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Like many of you, I’m prepping plans for 2014 with many of my clients and for my own business. And, while looking through some year-end reports, I had a chilling thought: What if Google really sticks it to us next year? What if they turn off key services, eliminate more data or, most worrying, restrict access to customers?

Now, before we go too far down this path, let’s be clear: I’m not asking whether Google is evil. For the record, I don’t think they are. Neither is Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (I’ll get to these guys in a minute). Each of these companies is doing its very best to take care of its shareholders. And, to be fair, they’re doing that pretty well.

My question is, is what’s good for their shareholders also good for your business?

Consider the changes Google introduced to the overall digital marketing landscape over the last twelve months:

  • Google has continued to reduce the number of organic first page results. Traditional, “10 blue links”-style search engine results page (SERP) occurs less frequently than in the past. Growth of Google Now and Conversational Search may further reduce your opportunity to be seen.
  • Google limited business access to organic search data. While you can see some keyword data in Webmaster Tools, Google no longer provides search query info to site operators.
  • Google killed Google Reader. And, to a degree, took RSS with it. Again, in the spirit of fairness, RSS may have been dying (see here and here) whether Google kept Reader or not.
  • Google buried subscribed emails in secondary, “Promotions” tab within Gmail. Even for emails customers deliberately subscribed to.

Now, let’s see. These changes effectively reduce your opportunities to get in front of customers via organic search, RSS feeds, and email. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d think Google was trying to move businesses towards some other form of advertising. If only they offered a product to help businesses reach more customers, they’d really be able to make some bucks.

#googlerally Don't be evil @google #NetNeutrality

(Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

Oh, wait…

Anyway, Google isn’t the only one doing these sorts of things:

  • Facebook recently admitted it’s limiting organic reach and recommending use of paid ads. AdAge quotes Facebook, “We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site… We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it.” [Emphasis mine]
  • Twitter is growing its Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets products. The company is expanding its promotional tools into mobile, providing you another “opportunity” to pay to talk to customers.
  • LinkedIn also launched “Sponsored Updates,” a paid reach product. Sensing a trend here?

Now, again, none of this is evil. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google all have a right to do whatever they believe is best for their business. And, as public companies, one could argue they have a responsibility to their shareholders to increase revenues and profits however they’re able.

You, however, have the right—and a responsibility to your shareholders—to ask whether you want to play along. After all, remember whose brand they really seek to build.

Now, I doubt you’re going to run away from Google. Or Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or the rest. But it’s highly likely the costs of reaching customers through these channels will rise over the course of the next year. What can you do about it? A few things, actually:

  • Adapt your mindset. The best digital marketing teams these days often refer more to inbound marketing than search marketing or social media marketing. They’re not focused on any one strategy or tactic; they’re focused on the result. And they’re willing to shift as individual channels gain or decline.
  • Focus on creating compelling content for your customers. Great content will continue to rank well in organic search. Great content will continue to attract links, “Likes” and “Shares” for search and social benefit. And, most importantly, great content will continue to attract and engage customers, helping them solve their problems and increasing their awareness of, interest in, and actions towards your brand.
  • Continue to build your mailing list. Yes, I know I said that it’s getting tougher to get seen in your customer’s inbox. But email remains popular among consumers and a cost-effective channel for marketers. Plus, if you’ve got great content, why not share it directly with your customers?
  • Finally, pay attention to search returns, not search rankings. Even if you’re not sure whether to trust Google, that doesn’t mean you can’t put them to work for your brand and your business. Search remains a key driver of traffic and conversions for most businesses. That’s unlikely to change right away. But instead of gauging your efforts against “rankings” (a dubious metric in an age of increasingly personalized search), measure how effective search is at driving your business results. Then invest appropriately to improve those results over the coming year.

I’m pretty sure it was Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II who said, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” I don’t know if Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are enemies. But it’s worth keeping them close in the coming years, just in case.

Do you want to learn more about how to improve sales, increase conversions, and reduce the costs from your search marketing? Then take a moment to check out our Biznology Jumpstart Workshop: On-site Search Marketing Training. Taught by three Biznology search marketing experts, you’ll learn how to make your search marketing work for your business. Interested in learning more? Check it out today.

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About Tim Peter

Tim Peter helps companies put the web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs that have delivered billions of dollars in revenues. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

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