’s strengths has been it’s consistency, both in design and performance. It had a clean interface, it had personality (maybe that should have sounded warning bells…) and it mostly delivered relevant sites in relation to search terms.
For marketers it has offered a relatively level playing field. While the SEO types tested the boundaries, they soon learned that wearing white hats was preferable to black hats. Which should come as no surprise given one of Google’s early directives to itself was ‘Do No Evil’. And although the algorithms were refined regularly, everyone knew the rules.
Somewhere along the line though Google began living life as a corollary of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Or maybe, like HAL, it began feeding on it’s own paranoia. Either way, Google wasn’t happy just organizing the world’s information and processing a billion search requests a day. It wasn’t content to sit around waiting for you to come to it, Google decided it wanted to be with you. Always. And everywhere.
From software to social media, Picasa to global partnerships, Google comes at us in Waves. It Buzzes for us, browses for us, and turning Android, seeks to mobilise us. Google is mastering the art of omnipotence.
Having eaten up a large slice of the world at large, Google has recently begun to turn its gaze inward. In May the almost sacrosanct logo received a little ‘work’, the first revision outside of the Google Doodles since 1999. The search engine results page has also seen changes. Google referred to it at the time as “contextually relevant, left-hand navigation”, but there has been a little re-jigging of the right side too with ‘Sponsored Links’ becoming ‘Ads’.
So what’s in a word? Plenty according to research conducted by Ben Edelman, which should be enough to give anyone relying on click-through rates food for thought. Connotations count for plenty.
Google has also rolled out Places, kind of replacing (pardon the pun) Maps in the process. Using Doubleclick’s technology Google has long been gleaning our behavioral patterns, but now in an attempt to match Facebook’s hold on our personal lives seeks to demonstrate relevance through locational results.
Preview wasn’t far behind, offering a thumbnail look at the pages its search engine had deemed relevant, with the search term high-lighted for your convenience. I kind of appreciate this, as there have been times I have been left wondering just what Google saw in my search terms that I couldn’t see in the results. This may be a flash in the pan, but ironically Flash in the pane appears as a black box – more work needed on this obviously.
And just when you thought it was safe to go shopping on your own, Google is now preparing to join you in the virtual mall. The latest innovation to go beta in the US is Product Ads, which introduces the concept of price comparative shopping to search.
It works like this according to Google – a user (you, perhaps) enters a search query relevant to an item in the Google Merchant Center account, and Google automatically shows the most relevant products along with the associated image, price and product name.
Product Listings (the shops) are only charged on a Cost-Per-Action (CPA) basis, so it is only when a user views the ad, clicks on the link and eventually makes a purchase from that particular store that the advertiser is charged. In theory advertisers on Google will be able to potentially save on their PPC advertising expenditure and receive a greater ROI as a result.
And you, the user? Well, you must be better off. After all, Google is there to help.