Will Search Become Google’s Forgotten Child?

Everyone’s jumping on the “Google dominating the advertising universe” bandwagon.  BusinessWeek ran a article today speculating on Google’s omnipresent domination with their acquisition of DoubleClick plus some recently announced deals with EchoStar’s Dish satellite TV network and Clear Channel’s radio network.  The primal fear even has its own acronym now, FOG, or “Fear of Google”.  But in BusinessWeek’s article there’s one telling quote (emphasis mine):

“To date, Google has had one gargantuan advertising success. It developed an online auction platform enabling businesses, even those with little marketing experience, to easily bid for space to serve tiny text ads related to information Web surfers wanted at a particular moment. Most of these ads—which exist primarily to drive traffic to Web pages and, ultimately, generate sales—run on Google’s own search results pages.”

And there you have Google’s dilemma in a nutshell.  The more aggressive they are extending their network reach into new channels, the more they come to rely on what, for them, has been the golden egg, their search engine.  The “gargantuan advertising success” has actually been search engine marketing’s success.  Google has been riding a consumer initiated wave as buyers have found an incredibly effective new channel to do their research on.  The success that Google has enjoyed by riding that wave has more to do with the concept of search then it has to do with any particularly brilliant Google strategy.  Google has keyed into that success by providing a very effective search tool.  And if you’re looking anywhere for the secret to Google’s success, look no further than their obsession about user experience on their search engine.  They’ve kept it clean, they’ve kept it relevant, and they’ve kept it a favorite choice of millions and millions of search users.  That has given them the ability to monetize a tremendous amount of traffic and flow that money straight into the corporate coffers, enabling them to go on a shopping spree of unprecedented proportion.

I don’t begrudge Google for thinking big and planning to dominate the universe.  It’s really the only direction they can go.  But I would like to hear more people acknowledge the fact that Google success is built completely on the emergence of search as an essential online activity.  And the emergence of that activity is due to a lot of pioneers in the area, not just Google.  In its present form, search is best represented on Google but the very act of searching owes a huge debt to dozens of other companies, including current also-rans like Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, Overture, and the historic footnotes like Infoseek, AltaVista and All the Web.

Because of that I get a little frustrated when search does not get its proper due.  Personally, I believe there is huge untapped potential still in search.  But everyone is so focused on Google’s extension of its empire that I don’t believe search is getting the respect it’s due.  It’s not getting respect from advertisers, it’s not getting respect from agencies and lately, it’s not even getting respect from Google.

I know that Google has some exciting plans for search, primarily wrapped around personalization and I look forward to hearing more about this.  I hope that Google search team remains engaged pursuing the potential of this tremendously effective channel and doesn’t become diverted from this goal by the glitz and glamour of Google’s new marketing channels.  I know the sales teams at Google are very much focused on the network and the other opportunities, seeming to take the power of search, which is currently buying all the lava lamps and free lunches at Google, for granted.

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